Feisty, fun, and full of energy, the Papillon is the kind of dog that dreams are made of. They might be tiny, but what they lack in size, they more than make up for in personality, boasting loving, lovable characters that are impossible to resist. Although they have a tendency to chase after everything that moves, not to mention a passion for showing off their vocal talents whenever and wherever they can, their cute looks and adorable natures have made them one of the most enduringly popular dog breeds around. If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about the Papillon, here’s what you need to know.
1. Artists love them
Most dogs are cute, but some seem to inspire the muse more than others. Throughout the history of the Papillon, they’ve been a huge hit with artists. Since the early 1500s, they’ve been popping up in paintings by everyone from Fragonard and Rembrandt to Boucher and Goya. One of the earliest works to feature them is Venus of Urbino by famed Italian artist Tiziano Vicelli, who seemed to have a particular fondness for the pooch. They can also be seen in a family portrait of Louis XIV in the Wallace Collection in London, along with paintings by Watteau, Paolo Veronese, Gonzales Coques, and Mignard.
2. They’re a favorite with royalty
These days, Papillons are popular with just about everyone, but back in the day, they were a particular favorite with royalty. According to legend, Marie Antoinette made her way to the guillotine with her pet Papillon clutched to her bosom – although fortunately, the dog was spared the same fate as its owner and was sent to live out its days at the Papillon House in Paris.
3. They’re a type of Spaniel
You might not know it to look at them, but Papillons are actually a variety of Spaniel – hence why you might sometimes hear them referred to as “Epagneul Nain Continental” (“Continental Toy Spaniel”). It’s thought that the breed was the result (whether accidental or not) of a mating between a Toy Spaniel and a Spitz. Although they’re officially recognized as a breed in their own right, they’re still technically considered a Spaniel-type dog… albeit a very, very small one.
4. They’re tiny
If any dog proves that the best things really do come in small sizes, it’s the Papillon. They might have a hardy constitution and the courageous, curious nature of a much bigger dog, but you’d never know it from their diminutive proportions. According to thepapillonpage.weebly.com, the average male Papillon measures just 8-11 inches (20-28cm) at the shoulder and clocks in at 8-10 pounds (4-5kg). Females are smaller still, typically weighing 7-9 pounds (3-4kg) and measuring 8-11 inches (20-28cm) in height. Fortunately, their large, butterfly-shaped ears make sure that, small or not, they always stand out in a crowd.
5. They’re hardier than they look
Paps might be tiny, but underestimate them at your cost. Despite their tiny stature, the breed is remarkably hardy, with a plucky disposition and robust constitution that makes them incredibly fun companions. Although they might prefer a jacket if the temperature gauge falls too low, they adapt well to both warm and cool climates and will make themselves just as much at home in the country as in the town. If you’re looking for a breed that’s ready to take on new challenges, is always happy to join in activities, and doesn’t care whether it’s snowing or sunny, this might be the one for you.
6. They’re super healthy
When it comes to pedigrees, health can often be a bigger concern than it is in crossbreeds. Selective breeding often puts dogs at risk of developing genetic conditions, some mild, some less so. Fortunately, the Papillon has managed to escape with a relatively clean bill of health. While they might look delicate, they have remarkably strong constitutions. Minor ailments such as patellar luxation, seizures, and dental problems sometimes occur, but with proper screening and regular health checkups, rarely present a serious problem. They can also occasionally suffer from progressive retinal atrophy, intervertebral disk disease, and allergies, but again, the risks are fairly minimal. The biggest threat to their health is kids, who can sometimes get a little boisterous and forget just how small their playmate is. To avoid any accidents, be sure to educate young kids on the do’s and don’ts of handling a dog.
7. They’re low maintenance
With their long, silky hair, it would be easy to think that Papillons need almost constant grooming. In fact, they’re remarkably easy to keep in tip-top shape. As they don’t have an undercoat to keep free of mats, a full monthly grooming session should be enough to keep their coats in order. If you can complement that by regularly using a slicker brush or comb to keep the long hair behind their ears, on their thighs, and on the inside of their hind legs free of tangles, even better. Other maintenance needs include regular tooth brushing (like most small dogs, Paps can be prone to tooth decay, but a good oral hygiene regime should keep problems at bay), frequent nail trimming, and the occasional bath if they get dirty.
8. They love to play
Don’t let their small size deceive you. As the AKC notes, just because Papillons make wonderful indoor pets doesn’t mean they don’t need exercise. These are active, alert dogs who love to keep busy, and will love nothing more than a good romp around the yard. An adult Pap will need around 45 minutes of exercise a day, ideally broken up into shorter chunks to keep boredom at bay. Although play can take care of a large portion of their exercise needs, they also benefit from structured walks, so be sure to plan on a trip or two to the dog park each day. Like all spaniels, they love to retrieve, and will never say no to a game of catch with a small ball or toy.
9. They’re a hazard to wildlife
Paps might look like lapdogs, but as much as they love cuddling up to their owners, they also like to run, chase and harass any poor critter that crosses their path. Whether we’re talking cats, squirrels, chipmunks, birds, or even insects, if it can scuttle fast enough to attract a Pap’s attention, it’s going to get chased. To keep everyone safe, be sure to supervise your Pap when they’re outside so they don’t run after a cat without you knowing. As they can sometimes forget just how tiny they are, it also pays to be cautious if they decide to give chase to any larger dogs.
10. They’re easy to train
Small dogs don’t have the best of reputations when it comes to training, especially housetraining, but the smart, eager to please Papillon is the exception to the rule. They love to learn, and will quickly and easily pick up new tricks and ideas. Like most dogs, they’re ruled by their stomachs, so be sure to grease the wheels of your training sessions with plenty of treats (although ideally, keep the treats low fat and healthy to avoid weight gain). As they’re very social creatures, they’ll love making new friends at dog obedience classes, and will also get a kick out of agility classes.
11. Socialization is a must
Paps might be plucky and smart and all kinds of wonderful, but at heart, they’re companion dogs who love nothing more than spending as much time with their family as they possibly can. While that might be adorable, it can also become a major problem if it develops into separation anxiety. To curb any possible problems, early socialization classes and obedience classes that foster confidence and self-reliance are a must.
12. Weight gain can be a problem
Paps are naturally tiny, but their appetites can sometimes be their undoing. As they’re prone to packing on the pounds, it’s important to feed them a high quality dog food that will give them all the nutrients they need without overdoing the calories. Treats can make training go with a swing, but be wary of giving them too many biscuits outside of mealtimes. Keep table snacks off-limits and avoid overindulging them in high fat, high-calorie human snacks that might put a smile on their faces, but will do their waistlines no good whatsoever. If you’ve any concerns about their diet or weight, always speak to a veterinarian before making any sudden changes to their diet.
13. They live a long time
Most small breeds tend to have long life expectancies, and the Papillon is no exception. As they don’t tend to suffer from any major health complaints, they typically live long, healthy lives. The average life expectancy is 11.45 years, but many Papillons live up to 17 years. To give them the best chance of hitting their late teens, a healthy diet, plenty of exercise and mental stimulation, and regular veterinarian checkup can all help enormously.
14. They’re winners
The Papillon was awarded official recognition by the AKC in 1935, and has been making its presence felt in the dog community ever since. The first Pap to win a major award was Ch. Loteki Supernatural Being (or Kirby, as she preferred to be called) who won the coveted “Best in Show” title at the annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show in 1999, as well as at the World Dog Show in Helsinki, Finland, and the Royal Invitational in Canada in 1998. In 2019, Dylan (or Planet Waves Forever Young Daydream Believers for those who prefer the full title) became the first-ever Pap to win Best in Show at Crufts.
15. They get their name from their ears
It might be rude to point out the size of someone’s ears in the human world, but dogs don’t seem to mind either way. Or at least, let’s hope they don’t, because if there’s one thing the Pap is famous for more than anything else, it’s their huge, distinctive-looking ears. So impressive are they, they even gave the breed its name, with the word papillon used in reference to the close resemblance their large, erect ears have to the wings of a butterfly.
16. They come in one of two varieties
Strange though it sounds, when a Papillon gives birth, they stand as much chance of having a litter of Phalènes as a litter of Paps. Although Papillons and Phalènes might have different names, they’re actually just two different varieties of the same breed. The only notable difference between them is their ears. Whereas the Papillon has large, erect ears that resemble butterflies, the Phalène (which translates as “night moth”) has floppy, drop-eared ears. Although the Papillon is the more popular of the two varieties, the Phalène is still actively bred, with the two varieties often popping up in the same litter.
17. Their origins are hazy
Like most breeds with long histories, the exact origins of the Papillon are a little hazy. According to wagwalking.com, the earliest record of the breed can be traced to Italy in the year 1500, when tiny, Spaniel-like dogs began popping up in the family portraits of artist Tiziano Vecellio. As Spaniels were developed in Spain (hence their name), it’s believed that they originated there, although no records to pinpoint their exact origins have even been found. Regardless of where they came from, it was in France that they became the dogs they are today, with Louis the XIV taking the credit for refining and naming the breed in the 1600s.
18. They make great therapy dogs
All dogs can be a huge source of companionship and love, but only some have what it takes to become something even more special. The Papillon’s smart demeanor and loveable disposition make them excellent therapy and service dogs. Thanks to how quickly they learn and how easily they pick up on moods, they can be trained to offer the kind of assistance that many people find invaluable, whether that’s through emotional support or even hearing assistance.
19. They can be any color
When it comes to color, Papillons like to mix things up. Their predominant color might be white, but their patches and markings can be almost any color under the sun. Some of the most common shades include white and black; white and lemon; brown and white; fawn and white; red, white, and sable; red; sable; white; white and red; white and sable; black mask; red, sable, and tan; black; black, brown, white, and lemon; tan; black, red, and white; and white and liver, but don’t be surprised if you see another color combination either.
20. They love the sound of their own voices
If you like peace and quiet, you might want to think twice about inviting a Pap to share your home. Some Papillons like the sound of their own voices just a little too much for comfort. Fortunately, plenty of early training using positive reinforcement methods can help nip the problem in the bud.