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Get to Know the Papillon: Pretty, Peppy, and Almost Perfect!

Perhaps no other breed packs so much brains and beauty into such a small package.

Caroline Coile  |  Oct 27th 2014


The peppy Papillon may have been developed as a royal lapdog, but he’s equally adept as a everyday watchdog, outdoor buddy and agility competitor. He floats like a butterfly, and, well, stings like a bee, so don’t count on him as much of a protection dog just yet, though.

Read more interesting things about the Papillon:

  • The Papillon may be confused with a Japanese Chin, but the Chin has a flat face and always has drop ears. The Papillon may also be confused with a Long Coat Chihuahua, but the Chihuahua is stockier, has smaller ears and a thicker muzzle, and can come in solid colors. The Papillon is always white with patches of color.
  • The Papillon’s ancestors were smaller Spaniels who were probably bred with Oriental toy dogs such as the Japanese Chin to create a lapdog who served as companion, lap and foot warmer and surrogate hot water bottles.
  • Small dogs resembling Papillons were often depicted in paintings along with royal and merchant-class families as far back as the 16th century. The dogs were sometimes referred to as Titian Spaniels after the painter who so often included them in his works.

  • The Court of Louis XIV of France was especially fond of these dwarf Spaniels and played a role in developing the French version.
  • It is said that when Marie Antoinette went to her beheading, she carried her drop-eared Papillon with her. The dog was spared.
  • Most of these dogs were red and white and had drop ears, but the erect ears appeared soon after. Even today, both types can be found in the same litter.

  • Ideally, the Papillon’s facial markings are symmetrical, with white down the center and color on the ears and eyes, although this is not a requirement.
  • “Papillon” means “butterfly” in French, referring to the general outline of the face and ears. The drop-eared type is known as the Phalene, which means “moth,” again referring to the look of the face and ears.
  • The Papillon was AKC recognized in 1935. It is a member of the Toy group.

  • Although the AKC considers the erect-eared and drop-eared Paps as the same breed, they are considered separate breeds in most European countries.
  • The Papillon is known as the Epagneul Nain Continental, or Continental Toy Spaniel, in most of the world.
  • The breed has also been called the Squirrel Spaniel, perhaps because of the squirrel-like tail carriage.
  • The Papillon is the 36th most popular AKC breed, down only slightly from the 38th most popular position the breed held a decade ago.

  • Only one Papillon has won Best in Show at the Westminster dog show, in 1999. This same dog, Kirby (Champion Loteki’s Supernatural Being), also won Best in show at the World dog show. Eight years old, Kirby was the oldest dog to win Best in Show at Westminster (an even older dog, a Sussex Spaniel) has since broken that record.
  • Papillons are one of the most successful dogs of any breed in the sports of obedience and agility. They are considered one of the smartest and most trainable toy dogs. They are even successful trackers and service dogs!
  • Owners include Madame Pompadour, Marie Antoinette, King Henry II, Louis III, Lauren Bacall, George Takei, Christina Aguilera, T. Boone Pickens and Yuya Tegoshi.

Do you own a Papillon? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.