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A History of the Bichon Frise

  • 12/11/2011

While the specific beginnings of the Bichon story are quite cloudy, it is believed that Barbets and water spaniels (small white dogs known to be direct ancestors of Bichons) have been a part of nautical traders' lives for over two thousand years.

This line of Barbets is known to have sired the Barbichon and Caniche lines which in turn evolved into the Bichon breed. In fact, there were six breeds that fell under the Bichon name. These were the Bichon Havanese, the Maltese, the Coton du Tulear, the Tenerife, the Bolognese, and the Lowchen. The modern Bichon Frise evolved from the Bichon Tenerife.

Because they are descended from the Barbichon and Barbet, the modern Bichon Frise can trace its roots back to ancient Mediterranean Sea traders, specifically from Italy. With the increasing expansion of trade routes, they were brought along as ship companions and offered as exotic trade items in distant lands. Through these trades the Bichon worked its way to the Tenerife Island. Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands, is located in the Atlantic Ocean between Spain and Northern Africa. It is here that the breed was given the name Bichon Tenerife.

For a long time the original Italian population forgot about the Bichon. It was not until the 1300s, when the Renaissance was beginning and exploration was exploding again, that explorers rediscovered the Bichon on the Island of Tenerife and brought it back with them. The Bichon experienced its own Renaissance at this time, becoming the beloved pet of both the merchant middle class and the noble high class of Italy.

By the mid-1500s, after France had invaded Italy, many Italian customs and influences were working their way into French culture, and this included the Bichon. The breed found enormous popularity under the crown of Henry III. A certain Bichon legend is that Henry so loved the Bichon that he carried his dog in a basket tied around his neck with ribbons. It is also believed that the dog is responsible for the French verb "bichonner" which means "to pamper."
The next interesting point in Bichon history comes during the mid to late 1800s. At this point the breed was no longer a dog of royalty, but a common dog. Known as a smart and extremely capable dog, it was used by street entertainers and in carnivals. Bichons could be found performing pet tricks at circuses and fairs or accompanying organ grinders. Their attractiveness brought in the children and their fantastic abilities helped their owners make a lot of money!

About fifty years later, shortly after World War I, dog lovers in Belgium and France recognised the Bichon for what it was and began to breed it for these characteristics. They loved the attractiveness of the dog, but also the loyal, friendly, and loving demeanour the dogs are famous for.

In 1933 the official breed standard was adopted in France, and the name Frise (meaning fluffy or white) was attached. It was over twenty years before the Bichon Frise was to arrive in the United States, but after 1956 the population of Bichons exploded. Within eight years the breed was accepted in the the American Kennel Club.
With a long and interesting history, the Bichon has only grown more and more popular through the ages. It is a dog that is loved for beauty and temperament, and will be loved for years to come.

About the Author

Kyle Lambert is a writer and Bichon owner. After years of raising Bichons, he decided to create a website dedicated to the breed. Focusing on all Bichon related issues, Kyle hopes to educated people interested in the breed. Find his full website dedicated to Bichon Information and Bichon Training by following the links.

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