Papillon

  • Papillon dog

    Mary Bloom

  • Papillon dog

    Mary Bloom

  • Papillon dog

    Mary Bloom

  • Papillon dog

    Barbara O'Brien, Animal Photography

  • Papillon dog

    Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

  • Breed Group: Toy
  • Height: 8 to 11 inches at the shoulder
  • Weight: 3 to 12 pounds
  • Life Span: 13 to 17 years

The word papillon is French for butterfly, and it’s an apt name for these pretty little dogs with their distinctive erect ears. But don’t let the Papillon’s dainty appearance fool you. Despite his wee size, he is the original “big dog in a small body” and has more energy and smarts than many people know what to do with.

Breed Characteristics

Adaptability 5 stars Dog Friendly 2 stars Shedding Level 1 star
Affection Level 5 stars Exercise Needs 5 stars Social Needs 5 stars
Apartment Friendly 3 stars Grooming 3 stars Stranger Friendly 5 stars
Barking Tendencies 5 stars Health Issues 3 stars Territorial 4 stars
Cat Friendly 5 stars Intelligence 5 stars Trainability 5 stars
Child Friendly 1 star Playfulness 5 stars Watchdog Ability 4 stars

Did You Know?

Teen pop sensation Justin Bieber owns a Papillon named Sam, who he adopted from a shelter. Bieber told his pet rescue story in a PSA on animal adoption for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. A Papillon named Bijoux appeared in the commercial with Bieber.

Like a supermodel with a Ph.D in nuclear physics, the Papillon first catches your eye with his looks -- trademark butterfly-wing ears, silky coat and dark eyes -- his grace and his expressiveness. But packed inside that pretty purse-sized body is one of the smartest of all dogs, a clever, active little guy who excels at almost anything dogs do, from organized sports like canine agility to long walks in the park -- and of course, companionship.

His small size means he can live happily in an apartment, but only if he receives gentle, consistent training to prevent nuisance barking and potty accidents. This dog is sometimes nicknamed the yappy Pappy, and like many small dogs he has a casual attitude toward housetraining.

The Papillon is not a good choice if you want a restful dog who doesn’t need much exercise. He is highly intelligent and needs the stimulation of activity and training. He needs time to run around safely and play with other small dogs, as well as long walks on leash every day. Daily activity is a good rule of thumb if you want to keep the Papillon from entertaining himself in ways you won’t like. He’s a natural at many dog sports, including agility, carting, flyball, freestyle, obedience, rally, and tracking. It's always a good idea to check with your vet before starting an exercise program with your pet.  

However alert and active they are, Papillons are still extremely small, and need to be protected from rambunctious children and dogs. Since he has no idea he's as small as he is, he's likely to challenge much bigger dogs, as well as leap tall buildings in a single bound – potentially with broken bones as a result. Other than that, he believes in "the more, the merrier," and he likes to live in multi-pet homes. Many Papillons and cats have become fast friends.

While the dogs are named for their distinctive ears like a butterfly wing – "papillon" is French for "butterfly" – they can have hanging ears as well. Although these dogs are usually referred to as "Phalenes" rather than "Papillons," the dogs are otherwise identical and in the United States are registered, bred, and shown as a single breed.

Other Quick Facts

  • Papillon breeders usually like to keep puppies until they are 12 weeks old to make sure they are mature enough to go to their new homes.
  • Papillons come in two varieties: one with erect ears known as the Papillon (butterfly) and one with drop ears known as the Phalene (French for moth) and pronounced “fuh Lin.”
  • Papillons can have a long life span -- up to 17 years -- and are generally healthy, but they can develop certain health problems, including luxating patellas (a knee problem), collapsing trachea and dental disease.
Next: History ›

The History of Papillons

Look at any portrait of a beautiful lady or a young family from the 17th or 18th century and in pride of place you will often see a small spaniel who is just as much a part of the painting as anyone else. Those toy spaniels, which were popular in royal courts and noble homes, were the ancestors of today’s English Toy Spaniels, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and, of course, Papillons. Papillons were favorites in the French royal court, but they almost disappeared after the French Revolution because of their association with the aristocracy. Fortunately for the people who love them, the breed was revived in the late 19th century. It was then that the Papillon was given the name that so perfectly describes him: “butterfly.”

One of the best-known Papillons in recent times is a little dog named Kirby, more formally known as Ch. Loteki Supernatural Being, who won Best in Show at Westminster in 1999 and Best in Show at the World Dog Show in Helsinki in 1998. Another Papillon shows just how versatile this tiny dog is. Am./Can. Ch. OTCh. Loteki Top Secret, TDX, Can. CDX, TD (Zipper to his friends) was the first Papillon and the first Toy dog to earn all American Kennel Club titles available at the time. Besides being a conformation champion in the U.S. and Canada, he was an obedience trial champion and a tracking dog.

It’s no wonder that the Papillon’s popularity is growing. From 43rd in 2000, he currently ranks 35th among the breeds registered by the American Kennel Club.

‹ Previous: Overview

Papillon Temperament and Personality

If you want a lazy little lap dog, don't get a Papillon. He's bright and busy and ready for just about anything. Admire him for his smarts, give him things to do that you both enjoy, and sit back and watch when he decides to put on a show, and you and your Papillon will be the perfect match.

Which isn't to say he's not going to sit in your lap. Tire him out and keep him from being bored, and you'll be rewarded with a particularly trainable, well-behaved, extremely affectionate dog who looks to you for his cues and his amusement. But consider yourself warned: expect him to lie around all day and gaze adoringly at you all night, or relegate him to backyard or garage, and you'll end up wondering just how such a very tiny dog can do so much damage to house and yard -- and make so much noise.

As with many small dogs, Papillons may be difficult to housetrain. Papillons are smart, but many times they just don’t get why you want them to potty outside and not on your favorite Oriental rug. You must be consistent in training them. Give them plenty of opportunities to potty outside and lots of praise when they do it. Give them as few opportunities to make a mistake as possible, but never punish them if they do. The more often your Papillon has accidents in the house, the more difficult it will be to persuade him that it’s not allowed.

The perfect Papillon doesn’t come ready-made from the breeder. Any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained or unsupervised.

Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at 12 weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Never wait until he is six months old to begin training, or you will have lost the best training months of his young life. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.

Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.

The perfect Papillon doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Whatever you want from a Papillon, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.

‹ Previous: History
Next: Health ›

What You Need to Know About Papillon Health

All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health. problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.The Papillon can develop certain health problems. Here’s a brief rundown on some of the conditions you should know about:

While generally a healthy and long-lived breed, the Papillon can be affected by any of the health problems common to toy dogs, such as a collapsing trachea, which causes respiratory problems and makes wearing a collar difficult. They can have dental problems caused by the small size of their mouths, and their kneecaps sometimes slip out of place, a condition known as "luxating patellas." Ask your veterinarian to examine your dog's knees regularly, especially if you notice him limping or "hopping" while running.

Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is also a problem in the breed (especially in the smaller dogs and in puppies). Papillons may have what's called an open fontanel, which is a soft area of the skull that should close up and become hard within six months of birth. In a few dogs, the fontanel never fully closes, but they can otherwise live a normal lifespan. An eye econdition called progressive retinal atrophy can also occur in Papillons.

Although it is not common, there is a disease in the Papillon and some other breeds called neuroaxonal dystrophy. Puppies with this condition may seem clumsy or awkward, and walk with an odd, high-stepping gait. The condition is untreatable and progressive, and affected dogs rarely live beyond a few months. If your puppy's breeder isn't aware of the problem, consider that a bad sign and find a breeder who is.

Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it can be hard to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible.  They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for these defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.

The Papillon Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center, a health database. Before individual Papillons can be issued a CHIC number, breeders must submit patella (knee) evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and eye test results from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF).

Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been "vet checked," then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.

Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.

Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Papillon at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.

‹ Previous: Personality
Next: Grooming ›

The Basics of Papillon Grooming

Although the Papillon's long, silky coat looks like it needs frequent grooming, he's an easy-care dog. Just a little brushing a few times a week, brush his teeth (with a vet-approved pet toothpaste) for good overall health and fresh breath, along with regular ear-cleaning and nail-trimming, and you're good to go with a Papillon.

A few good tools will make grooming your Papillon a breeze. Get a pin brush -- the kind with smooth-tipped wire pins instead of bristles -- a stainless steel comb with fine and coarse teeth and some antistatic coat spray. The spray will help protect the coat as you brush it. Brush the body with the pin brush, then go over it again with the comb. Use the fine teeth on the ear fringes and the feathering on the tail.

If you find mats, gently work them apart with your fingers. Mats that are too tight should be cut in half lengthwise using curved shears with blunt tips. That will make them easier to pull apart. You can also use the shears to trim the hair between the paw pads. Be careful to avoid accidentally cutting the skin.

Depending on how dirty they get or how close they get to you in bed, Papillons can be bathed as often as once or twice a week or as little as two or three times a month.

‹ Previous: Health
Next: Finding ›

Finding a Papillon

Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.

Choosing a Papillon Breeder

Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as is possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than in making big bucks.

Finding a responsibly bred puppy isn't always easy. As with all cute little breeds and cross-breeds, Papillons are a favorite with puppy mills, pet stores, disreputable breeders, and anyone looking to make a buck.

Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems.

Start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Papillon Club of America, and locate a breeder who has agreed to abide by its code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies through retail outlets such as pet stores. Choose a breeder who is not only willing but insists on being a resource in helping you train and care for your new dog.

Here’s a tip on weeding out bad breeders. Papillons who win in the show ring usually weigh between five and seven pounds. Pet Papillons can be quite a bit larger. Tiny Papillons in the three pound range are often advertised as “teacup” Papillons. Be aware that there is no such thing as a "teacup" Papillon. That is a marketing term designed to fool you into thinking you're getting something special or rare, when all you're getting is a dog who is quite a bit under the usual size of the breed. These dogs may be plagued with health problems and may not live a normal lifespan. Avoid breeders who use the term, or any similar terms, to suggest that their extra-small dogs are more desirable than a dog of the usual size.

Also avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical and should be reported to the Papillon Club of America and the American Kennel Club. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.

Many reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated  with reputable breeders.

Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies. 

The cost of a Papillon puppy varies depending on his place of origin, whether he is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. Expect to pay $1000 or more for a puppy. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.

Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Papillon might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult Papillon may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.

Adopting a Dog From a Papillon Rescue or Shelter

There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.

1. Use the Web

Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Papillon in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Papillons available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.

Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.

2. Reach Out to Local Experts

Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Papillon. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.

3. Talk to Breed Rescue

Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Papillons love all Papillons. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Papillon Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Papillon rescues in your area.

The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Papillon home with you to see what the experience is like.

4. Key Questions to Ask

You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:

What is his energy level?

How is he around other animals?

How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors, and children?

What is his personality like?

What is his age?

Is he housetrained?

Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?

Are there any known health issues?

Wherever you acquire your Papillon, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Puppy or adult, take your Papillon to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.

‹ Previous: Grooming

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