The Papillon: As Free Spirited as the Butterfly it was Named For

No matter if you are a seasoned dog owner with years of experience under your belt or if you are in the market for your first dog, the Papillon is one of the best choices you could make as a pet owner.

Papillon History

The Papillon, named after the French word for "butterfly" due to the shape of their ears, has its roots deep in history, showing evidence of how well-loved this breed has always been. It was once a beloved breed owned by many notable figures, including royals, nobles and other highly-ranked members of society such as King Henry III and Marie Antoinette.

The Papillon breed is energetic, loyal and highly intelligent, making it incredibly easy and fun to train them to do anything. Perfect for first time dog owners, these spunky and sweet little pooches are friendly to everyone, even other dogs, allowing them to become an excellent addition to any home.

 A Brief History Of The Papillon

Papillon, a French word meaning "butterfly," was first given to this breed of dogs in the 1500s when the nature of this dog changed over from the floppy, loose-eared Spaniel-type dog to the highly held, butterfly-winged look that it still holds today.

The Papillon were incredibly favored and popular with higher classes of society, and frequently nobles and those of wealth would often have their portraits painted with their Papillon pooch, a testament to the prestige and power that surrounded them.

Around this same time period, Spain and Italy had become hubs for the successful and plentiful trading and breeding of these elegant little pups as their popularity began to grow. Louis XIV of France was one of the more notable names who had fallen in love with these dogs in his time, and he shared this love with both King Henry III and Marie Antoinette.

While known most commonly as Papillons, this breed has a few other nicknames, too. Papillons are also given the nickname of Squirrel Spaniel due to its plumed tail resembling that of a squirrel that rests atop its back. In Europe, the Papillon is called the Continental Toy Spaniel.

Phalene Puppy

The name for the other type of Papillon, the drop-eared Papillon, is the Phalene. Phalene means "night moth." This name stems from French origin as well and refers to the way the dog’s ears fold over, much like a moth’s ears do when it rests at night. Dogs with both ear types are born to same litter, but the ears that stand up are certainly more popular among the two.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Papillon breed became popularized in French, English and American dog shows because of their stunning appearance and incomparable intelligence.

These earlier show dogs were a bit larger than the ones that roam the earth today, and their color was more of a solid red shade. With selective breeding, a smaller, beautifully colored type of this pooch, adorned with white patches and called blaze, was created. The butterfly look is perfectly emboldened by being embellished with a white blaze!

Currently, the Papillon ranks 35th among the 155 breeds and varieties registered by the American Kennel Club and is also ranked the 49th most popular.

Papillon Physical Attributes

Perhaps this breed's most notable and defining feature is their ears. Papillon, which, as stated, means "butterfly," in the French language, is used in reference to their fringed and upright ears, those of which do strongly resemble the outspread wings of the butterfly in motion. This breed also comes with a drop-eared alternative, called Phalene. Phalene means "moth," named for the way its folded ears fold up like moths wings do. Outside of the ears both styles of the Papillon are identical in all other respects.

A member of the toy dog group, the Papillon is a fine-boned, petite and rather delicate breed with a certain royal, undeniably elegant air about it. The typical Papillon stands at less than a foot tall, averaging around 11 inches in height for both male and female varieties. The breed is longer than it is tall and usually weighs around 9 pounds.

The Papillon has a light and free gait and it is as graceful as it is quick. The ears of the Papillon, when in movement, fly out and resemble the wings found on its very namesake. Their tail is arched over their backs; its large, plumed nature earning this breed the nickname of Squirrel Spaniel.

Papillon Coloring Variations

The Papillon, while historically a solid red shade, can now be found in any color. The preferred color and pattern of Papillons tends to be one with a strip of color across the nose that extends to the ears, furthering the look of the butterfly effect. People also enjoy a dash of white on the face and coloring on the ears. Their soft, single-layer coat is straight and long everywhere including their ears, legs and chest, but on their muzzles and head, the hair is short.

Personality Traits of Papillons

The Papillon is a very entertaining, fun and highly energetic pooch. They love to spend as much as time as possible playing and exercising. Even with its small stature, this breed is more than capable of taking long, extended walks, and the little dog will usually think it is much larger than it really is.

This may pose trouble with larger dogs, as the Papillon will not back away from a confrontation with one. It may also be worrisome when the dog tries to jump down from such great heights, ones that their little bodies simply are not equipped for. Unlike many toy dog breeds, the Papillon is calm and is not likely to suffer from high anxiety or shyness.

Praised for its incredible intelligence levels, the Papillon is one of the most obedient and responsive dogs found within the toy breed category. Playful, gentle and sweet, this breed is a nice fit for families who have children.

That said, it is widely recommended that this dog only plays with a child while under supervision, as the small thing can easily be hurt by an overexcited child, or from attempting to jump out of the arms of a child who does not want to let them go.

The Papillon is friendly with other dogs and animals, so long as the owner of the Papillon has taken the proper amount of time and effort needed to socialize the pooch from a young age.

Papillon Dogs Get Along With Cats

Non-aggressive, the Papillon breed is great at being introduced to new people and strangers, but there is a possessive streak within the gentle animal. When unknown people approach the house, the dog will make sure you know about it. This also makes them into very useful and efficient watch dogs, ones that come with the added benefit of the Papillon's enjoyment of catching mice in the home.

Papillon Health Issues

The Papillon has an average, expected lifespan anywhere between 12 to 15 years of age. Unfortunately, they are rather susceptible to a number of health concerns and problems. These include dental issues, seizures, and patellar luxation. In some Papillon dogs, open fontanel, a condition affecting the formation of the skull, along with retinal atrophy, intervertebral disk disease and allergies are present.

Papillon Health Issues

Tests for their knees, the hemophilic disorder and von Willebrand's Disease are common and considered standard for this breed. Small and fragile, Papillons can also be sensitive to any sort of anesthesia, making it a good recommendation that you consult with your vet about this before the dog goes through any procedures like surgery that requires an anesthetic.

Training Your Papillion

Papillons, while being fun-loving, adorable and affectionate dogs, are fairly easy to train except when it comes to one thing... housebreaking, or potty training. They typically require the owner to spend a little more time and effort teaching the dog to use the bathroom outside than other breeds might.

Luckily, the Papillon is a very smart dog. He or she can easily learn fun tricks and games, as well as basic obedience training, such as teaching them to walk on a leash, teaching them to sit, and teaching them to lie down when commanded to. They are so energetic and active that learning these new functions to please their owner is great fun for them. Coupled with their incredible intelligence, this allows for training the Papillon to be much easier than other breeds.

Training Your Papillon

Papillons are endearingly lovable dogs, but like any puppy, they require the necessary guidance and consistent coaching in order to housebreak them. Papillons, in particular, might require a little more effort or time to housebreak than most other breeds.

Speaking his or her language--that is to say, allowing yourself to become energetic, happy and use sing-song voices when training this breed of dog--will help your Papillon to learn more quickly, especially when it comes to that tough-learned skill of housebreaking. It also can't hurt to go ahead and reward their good behavior with positive attention and treats to boot.

Special Facts about the Papillon

Papillons rank among the top 10 most intelligent dog breeds! Ranked by neuropsychologist Stanley Corren in his best-selling book, "The Intelligence of Dogs," Papillons ranked as the  eighth smartest breed! Even though Papillons are energetic and ornery at times, they are very friendly and eager to learn, and this has to do with their intelligence levels.

Their physical capacity is also quite astounding for such a small dog breed. Papillons are a very popular show dog, but not just for their looks. With their smart nature and great agility, Papillons rank up there with Australian Cattle Dogs, Poodles and Border Collies when it comes to agility contests.

Their resourceful brains that allow them to follow their owner’s directions accurately and negotiate obstacles with ease combined with their physical ability to do most anything makes it obvious why these incredibly athletic dogs do well at dog shows.

Papillons also come in a wide array of colors, making them a bit more unique than some of the other breeds of dogs. Their color combinations range from black, brown, lemon, red, sable, and tan.

All of these colors are certainly beautiful and acceptable, but, according to the AKC, white needs to be present on the dog somewhere. That said, Papillons that are all white or have no white at all are faulted when being judged. There are even more specific guidelines that state where and how the white is preferred on the Papillon's coat.

Buying a Papillon

Buying A Papillon Puppy

Purebred, "high quality" Papillon dogs will ordinarily not be found at shelters. They are typically bred. Even so, there can still be Papillons to be found to be adopted, but many of them will be a bit older, as the average rescue Papillon is around 2 years of age.

If you are unable to find a Papillon to rescue from an animal shelter, a breeder may be your answer. Do keep in mind that breeders look at their Papillon dogs in two ways: as show dogs, and as pet-quality dogs.

The show dogs will have a higher price point as high as $2,500 in some cases along with stipulations of ownership. The "pet-quality" Papillons, meaning those not perfectly suited for showing, are still incredibly beautiful and will often not have any visible or otherwise obvious faults. Opt for one of these types of Papillons if you must go through a breeder and are not intending on showing your Papillon at a dog show.

Final Thoughts

The Papillon is a well-loved breed of dog, and it is easy to see how these smart, sweet little pooches have stuck around for so long as such beloved pets. They make excellent show dogs due to their beauty and their brains, and breeders will often breed toward creating the ultimate show dog because of it. Papillons are friendly with dogs, strangers, and children, but should someone new approach the home, they instantly go into guard-dog mode.

There are many reasons why the Papillon is as popular a breed as it is, and it is clear to understand what there is to love about these adorable, smart, kind, long-haired pooches!

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