With compact bodies, baby-doll faces, and fluffy white hair, Bichons are a very appealing breed whose looks are enhanced by a perky, good-natured disposition. They are often mistaken for white Poodles.
The Bichon, as he's affectionately called, is related to several small breeds: the Coton de Tulear, a dog who originated off the African coast on an island near Madagascar; the Bolognese, bred in northern Italy near the city of Bologna; the Havanese, from Cuba; and the Maltese, developed on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean. Bichons also appear to have originated in the Mediterranean and to have been taken along on trade routes into other countries.
Bichons may be small dogs — large specimens reach barely a foot in height — but they're hardy. Despite their diminutive size, they're not classified as a Toy breed by the American Kennel Club; instead, they're members of the Non-Sporting Group.
Bichons are always white (although puppies may be cream or pale yellow), with black eyes and black noses. Their arched necks give them a proud, confident look, while their well-plumed tails curve gracefully over their backs.
If you're looking for a wonderful family pet, consider the Bichon. This dog loves to play. He's always happy (except when left alone for long periods of time), and his demeanor is affectionate and gentle.
Because they don't shed like other breeds, Bichons often are recommended for people with allergies. This is something you should discuss with your allergist, since not everyone reacts the same way to a Bichon. Before making a commitment to getting a Bichon — or any type of dog — be sure to spend some time in the presence of the breed if you have allergies.
Bichons have a reputation for suffering from separation anxiety. If you must leave your dog home alone for long periods of time, this may not be the dog for you. Bichons don't just like to be with their families, they need to be with their families. They adjust well to a variety of lifestyles, as long as they don't have to spend too much time alone.
Because of their small size, Bichons are good pets for people who live in apartments. But they do have a lot of energy, and they need daily exercise, including walks and games.
Bichons are intelligent and love to learn tricks, and they're highly trainable. When training, you need to be firm but gentle. Harsh corrections and scolding will break a Bichon's heart. Many Bichon owners train their dogs for obedience, agility, and rally competition. Both dogs and owners enjoy this activity, and it's a good way to bond more closely with your Bichon. Another activity that brings out the best in the Bichon is therapy work. Because they're gentle and sure to bring a smile to anyone's face, they make perfect therapy dogs for visits in nursing homes and hospitals.
Bichons generally get along well with other animals and people, but they will alert you when strangers come to the door.
- Bichons can be difficult to housebreak. Crate training is recommended.
- Bichons don't like to be left alone for long periods of time.
- Bichon Frise puppies are tiny and should only be handled by children under careful adult supervision.
- Bichons are intelligent and cunning. To help your Bichon be the best companion possible, obedience training is recommended.
- Grooming is a must! Be prepared to pay for professional grooming. Highly motivated owners can learn the technique, but it isn't easy and requires a lot of time.
- Bichons can be prone to skin problems and allergies.
- Because they're cute and small, you might be tempted to overprotect your Bichon Frise. This is a mistake and can lead to your dog becoming spoiled, shy, and fearful. Be watchful for dangerous situations, but teach your Bichon confidence by acting confident about his ability to cope with people, other animals, and situations.
- To get a healthy Bichon, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they're free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.
Bichons are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they're prone to certain health conditions. Not all Bichons will get any or all of these diseases, but it's important to be aware of them if you're considering this breed.
If you're buying a puppy, find a good breeder who will show you health clearances for both your puppy's parents. Health clearances prove that a dog has been tested for and cleared of a particular condition. In Bichons, you should expect to see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia (with a score of fair or better), elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand's disease; from Auburn University for thrombopathia; and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certifying that eyes are normal. You can confirm health clearances by checking the OFA web site (offa.org).
- Bladder Problems: Bladder stones and bladder infections: are not uncommon in this breed. Many factors can cause bladder stones, including excessive protein, magnesium, and phosphorus in the diet or long periods of time between urination. Bladder infections can be traced to bacterial or viral infections. If your Bichon needs to urinate frequently, has bloody urine, or seems to have difficulty urinating and loss of appetite, take him to the vet for a checkup.
- Allergies: Allergies can afflict Bichons due to several different causes, including contact allergies and food allergies. Bichons are well known for being sensitive to fleabites as well. If your Bichon is scratching, licking at his paws, or rubbing his face often, suspect that he has an allergy and have him checked by your vet.
- Patellar Luxation: Also known as slipped stifles, this is a common problem in small dogs. The patella is the kneecap. Luxation means dislocation of an anatomical part (as a bone at a joint). Patellar luxation is when the knee joint (often of a hind leg) slides in and out of place, causing pain. This can be crippling, although many dogs lead relatively normal lives with this condition.
- Vaccination Sensitivity: Some Bichons are affected by this sensitivity, and many suffer even from routine vaccinations. Symptoms usually include hives, facial swelling, soreness, and lethargy. In rare instances, a vaccine-sensitive dog will develop complications or even die. Watch your Bichon carefully for a few hours after he's been vaccinated, and call the vet if you notice anything unusual.
- Hip Dysplasia: This is an inherited condition in which the thighbone doesn't fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but others don't display outward signs of discomfort. (X-ray screening is the most certain way to diagnose the problem.) Either way, arthritis can develop as the dog ages. Dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred — so if you're buying a puppy, ask the breeder for proof that the parents have been tested for hip dysplasia and are free of problems.
- Juvenile Cataracts: Cataracts sometimes develop in relatively young (less than six years old) Bichons. This is thought to be hereditary. When buying a Bichon puppy, be sure to ask if the breeder her breeding stock is certified by the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF), and ask to see the certificates yourself.
CHILDREN AND OTHER PETS
Bichons are good family dogs and wonderful companions for children. They enjoy palling around with kids, joining in their games or sitting in their laps. They're very tolerant of the noise and commotion associated with children.
As with every breed, however, you should always teach children how to approach and touch dogs, and always supervise any interactions between dogs and young children to prevent any biting or ear or tail pulling on the part of either party. Teach your child never to approach any dog while he's eating or sleeping or to try to take the dog's food away. No dog, no matter how friendly, should ever be left unsupervised with a child.
The Bichon enjoys the company of other dogs, as long as he receives his fair share of attention from his owner. With proper introductions and training, the Bichon can get along with cats and other animals.