The Papillon is a small dog with large, luxurious ears that earned it its name, the French word for butterfly. The Papillon is believed to be one of the oldest of the toy breeds.
The modern Papillon bred according to the official breed standard is required to have an abundant, flowing coat, which is considered proper only if it is a single coat (i.e., has no fluffy or cottony undercoat), short on the head but profuse around the neck, chest, and pantaloons or culottes or britches. The tail should be a plume of long hair. A proper single coat ensures relatively low maintenance in grooming.
The large, erect, and fringed ears are the most notable physical attribute of the erect-eared breed today. The PhalÃ¨ne is the same as the erect-eared Papillon except for its dropped spaniel-like ears. The AKC considers the PhalÃ¨ne a variant of the Papillon and judges them together as the same breed; countries whose breed clubs follow the FCI standard consider Papillons and PhalÃ¨nes two separate breeds. This belief is common, but the fact is that Papillon is a variant of the much older race PhalÃ¨ne.
Papillons should always be white with another color. Most common are the black and white, sable and white, red and white, and tri-color papillons. The color should always cover both eyes and the front and back of the ear to give the proper butterfly look. A white blaze and noseband are preferred as they also contribute to the correct butterfly look of the dog.
Size should range from 8 inches to 12 inches at the shoulder (11 inches in the UK) with the average papillon being between 9 and 10.5 inches in height and weight in proportion.
Even though the breed has the connotation of a dainty toy breed, many owners will tell you they act like big dogs in small dogs’ bodies. There are several possible reasons for this. First, the Papillion is hardy; some people believe the Papillon is very capable of handling a good five-mile walk. Some owners believe the reality is that they will resist such an outing if the grass is dampish or if there are two clouds in the sky that might lead to rain, but others have experienced them as very versatile in almost all conditions, although not necessarily with prolonged exposure. Perhaps they seem to be larger dogs because to many people Papillons appear not to be prone to small dog quaking when confronted with a new situation. In fact, some Papillon owners believe that their dogs interpret any new event as having been put on for their benefit, and believe that the dogs do their best to be an attentive host or hostess.
Another aspect of the Papillon that has led many to believe the ‘big dog’ assertion is that this breed is surprisingly athletic. Perhaps people are surprised that in contrast to its staid and stately representation in the Old Master portraits, the Papillon is highly energetic and intelligent (Stanley Coren, in The Intelligence of Dogs, rates the Papillon eighth among all breeds). Provided their genetic structure is sound and they are healthy, Papillons are built for movement, and most do not need any encouragement to apply their energy to athletic activities.
The Papillon probably originated in continental Europe and was a favorite at the French court. The most famous owner was Henry III; documentation of his devotion to the breed lies in his declaration of the Papillon as the official dog of the Royal Court during his tenure. Other famous owners are said to have been Marie Antoinette, and Madame de Pompadour.
There is evidence that these small dogs were favorites of European aristocrats, particularly French royalty, during the time of the Old Masters, as Continental Toy Spaniels (PhalÃ¨nes and Papillons) were included in many Old Master royal portraits from as early as the sixteenth century.
There are many stories about the Papillon. Marie Antoinette was said to have walked to the guillotine clutching her small dog under her arm. Tradition has it that her dog was a small spaniel that had been brought to the French court from Spain on the back of pack mules. According to the story, her pup was spared and cared for in a building in Paris still called the Papillon House. Marie’s small spaniel was said to have descended from a very old drop-eared breed known as the Epagneul Nain Continental, or Continental Dwarf/Toy Spaniel that appeared in church frescos and paintings as early as the 13th century.
The Papillon is still officially referred to as the Epagneul Nain Continental (ENC) in non-English-speaking countries. The name Squirrel Spaniel also has been used, most likely referring to an earlier standard in which the tail set is described as “curling over the back as a squirrel’s.” One version of the history of the two varieties of ear shape in the ENC (“Papillon” to denote the erect ear and “PhalÃ¨ne” to denote the dropped ear) is that toward the end of the 19th century, breed fanciers bred a version of the spaniel whose ears stood up. This dog was said to have been nicknamed papillon based on the impressively large, erect ears that resembled the wings of a butterfly. The drop-eared variety of the breed came to be called the PhalÃ¨ne (which means “moth”). Both types are still bred today and appear in the same litter. The Papillon variety is much more common, although recently the PhalÃ¨ne has undergone a resurgence in popularity.
Papillon in Dog Agility
In recent years, the Papillon has become a small dog star in the sport of dog agility. This sport consists of an obstacle course with tunnels, jumps, A-frames, and narrow bridges that a dog completes at top speed aided only by verbal and body-language commands from a handler. Agility requires the dog to spring, scramble, weave, and turn on a dime. The breed is considered naturally agile, and Papillons compete at both national and international trials. Because many Papillons have intense drive and natural speed, their tiny turning radius gives them an edge over larger dogs, and some Papillons are capable of beating even Border Collie speeds on some courses. At the same time, Papillons excel in companionship and lap dog sweepstakes, and take it very seriously. The first dog to ever earn a MACH title in Alaska is a Papillon.
Others have experienced Papillons as highly companionableâ€”yet physically activeâ€”dogs requiring appropriate socialization, consistent and monitored exercise, continued training (which also serves to stimulate their active minds), and daily, proactive human-to-canine interaction.
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