Origin: Spain / Belgium
Type: Toy dog
Weight: Male – 5-10kg
Female – 4-7kg
Height: Male – 9-11in / 23-30cm
Female – 9-11in / 23-28cm
Appearance: Bichon Frises are small toy dogs. Unlike most breeds they come in only one colour, white, although puppies can be cream or light yellow. They have a double coat – a soft and dense undercoat and a course outer coat. They have small black eyes and noses. Their tails are long and curly, groomed to have longer hair. Their dense fur makes them a high-maintenance breed, but they don’t shed so they are considered to be a good choice for people with allergies.
Temperament: Bichons are smart, kind and loving. They like to be independent but also the centre of attention. Playful and energetic, these little dogs don’t like to be left alone for a long time. If they are they can suffer from separation anxiety and even become destructive.
Skills: Bichons are fast learners and are good at tricks and dog sports. They can be obedient if you start their training early enough. Bichons have high levels of energy and often participate in obedience, agility and rally competitions. Because of their gentle nature, they’re also used as therapy dogs.
Behaviour Toward Other Animals and Children: Bichons are great family pets, amazing if you have children. They like to play and are tolerant of high level of noises and disturbance. As with any dog you should train both animal and child with regard to their behaviours towards each other.
Common Health Problems: Although healthy in general Bichons are prone to some health issues, the most common of these are – bladder problems, allergies, patellar luxation, hip dysplasia, juvenile cataracts and vaccination sensitivity.
Lifespan: Average 12 to 15 years
Intelligence, friendly disposition, and a penchant for being the centre of attention make the Bichon Frise easy to train. The breed responds best to positive reinforcement and motivation and develops new abilities and skills quickly. These dogs are food-motivated and work well with reward-based methods.
When it comes to housebreaking, just like all other small breeds, Bichons may require a bit more effort and patience on their owners’ part. However, with consistent routine and positive reinforcement, they can be successfully potty trained. Owners need to keep in mind that small dogs need frequent bathroom visits – as soon as they wake up, after short naps, play-time, meals, before and after being crated and finally, before bedtime. Some signs can also give off if the dog needs to eliminate: circling around, sniffing the floor, watching you intently, going back and forth to the door can all signal the need of a trip to the relieving area. A strictly demarcated toilet area – whether it’s an outside spot, or a litter pan inside, and a strict feeding, sleeping, and playing routine are essential in preventing accidents. Owners can also use treats as rewards and verbal praise after the dog eliminates successfully in the designated area. With time, the treats can be withdrawn, but praising the dog with words, pats on the head, and neck rubs need to continue.
Owners should be careful to never hit, shout at, or put the dog’s nose in his excrements when he has had an accident. Such harsh methods have a very detrimental effect on the dog’s mentality and put at risk any future training. If you see the dog eliminating, you can say “No” or “Freeze” in a firm voice. It should be enough to stop the dog from doing what he’s doing. Never correct the dog for an earlier accident when you get home. The dog won’t be able to associate you scolding him with him eliminating an hour ago, and this will only make him fearful of you coming home. Be patient and understand that housebreaking a dog takes time, sometimes even months. Accidents are normal, especially if the Bichon Frise has been home alone for more than 4 hours, as separation anxiety is a common reason for uncontrolled eliminating. There are certain medical problems and health disorders which may also lead to sudden accidents.
When housebreaking a Bichon puppy, keep in mind that dogs don’t develop full bladder control until 4-5 months of age. Puppies are growing and developing, so they eat more and burn calories faster, which necessitates more bathroom breaks. Adult Bichons don’t need as many relieving trips, but being a small breed, their bladders remain tiny and they still need to be taken to the toilet area relatively often. Regardless of its age, a new dog has to be introduced into a very consistent routine of frequent potty breaks, and guided with positive reinforcement.
Some properly applied training methods will establish a good foundation for desired behaviour and safety. Bichons are eager and willing dogs and will learn basic commands, such as “Come”, “Stay”, “Sit”, etc, quite easily. They also need to be trained to walk confidently on a loose leash and harness, as straining and pulling on the lead can harm their small necks. A good method for training the breed is clicker training, as well as any other positive method which is based on praise and rewards. Bichons Frises won’t respond well to any training which involves harsh correction and coercion. One behaviour that should not be encouraged, however, is the so-called “small dog syndrome”. This can be triggered by owners themselves when they treat their small dogs as teddy bears rather than real dogs. Small dogs can become stressed, anxious, and nervous when handled like a toy – constantly being cuddled and carried around. Although they are affectionate and loveable, they should not be treated as dolls or babies.
How the Bichon Frise Learns?
The Bichon Frise’s learning period can be conventionally steeped around five key stages:
- Teaching: At this stage, the person conducting the training has to physically demonstrate to the dog what exactly he is expected to do, using verbal and visual commands.
- Practising: Paying attention not to make the dog bored by too repetitive drilling, start each training session with a basic revision and practice before upgrading to new commands and tricks.
- Generalising: At this point, practice continues in new environment and settings. Expose the dog to new surroundings and a few distractions, and have him perform the commands you have taught. Practising what he has learnt in multiple locations and in the presence of small distractions will help him acquire and retain lessons better than repetitive drilling in the same surroundings.
- Testing: If your Bichon Frise has achieved almost 90% success, as in he responds correctly almost every time you give a command, you must start testing his accuracy in newer locations with more distractions. If you take him to a local shopping centre or a market with many distractions, initially he may not be able to respond correctly to a command he’s usually used to. Testing has to continue until he succeeds. Integrate the 3 Ps method – patience, persistence, praise.
- Internalising: This is the the most rewarding stage where the Bichon Frise does everything he has been taught to do even without your commands.
Bichons Frises are yet another breed whose origin remains uncertain. They are believed to have descended from the Barbet, and the etymology of the breed’s name is attributed to a diminutive form of Barbet – barbichon. In addition to the Bichons Frises, there are four other members of the Barbichon family – the Bolognese, the Coton de Tulear, the Havanese, and the Maltese. All Barbichon breeds share the same region of origin – the Mediterranean, and bear resemblances in terms of appearance and temperament.
Bichons are also known as Tenerife dogs, as it is believed that in the 14th century, French seamen saw the breed on the island and decided to take some of the toy-like dogs back home. Theories as to how the breed found its way to the Canary Islands in the first place include speculations that they travelled the Phoenician trade route with merchants from Italy.
Another theory explains Bichons’ arrival to Europe with Spanish sailors bringing the dog to the island and Italian (not French) soldiers bringing them back to the continent. The theory also speculates that when the French invaded Italy in the 15th century, they took the dogs to France as war loot.
Whether brought to Europe by the French or the Italian, Bichons gained quick popularity among noblemen. French King Henry III was especially fond of his Bichon dog and even had a special basket designed to carry it on his neck. Spanish royals were also Bichon fanciers and even painters such as Goya depicted them in paintings.
Bichons retained their popularity throughout the Napoleonic era but by the late 19th century, they were no longer in such favour by the French nobility and were considered common dogs, accompanying circus performers and street organ grinders. Some Bichons were trained as aiders to the blind.
Interest in the Bichon was rejuvenated after WWI, and French breeders set about preserving the breed. The Société Centrale Canine of France adopted the first official breed standard on March 5, 1933. At the time, the breed was known under two names – the Tenerife and the Bichon. When the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) granted official recognition to the breed later that year, the organisation’s president gave the breed a new moniker – Bichon à poil frisé (“Bichon with the curly coat”), which was anglicised to Bichon Frise.
Bichon dogs were imported into the US in 1955, and the first American-born Bichons were whelped in 1956. The breed was considered eligible to be entered in the Miscellaneous Class of the AKC in September 1971, and a year later it was admitted to registration in the American Kennel Club Stud Book. Since 1973, it has been shown in the Non-Sporting group at AKC shows. In the UK, the breed is a member of the Toy Dog group.
When buying a Bichon Frise puppy, owners should seek a breeder, who is willing to sign the Puppy Contract, created by the RSPCA and the BVA AWF. Ask the breeder for inbreeding coefficient – it should be as low as possible (the breed’s average is 10.8%). Responsible breeders provide health clearances on the parents and grandparents and have a policy of contributing to medical costs or a refund of the purchase cost in the event of serious genetic disorders. Some of the most common genetic disorders in Bichons owners should be careful about are hip dysplasia, epilepsy, liver shunt, and crowded teeth. Ask for eye and hip clearances and have your dog annually tested for hereditary cataract.
White dogs are prone to a rare disorder called “White Shaker Disease”, which is not completely understood. It usually affects white dogs of small breeds and causes continuous shaking or tremors, which in their severe form can cause difficulty walking or standing. The cause of the condition and its link to white dogs are unknown. Theories range from brain inflammation to immune disorders. Tremors seem to worsen when the dog is excited or stressed and resolve when it’s at rest or sleeping. The condition usually affects young dogs between the ages of 1-6. There is no certain way of diagnosing the White Shaker Syndrome but doctors can run some tests such as complete blood count, electroencephalography, and CT scan. Tremors can be caused by other conditions, so exposure to toxic substances, various inflammatory or infectious diseases of the nervous system, and epilepsy have to be excluded first.
Meat should come up to about 50% of a Bichon’s diet. Whether feeding commercial food, or home cooking the dog’s meal, make sure there is a high-quality protein source. You can feed poultry, fish, lamb, and venison, as well as other low-fat meats. Supplement the Bichon’s diet with omega-3 fatty acids to help relieve skin conditions caused by allergies. Fruit and vegetables can come up to about 25% of the diet but be careful about some of them – grapes and raisins, as well as garlic and onion are poisonous to dogs. Peaches and plums should also be avoided. Most dogs enjoy carrots, broccoli, zucchini, and some melon. Fats shouldn’t exceed 20% of the diet. They slow digestion and improve nutrient absorption, and also help with skin problems and inflammations. Add to the Bichon’s meal safflower oil, wild salmon oil, and sardine oil, which are rich in EFAs (essential fatty acids), but always check nutrition labels and feed appropriate amounts.
When compared to other breeds, the Bichon Frise may look like high-maintenance in terms of grooming. Their curly coats don’t grow to a certain length, they just keep on growing and require grooming every 4-6 weeks. Although they have a reputation for not shedding, Bichons do actually shed, but the excess dead hair gets tangled in the undercoat and forms tangles. Regular brushing and combing are essential to keeping the coat neat and matt-free, and preventing skin problems. Brush the coat at least once a week and give the Bichon regular baths to keep the white coat clean. Make sure to have brushed out all tangles before bathing because they will tighten when they get wet and become almost impossible to remove. Use a hydrating solution and de-tangling spray before brushing or combing to prevent the hair from breaking.
Most owners prefer to have their Bichon dogs professionally groomed. There are a variety of styles of shaping the coat, including the typical show cut, which is at a length that follows the contours of the body, while giving a bouncy feel. If the dog is not going to be shown, he can have his coat cut shorter in a “lamb” or “panda” cut.
Bichons need to have their eyes regularly cleaned as they have a tendency to tear. Mucus and watery discharge build up in the hair around the eyes and cause eye problems. Bichons suffer from allergies and are prone to small or partially closed tear ducts, eyelashes growing towards the eyeball, or eyelids turned inward. A vet can determine if the tear-staining is caused by any of these conditions.
Bichons need proper dental hygiene and nail care. Their teeth should be brushed at least once a week, although daily care is best, and the nails have to be trimmed once or twice a month. Use only specialised veterinary-approved products and have the nails trimmed by a professional if you are a first-time dog owner or feel uncertain about doing it yourself. Dogs’ nails have blood vessels in them so it’s extremely important that you trim away from the base to prevent bleeding.