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Get to Know the Bichon Frise: More Than a Bouncing Cotton Ball!

These small white dogs are smart and cute -- and sometimes a bit naughty.

Caroline Coile  |  Jul 14th 2015


This living puffball may look like he’s never left the lap of luxury, but he’s not always had it so easy. The Bichon Frise has had to rely on his cutes and smarts to get what he wants — but really, some things never change!

Girl and Bichon Frise by Shutterstock

Girl and Bichon Frise by Shutterstock

Read more interesting things about the Bichon

  • The Bichon may be confused with the Poodle or Pumi. However, the Bichon is smaller than all but the Toy Poodle, and is much longer bodied than any. For shows, the breed is traditionally groomed with a fuller, more rounded head, with no shaved places at all on the head or body.
  • The Bichon descends from the Barbichon family of dogs, which in turn descends from the Barbet, a large water dog behind the Poodle. So yes, the breed is related to the Poodle!
  • Bichons were initially divided into four types: Bichon Maltaise, Bichon Bolognaise, Bichon Havanese, and Bichon Tenerife. They later became the Maltese, Bolognese, Havanese, and Bichon Frise, respectively.
  • The name Bichon Frise is pronounced “BEE-shon Fri-ZAY” and means small, curly-coated long-haired dog. More precisely, the word “bichon” comes from the Middle French term meaning “small, long-haired dog,” which in turn is (somehow) derived from “biche” or “bitch,” for “female dog.” The word “bichon” has been known for longer than the word “barbichon,” so it probably isn’t a shortened form of barbichon.
Two happy Bichons by Shutterstock

Two happy Bichons by Shutterstock

  • But before there was the Bichon Frise, the breed was the Bichon Tenerife, which was developed on the Canary Island of Tenerife.
  • The Tenerife came to France and Italy in the 14th century and again to France in the 16th century, becoming favored pets of the upper class.
  • For unknown reasons, the breed fell out of favor in the 19th century. Ever the survivors, they earned their keep as organ grinders’ dogs, performing tricks on the streets of Barbary in exchange for handouts. Some also made their way into the circus and fairs as trick dogs.
  • The Bichon Frise became an official French breed In 1933. They came to America in the 1950s and became an AKC breed in 1971. They are in the AKC’s Non-Sporting group.
  • The Bichon rose to be amongst the AKC’s top 25 breeds a decade ago, but has since fallen in popularity. The breed now ranks as the 43rd most popular in the AKC.
  • Bichons have a reputation for being difficult to housetrain, but are otherwise extremely easy and fun to train.
  • The Bichon may look pure white, but often they have very light cream patches around their ears or, less commonly, elsewhere.
  • Artists who have included Bichons in their work include Titian, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Francisco de Goya.
  • A Bichon named JR won Best in Show at the Westminster dog show in 2001. Six Bichons have won the Non-Sporting group at Westminster as well.
  • Owners include James Arness, Frank Gifford, Chick Hearn, Lainie Kazan, Aaron Spelling, Tanya Tucker, Betty White, King Henry III, Barbra Streisand, Kathy Lee Gifford, and Sadie Frost.

Interested in other breed profiles? Find dozens of them here.

Read recent stories by Caroline Coile:

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.