Bichon Frise

Intelligent, affectionate, and incredibly cute, the bichon frise could easily be mistaken for a child’s toy. This happy-go-lucky breed originated in the Mediterranean islands, which could be why they’re so easygoing and fun-loving. Bichons are the perfect companion for families, elderly couples, and everyone in between.
By Sierra Burgos
August 24, 2020
Bichon Frise
Breed Group
Dog Size
Other Traits
Temperament
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Bichon Frise

height
  • 9.5–11.5 inches
weight
  • 12–18 pounds
life span
  • 14–15 years
breed size
  • small (0-25 lbs.)
good with
  • children
  • seniors
  • dogs
  • cats
  • families
temperament
  • friendly
  • outgoing
  • playful
intelligence
  • high
shedding amount
  • infrequent
exercise needs
  • medium
energy level
  • active
barking level
  • infrequent
drool amount
  • low
breed group
  • non-sporting
coat length/texture
  • short
  • curly
colors
  • white
  • cream
patterns
  • bicolor
other traits
  • hypoallergenic
  • easy to train
  • requires lots of grooming
  • apartment-friendly
  • good for first-time pet owners

The American Kennel Club (AKC) cites the proper pronunciation of bichon frise as BEE-shon Free-ZAY (we can thank the French for such a regal sounding name). The Snow White of dogs is beautiful, dainty, and allergy friendly. They can be intelligent yet cunning, learning tricks and making the whole family laugh. A bichon won’t get bigger than 18 pounds. Incredibly adaptable, they thrive in apartments and houses alike. Debbie Hollan, Secretary of the Bichon Frise Club of America, has been breeding and showing Bichons for over 35 years. “They are loving and delightful additions to almost anyone’s home,” Hollan says. They also have a mischievous streak, she adds. “They will keep you on your toes.”

Appearance

Take one look at a purebred bichon and you’ll fall in love, instantly. Bichons can be anywhere from 12–18 pounds and stand between 9.5 and 11.5 inches. Their coat is always white, their eyes and noses black. They have a double coat, meaning that even though they’re low-shedding, they can be high maintenance when it comes to grooming. The outer coat stands away from the body, giving them that signature cotton ball appearance.

Temperament

“What is not to love about this silly, friendly, sociable breed?” says Sarah Hodges, author, trainer, and applied behaviorist with the IAABC. “Bred to be performers, their chief goal is to make people happy.” Bichons frises love to please, and will impress their owners with their quick ability to learn. It’s not surprising that bichons frequent dog shows. The breed is the opposite of aggressive—they love to play and snuggle up with their humans. Bichons also get along well with other dogs and cats, as long as they’re still getting a fair amount of attention.

Living Needs

While bichons make excellent apartment dogs because of their size and temperament, they will still need lots of playtime to get their energy out. If they live in a house with a yard, they’ll love to run circles outside. They may be small, but they can run fairly fast, so fenced-in is best to ensure a potty break doesn’t end in a game of ‘catch me if you can.’ 

Friendly and easygoing, the bichon enjoys the company of children and other pets. They don’t mind a busy house full of people or animals to play with. They’ll even curl up on a child’s lap for a snooze. So long as they’re getting enough attention from their humans, they’re an easy dog to please. 

A bichon frise cannot be left alone often, if at all. They absolutely hate being without their humans. Bichons commonly suffer from separation anxiety if they’re left to their own devices, so potential owners need to prepare for a full-time responsibility. “Ignored or isolated, they will go crazy with loneliness and confusion,” Hodges says. “They can be over-demanding for affection.” A bichon frise needs a doting family who will give them plenty of affection, and in return they’ll give all their love.

Care

The characteristic poofy white coat of a bichon won’t remain gorgeous all on its own. Expect frequent brushing, bathing, and trips to a professional groomer. Hypoallergenic does not mean low-maintenance when it comes to grooming. According to an official health statement issued by the Bichon Frise Club of America, “The non-shedding, hypoallergenic coat of the bichon needs frequent brushing and attention to the skin, as white-coated dogs can be prone to skin problems.” If a bichon isn’t brushed a few times a week (at least), their hair will form mats and can lead to painful skin issues. Along with the at-home brushing, bichons frises need to see the groomer every four to six weeks for a bath, haircut, and nail trimmings. Brush their teeth two to three times a week. Daily oral care will protect them even more from dental diseases.

Bichons have a high energy level but only need a moderate amount of exercise. Romping in the yard or playing with toys a couple of times a day will be enough to satisfy them. They also enjoy participating in competitions like obedience trials or agility courses to show off their intelligence. 

One of the best ways to bond with a bichon is through training. The breed is highly capable of learning tricks and commands, and they’re no stranger to dog shows. While the bichon can be very receptive to learning, they are also slightly cunning. “[They think] they are smarter that you are,” Hollan says. “Since they are so smart, you have to be very diligent in your training.” Bichons will take scolding to heart, so always use positive rewards to incentivise learning. A firm yet gentle hand is required to train a bichon frise.

Health

For bichons specifically, breeders should provide health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand's disease. If the parent pups are completely healthy, a bichon should live for a happy 14–15 years. Bichons need regular dental care to ensure they don’t get infections, as smaller dogs are more prone to oral health issues. In addition, the breed should be fed in measurements rather than keeping the food bowl full 24/7. According to Traditions Vet Centers in Leonard, Texas, “Obesity can be a significant health problem in bichons frises.” Further, the combination of dental problems and weight gain can result in heart disease. The best way to prevent any heart issues in bichons is to always keep an eye on their food and their teeth. Bladder infections and allergies are not uncommon for this breed, so check with a vet if there are signs of irregular urine or excessive scratching.

History

The bichon frise dates all the way back to the 13th century. Originating from islands in the Mediterranean, the breed is a member of the Barbichon family—little white dogs who have similar features and temperaments. Close cousins to the bichon frise include the Maltese, the Havanese, and the Bolognese. Historians believe that the bichon became popular with French sailors, who brought them back from the islands in the 1400s. With their regal look, the bichon frise quickly found popularity with nobility in Europe. It’s rumored that King Henry III had a special basket made to carry his bichons with him everywhere he went. 

Decades passed, and the bichon frise got used to the good life. That is, until the French Revolution in the late 1700s, when the nobles (and thus, the bichons) lost their positions of power and privilege. If it weren’t for their incredible intelligence, the bichon frise may have gone extinct. They found a new home in showbiz, showing off their tricks with street performers and circus acts. It wasn’t until after the world wars that an official breed standard was adopted and French breeders worked to preserve bichons. They named them bichon a poil frisé, which translates to “bichon of the curly hair.” Later, the name was shortened to bichon frise. The little white pups were brought to the United States in the 1950s and today are the 46th most popular dog breed, according to the AKC.

Fun Facts

  • Tori, a bichon frise living in South Korea, has 363K followers on Instagram—as well as her own wardrobe and miniature Mercedes Benz convertible.
  • The renowned Spanish painter Francisco Goya featured many bichons in his pieces during the 18th century. The most famous is titled “The White Duchess.”