Bichon frise, 5 years old, sitting in front of white backgroundBichon Frises are cheerful, happy dogs that are easily recognizable by their cotton white coats and dark eyes. They look mischievous and merry with a plumed tail they carry over their backs. These playful, intelligent dogs do not shed and they often make a good dog for people with allergies.


The Bichon Frise has a long history. They originated around the Mediterranean from the Barbet, a poodle breed (rare today), and the Water Spaniel in the 13th century. Probably because of their happy personalities and smaller size, the dogs were popular and Spanish sailors seem to have taken the dogs with them on their voyages, even bartering with them. The dogs became a fixture in the Canary Islands which was a popular port for sailors. Italian sailors brought them to the courts of Europe in the 14th century. The dogs were especially popular at the French court in the 16th century and with Italian and Spanish nobility. The breed has become increasingly popular in the United States throughout the 20th century. They first arrived in the U.S. in 1955 and the first litter was born in 1956. The breed was officially recognized by the AKC in 1972.


The Bichon is a gentle, playful dog and they make excellent family pets. They are very active dogs and they need regular daily exercise but they will be perfectly happy living in an apartment as long as they get enough exercise. The AKC breed standard calls for the Bichon to be “gentle mannered, sensitive, playful, and affectionate.” They love to be with people and they will require a lot of attention. Bichon Frises tend to be quite sociable dogs and they enjoy going places with their owner. Most Bichons are charming dogs who are quite affectionate and intelligent. They usually get along well with other animals.


In terms of appearance Bichons usually looks white but they can actually be white, white and apricot, white and buff, or white and cream. These are pale shadings and are usually found around the ears. The breed stands 9 ½ to 11 ½ inches tall at the shoulders. They usually weigh around 10 pounds, give or take a few pounds up or down. (No specific weight is given in the AKC standard but the dog should be proportionate to his height.) The coat is curly and dense. These dogs do have an undercoat and an outer coat but they do not shed very much which often makes the breed a good choice for people with allergies. However, Bichons need to be brushed regularly and trimmed every four to eight weeks to help remove dead hair. Otherwise the hair can mat badly.


Bichons are considered to be a healthy breed when purchased from a good breeder. According to the Bichon Frise Club of America, the top five diseases afflicting Bichons from the last health survey conducted by the club are not life-threatening. So, like all breeds, there are health issues in the breed, but the most common problems are not likely to shorten the life of a Bichon.

Bichon Frises tend to have a longer life than many dogs (this is true of many smaller breeds). They live, on average, 12-13 years. Some Bichons live well into their teen years. A 2004 health survey of Bichon Frises by the Kennel Club in the UK found that the leading cause of death was old age (23.5 percent), followed by cancer (21 percent). A 2007 survey of breeders in the United States and Canada found that the leading cause of death was cancer (22 percent).

The breed can suffer from hematological issues such as autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) and immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (ITP). These diseases tend to strike Bichons at younger ages, causing death at a median age of 5 years.

Liver shunt can also occur in the breed. Dogs can be born with liver shunts but they may not be detected until later in life when the condition is hard to correct and can lead to liver failure. If the condition is detected early it can be easily corrected with surgery, but if it’s not detected there is less chance of success later. Signs that a dog might have a liver shunt include being underweight, being the runt of the litter, having a bad reaction to high protein food. Other signs include dark urine, lethargy, loss of appetite, and increase in drinking water, as well as seizures. However, it should be noted that liver shunts occur in many small breeds and are not especially common in Bichons.


Bichons are considered to be of average working/obedience intelligence by Dr. Stanley Coren in his book The Intelligence of Dogs but this is probably inaccurate. Like Poodles and other small white dogs, Bichon Frises have often been used as performing dogs and circus dogs. They are quite intelligent and learn quickly when they are motivated. They can do well at obedience, agility, rally, and other dog sports and activities, especially if you begin training your Bichon when he is young. They love to do things with their owners and that includes companion events.

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