The predecessors of today’s Papillons can be seen in European paintings from hundreds of years ago, often seated in the laps of noblewomen or even strolling over banqueting tables, checking out the food. The Papillon is also called the Continental Toy Spaniel, and this small dog’s ancestors were used as hunting and field dogs. Their larger cousins are still used in the present as valuable gun dogs, such as the Springer Spaniel or the Field Spaniel.
The Papillon (French for butterfly) is named for its upright ears with their long, feathery hair that resemble the wings of a butterfly. Some Papillons have ears that droop somewhat, and these are called ‘Phalene’, which means moth. The coats of Papillons are silky, with the longest hair on the ears, chest, back of the legs, and tail. A Papillon has white hair with darker patches on the head and back; all colors are permissible for the patches except for liver.
Will a Papillon Be a Good Fit for You?
Dogs of all breeds, and mongrels, are valued by humans not only for the ‘work’ they might do for us, but also as companions, and Papillons can make wonderful companions for nearly any home. The small size of this dog – the largest will weigh no more than 10 pounds – means that space requirements will not be great, and you won’t need a ranch or estate for the Papillon. However, there are some things that should be kept in mind before you buy one.
Papillons have a very delicate bone structure, and although they are very playful dogs, they must be protected from harming themselves, especially when they are in the wild puppy days. Jumping off furniture before the bones have hardened can injure a Papillon puppy and cause a fracture. Even adult dogs are somewhat fragile, something that you must remember even if your Papillon does not. If you are going to allow your Papillon on the furniture, you should provide ramps or steps to lessen the chance that your dog will be injured through jumping.
These little dogs still have a very strong hunting instinct, and may try to take on hunting projects that are beyond their ability. However, don’t be surprised if you see this determined little hunter stalking mice or shrews in your home, or launching an all-out attack on beetles or other insects. Your Papillon will probably love being able to chase ‘prey’ such as tennis balls or other toys.
Papillons have something of a reputation as fear biters – dogs who react with aggression when they are afraid. This is easily overcome by early socialization. Papillion puppies should be handled by humans even before their eyes open, to minimize the chances that they will be fearful. I raised a litter of French Bulldog puppies, and handled them frequently from the time of their birth. When their eyes opened, they actually were afraid of my size – they were evidently aware of how huge I was in comparison with them. I worked carefully to accustom them to this, and all of them turned out to be confident, good natured dogs that brought joy and happiness into their new homes.
Although Papillons will be perfectly content living in an apartment, you should be aware that their watchdog abilities could make them noisy neighbors. Most of these dogs are unable to distinguish between ordinary noises that accompany apartment living and an actual intrusion, and will bark at any sound. This tendency will be most noticeable in dogs who have not been properly socialized when young, or who are left alone for long hours during the day.
As with most dogs who have descended from working dogs, the Papillon is energetic and does require regular exercise. Your Papillon will want a fairly long walk every day. Playing with the dog will help to satisfy some of this small spaniel’s exercise needs.
The Papillon is a very affectionate dog and will show its love for family members without hesitation. These dogs are good with children, but children must be taught not to be too rough with this somewhat delicate little dog. And, despite their background as hunting dogs, Papillons generally get on very well with household cats, particularly when they are introduced to them at an early age. Rather surprisingly, male Papillons are often more affectionate than females, who can be somewhat aloof.
Papillons are quite easy to train, due to their high intelligence, and they actually do very well in agility and obedience, oftentimes coming out as the winner. Although they would certainly like to partake in field trials with their larger and more robust cousins, it is not advisable to do so as their small bone structure could become injured during these strenuous activities. Because of their gentle and friendly nature, Papillons can also be trained for use as therapy dogs.
Like many small dogs, the Papillon can easily be subject to the ‘Small Dog’ or ‘Napoleon’ syndrome. Many owners of small dogs, because of the dog’s size, allow the animal to actually become the king or queen of the home. Papillons who have been allowed to get their way without check can become spoiled brats which can lead to problems such as excessive barking, snapping, and separation anxiety. Fortunately, it’s never too late to bring a wayward Papillon back into line with some patience and gentle firmness. Your Papillon will actually feel more relaxed once the duties of leadership have been lifted from his or her shoulders.
There is no doubt that Papillons make excellent companions for those who are looking for a small dog with personality. Always keep in mind that your Papillon will want to be near you as much as possible, which makes these dogs a great choice for those who work at home or are retired. Their coat will need daily brushing, but they actually shed very little. Generally a healthy, long-lived breed, Papillons can experience difficulty with anesthesia during surgery, so make certain that your veterinarian is aware of this problem before any surgery is performed.