Bichon Frise

Gemma Gaitskell
Dr Gemma Gaitskell (BVetMed MSc MRCVS, Royal Veterinary College, London)
Photo of adult Bichon Frise

Bichon Frises are small, smart, compact dogs with an elegant appearance, always found with a distinctive white coat. Originally bred as a merry sailor's companion, the Bichon Frise is now a popular choice of dog as a companion pet. The breed is extremely good-natured with children and needs relatively little exercise. The Bichon Frise is intelligent and quick to learn which means that training is not usually a problem. The Bichon Frise’s sociable nature means they get on well with other dogs and animals but can be prone to suffering from separation anxiety.

The Bichon Frise has a loosely curled, medium length coat which can become stained and matted. They require frequent brushing and should ideally be groomed professionally several times a year to keep them in good condition. The breed lives for around 12 to 15 years, but can be affected by some health problems, so choosing a healthy bloodline is important.

About & History

The Bichon Frise belongs to the toy group and is thought to originate from Italy but can be traced as far back as the 14th century to Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands in Spain. This is where its alternative name the Bichón Tenerife comes from. From here, sailors are thought to have introduced the breed to France where it was then further refined. The breeds’ small size and elegant appearance meant that it rose to popularity with the nobility of the time in France, Italy and Spain and appears in several of Goya’s paintings. In the 1800s, the breed became more common and was used to perform tricks.

In the 1960s, the Bichon Frise once again saw a rise in popularity, especially in Australia. Since then the breed has become a more common choice as a companion and family pet, due to its intelligent and good nature. The Bichon Frise can also be seen doing well in modern dog sports, such as agility, and remains a popular breed for showing.


Bichon Frise Large Photo

The only colour permitted by the UK Kennel Club for registration of the Bichon Frise is white. This is one of the characteristics that distinguishes it from some other closely related breeds. Despite this white colouring, the skin pigmentation should ideally be dark. The coat is formed of light loose curls.

The Bichon Frise is a small, compact dog with a smart appearance. Dogs should measure between 23 and 28 cm at the withers. The neck should be carried high and is approximately one third of the length of the body, widening towards the shoulders, which are angled, and the same length as the upper foreleg. The front legs should be straight and have some substance. The breed should have a deep chest. The back should lead to a strong broad hind end, with plenty of muscle and a rounded appearance. The length from the withers to the base of the tail should be equal to the height of the withers.

The Bichon Frise should have a balanced head, appropriate for the body, with a slightly rounded skull. The muzzle should be slightly longer than the forehead and the distance from the corners of the eyes to the tip of the nose should ideally form an equilateral triangle. The jaws should be strong with a scissor bite and good quality teeth but the cheeks should not be formed by excessive muscle. The nose should be large and black and eyes should be dark and round. The ears should be well covered with hair and hang close to the skull.

The breed should move effortlessly in perfect balance, whilst covering ground. The topline should remain level and legs should move parallel to it whilst driving the dog forward.

Character & Temperament

The Bichon Frise is a happy, lively, outgoing breed, which is extremely friendly and affectionate. The breed loves company and is very sociable with other dogs. In addition, the Bichon Frise has a gentle nature and is very good with children. This outgoing and sociable nature means that the Bichon Frise can be prone to suffering from separation anxiety when left alone.

Proper training and a secure environment to ensure dogs feel safe is therefore essential from a young age to minimize anxiety levels. Their small size and companiable nature means they do not typically make good guard dogs.


Photo of Bichon Frise puppy

The Bichon Frise is intelligent and attentive, whilst also being keen to please and quick to learn. This means that they are generally easy to train, and recall is quickly learnt, especially when training is consistent and undertaken from a young age. These qualities mean that house training is not usually an issue.


The Bichon Frise usually has a lifespan of twelve plus years, but can live for significantly longer. Some studies have shown Bichon Frises in the UK to have a longer lifespan than those in the USA and Canada. It is a Category 1 breed with no specific points of concern noted by the UK Kennel Club. Participation in the Eye Scheme is mandatory for all UK Kennel Club Assured breeders and the breed can also suffer from the below conditions:

Eye Scheme

The Bichon Frise can suffer from hereditary cataracts, which causes the lens or the lens capsule to become increasingly opaque. Dogs should be checked annually, especially if they are intended for breeding purposes.


Also known as Cushing’s disease, hyperadrenocorticism is when the body produces excessive levels of corticoids. Treatment options depend on the type of hyperadrenocorticism, but symptoms are similar causing a pot belly appearance, and increase in water consumption and urination, tiredness and obesity, amongst other signs.

Patellar Luxation

This is an orthopaedic condition which affects the stifle or knee joint of the back leg. The patella or kneecap becomes displaced from its normal position. Either one or both cases can become affected and severe cases may need surgery.

Patent Ductus Arteriosus

This condition is caused by a defect in the heart at birth. Normally, this blood vessel closes soon after birth to allow blood to flow past the lungs and become oxygenated when the dog breathes. However, in dogs that are affected, it remains open, causing signs, such as coughing, shortness of breath and general weakness. To correct the defect, surgery is necessary.

Skin Allergies

Bichon Frises seem to be affected more than some other breeds by skin problems. These can be triggered by a number of causes, both nutritional and environmental and can cause irritation, discomfort, hair loss and cause dogs to lick and scratch excessively. If left unattended, irritated areas can become infected. Dogs showing obvious signs of skin problems should not be used for breeding.

Portosystemic Shunt

This condition is caused by an abnormal communication between blood vessels. It means that compounds absorbed by the digestive system do not pass through the liver as they should do. This can affect growth, cause intolerance to anaesthetics and also affect behaviour. The treatment of choice is surgery to close the abnormal communication.

Immune Mediated Haemolytic Anaemia

This disease is caused when the immune system attacks the body’s red blood cells. If levels of red blood cells fall too low then the body’s ability to transport oxygen to tissues is affected. Treatment and prognosis depend on the severity of the anaemia.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Bichon Frise is a small breed with medium energy levels and requires around 45 minutes of walking a day to stay happy and healthy. Although dogs enjoy being able to spend some of this time off the lead, it is not essential for the breed, making them an ideal choice of breed for urban environments. Despite the fact that the breed does not need a large amount of walking a stimulating environment at home with plenty of toys helps to keep dogs happy.


The Bichon Frise has a medium length, soft, curly coat that is fine and can be trimmed for showing purposes. The breed does not shed but requires regular brushing to prevent its coat becoming matted and dirty. The white colouring of the breed’s coat can also mean that it easily becomes stained with saliva and dirt and may therefore need occasional bathing.

It is recommendable for Bichon Frises to be professionally groomed to ensure their coat remains in good condition. The breed can also be more prone to skin allergies than some other breeds, so if there are any signs of irritation or excessive licking advice from a veterinarian should be sought.

Famous Bichon Frises

Despite the Bichon Frises popularity there are few representatives of the breed in popular culture.

  • The Bichon Frises’ in Renoir’s paintings, The Inn of Mother Anthony and Confidences.
  • Ozzie Bichon, a Bichon Frise who has his own Facebook page.
  • The Bichon Frise’s in Goya’s paintings – in particular of the Duchess of Alba.
  • The Bichon Frise was favoured by French royalty as a court dog, particularly Henry III.
  • Molly from the Australian series Meweth.
  • Joe Gatto from the TV show, Impractical Jokers, owns a Bichon Frise.


There are numerous Bichon Frise cross-breeds, some of which include:

User comments

There are no user comments for this listing.