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Papillon Dog Breed Information: Facts, Traits, Pictures & More

Considering adopting a dog, and aren't sure if the Papillon is the right dog breed for your family? In this article, you'll learn all about this feisty dog, including its history, temperament, breed facts, and plenty of pictures.

Emma Braby Picture

Last Updated: March 18, 2021 | 14 min read

Papillon

Never judge a book by its cover. And never judge a Papillon by his elegant ears and dainty frame because he is anything but dainty. The Papillon is a big personality pooch stuffed into a toy dog size. If you’re here because you think he’ll make a quiet lapdog, think again. He descends from sporting dogs and has the Spaniel spirit within.

But if you’re here because you’re seeking a fun-loving and outgoing pup, you’ve come to the right place. The American Kennel Club describes him as alert, friendly, and happy. However, he is only happy and friendly if you can offer him everything he needs.

He was bred primarily for companionship, and he craves human company 24/7. Making him intensely needy and not suitable to every family. And with many other requirements, it’s important to discover whether he is the right pooch for you. So, let’s get straight to it.

Breed Overview
    • weight iconWeight5-10 Pounds
    • height iconHeight8-11 Inches
    • lifespan iconLifespan14-16 Years
    • color iconColorsBlack, Red, Sable, Tan, and Lemon, All With White
  • Child Friendliness
  • Canine Friendliness
  • Training Difficulty
  • Grooming Upkeep
  • Breed Health
  • Exercise Needs
  • Puppy Costs

History

Small Dog With Dirt on His Nose
Papillons were bred in France to be small, lovable pets and were very popular throughout Europe during the Renaissance.

The Papillon was a designer dog of Renaissance times. Which for those of us who cannot remember our history lessons at school, is sometime between the 14th and 17th centuries. During that time, favorite toy breeds were mixed with Spaniels. It was popular to miniaturize their favorite breeds which were known as ‘dwarf Spaniels.’

It is believed the 17th century saw the first dwarf spaniel born with upright ears. Louis XIV, a King of France, named him the Papillon. The word ‘papillon’ in French means butterfly, and his upright ears and long hair resembled the shape of a butterfly. Breeding concentrated on his distinct butterfly ears, but still to this day, some Paps are born with drop-down ears. These pups are known as the Phalene variant and are much rarer.

Papillons were created to be tiny, charming companions, and they appear in many famous portraits of princesses and queens. They were a big hit in Europe, particularly France, Spain, and Italy. Legend has it Mary Antoinette had a Pap called Thisbe, who waited outside her prison cell before her beheading.

It is unknown when the Papillon came to America, but he was accepted into the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1915. The Pap commonly finds himself in the top 60 dog breeds. The late Hollywood actress Lauren Bacall split her estate between her three children and her Pap, Sophie. This inheritance made Sophie one of the richest Papillons in the world.

Temperament

Fluffy Dog Standing on Gravel Road
These lively and energetic dogs serve as incredible companions for their owners.

The Papillon was bred purely for companionship, and this is something you need to be able to offer him. If you work long hours at the office or are away from home and cannot take him with you, the Pap is not the right breed for you. If you, or someone in the family, can spend most of their day with him, he will be super happy. And a happy dog makes for a happy life!

His need for constant companionship makes him an intensely needy dog, and there is no escaping that. But for those of us who love constant doggy companionship (me being one of them!), he makes the perfect pawtner.

He suffers from separation anxiety, which is something to consider when training him as a pup. All of this combined, and the fact that many toy dogs are spoiled rotten, means he is a prime suspect for something called ‘little dog syndrome.’ We’ll discuss these in more detail in the training section.

So, that’s the Paps sticking points, so what else does he have to offer? Plenty! He is super loving and affectionate. He’ll spoil you in cuddles and doggy kisses if you let him. Being so teeny, he makes the perfect cuddle buddy for the sofa without the risk of being uncomfortable or getting dead legs.

He is outgoing and the soul of the party. Contrary to the typical feisty toy dog attitude, this breed is friendly with strangers and welcoming visitors. He’ll bark at them for sure, but out of excitement rather than because he is trying to ward him off. His welcoming nature will have all your friends and visitors coming around more often!

Despite being depicted as a lapdog in many renaissance paintings, he is more energetic than he is chilled. So, he is not a typical lap dog Rubens and Rembrandt would have you believe. If you are looking for a little pocket rocket, this breed is a great choice!

It is the Pap’s sporting Spaniel genetics that explains his athletic and fun energy. And how he came to be amongst the most spunky dogs in the toy kingdom.

Size & Appearance

Two White and Black Dogs in a Meadow
Paps have two distinct looks, one with butterfly-like ears and the other has drop-down Spaniel ears.

He is a toy-sized dog, and he is one of the smallest. Weighing only 5 to 10 pounds and measuring 8 to 11 inches tall from paw to shoulder, he could fit in your purse with ease.

He is dainty and fine-boned in appearance and longer than he is tall. His gait is lively and light and generally elegant. He has a cute smile, domed head, and dark button eyes. His tail is long and arched over his body, covered in long pluming hair.

There are two distinct Pap looks. One is with the erect butterfly ears, which is the more common of the two. Second is the Phalene type, which is the same as any Pap, but with drop-down ears instead. The Phalene looks like a miniature Spaniel, which is why they are often referred to as Continental Toy Spaniels in Europe.

Often described as the butterfly Pap and the moth Pap. Both ear-types are accepted in shows, but a dog with one erect ear and one drop-down ear will be faulted.

Coat & Colors

White and Black Dog Laying in Autumn Leaves
Paps are some of the smallest dogs and only weigh up to 10 pounds and measure up to 11 inches.

The Papillon has a long and silky following coat that is fine and straight in texture. Across his body, it lies flat, often with a visible parting that runs along his spine. Around his chest and the rear of his legs, it is thicker and fluffier. Making it look as though he has a frilly mane with puffy pantaloons.

The hair around his tail is also thicker. The Pap has no undercoat meaning he sheds much less than double-coated dogs. The hair around his ears is also much longer, adding to the butterfly shape his ears make. Or, if a Phalene Pap, the longer hair adds to his longer Spaniel-ear appearance.

In addition to his ear-shape preference, the other thing that has changed from his ancestor’s appearance is his coat color. Back in the day, Papillons used to be solid block colors. But now, most Paps are born with a parti-color coat or white with patches of color.

His color choices include black, red, sable, tan, and lemon. For show purposes, his ears must be colored, a white blaze is preferred, and symmetrical facial markings are desirable.

Exercise Requirements

Gorgeous Dog With Long Fur Running
Expect to spend up to 60 minutes exercising your Pap each day.

Despite his small size, the Papillon needs around 45 to 60 minutes of exercise every day. This is much more than most expect, but it is the Spaniel in him. Without regular exercise, he will become restless and bored. And you’ll soon see the Pap wrath that will leave a path of furniture destruction.

He might be small, but his sporting energy needs burning somehow! When it comes to exercise, be sure to use a harness. The Pap is prone to tracheal collapse, and harnesses can reduce the chances of this significantly.

He is spunky and intelligent, so you’ll need to mix his activities up throughout the week. This will prevent him from becoming too bored. He doesn’t need intense exercise, but he needs more than just a walk around the block.

So, variety is the key to Pap’s happiness. He gets on well with other dogs, so he’ll enjoy regular trips to the doggy park. He also loves to fetch, which is the Spaniel blood again. So be sure to invest in toys for him to bring back to you.

In between exercise sessions, he’ll also need mental stimulation to keep himself entertained. Interactive play with his humans will be his favored activity, such as more fetch or tug of war games. Or toys for solo play such as treat-dispensing puzzle toys or chew sticks will go down well too. A basket full of toys is a great weapon in any dog owner’s arsenal for beating doggy boredom.

Living Conditions

Sweet White and Brown Dg sitting on a Couch
These small dogs make convenient pets for small living spaces like apartments or condos.

His tiny frame makes him popular with apartment and city dwellers who do not have much room to offer. But with his need to stick to you like glue, you don’t need much more room for him. He would appreciate a yard to play in, but it isn’t a requirement of his.

If he does have a yard, you’ll need to be sure it is secured. He can escape out of the smallest of gaps, so you’ll need to Pap proof your living space.

The fun but sweet Papillon is suited to all kinds of families, with one exception. His super tiny frame makes him unsuitable for families with young children. Young children mistake toy dogs for actual toys and treat them the same. Many Paps have been injured by children who do not understand how to handle them. So, for his safety, he is best homed with older children.

The Papillon is a friendly and sociable dog who gets along well with all other animals if socialized well. If you have a resident Pap and want to invite a new pet into the household, be sure to supervise introductions for a safe and happy meet. For a dog who hates to be alone, you can be sure he will appreciate another dog in the family fold to keep him company for those times when you have to leave him.

Training

Small Show Dog Showing off His Smart Tricks
Paps are commonly seen in dog shows and can be trained to do just about anything.

The Papillon is quite a trainable pup compared to other toy dog breeds. He is eager to please his owners and takes to new commands relatively quickly. Making him an ideal first-time pooch for the novice dog owner. But of course, like all dogs, he still needs early training to turn into the well-balanced and polite pooch we know and love. You can’t expect him to be well-behaved without showing him the doggy ropes.

You can’t expect him to be well-behaved if you spoil him either. Earlier, we mentioned something called ‘little dog syndrome.’ Essentially this is where we humans spoil small dogs because they are tiny, cute, and supposedly harmless. But by doing so, small dogs become unruly, snappy, and overprotective, leading to behavioral problems. If you are about to welcome a Pap into your life, be sure to learn about it and understand how to avoid it.

Positive reinforcement training is the best way to train the Papillon. His willingness to please his master means he will respond well to lots of praise. Don’t be afraid to get your high squeaky voice on, because he will love it! Treats and toys will also go down well. Start his training early, and by rewarding him for his good behavior, he’ll be sure to repeat it.

All dogs need to be socialized, no matter how friendly and confident they are. Socialization is mixing puppies with other dogs, starting with their mom and littermates. As well as other dogs outside of the family unit.

It’s also important to mix him with other animals and humans. And unfamiliar surroundings, sights, and sounds to increase his confidence. A good breeder will start this process early, and it’ll be your job to carry it on to maintain his polite ways.

As an anxious dog, you must crate train your Pap. All dogs crave shelter, and so by introducing him to a crate at an early age, he will quickly adapt to his own safe space. Make it comfy with a bed and a blanket, and he’ll find it a relaxing place to be when you have to leave him for a few hours. Crate training is a must for anxious dog breeds, and you’ll need to make sure you have the right crate for an anxious pup.

Health

Small Dog Being Checked by a Vet
A healthy Pap can live a long time, up to about 16 years, but a few manageable health concerns can be expected.

The Papillon is a relatively healthy dog breed that lives for an average of 14 to 16 years, sometimes longer. For him to reach this age, you need to keep him as healthy as possible. Keeping him up to date with his veterinary checkups, regular exercise, and top nutrition are some of the most effective and simplest ways to keep him healthy.

Papillons are small and prone to general injuries, so you need to be extra vigilant when it comes to falling from heights and other bigger animals. He is also prone to certain health conditions, more so than others. This means that while you cannot discount other concerns, the below conditions are the ones to look out for.

Many good quality breeders will breed healthy dogs and screen for the below common Pap health conditions.

Eye Conditions

The Papillon is prone to a variety of eye concerns. Progressive retinal atrophy is the most common condition found in Paps. This is the deterioration of the retina, and over time will cause a complete loss of vision. Breeders should only breed dogs with a clean ophthalmologist bill of health.

Patella Luxation

This is a common condition found in many small dogs, and it is common in the Pap. This is the permanent or temporary dislocation of the kneecap, and it can be very painful. It usually presents itself around six months of age and can require surgery. If you notice your Pap is struggling to sit or stand, or he is kicking out the affected leg, it’s time to go to your vets.

Cardiac Conditions

The leading cause of death in older Papillons is heart disease, so it’s important to keep up to date with vet checkups for heart murmurs and irregularities. Symptoms include dry and persistent cough, extreme fatigue, restless sleep, and fainting.

Open Fontanel

Some toy dog breeds are born with an open fontanel, much like a human baby. The soft spot should close as their skull develops, but for many Paps, it doesn’t. If it doesn’t close, you’ll need to be extra vigilant for head injuries because even the smallest of bumps can be fatal.

Anesthesia Sensitivity

Although this isn’t a health condition, it is important to be aware of it. Papillons are sensitive to anesthesia, and this is something to be aware of when needing treatment. Although your vet should be aware of this, it’s always a good idea to remind them just in case they aren’t aware of it.

Nutrition

White and Brown Dog Eating From a Dog Bowl
Feeding your Pap properly can deter health concerns such as hypoglycemia, patella luxation, and cardiac conditions.

Most Papillons will consume around half a cup of kibble every day, often less if he is a small Pap. Other factors that determine how much he needs to eat include his age and energy levels. A 5 pound Pap will need less food than a 10 pound one. t’s also important that this breed eat a kibble designed for small breeds. This is especially true when they are puppies, and need small breed puppy food to support their early growth.

An overweight Pap is more likely to suffer from patella luxation and cardiac conditions, amongst many other weight-related conditions.

Toy dog breeds are also prone to a health condition known as hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, and it can affect the Pap. To stabilize his blood sugars, it’s crucial to feed his daily food allowance across different meal sittings, rather than in one hit. Symptoms of this include trembling, convulsing, and pale gums, and it can be fatal if untreated.

Always feed your pooch the best quality food you can afford. High-quality kibbles provide a well-balanced diet that covers every nutritional need of dogs in general. Meaning you do not have to worry about supplements or additional foods unless your vet states otherwise. Look for a kibble that is specifically designed for a toy or small-sized breed. This way, the kibble pieces will be small enough for him to enjoy.

Grooming

White and Brown Dog Being Brushed by a Human
Surprisingly, this elegant pooch requires minimal grooming to stay looking so beautiful.

Although the Papillon’s coat is long and wispy in places, he is surprisingly simple to groom. He only needs brushing once or twice a week, focusing on the areas with longer hair. These include his ears, neck, chest, the rear of his legs, and tail. These are the areas that are prone to matting.

Thankfully, because he doesn’t have an undercoat, seasonal shedding isn’t an issue to be concerned with. A soft pin style brush is the best brush for the Paps grooming regime.

He’ll only need bathing once every 8 to 12 weeks too. Regular brushing will rid him of dirt and smells. Be sure to use a gentle shampoo designed specifically for dogs. Human shampoo is too harsh and will irritate his skin. Get him used to bathtime from a young age so it doesn’t become too much of an issue when he is older.

All toy dogs are at increased risk of periodontal diseases, so dental hygiene is crucial. Brush his teeth at least twice a week with doggy toothpaste. Or, you can use DIY methods when it comes to teeth cleaning. Do this from a young age, rather than waiting until you see signs of dental disease. Trim his nails as and when they get too long. A great tip is if you can hear them tapping on the floor, it’s time to get the clippers out.

Breeders & Puppy Costs

Adorable Puppies on a Blue Table
Puppy Paps can cost you about $1,000 to start off.

The Papillon is a relatively uncommon dog breed in America. And although he isn’t rare, you’ll likely have to travel to find a responsible dog breeder. Most responsible Pap breeders will have a waiting list, too, so be prepared to wait for your perfect pup.

The average price of a Pap pup is around $1,000. If you are looking for a pup from a particular lineage or popular breeder, you can expect to pay more than this.

Responsible breeders will do everything they can to breed healthy pups. From breeding healthy adults with health certificates to raising them with love and socialization, their Pap pups will be happy and healthy. A great place to start your search for a responsible breeder is with the AKC’s top Papillon breeders list.

Inviting a toy pooch into your life costs more than just the initial puppy price. There are also setting up prices to think about. Including getting your Pap his first bed, crate, bowls, harnesses, and collars, etc.

There are also ongoing costs to owning a dog, such as vet bills, medical insurance, food, and toys, to name just a few. All of this needs to be taken into consideration before welcoming a pup into your life.

Rescues & Shelters

Tiny Dog With Silky Coat
It is very likely you can find a Pap to rescue at your local shelter or an organization.

Buying a brand new puppy from a breeder is not the right option for everyone. If it isn’t for you, you can also consider adopting a Papillon from a rescue shelter. Paps are a relatively uncommon breed, so you might have to visit a few rescue centers before finding one. Speak to the staff there because they might know of a Papillon coming in soon.

Alternatively, there are a few organizations that work specifically to rehome Paps waiting for their forever homes. Pap Adopters is a great website to start your search. Often the cost of rescuing a Papillon is cheaper than buying a puppy from a breeder.

As Family Pets

  • The Papillon is a toy-sized dog breed.
  • They need a family that can offer constant companionship.
  • Without his humans around him, he can become an anxious pup.
  • He is a fun-loving and vibrant pooch who is full of fun.
  • He is surprisingly energetic.
  • who needs at least 45 minutes of exercise every day
  • Paps are sociable, friendly, and welcoming of strangers and friends alike.
  • He is friendly with other animals and likes the company of other dogs.
  • Paps are eager to please their humans.
  • When it comes to training, they can be very obedient.

Final Thoughts

The Papillon is a relatively uncommon dog breed in America. So you can be sure with this pup on your arm or in your purse, you’ll make heads turn. His distinctive butterfly ears, or moth if he is a Phalene variant, make him stand out in the toy dog crowd. He isn’t the right dog for everyone because of his neediness for constant companionship.

But for the right family, he is a wonderful family pet that brings happiness and joy to the dullest of days. His well-balanced demeanor and friendly nature mean he gets along with everyone he meets. He’ll shower you in love and doggy kisses, as well as all the canine companionship you could need.

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