The dog most commonly referred to, simply, as the “Bichon” in the USA, is the Bichon Frisé, which was originally known as (and is sometimes still known as) the Bichon Tenerife.
The Bichon Maltese is commonly called a Maltese in the USA.
And the Bichon Havanese, the national dog of Cuba, is similarly, currently called a Havanese in the USA. See the Havanese Rescue Inc. video at Sammy’s Vodpod link in the sidebar.
The primary progenitor of all the Bichons appears to have been the Barbichon. A small, curly-coated Water Spaniel, the Barbichon, was developed from the Barbet. However, the Barbet is now a much larger dog than the Bichons. See, for example, Biscay Water Dogs, the French Barbet website. See also, the AKC Foundation Stock Service, referenced below with reference to the Bichon Bolognese.
The word, barbiche, is a variation on the French word for “beard” (une barbe) so this may have been, a bearded dog. Although, in France, the term is often used, for any long haired dog.
Geographically, the Bichons originated primarily from the Mediterranean region of Europe. It is thought that they travelled with sailors from one port to another. The original Barbichon-derived breeds were the Bichon Tenerife from the Canary Islands (Tenerife is the largest of these islands); the Bichon Maltais, or Maltese, from Malta; and the Bichon Bolognese, from Bologna, Italy.
The Maltese is clearly an old breed. Dogs of its type, with long hair and dropped ears, were associated in ancient Greek and Roman times with islands located in what it now Croatia. Older images of the breed show it with wavy fur, more typical of today’s Bichons, and often a multicolored coat. However, Romans apparently selected for the pure white coat prevalent in contemporary Maltese. The totally smooth coated Maltese is an even more recent development.
The Bichon Bolognese was already recognised in 11th century Bologna, Italy.
Modernly, the Bichon Bolognese continues to be recognized by the United Kingdom Kennel Club; and by the Federation Cynologique Internationale ["FCI"], the 83 member strong international World Canine Organization which recognizes approximately 335 breeds. Each breed is assigned by the FCI to a specific country, which then, working collaboratively with the FCI, sets the standard for the breed.
The Bichon Bolognese is not recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club, nor by the American Kennel Club ["AKC"]. However, since 1999, it has been accepted by the American Kennel Club for recording in the AKC Foundation Stock Service, as are numerous other old breeds, including other Bichon-related breeds, namely, the Barbet, mentioned above, and the Coton de Tulear, mentioned below.
There is some debate as to whether the Bichon Tenerife [widely accepted as the progenitor of the modern Bichon Frise] or the Bichon Maltese was the founding dog of the group. [Maltese ancestors seem to have existed in Malta even before the French Barbet was known.]
But, regardless of who came first, the Tenerife/Frise or the Maltese, the modern Bichon breeds have been created by genetically modifying the original Barbichon dogs in numerous and varied ways, to create a whole group of dogs with recognizable characteristics in both temperament and type.
Their appearance varies a little, but, typically, all have tails curled over their back; a coat that is hair rather than fur, that doesn’t readily shed; short noses; hanging ears; and bright, sparkling, dark eyes. They are all bright, lively, intelligent, good natured, playful, spirited, charming and versatile dogs.
The Bichons took Europe by storm in the 1300s and were very much favored by the royal courts of Europe, especially in France, Italy and Spain, through the Renaissance and into the mid 19th century.
Introduced into the French royal court of King Francois I (Frances I), in the 16th century, the Bichon remained popular with a number of monarchs, most notably, King Henry III of France. The lavish, pampered lifestyle of the pet Bichon of King Henry III of France, who was said to have been carried in a little basket wherever the King went, became legend. This dog is, presumably, the origin of the French verb, bichonner, which means “to pamper, or doll up”. However, Francois’ relationship with this dog almost certainly tells us more about Francois than it does about the Bichon, as a breed.
Online Exhibition of Edward J. Shepard Jr.
Online Exhibition of Edward J. Shepard Jr.
Online Exhibition of Edward J. Shepard Jr.
For comprehensive coverage of the Bichon in works of art see The Bichon Frise in Art.
The modern Bichon Frisé is believed to have been created by combining the Bichon Tenerife with the Poodles and Barbets of the day to produce a Bichon with a coat that is tightly curled, rather than wavy—hence the original full name of the breed, namely, the Bichon a poil Frisé. [“The Bichon with Curly Hair.”]
The common, and unfortunate, purported translation of the name Bichon a poil Frise, as “curly lap dog“, is therefore inaccurate. The French name of the breed makes absolutely no reference whatsoever to “laps.” And the typical Bichon, of which Samuel appears to be representative, is anything but what is usually understood by the phrase “lap dog.”
The Bichon Tenerife also traveled to the island of Reunion, (a former French colony east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean), creating the now extinct Coton de Reunion, which then, apparently, traveled to nearby Madagascar where it became the breed known today as the Coton de Tulear.
The Bichon Havanais, or Havanese, seems to have its origins in a variety of small, Bichon-type dogs that traveled with Spanish and Italian sailors to Cuba.
They may have been bred with a now extinct South American Poodle type dog, thus producing the silky wavy coat, typical of the Havanese, which is sometimes multicolored, as in the dogs below.
In Russia, Bichons were apparently developed from dogs left behind by Napoleon’s retreating army, mostly the Bichons Bolognese and Bichons Frisés.
These dogs were bred to create the Franzuskaya Bolonka (“French Bolonka”). More recently, the French Bolonka was bred with poodles and silky terriers to produce a small dog with a multi-colored, long, wavy coat, called the Tsvetnaya Bolonka, (“Multicolored Bichon.”) Until recently, this breed was unknown outside of Russia. You can see some videos of Bolonkas at this link.
The broad popularity of the Bichon continued in France through the reign of Napolean III (1852-1870.)
However, subsequently, their favor plummeted and they became humble street dogs and circus performers. Perhaps this is the origin of their plucky, determined personality and their chutzpah.
Because in 1933, the French Societe Centrale Canine de France established the official standard for the Bichon a poil Frise, (the “curly-haired bichon”), formerly the Bichon Tenerife. And the Bichon was back.
Then, in the 1950s, the modern Bichon Frisé came to North America, and was admitted into the AKC in 1972. They are shown in the Non-Sporting Group, not in the Toy Group. Bichon aficionados are adamant that the Bichon is not a toy dog – not by attitude, not by character and not by conduct.
Samuel’s personality is certainly evidence of that fact.
The Bichon is a highly trainable, lively, bright, inquisitive, alert dog with a wonderfully jaunty, cocky strut that somehow manages, to convey, at the same time, an air of distinction.
It is interesting to see how very frequently Poodle genes recur over and over again in this group of breeds. And that continues even to this day with a plethora of Bichon-Poodle crosses, such as, for example, the currently very popular “Malti-Poo”.
Sammy himself is a Bichon-Poodle cross. His appearance and personality reflect both breeds.
Regardless of which branch of the family they belong to, today, the Bichon, whether a Frisé, a Maltese a Havanese or some other branch of the family, is making a huge comeback and regaining its historic popularity.
At 9-12 inches at the withers and 12 to 18 lbs in weight, the Bichon is a small, sturdy dog with a large personality.
Not surprisingly, given their genetic origins, some Bichons, including Sammy, have, like many of their Poodle cousins, something of a field dog profile.
They are hard-charging, energetic, mischievous charmers. And, many of their admirers believe, they really should be classified in the sporting group.
Regardless of their classifcation, the Bichon’s movement is free, precise and effortless – perfect for agility work.
Their character is intelligent, good-natured and alert – perfect for obedience work.
Their personality is playful, sensitive and charming – perfect for therapy work.
And, whatever they do, they do it with inimitable joie de vivre and elan.
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If you are thinking about adding a Bichon, a Maltese, or a Havanese to your family, or a mix of any of these breeds, please consider a rescue dog. And take a look at the Puppy Mill Havanese Rescue Dog Video in the VodPod link on the sidebar. The shelters are, unfortunately, full of these dogs – most of them bred by puppy mills and back yard breeders.