Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Phalène

A toy dog that was developed on mainland western Europe several hundred years ago, the Phalène is a variant of the more popular Papillon. The Papillon and Phalène differ only by the position of their ears, and in every other way, are the exact same dog.

Phalène dogs are small, rarely weighing above 5kg, with a dainty, rounded head, silky ears that flop downwards, a fine bone structure and a plumed ‘squirrel’ tail. Never really used as working dogs, though they may have caught the odd rat or two in their time, the Phalène has primarily been a dog used for companionship; a job in which it excels.

About & History

While perhaps lesser known than the Papillon breed of dog, the Phalène is its predecessor, and the Phalène variant of the breed is still produced in litters of Papillon puppies today. While Papillon dogs get their name owing to the resemblance of their ears to butterfly wings (the word ‘papillon’ is French for butterfly), Phalène dogs are named after the French word for moth.

While the exact origin of the breed is difficult to be sure about, it is known that they have existed since before the 16th century, where they were depicted in a variety of paintings. Maybe the best known of these paintings is ‘Venus of Urbino’, an oil painting by Titan completed in 1534, that depicts a nude woman lounging on a bed. At the end of the bed is a little red and white spaniel, curled up, sleeping.

Small spaniel dogs were popular among the higher classes all over Europe and were primarily used for companionship. In which country exactly the Phalène developed is open to debate, with France, Belgium and Italy all having claimed the Phalène as their own at some time in history.

While it is possible that the Phalène naturally gave rise to the Papillon, with erect eared dogs occurring by chance in litters, it may also be the case that the Phalène was bred with Spitz dogs to consciously alter their appearance. Interestingly, the Phalène is classified as a variety of the Papillon by the AKC, but the FCI classifies it as a separate breed entirely.


Phalène Large Photo

The Phalène is identical in appearance to the Papillon, other than when it comes to their ears. The Phalène has retained typical spaniel ears, which hang down to the side of their face and are covered in long, silky fur. It's a toy breed and measures 20 to 27cms, weighing only 3 to 4.5kg. While built more robustly than other toy dogs, the Phalène is still an elegant breed with fine structures.

Their head is rounded, and their slim muzzle protrudes abruptly from their skull. Their inquisitive eyes are a dark brown colour, while their nose must always be black. Their tail is beautifully sophisticated, well-plumed and curled, carried upright over their back. They were once known as the ‘squirrel dog’ because of the similarity in tail appearance.

Their coat is exquisite: straight and smooth and it is long over most of their body, though shortest on the head and legs. Many coat colours are accepted, though white must form the base. A blaze on the face is preferred, and markings should be symmetrical. Common colours include:

  • White & Brown
  • White & Black
  • White & Red
  • Tri-Colour

Character & Temperament

A sweet little dog, the Phalène has been ‘man’s best friend’ for centuries and will happily snooze on your lap at the end of the day. They thoroughly enjoy being in the company of people, and do not tolerate being left alone for prolonged periods because of this. When adequately socialised, they will get on with young children well.

Unfortunately, many people fail to properly train and socialise small lap dogs, sometimes ‘babying’ them, or treating them as porcelain dolls. This approach often results in an ill-mannered dog that does not respect its role in the family and may even resort to mild aggression. Thankfully, when the proper steps are taken, most Phalènes become well-adapted, content dogs and are very affectionate and gentle with their family.

They make good watch dogs and will happily bark away at anyone they perceive to be an intruder. ‘Yapping’ is a word that springs to mind when one thinks of the Phalène, and it is undeniable that they have an extraordinary tendency towards barking, often at a very high pitch! This trait needs to be considered if living close to a neighbour that is not as understanding of this as you may be.


Photo of Phalène puppy

Phalène dogs are renowned for their exceptional intelligence levels and are known to excel in a number of disciplines, mastering a great variety of tricks. While often independent, they have the potential to do very well in training, and typically will outperform any other dogs in the class.

It has been anecdotally reported that the Phalène can take longer than average to become house-trained, although this is certainly not linked to its intelligence or trainability. Limiting their toilet training area to a small section of the home can help, as otherwise, owners tend to find ‘small accidents’ in a variety of places.


The Phalène can live well into its teens and is recognised worldwide for its good health. There are, however, a number of health conditions that can occur more commonly than in the general population. These include:

Luxating Patella

Toy breeds are over-represented when it comes to this condition. The knee cap fails to sit appropriately in position and will pop in an out of place. An owner may notice their dog skip for a few steps, before returning to a completely normal walk or trot.

This condition can be painful, and often results in osteoarthritis later in life. For some dogs, orthopaedic surgery to correct the problem will be recommended.

Ear Infections

As with many spaniel type dogs, the Phalène is prone to ear infections due to its floppy ears. Owners need to be aware of this possibility and check their dog’s ears routinely so that an infection can be treated as soon as it occurs. Infections can be prevented with good ear hygiene, and by avoiding getting the ear canals wet.


The Phalène can develop epilepsy, often when young to middle-aged, and will have sudden fits for no apparent reason. While this is typically a life-long condition, dogs will usually tolerate it well. In some cases, medication will be necessary to control the seizures.

Ocular Disorders

There have been a number of ocular condition reported in the Phalène including: Cataracts (a cloudiness of the eyes resulting in impaired vision), Entropion (a folding in of the eyelids leading to corneal damage), Corneal Dystrophy (an irregular cornea that appears cloudy) and Progressive Retinal Atrophy (a degenerative condition that leads to blindness). A veterinary ophthalmologist can assess your Phalène’s eyes, particularly if you are planning on using them for breeding.

Portosystemic Shunt

This is the medical name for an abnormal blood vessel that bypasses the liver. There are a variety of types of shunts, and dogs will be affected to varying degrees. While some cases may be medically managed, for most dogs, a surgery to correct the defect will be advised.

Cushing’s Disease

The Phalène can be predisposed to the hormonal disease called Hyperadrenocorticism, or ‘Cushing’s’. This relatively common endocrine disease will cause symptoms, such as fur thinning, excessive thirst, panting and a pot-belied appearance. Once diagnosed, this condition can be managed medically, though will need life-long therapy.

Addison’s Disease

Phalène dogs are also susceptible to Hypoadrenocorticism, or Addison’s. When affected, their body does not produce enough of the adrenocortical hormones, resulting in a variety of signs that can be difficult to detect at first.

Often called ‘the great pretender’, this disease can initially mimic other health conditions and can be tricky to diagnose. When a diagnosis is reached, animals usually respond well to medication, which continues for the rest of their life.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Generally active and curious when inside the house, the Phalène burns off a lot of its energy indoors. Regardless, they enjoy a 20-30 minute walk once or twice a day. Remember, they do not have a double coat, so may need a jumper in the winter and should not be left outside in the cold for a prolonged time.


More prone than the Papillon to ear infections, the Phalène requires periodic ear checking and cleaning. To maintain their long and beautiful coat they should be brushed at least twice weekly and may benefit from a trip to a professional groomer a few times a year to keep them in tip-top condition.

Anal glands may require emptying every few months. A confident owner can be taught to do this at home (if they don’t mind the smell!), or a local veterinary clinic would be more than happy to help out with this unpleasant task.

Famous Phalènes

It is thought that both Marie Antoinette and Madame de Pompadour owned Phalène dogs.


There are no well recognised cross breed just yet.

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