Bolognese dog playing in field.
Bolognese Puppy playing in field.
Bolognese dog.
Bolognese dog smiling
No, he’s not a tasty Italian sauce. The Bolognese, like his cousin the Bichon Frise, is a tiny white dog with curly hair. Unlike the Bichon, the Bolognese’s hair flows in long, wavy locks, giving him the look of a fairy tale dog fallen ever so slightly on hard times. Sometimes a bit shy, he’s something of a one-person dog, never happier than when he’s in your lap.Looking out of a fluffy ringletted body are round dark eyes that draw you in with their sweet expressiveness. Beneath that cloud of curls, the Bolognese is a sturdy little dog who loves to have fun. He doesn’t need long walks every day, but if that’s what you want to do, he’s right there with you, willing and able. If being a couch potato is more your style, he’s good with that, too. He is curious, comical, devoted and smart.

The Bolognese, sometimes known as the Bichon Bolognese, is one of several little white dogs that have been known in the Mediterranean for at least 2,000 years. You may be familiar with his cousins: the Bichon Frise, the Coton de Tulear, the Maltese, the Havanese. The dog was popular at ducal courts in Italy, in particular, Bologna, from where he takes his name.

If you’re the kind of person who can’t tell an adorable little white fluffball "no," you’re going to have some problems with your adult Bolognese. Of course you can spoil him; that’s what toy dogs are for, but giving him lots of love and attention, along with the softest spot in the house (your lap, most likely) doesn’t mean you have to let him get away with nipping, snapping or nuisance barking. Make sure he knows the rules, and enforce them gently and consistently from day one, and he’ll be a prince without being a tyrant.

Although the Bolognese can be a wonderful family pet, this may not be the right breed for families with young children. These dogs can easily be injured if play is too rough or even snap at a child if frightened. However, they love children, so as long as play is supervised and the children are gentle, dog and child can be fast friends.

The curly coats of these lively little dogs require daily brushing and occasional professional grooming. Neglected coats become matted, which is painful and can lead to serious skin infections.

Other Quick Facts

  • Works of art that feature the Bolognese include a Titian portrait of Federico Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, which hangs in Madrid’s Prado Museum; paintings by Goya and Watteau; and 17th-century Flemish tapestries.
  • When you look at a Bolognese, you should see a small, stocky dog with a squarish body covered in a long, fluffy white coat. He has a large black nose, dark round eyes and long ears that hang down. His tail curves over his back.

The History of the Bolognese

This is one of several breeds that belong to the Bichon family of dogs, little white fluffy dogs that originated in the Mediterranean a couple of thousand years ago and have been traveling the world ever since. Other Bichon breeds include the Bichon Frise, Coton de Tulear and Maltese. The Bichon breeds were popular trade items through the centuries because of their portability and amiable temperament. They were popular companions for ladies in royal courts and noble homes and are often seen in portraits of the time.

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the Bolognese was popular in the ducal court of Bologna—hence his name—and was a pampered pet of wealthy and noble Italian families of the time: the Medicis, the Gonzagas, the Estes. Also under the spell of these charming Italian canine confections were empresses Catherine the Great of Russia and Maria Theresa of Austria and the Marquise de Pompadour, the chief mistress of Louis XV of France.

But the days of noble courts passed, and with them, almost, the Bolognese. Fortunately, fans of the breed, in particular Gianfranco Giannelli, managed to save the breed. The Bolognese was imported to England and shown there in 1990 in a class for breeds that weren’t yet recognized by the Kennel Club. By 2001 it had its own classes and was exhibited at the Crufts dog show in 2002.

The Bolognese was recognized by the United Kennel Club on January 1, 1995. The breed is part of the American Kennel Club’s Foundation Stock Service, one of the first steps to AKC recognition.

Bolognese Temperament and Personality

The Bolognese is an entertaining and affectionate companion dog. He loves to be the center of your attention, and he’s sure to win you over with his playful and inquisitive disposition. He is intelligent and highly trainable. Though he is small, he is robust and resilient. He is the perfect lap dog.

He is not especially active, but he will tailor his activity level to yours. His whole goal in life is to spend time with you and make you happy.

The Bolognese is a great friend to kids, but he’s best suited to a family with children age 9 and up due to his small size. Older children are more capable of handling him carefully.

The flip side of this breed’s strong devotion to his owner is he doesn’t like to be left alone. He can suffer from what is known as separation anxiety, which can lead him to engage in bad behavior like chewing, barking or soiling the house if left alone.

Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. 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 with a reputable, experienced Bolognese 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. Choose a puppy whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized by the breeder from early birth.

What You Need To Know About Bolognese 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.

Bolognese can suffer from hip dysplasia, a genetic hip deformity that requires costly surgery to repair and can lead to arthritis later in life. And as with all small dogs, the kneecaps of the Bolognese may have a tendency to slip out of place, a condition known as "luxating patellas." Bolognese can develop Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, a condition that causes reduced blood supply to the head of the thigh bone, which in turn causes it to shrink. The first sign of this disease is limping, which usually appears when the puppy is 5 to 8 months old. Treatment requires surgical repair, after which the puppy will have a relatively normal life. As with most small dogs, Bolognese are prone to periodontal disease because of the small size of their mouth. Consult your veterinarian about a preventive care program, and don’t treat dental disease lightly.

Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible 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 common defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.

Don’t fall for a bad breeder’s sales pitch. If the breeder tells you she doesn’t need to do those tests because she’s never had problems in her lines, her dogs have been "vet checked," or any of the other excuses irresponsible breeders have for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs, walk away immediately.

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 Bolognese 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.

The Basics of Bolognese Grooming

When it comes to grooming, the Bolognese is a high-maintenance breed. He requires considerable time for grooming and bathing to keep his white, curly locks looking their best. You should brush your Bolognese at least three times a week — daily is best — to keep the coat in good condition. To keep the coat bright white, bathe him whenever he gets dirty in a whitening shampoo. Some owners trim the coat short for easier care or take the dog to a groomer for a professional coif.

If you fell in love with the Bolognese because of the way the pure white coat sets off those dark eyes, you’d better be prepared to spend a lot of time cleaning away tear stains, which cause a rust discoloration that most people find unsightly.Wipe around the eyes daily with a soft cloth dampened in warm water to clean and prevent tear stains.

The rest is basic care. Trim the toenails at least once or twice a month. Check the ears every week to make sure they are clean and odor free. If they look dirty, wipe them out using a cotton ball dampened with a mild ear cleaner recommended by your veterinarian. Sometimes, it is necessary to pluck out the hair that grows in the ear canal to allow for better air circulation inside the ear. Eye discharge tends to accumulate in the hair that grows around the eyes and if not cleaned regularly, can even lead to eye problems.

Finding a Bolognese

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 Bolognese Breeder

Finding a good breeder is the key to finding 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 possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks. Be wary of breeders who only tell you the good things about the breed or who promote the dogs as being “good with kids” without any context as to what that means or how it comes about.

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. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life. Look for more information about the Bolognese and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Bolognese Club of America or the Bichon Bolognese Association of America.

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. 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.

Lots of 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 Bolognese puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. 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 Bolognese 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 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 Bolognese Rescue or a 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 and can have you searching for a Bolognese 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 Bolognese available on Petfinder across the country). 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 Bolognese. 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 Bolognese love all Bolognese. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Bolognese rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Bolognese 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 Bolognese 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 dog. 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 Bolognese, 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 Bolognese 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.