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History of the Bichon Frise

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The Bichon, like the Poodle, is a descendant of an early type of Water Spaniel, the Barbet (the French word for 'Spaniel'). While the Barbet is a typical hunting dog, trained in retrieving birds out of rivers, the much smaller Bichon (the French word for 'darling' or 'lap dog') developed into a typical non sporting dog.

There are four different types of Bichons, together called the Barbichon-group: the Maltese, the Bolognese, the Havanese and the Tenerife. The Bichon Tenerife since 1934 is called Bichon à poil Frisé which means Curly Coated Bichon. By the way, the Petit Chien Lion (Little Lion Dog) is also part of the Barbichon-group, while the Coton de Tulear (Cotton Dog) seems to descend from this group.

Like the word 'Barbichon' already says, the Bichons are the 'lap dog' version of the Barbet, while the Barbet is an early type of Spaniel. The Barbet is a French hunting dog who was able to live in the most extreme circumstances, because his thick, long and wooly coat protected him both against cold as well as against heath. The Barbet is a very strong dog of about 50 cm height at whithers, rather a big dog. The Barbet is a brave, very intelligent dog, remarkable dedicated to his master. He is a typical water hunting dog, like the Labrador Retriever. Nowadays the Barbet is very rare and actually only lives in France. The color of the coat of the Barbet can be black, white, apricot, fawn or grey. The structure of his coat resembles the coat of the Poodle. The structure of his body however, is heavier than the Poodle; the Barbet is a big Bichon with long legs.

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The Barbet, ancestor of the Bichon Frise. The Barbet can come in many different colors, like the Poodle.

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The Bichon Frise. Unlike the Barbet, the breed is always white. Here you see my dog Iris.

The Bichon à poil Frisé (abbreviated to Bichon Frise) is an extremely old breed, and finds his origins thousands of years ago, in the ancient Egypt before Christ. Pictures of Bichons Frise were found on sarcophagi and it seems that the Egyptian Empress Cleopatra had some Bichons Frise as companion dogs. In Europe the Bichon Frise breed was imported to Spain in the Middle Ages and spreaded over the Mediterranean countries. From there the breed was brought to England.

In the Middle Ages the Bichon Frise was very popular, especially at the European courts. King Henry III of England (1574-1589) was so fond of his Bichons, that he always carried them with him, in a kind of basket around his neck. The Bichons Frise were treated as if they were noble themselves.

During the time of the Renaissance, the Bichon Frise was known as the Bichon Tenerife. Apparently sailors had brought the little curly coated dog to the Canarian Islands, from where the breed was imported again to Europe as lap dog for the Spanish and Italian aristocrats. The little dog was often pictured on paintings, like the paintings of the Spanish artist Francisco Jose Goya.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Bichon Frise lost popularity at the European courts. The little white curly coated dog, cherished and spoiled for ages by the Kings and the aristocrats, became a dog of the street and a circus dog, because of his many tricks. After World War I, a few dedicated breed fanciers in France were able to preserve the pure breed of the Bichon Frise and by 1933 they had made enough progress to merit a Breed Standard. In 1934 the little dog from Tenerife got his first official Breed Standard from the F.C.I. (Fédération Cynologique Internationale) under the name Bichon à poil Frisé. This is how the modern Bichon Frise finds his origins as a French breed.

Around 1950 the Bichon Frise was imported in the U.S.A. and became one of the most popular dog breeds. In Europe, the breed is only popular in France and in England, in other European countries the pure bred Bichon Frise is quite rare, although one often sees little white curly dogs that resemble the Bichon Frise, however these are mixes of Poodles and Maltese Bichons, sometimes even mixed with Westies.

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