The Papillon — What is it?

This article provides general background information regarding Papillons. It is intended to educate the general public, and is not intended as a guide for showing or breeding.

Often called the “Butterfly Dog” because of its fringed ears that resemble a butterfly’s outspread wings, the Papillon (“Pappy-Yon”) is one of the oldest purebred Toys. It appears in paintings in Italy as far back as the 15th century. In France the court ladies and royal children were frequently painted with a Toy Spaniel pet, as the breed was then known. As the merchant class in the Low Countries (modem Belgium and Holland) became wealthy, the little dwarf spaniel appeared in many family scenes. Gradually painters all over Europe were portraying them. These Toy Spaniels had drooping ears, but otherwise the prettiest of them were unmistakably the same breed we have today. The dropped ear variety is known as the Phalène (which is a French word pronounced “fah-LEN”), named for a moth that droops its wings, to distinguish it from the erect-eared modern variety-the Papillon or Butterfly dog.

With its unusual ears, waving tail plume, and flowing coat, the Papillon is a standout. It possesses what has been termed “sensible glamour” because the owner does not have to become a slave to preserve its beauty. The Papillon has no doggy odor and its silky coat is not prone to matting. However, Papillons love to be clean and bathing is easy; they wash like an orlon sweater! They have no undercoat to shed out twice a year as with most long-haired breeds and the resilient coat texture sheds dirt and dry grass with the touch of a brush. The pet Papillon requires no trimming of the coat, although the bottoms and sides of the feet can be trimmed for a more tidy appearance (this is usually done for the show ring).

The possibilities for color and markings are very nearly unlimited so you will find no two Papillons are exactly alike. For the show ring, they are always parti-color or white with patches of any color(s), with color covering both ears and extending over both eyes. Patches of color on the body may be of any size or shape, and of any color including black, tricolor, red, orange, tan, and sable. A symmetrical white blaze and noseband are preferred on the face but not essential for prize winning.

Their height at the top of the shoulder blade averages 8″ to 12″ This is the height range allowed in dog show competition (with over 11″ as a fault, and over 12″ as a disqualification), but smaller and larger individuals do occur infrequently. The Papillon Standard does not mention weight, but they should be height/weight proportional (typically weighing between 3 and 9 pounds). The delicate tinies can serve as exquisite companions for senior citizens, while the oversized ones with larger, stronger bones make delightful additions to active families with well-behaved children.

The Papillon is generally outgoing and friendly, although how extroverted it will be with strangers varies with how it was raised. Both males and females make equally suitable pets, and of course, should always be neutered or spayed if not destined for the dog show ring. Papillons are generally very social with other animals, and make wonderful companions to other dogs–and cats too. A word of warning though–they ignore all size differential and will entice much larger dogs to play, often with disastrous results. Their preference is to be with people, not only to be cuddled in a lap, but to accompany walks, car trips, TV watching etc.

Papillons are active, lively dogs, although generally not nervous or yappy. They might alert you when someone is at the door but should quiet down immediately when that person has been admitted as a friend. Most Papillons retain their puppy playfulness to some degree throughout their lives. They travel well (car-sickness is rare), and enjoy the attention they draw wherever they go. A Papillon can change homes at any age and if suitably placed, will adjust happily.

This is a relatively healthy breed. Although it cannot claim absolutely no genetic problems (no breed and no species of animal is entirely free of harmful genes) but in comparison with many breeds, the Papillon seems to have no serious problems widespread throughout the population. They are seldom finicky eaters but are not prone to obesity. Contrary to popular belief, they should not grow fat or change their personality after being spayed or neutered.

The Papillon is not considered to be a rare breed, although it is far from common. For 1998 it ranked 52nd (among 145 breeds) with 2,914 new registrations with the American Kennel Club. With growing popularity, regrettably, increased numbers are being produced in “puppy mills” for distribution to pet shops. Luckily, it is still mostly bred by knowledgeable fanciers devoted to protecting its interests and producing stock that is sound of mind and body.

The Papillon’s popularity also has grown at the dog shows because they are easy for novice exhibitors to groom and handle. They also are known to “show themselves” and will catch the judge’s eyes by dancing happily on the lead with ears held erect at attention and tail plume waving. Their “trainability” ranks extraordinarily high, enhanced by a strong desire to please; thus, they are rapidly becoming sought after as obedience competition dogs. In comparison to the more common large breeds found in the obedience trials, the Papillon’s small size, lively action, and intense attention to their handler always draw a crowd of spectators to ringside. It is one of five top breeds in obedience competition when all its scores and titles are factored in with its registration figures. It has been discovered that the Papillon has exceptional abilities in tracking (following a human scent) and agility (maneuvering a canine obstacle course).

The breed also is ideal for service as Hearing Ear Dogs for the deaf and hearing impaired and therapy dogs (visiting hospitals and nursing homes). They also do FULL mobility work, and do it as well as the big guys!

It is often said that the Papillon is a big dog in a little dog’s body. They can do virtually all that a larger dog can do, but with less effort, upkeep, and space requirements. Truly, their unique beauty goes far beyond their glorious ears!

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