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Is the Papillon right for you?

Species group:

Other name(s): Phalène; Continental Toy Spaniel; Epagneul Nain Continental; Butterfly Dog; Squirrel Dog

The basics:
The Papillon is an adorable toy breed highly regarded not just for its beauty but for its intelligence. The word "papillon" is French for "butterfly," thanks to unmistakable sweep of the beautiful ears. But this tiny sprite is more than a portable pet that looks good in a designer handbag. Developed in Europe from Spaniel stock and an early version of the Bichon Frise, this active breed is fast, alert, and capable of giving chase to small animals or birds if you let it slip off the leash. This dog knows that it can use its good looks to charm its human, but with loving guidance, it can become a great companion.

A properly trained Papillon is not a stand-offish diva. The dog doesn't know its own size and is often described as "friendly." It can be a good choice for exhibitors who want a beautiful, alert show animal in a petite package.

Appearance / health:
The Papillon is elegant, fine-boned, dainty and vivacious. Her body is somewhat longer than her tail; her head is small and she has a fine, tapering muzzle that is about 1/3 the length of her skull. Her eyes are bright, watchful and intelligent; her ears are fringed with hair, set wide and are erect, giving the appearance of butterfly wings (except on the version of the breed which is drop-eared, known as the “Phalene” or “Moth” Papillon). Her topline is level; her chest is somewhat deep; the legs are slender and she has dainty, elongated feet; her tail is long. She carries her plumed tail curved over her back.

Your Papillon will need his coat brushed at least weekly; somewhat more frequently is never a bad idea, in order to keep their long, fine hair from matting and tangling, as well as to keep it free of yard debris. Trim the hair between the pads of their feet to give them a more firm grip and to prevent their feet splaying. Papillons do not require frequent bathing; minimal is better. Their nails should be trimmed, and their teeth cleaned, on a regular basis.

Papillons are consistent, year-round shedders; however, because they are single-coated dogs, shedding can be easily controlled with the regular brushing mentioned. They do not have an undercoat that “blows."

Exercise is an important part of the day for the naturally energetic Papillon. They are small enough to zoom around indoors (and frequently do so), but nothing will take the place of fresh air and sunshine. Sufficient exercise, including long walks and off-leash play in a safe area such as an enclosed dog park or backyard will do much to wear off their natural energy and prevent behavioral problems.

The Papillon is actually one of the healthier breeds; however, some of the issues that can potentially affect the breed are (in no particular order):

  • Patellar Luxation
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy
  • Liver shunt
  • Sensitivity to anesthesia
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Failure of the fontanel to properly close

Always ask the breeder of any Papillon puppy you are considering if the parent dogs have been certified to be free of patellar luxation and genetic eye disorders and ask to see their certifications. Check the head of any puppy you are considering purchasing to determine if the fontanel has closed; if it has not, insist that there be a clause in your purchasing contract that allows you a window of time in which to have the puppy checked by a Veterinarian of your choice to determine if it is likely the fontanel will close and the opportunity for you to return the puppy for replacement or full refund in the event your Veterinarian determines that it is not likely to close.

Behavior / temperament:
Though quite dainty in appearance, the adult Papillon is much hardier than they appear. They are very devoted to their people and love to go wherever their owner(s) go, even if it’s just to the store around the corner, a long trip, or relaxing around the house.

Due to their love of their owner(s), the Papillon can easily become possessive of them; therefore, early, consistent, and extensive socialization to other people outside the family is very important to the Papillon to ensure that he becomes a happy little dog, eager to meet others.

Properly socialized during puppyhood, the Papillon is a friendly, cheerful little dog. He is quite adaptable and his nature is one of confidence and an outgoing personality.

The Papillon is rated high in learning; very high in obedience; and, high in problem solving. Combined with their natural eagerness to please their owner, this lends to a very easily trainable dog for the experienced trainer/handler. In fact, the Papillon is rated number one in obedience of all Toy Dogs. For the inexperienced dog owner, this combination can easily lead to a Papillon that trains his/her owner!

Papillons are one of the rare breeds that learn not only from their trainer/handler, but also from situations and experiences. Therefore, it is important that everyone around them be consistent in their expectations and careful of their own behaviors.

Papillons respond best with positive reinforcements and will not do well at all with forced training.

Although the Papillon is not typically possessed of the high-pitched yapping often found in other small breed dogs, the truth is that she loves to bark. She will enthusiastically announce visitors, forcefully alert you to perceived danger, and does not possess the ability to distinguish between causes worthy of investigation and ordinary, day-to-day noises.


happiest personality, little clown, affectionate companion, wonderful attitude, wonderful family pets


small children, extremely shrill bark, congestive heart failure, separation anxiety


Butterfly Papillions, Old Masters, dropeared version

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