By: Ruth Ann & Danny Ford
Successful breeding and exhibition of Phalenes can be a challenge to the fanciers that adore this elegant, sweet, expressive, and yet soulful little moth dog. A number of years ago, the Phalenes popularity diminished to near extinction. Today in the United States, Canada, and abroad there is a growing interest in rebuilding the original butterfly dog’s gene pool. The breeders, owners, and exhibitors of the Phalène not only must love their soft charismatic charm, but also must serve as ambassadors for the Phalène, educating judges, other Papillon fanciers and dog lovers in general. Competition in the breed ring is rather difficult at AKC shows. When it comes to being awarded winning ribbons, there are few classes offered for the drop eared Papillon at all breed shows. Judges are not as familiar with the variety and will often pass by an equal or better quality Phalène. Lack of Phalène education to promote the two breed varieties, erect and drop eared, as equals in the AKC breed standard is partly to blame. Judges that have settled into many years of judging only Papillons can find it difficult to recognize and reward the qualities of the Phalène.
A breed history showing the exact origin of the Phalène is not exactly known, though there are several theories of where the breed developed. The most popular belief states that the Phalène began in France, Belgium and also Spain. Phalènes depicted as royal pets in old master paintings showed they became popular in European courts. They have been connected to many famous royal names. A few recognizable names are: King Louis XIV, King Henry III, Madame Pompadour, and Marie Antoinette.
However vague the breed beginnings might be, one fact is certain. The drop eared Phalène was the first variety of the Butterfly dog. The Butterfly dog is also known as “The Continental Toy Spaniel” (Epagneul Nain Continental). The AKC breed standard lists the drop eared Phalène as an equal variety to the more popularly known erect eared Papillon. The two varieties are lumped together, and both the erect (Papillon) and dropped (Phalène) are registered and compete as Papillons. The drop eared variety in countries that follow FCI (Fédération Cynologique Internationale) standards are separately registered as Phalenes and compete as their own breed against only other Phalenes. Evaluating and judging the Phalène is different, yet the same as Papillons. With the exception of the drop ears and slightly lifting ear carriage, the Phalène is identical to the Papillon in all other breed characteristics.
The key to learn the correct Phalène ear is rather simple. Visualize that the ears of the Phalène are like whimsical fringed moths. Try to prevent from comparing the Phalène ears to the ears of other spaniel breeds. The ear size, leather or placement on the head of the Phalène is not to be compared to the drop ear of a Cocker Spaniel, King Charles Cavalier, or the Japanese Chin.
Ear set is normally higher than other spaniel type drop eared breeds, but lower and placed differently when comparing the Phalène ear to the erect eared Papillon. To hold the Phalène ears upright and compare them as a Papillon shows ignorance when evaluating the breed varieties. The rounded-fringed ears of the adult Phalène should be thin but firm. The ears should appear to have a slight lift for air ventilation with the ear set above the dog’s eye line, but still low enough when observing the head from the front to see a slight roundness to the top of the head.
When considering the natural ear lift, mobility backwards, mobility sideways, mobility out and mobility up are acceptable and common ear movements as long as the ears when standing still or at rest are down. A Phalène may have mobility in one ear or both. It is not unusual for the Phalenes ear to almost float in the breeze. While the Phalène is moving, the ears often appear like a moth fluttering in the air. The Phalène when looking up and back, as when baiting at a toy held shoulder high, may also momentarily flip their ears back and almost seem semi erect. It is important not to confuse the Phalene’s ear mobility with the half-erect or tipped over (for example sheltie like) weak eared Papillon. The young Phalène will tend to have more ear movement to lift their ears. With time and maturity, the ears will settle more in addition to the weight of adult ear fringing.
When looking from a distance, out at a ring that has both Papillon and Phalenes competing, there can be an optical allusion that makes the Phalène standing between two Papillons appear out of balance. Using the table examination to evaluate the overall body length compared to the height, plus feeling the length of neck should find the required elegance is the same standard requirements of slightly longer than tall.
Most important of all remember that the AKC breed standard requires a small, friendly, elegant toy dog of fine-boned structure, light, dainty and of lively action. While in the ring, the Papillon can almost appear at times like a butterfly. Paps will jump and turn, while their ears flitter and flutter forwards and backwards. Don’t expect the Phalène variety to stand statue still appearing dead eared while the Papillon competitors act like butterflies. It is a promise; Phalenes carry the same delightful spark in their eye that has affectionately gained the breed the nickname of little tyrants.