The Bichon Frise is a small, sturdy, white powder puff of a dog whose merry temperament is evidenced by his plumed tail carried jauntily over the back and his dark-eyed inquisitive expression. This is a breed that has no gross or incapacitating exaggerations and therefore there is no inherent reason for lack of balance or unsound movement. Any deviation from the ideal described in the standard should be penalized to the extent of the deviation. Structural faults common to all breeds are as undesirable in the Bichon Frise as in any other breed, even though such faults may not be specifically mentioned in the standard.
Bichon Friese are more prone than average to ear infections. As Bichon Frises are white dogs, frequent bathing is required to maintain the colour. Bichon Frises are prone to scratching and chewing on themselves, which commonly results in serious skin conditions. They are comparatively hypoallergenic, but they themselves suffer from allergies to fleas, chemicals, pollen, dust, etc. Loose knee joints, ear infections, cataracts, diabetes, and heart disease are also common ailments that the breed is known to suffer from.
Official AKC standards describe the Bichon Frise perfectly. They call this breed, “a white powder puff of a dog whose merry temperament is evidenced by his plumed tail carried jauntily over the back and his dark-eyed inquisitive expression.” Bichons are little puffs of personality. They love people of all ages, play well with children and are always a joy to be around. Easy to live with, Bichons bring smiles wherever they go – and they love to go places. A Bichon will happily accompany his people on walks, runs, or Sunday drives around town.
The small Bichon doesn’t need too much activity, a few walks a day and a little time to play are all they need. Bichons are especially good companions for elderly people and have been known to brighten the homes and disposition of recent widows and widowers. Apartment dwellers can have a happy Bichon since they don’t require vigorous exercise.
The Bichon Frise is easy to train. They love to please and take well to positive reinforcement and treats. They are not a dominant breed, so force is not necessary, and in fact can damage the psyche of these people-pleasers. They do well in a formal training setting, and can be taught advanced tricks to entertain friends and neighbors.
Bischon Frises are excellent dogs for first-time owners. They get along well with other animals, love people, and can be trusted not to run away. However, house training is notoriously difficult. Fist time owners may want to have their breeder house train a Bischon before bringing him home because this process can be long, difficult and messy. Separation anxiety is common in Bichons. They love, love, love to be with people and if left alone too long become anxious. This can result in chewing, barking, crying and even relieving themselves in the house. Proper exercise and training can prevent some of this, but Bischons are happiest in homes where they aren’t left alone for long periods of time.
Bichon Frises are barkers, and they have a high-pitched bark that is often described as shrill. Their bark is not aggressive, they just like to let everyone know that a new person is arriving, the mail has been delivered, someone is coming down the stairs, there is another dog outside, or just to hear themselves bark. Their barking can’t be trained out of them, but a stop barking command is important and should be taught early on.
Bichons are high-maintenance when it comes to grooming, and they are prone to skin problems and allergies, so good grooming habits are a must. Brushing is required at least twice per week and their white coats get dirty quickly, so baths are very common. Brushing should always be done before a bath, because the hair naturally tangles in the water. Tangles and mats that are present before a bath will be nearly impossible to remove and have to be cut out. The coat will need to be trimmed every six weeks to maintain a good length. Most owners keep a standing appointment every four to six weeks with a groomer to keep up with baths, trims, nail clipping and ear cleaning as grooming a Bichon is not for the faint of heart or for those pressed for time. Bichons are prone to eye tearing which can stain the face. Veterinarians can recommend eye wipes or solutions that can reduce the tearing, relieve discomfort for the dog and help keep their white faces clean.
The Bichon Frise is often depicted as a French dog. Although the bichon breed type are originally Spanish, used as sailing dogs, the French developed them into a gentle lap-dog variety. The bichon type arose from the water dogs, and is descended from the poodle-type dogs and either the Barbet or one of the water spaniel class of breeds. Modern bichons have developed into four categories: the Bichon Frise or Tenerife, the Maltese, the Bolognaise, and the Havanese, often treated as separate breeds.
Because of their merry disposition, the ancestral bichons traveled much and were often used as barter by sailors as they moved from continent to continent. The dogs found early success in Spain and it is generally believed that Spanish seamen introduced the early breed to the Tenerife in the Canary Islands. In the 14th century, Italian sailors rediscovered the little dogs on their voyages and are credited with returning them to continental Europe, where they became great favorites of Italian nobility. As was the style with dogs in the courts, their coats were cut “lion style”, like a modern-day Portuguese Water Dog.
The Tenerife, often simply called the Bichon, had success in France during the Renaissance under Francis I (1515–1547), but its popularity skyrocketed in the court of Henry III (1574–1589). The breed also enjoyed considerable success in Spain as a favorite of the Infantas and painters of the Spanish school often included them in their works. For example, the famous artist, Francisco de Goya, included a Bichon in several of his works.
Interest in the breed was renewed during the rule of Napoleon III, but then waned until the late 19th century when it became the “common dog”, running the streets, accompanying the organ grinders of Barbary, leading the blind, and doing tricks in circuses and fairs.
On 5 March 1933, the official standard of the breed was adopted by the Société Centrale Canine, the national kennel club for France. This was largely due to the success of the French-speaking Belgian author Hergé's The Adventures of Tintin, which featured a small, fluffy, white fox terrier dog named Milou (Snowy in the English editions). As the breed was known by two names at that time, Tenerife and Bichon, the president of the Fédération Cynologique Internationale proposed a name based on the characteristics that the dogs presented – the Bichon Frisé. (“Frisé” means “curly”, referring to the breed's coat.) On 18 October 1934, the Bichon Frisé was admitted to the stud book of the Société Centrale Canine.
The Bichon was brought to the United States in 1955. The first US-born Bichon litter was whelped in 1956. In 1959 and 1960, two breeders in different parts of the US acquired Bichons, which provided the origins for the breed's further development in that country.
The Bichon Frise became eligible to enter the AKC's Miscellaneous Class on 1 September 1971. In October 1972, the breed was admitted to registration in the American Kennel Club Stud Book. On 4 April 1973, the breed became eligible to show in the Non-Sporting Group at AKC dog shows. In 2001, a Bichon Frise named J.R. won best-in-show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. In the United States, the Bichon Frise was ranked the 40th most popular breed in 2013 according to the American Kennel Club.