The bichon frise, a little cotton ball of a pooch, was bred specifically to be a companion canine. As a result, the dog is a super-cute, super-cuddly, super-affectionate little furball. Despite being sharp, active and eager to please, bichon frises require daily exercising, training and patience, especially during housebreaking.
The fluffy white doggies known today as bichon frises are Mediterranean in origin. Many centuries ago, dogs called barbets, or water spaniels, were crossed with little white lap dogs, creating four types of "barbichons," a name later cut to bichons. They were Bolognese, Havanese, Maltaise and Teneriffe bichons. The latter, eventually became known as the bichon frise, were developed on the Canary Island of Teneriffe. They probably were first brought there by Spanish sailors. At some point in the 1200s or 1300s, Italian sailors encountered the dogs and brought them back to Italy, reintroducing them to the European continent.
By the 1500s, Teneriffes or bichons were widely adored and popular, particularly in Spain and Italy, where they were often kept by nobility and the upper class. During this century, the French invaded Italy a few times, and these furry little friends were among the spoils they took home, as Animal Planet explains. The pooches maintained their royal appeal, becoming special pets for Francis I and his successor, Henry III. Bichons were commonly featured in Spanish Renaissance-era paintings, including some works by Goya.
As often happens at some point in the history of dog and cat breeds, bichons fell from popularity and high-class appeal. Though bichons were briefly popular again during Napoleon III's reign in the early 1800s, by the end of the century they were basically common street dogs. Still, they persevered and maintained a reputation as fantastic companions. They often earned their keep accompanying organ grinders and performing in circuses and fairs; some also led the blind.
In the early 1900s, French breeders created a breed standard, which was officially adopted by the Societe Centrale Canine of France on March 5, 1933. The doggies were given one name, bichon frise, which translates to "curly coat." About a year and a half later, these small furballs were accepted into the French Kennel Club's stud book. In 1956, a French family brought their bichon frises with them when they moved to Michigan, and by 1960, two breeders were working to develop the breed in the US. In 1964, The Bichon Frise Club of America was founded. These pooches were allowed to compete with The American Kennel Club in the Miscellaneous class in 1971, and the organization admitted the breed to its roster in 1973.
Eric Mohrman has been a freelance writer since 2007, focusing on travel, food and lifestyle stories. His creative writing is also widely published. He lives in Orlando, Florida.