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the search for a dog
Bichon frisé laying on the floor.

Breed overview

  • Breed group – Non-Sporting Group (American Kennel Club), Companion Dog Group (United Kennel Club)
  • Height – 9.5 to 11.5 inches
  • Weight – 12 to 18 pounds
  • Coat length & texture – Long, soft, and curly double coat
  • Coat color – Traditionally all white, but bichons can also have splashes of apricot, buff, and cream. Puppies may be cream or even pale yellow, but will grow into their full white coats.
  • Exercise needs – Regular
  • Intelligence – High 
  • Barking – Only to alert
  • Life span – 14 to 15 years
  • Temperament – Merry, curious, gentle, playful, and affectionate
  • Hypoallergenic – No
  • Origin – Tenerife (Canary Islands)

👉 No dog breed is 100% hypoallergenic, but some are better than others for allergy sufferers.

Bichon frisé fun facts

  • Bichon frisé is the shortened version of bichon à poil frisé, which in French means “small curly-haired dog.”
  • Though typically depicted as French, bichons are Spanish in origin. They likely descended from poodle-type dogs, such as the Barbet or one of the water spaniels. Before they became the gentle lap dogs they are today, early bichons were sailing and herding dogs.
  • King Henry III of France loved his bichons. He adored his pups so much that he kept them in a specially made basket that hung from his neck.
Five bichon frisé puppies.

Bichon frisé temperament and characteristics

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more agreeable, even-tempered, and adoring breed of dog than the bichon frisé. They love affection and are great with kids and other dogs. They can even learn to get along with cats and other small animals if socialized at an early age. To a bichon, family is everything and a stranger is just a friend they haven’t met yet. 

This is not a recommended breed for frequent travelers as bichons are prone to separation anxiety. If you have to be away from your bichon pup for an extended period of time, consider crating them or researching doggie daycare or boarding facilities. Their separation anxiety can lead to destructive behaviors like chewing, scratching, and digging.   

Common bichon frisé health problems

Bichons are generally a healthy breed, but there are a handful of issues to be on the lookout for. Check if the breeder has screened for allergies, eye, and ear infections, or issues with knees and hips. Also, ask to see any certifications they may have from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) or the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA).

  • Eye conditions. Bichons can experience a variety of eye problems, such as cataracts, and distichiasis which can be very painful. Seek a breeder who has certifications in eye health from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) to be sure your pup won’t suffer from serious eye problems.
  • Knee and hip problems. Bichons can suffer from patellar luxation (dislocated kneecap), canine hip dysplasia (CHD), and Legg-Calve-Perthes , which is a disease that causes the top of the hip bone (femur) to degenerate due to a lack of a blood supply. Look for a breeder who has had their breeding dogs’ hips and knees screened, graded, and certified by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA).
  • Allergies and ear infections. Allergies can result from diet or the environment. Look for signs of rubbing or licking the paws, ears, and face. Ear infections are often the most common sign that your bichon is suffering from allergies. Check the ears often for an odor and build-up of wax and debris. Cleaning the ears with a routine ear cleaner every 2-3 weeks for maintenance can reduce the risk of developing an infection.  
  • Dental health. Dental disease is quite common in all dogs, but bichons are more susceptible than other breeds. Tartar build-up that’s left untreated can lead to early tooth decay and even tooth loss. Brush regularly (2-3 times weekly) and schedule annual teeth cleanings with your vet. 
  • Cushing’s disease. This endocrine disorder occurs when your pup’s adrenal glands produce too much of the stress hormone, cortisol. Typically, Cushing’s disease doesn’t develop until later in life. If you notice symptoms like increased water intake, urination, panting, and hair loss, call your vet for a checkup.

Cost of caring for a bichon frisé

Treatment for many of the above conditions can get pricey, especially if your pup needs surgery or recurrent prescription medication, such as with allergies and Cushing’s disease. Health insurance can help reduce out-of-pocket expenses and you’ll reap the most benefits if you sign your bichon up early. You can also invest in a pet savings account that operates much like a health savings account or flexible spending account.

History of the bichon frisé

Before it was called bichon frisé, the curly-haired white dog was known as “bichon Tenerife” or simply, “Tenerife.” Named for the largest of the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain where the breed originated, Tenerifes accompanied Spanish sailors on their ocean adventures and were often used for bartering. In fact, this little dog was so well-liked by seafarers that the Tenerife’s descendants became favorite companions of Italian and French explorers, too. These later breeds became the Maltese, Bolognese, and Havanese.

Tenerifes traveled far and wide, living exciting lives at the sides of their captains. But, it was the French who modernized the breed and made it into the gentle companion it is today. Dubbing them bichon à poil frisé (small curly-haired dog), bichons became the preferred lapdog of 16th French nobility. They remained popular until the French Revolution, when their noble owners were sent to the stocks, or worse, when they left bichons to fend for themselves in the street. 

Because of their willingness to learn tricks and the ease with which they can be trained, street performers gladly took these displaced bichons in and put them to work. Interest in the breed was rekindled after World War I when French breeders sought to preserve the bichon. In 1933, the breed standard was developed. The United States saw its first bichon frisés arrive in 1956, and they became AKC-eligible in 1971 as a “miscellaneous” breed. Two years later, the bichon frisé was added to the American Kennel Club registry as a member of the Non-Sporting Group. Today, they are a top-50 breed in popularity.  

Bichon frisé running in the grass.

Caring for your bichon frisé

Caring for a new puppy of any breed can be overwhelming. The first several months of vet visits will ensure that your little friend is happy, healthy, and up to date on all their vaccinations. You’ll want to look into puppy-proofing your home and make sure to get your schedule set for potty breaks as bichons are famously difficult to housebreak.    

Exercise 

Apartment in the city? Sprawling country estate? Bichons get on just fine in any living space so long as their owners are ready to have some fun. You can expect long periods of calm broken up by energetic bursts of playfulness. Plan on at least 30 minutes of daily activity – whether that’s a quick walk outside, a jaunt through the backyard, or a fun race around the house. 

If you do opt for outdoor play, make sure you’re inside a fenced area. Bichons are small, but extremely quick and can be difficult to catch if they get loose (especially if you haven’t taught them to recall yet). Obedience training and agility courses are also good ways to work out your bichon’s energy. However you go about it, just be sure you can devote lots of time and attention to your frolicsome friend.  

Bichon frisé running and exercising in a yard.

Grooming 

Where the bichon lacks in other high-maintenance areas, it more than makes up for in the grooming department. You should be prepared to brush your bichon’s soft double coat at least three times a week, but once daily is ideal for keeping them free of mats and tangles. The shape of the bichon’s coat is a trademark of the breed and achieving it takes practice and good technique. Some owners learn the method and groom their bichons themselves, but a good groomer who is familiar with bichon frisé styling is also a great choice.

It’s also important to check the ears for an overgrowth of fur and remove any dirt and debris. Inspect the eyes regularly to check for any eyelashes that may be growing into the pupil, and keep the hair trimmed short around the eyes. You’ll also need to trim the nails once a month or more frequently if they’re not being naturally worn down from daily walks. As mentioned above, early tooth decay is a known issue with bichons which makes regular brushing a must.

Diet and nutrition 

Aside from certain allergies which some bichons are prone to, this breed has no special dietary restrictions. In general, your bichon frisé should eat the recommended serving of high-quality commercially manufactured food every day. Be careful with the training treats as those calories can add up and you don’t want to overfeed your bichon. Table scraps should be kept to a minimum and, in fact, some human food can cause or worsen tear staining. When in doubt, consult your vet for tips on a healthy diet and nutrition for your fluffy companion.

Training your bichon frisé

Bichons are easy to train and take quickly to new tricks when taught with patience, kindness, and positive reinforcement. In fact, learning and performing tricks for their owners is something of a pastime for bichons who love making their humans happy. Some bichon owners even engage in obedience, agility, and rally competitions. If you have a volunteer’s soul, the bichon might be the perfect companion as their gentle nature is well-suited for therapy dog visits to hospitals and nursing homes. 

Bichon frisé with a fluffy haircut, training for a show.

Breeds similar to the bichon frisé

Not quite sure that a bichon frisé is right for you? Even if you are, it’s worth taking the time to research and consider other similar breeds. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Coton de Tulear. Witty, clownish, and lighthearted, the “Royal dog of Madagascar” or simply the Coton, is close in size, appearance, and demeanor to the bichon but without the hefty grooming bill. 
  • Chow Chow. The Chow Chows are among the oldest dog breeds, dating back to China’s Han Dynasty circa 206 b.c. Chow Chows housebreak easily, have very little odor, and are often described as dignified. Plus, they have one of the most unique tongues in all of caninedom. 
  • Newfoundland. If family friendliness is a top priority, these gentle giants might be the right companion for you. They share the amicable nature of the bichon where kids and other dogs are concerned. They’re also highly trainable, incredibly stoic, watchful, and patient. Newfoundlands are also known as “nanny dogs.”

Frequently asked questions

Are bichon frisés good family dogs? 

If you decide to bring a bichon puppy into your life, socialize them early with people and other pets under direct supervision. Exercise them often, and train them consistently and with kindness. If you can do these things, you will have a loving, loyal family pet for many years to come.

Do bichons bark a lot? 

Bichons are lovers, not fighters, but they will bark to alert you if someone they haven’t met is at the door. 

What health problems do bichons frisés have? 

Separation anxiety is the chief concern for bichons. They don’t just prefer to be with their owners – they need it. Crate training is ok for short periods if you have to go out and can’t take your bichon along. But, extended stays away from your fluffy friend aren’t recommended for this breed.