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The Papillon breed is descended from one of the original toy breeds, the miniature Spaniel. Originally called the Dwarf Spaniel, Squirrel Dog, and Toy Spaniel, this little dog with a big personality has enjoyed a long and pampered history amongst the European elite for over 700 years. Named for its distinctive ears, which lift up and out, the Papillon is regarded as one of the ten smartest dog breeds are in the top forty for most popular companion pets.

Vital Stats

Breed Group: Companion Dogs
Height: 8 to 11 inches
Weight: 4 to 9 pounds
Lifespan: 12 to 15 years

Physical Characteristics

The defining physical characteristic of the Papillon is its unique butterfly ears, but its sibling the Phalene is identical in all respects save for the ears, which drop down. They are registered and shown as the same breed, and are in fact born in the same litters. With this in mind, all of the breed descriptions given here are suitable for both the Papillon and the Phalene.

The Papillon is a member of the toy group. A petite, fine-boned, delicate breed with an elegance that belies its frolicsome nature, the Papillon stands at less than a foot tall, with the average at 11 inches. It is longer than it is tall, with a weight that is proportionate to its height. This breed should not be cobby or round, but should maintain an appearance of lightness. It moves with a graceful, quick, and free gait, with the ears spread out like the wings of a butterfly in movement. The Phalene's ears are similar in structure, but remain down even in movement. The tail is arched over the back with a large, full plume.

The Papillon can be found in any color, although the preferred pattern is a band of color across the nose, extending onto the ears, accentuating the butterfly effect, or an flash of white on the face with coloring of the ears. The soft, one layered coat is long and straight, with short hair on the muzzle and skull, but ample on the ears, chest and legs.

Personality and Temperament

The Papillon is highly energetic and takes great enjoyment in play and exercise time. Belying its tiny stature, this breed is entirely capable of walking long distances and has no apparent self awareness of size constraints. It may find itself in trouble with larger dogs, from which it will not back down, or when jumping from heights it is physically unequipped for. Unlike many toy breeds, this is a calm dog that is not prone to anxiety of shyness.

Highly regarded for its intelligence, the Papillon is among the most responsive and obedient of the toy breeds. It is also very playful and gentle. Generally a good fit for families with children, this breed must be supervised with small or active children, since it can easily be hurt during rough play, or when attempting to leap from the arms of a possessive child. The Papillon is also friendly towards other dogs and animals, as long as it has been socialized from an early age. Never aggressive, this breed does well when introduced to strangers. However, there is a protective streak in the Pap, and it will make its voice heard when strangers are approaching the home. They make useful watch dogs, and some Paps are equally prone to being good mousers in the home as well.


Mental stimulation is a must for the vivacious Papillion, as well as daily leash walks and a active obedience training and tasks. This breed especially needs to have tasks and games that will occupy its mind, and structured expectations for behavior in order to prevent this little one from becoming too big for its britches, so to speak.

Its coat in one layered and fine, so it does not require much in the way of grooming. The exception is the ears, because they are tufted. Checking for dirt or objects that might have gotten caught in the ears during outdoor play should be part of a daily pat down. Otherwise, a brushing two times a week is enough to keep your Pap looking shiny and smooth.

It almost goes without saying that because of this dogs delicate structure and size, it is suited only for indoor living, but it does enjoy time spent outside immensely. One of the extra benefits of this breed is that it can be litter trained.


The Papillon, which has an average lifespan of 12 to 15 years, is susceptible to some health problems, such as dental problems that are particular to small breeds, patellar luxation, and seizures. In some dogs, open fontanel (a condition affecting skull formation), progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), allergies, and intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) can also be seen. Knee tests and testing for the hemophilic disorder and von Willebrand's Disease (vWD) are standard for the breed. The Papillon may also be sensitive to anesthesia. This should be addressed with a veterinarian before surgeries or other procedures that require anesthesia are used on the dog.

History and Background

The French word meaning butterfly was first applied to this breed in the 1500s, when the fashion for this elegant little dog turned from the floppy eared Spaniel style to the sprightly winged look that is still popular today. The Papillon were hugely popular amongst the upper ranks of society, and artists of the period preserved a wealth of images of the miniature Spaniels with their royal and noble counterparts.

During this time, Italy and Spain became noted centers for the extensive trading and breeding of these little dogs. Louis XIV of France was very fond of the small dogs, and Marie Antoinette and King Henry III were also ardent admirers. Another name given to the breed was Squirrel Spaniel, as it bore its plumed tail on its back in the manner of squirrels. In Europe, the Papillon is known as the Continental Toy Spaniel or Epagneul Nain.

The Phalene is the given name for the drop-eared Papillion. It is a also a French name, meaning night moth. The two ear types are usually born within the same litters, but the erect-eared variety scores over the other in terms of popularity.

With the turn of the 20th century, the Papillon became popular in French dog shows and achieved the same fame in England and the US. The earlier show dogs were bigger than their modern counterparts are, and had solid coloration like a red shade. Through selective breeding, a smaller more brilliantly colored dog with white patches, called blaze, was produced. The butterfly appearance is enhanced with a white blaze and a symmetrically shaded face.

Because of its striking performances in the show ring, its high intelligence, and love of human companionship, the Papillon has easily maintained its status as a popular family pet.

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