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Dog breed profile: Papillons

Updated on December 13, 2011

Papillon (pronounced Pap-ee-ahn), in French, means "butterfly". The Papillon dog breed was named for it's facial mask markings, large ears, and ear fringes that together combine to resemble a butterfly. The Phalene (French for moth) version of the breed has ears that drop down rather than stand up. Papillons, also occasionally called Continental Toy Spaniels, are toy breed Spaniel type dogs. They are a long haired breed and have silky single coats. Papillon's most common physical trade marks are their long ear fringes, and their long curled bushy tails. Papillon's, often considered to be dainty dogs, normally weight between 7 to 10 pounds. Larger Papillons, sometimes as much as up to 20 pounds, are not uncommon. Although small, Papillon's personalities really pack a punch. They are often considered to be "large dogs in small packages" and are sometimes referred to as "the border collie of the toy dogs". Papillons are generally very intelligent, outgoing, sweet dogs that can make amazing pets for the right people.

A 10 week old Papillon puppy.  Papillon ears start out floppy, and normally stand up before the puppies reach 6 months of age.
A 10 week old Papillon puppy. Papillon ears start out floppy, and normally stand up before the puppies reach 6 months of age. | Source

Breed History:

Papillons are thought to be one of the first toy dog breeds. Records of the breed's early history are fragmented, at best. Early Papillons where bred before it was common to record breed data. They can, however, be roughly tracked throughout history by their appearances in artistic works. No one knows for sure the exact origin of the Papillon. A drop eared, early version of the breed seems to show up earliest in Italian paintings. They where originally known as Dwarf Spaniels, and did not have the characteristic erect ears and curled tails that they have today. The breed is theorized to have originated as far back as the 13th century.

Where or how ever the breed originally came about, they are best known historically for their connection to European royalty. They commonly appear in paintings keeping kings and queens, princes and princesses company. Marie Antoinette is said to have been a fan of the breed, and some stories suggest that she even brought one of her beloved dogs with her when she faced the guillotine. Her dog was pardoned, and cared for in a building called the Papillon House, which you can still visit in Paris today.

Around the end of the 19th century is when the Papillon started to appear more as it does today. The erect ears that gave the breed it's name first appeared during this time period. Whether the Papillon was crossed with other breeds to produce the erect ears and curled over tail, or if these changes occurred by random mutation, is unknown. The Papillon was recognized by the AKC in 1935.


The erect eared Papillons and drop eared Phalenes are normally small, between 7 to 10 pounds and standing between 8 to 11 inches tall at the shoulders. Their silky soft fur normally comes in a verity of colors, including white and black, lemon, red, sable, brown, fawn, liver, silver, tan, and tri-color. To meet with breed standards, Papillons should have a colored facial mask that covers their ears and extends down over both eyes. They normally have a white blaze going up the middle of their faces. These markings help to give the Papillon's face it's butterfly like appearance. Usually these dogs are mostly white, with a colored mask and spots of color on their bodies.

The most well recognized physical attribute of the Papillon are there large fringed ears. They are a long haired breed and have no undercoat. Papillon's are often called a "wash and wear" dog. Their long silky fur is relatively easy to care for. When brushing them, make sure to pay extra attention to their silky ear fringe as this area can sometimes be prone to matting. Papillons do shed. Normally their hair is left long, but it can be clipped short if a pet owner so desires.


One of the most appealing aspects of this breed, even more so then their charming looks, is their personality. Papillons are normally very cheerful, friendly, happy little dogs. A well bred Papillon is not prone to shaking or aggression like some other small dog breeds can be. They truly are social butterflies. Members of this breed do not normally make the best watch dogs, as they love to greet and interact with visitors. Loving and playful with their family members, Papillons also enjoy meeting new people and dogs.

New Papillon owners often say that one of the things that surprises them most about the breed is just how much energy they can have. Papillons can sometimes be very hyper and might not be the best type of dog for owners who like to keep things low key. These dogs do require a good amount of exercise and activity. The good thing about them is that their small size makes it possibly to play with and exercise them indoors on days when, for whatever reason, you can't spend as much time outdoors. Papillons, although small, are very sturdy dogs that make great hiking partners and often do wonderfully in dog sports such as agility.

Papillons are also very intelligent dogs. They are ranked within the top 10 most intelligent dog breeds. These dogs are normally easy to train, but care should be taken because they can be a sensitive breed. Papillons do not usually respond favorably to negative reinforcement and yelling, etc, can often upset these dogs. Positive reinforcement training methods are recommended. Their high intelligence level paired with high amounts of energy can mean that Papillons are great at finding ways to get in trouble when they are not properly engaged, both mentally and physically. If you are considering this breed, make sure that you have enough time each day to spend providing them with positive outlets for their energy and brain power.


Papillons are normally pretty healthy dogs. There are a few health issues that owners should look out for, including retinal atrophy and other eye abnormalities, heart disease and epilepsy, luxating patellas, hypothyroidism, allergies, inherited deafness, hypoglycemia, collapsed trachea, liver shunts, dental disease, and reverse sneezing. Most of these issues can be eliminated through proper care and careful consideration when choosing a breeder. The average life span for a Papillon is between 12 and 16 years.

Papillons are amazing little dogs who are cheerful, beautiful, and highly intelligent. They make amazing companions and their high activity level makes them perfect small dogs for owners with active lifestyles. There's nothing a Papillon loves more than to spend a day playing and socializing, then to come home and curl up on their owners lap. Like with any other pet, make sure you thoroughly research this breed and dog care in general before bringing one into your home. Choosing a good breeder and proper care can go a long way towards making sure you're new friend has a long, happy, and healthy life.


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