The bichon frisé may be small, but its enthusiasm at being around people makes it a lovely dog to own, writes Maina Perrot
It may have come from Europe, charmed the royalty in the 1500s including France’s Prince Henry III who would take his dog with him everywhere and the French word ‘bichonner’ (to pamper) may have originated from the fluffy and curly-coated dog’s name, but the bichon friséremains very much a vivacious and good-natured little dog.
In fact the breed is descended directly from the water spaniel which long ago served as a hunting dog, retrieving fowl from water and although it was never fully used in this manner, the smaller bichon frisé, whose name comes from the French expression ‘bichon a poil frisé’ (small dog with curly hair),became a popular street performer and even caught Spanish painter Francisco Goya’s eye, as a favourite subject in some of his artworks including his 1795 Portrait of the Duchesse of Alba.
“They were very popular with the royalty in the 1500s and 1600s but their popularity diminished during the 1700s and around 1870 the dog of the aristocrats became the ‘dog of the street’, the little sheep dog who did many tricks at the fair,” says Suzanne Holloway, who has bred, groomed and owned the bichon friséfor 20 years. Following the First World War, the bichon became popular again in France and Belgium and by 1933 breeding was well advanced and the bichon frisébecame a registered breed.
While they are not a typical outdoor dog and like the comfort of the house, bichons fit the relaxed Kiwi lifestyle perfectly; enjoying walks in the park and playing games and being relatively easy to train.
Marion Watson, from the Bichon FriséClub, says she and her one-and-a-half year old puppy, Sapphire-Rose (or Sapphie) play fetch each day and go for walks, as well as other basic exercises.
“She’s still a puppy so we practise basic commands like sit, come, leave each day. They’re pretty adaptable to most circumstances.”
Holloway agrees: “They can learn to do things relatively easily, not quite as fast as a collie but they’re still quite bright little dogs. They are great to have around; they are small but they are also sturdy and enjoy being outside to play.”
They make very good little watchdogs and will warn you when someone is approaching the house. They resemble poodles in that they are cheerful, full of energy, inquisitive and always gentle. They crave activity and will start chewing things if they get bored.
They can be trained to compete in obedience and agility.
“It’s not common but the few that I have known to participate have really taken to it and they don’t take too long to grasp the concept,” Holloways says. “In the USA, bichon frisés havecompeted in many obedience and agility trials with great success.”
But above all, these dogs love doing things and working with their owners, Watson says. “[Sapphie] always wants to please so she fits into most situations with great enthusiasm, whether it be gardening, walking, hiking across farmland or along bush tracks, sailing on yachts or cruising on launches. Rides in cars and dinghies are both popular as are runs on beaches and swims in the sea.”
The bichon frise has also been used as hearing and therapy dogs and are great with the sick or elderly as they are small enough to sit on a lap or besides a patient, wonderful for reducing stress and lowering blood pressure. “They love and need to be around people and make great companions for almost anyone,” Holloway adds. “They are wonderful for people on their own or fit well into a family environment.”
Taking care of your bichon frisé, while relatively inexpensive, takes time. The breed requires regular grooming approximately once every six weeks but needs to be brushed two to three times a week and bathed every fortnight.
“One great factor is the woollen coat which does not shed and is perfect in a family with allergies or asthma,” Watson says. “But grooming and company are important to a bichon so if you can't provide either, this is not the breed for you.”
They are a generally healthy dog though can develop heart problems as they get older. They are also prone to tear stain, which causes brown markings that appear directly under their eyes. This is common and can be caused by a genetic predisposition which involves dogs born with blocked tear ducts, ear infections, allergies, an unhealthy diet, by drinking water with too much minerals or it can even be a sign of an irritation from fleas.
Exercise is also a daily requirement but it is best to keep it short.
The bichon’s daily exercise requirements are not onerous – a vigorous indoor or outdoor game and a short walk on leash will suffice.
The breed has a good life expectancy of 12 years and the healthiest will live to up to 15 years.
The Final Word
“Anybody would benefit from this breed,” Holloway says. “They’re great to have around the house and as long as they are with someone that gives them lots of love they are happy.”
Life span 12-15 years
Size 3-6kg; 23-30cm
Training Average, they just need daily exercise
Grooming Time consuming
Exercise requirements Average