The Bichon or Bichon Frise is one of the most popular companion dog breeds in Europe and North America. It is unknown how old this breed is, but the American Kennel Club states that it dates back to at least the 1300s. This was one of the first dog breeds to be bred specifically to be a pet, rather than for hunting, guarding, herding or pulling carts.
The Bichon's immediate ancestor is thought to be the Barbet water spaniel. Spanish traders brought the Barbets to the Mediterranean, where they were bred with smaller, white dogs. The cross was eventually called "barbichons", later changed to "Bichon." By the 1500s, these dogs were adored by European royalty. Although almost wiped out by both World Wars, it has surged in popularity, especially after the formation of the Bichon Frise Club of America in 1964.
The color of a Bichon is always white, although this white can easily stain, especially around the eyes and mouth. Sometimes the coat can be slightly darker shades like ivory or a pale yellow, especially on the ears. The Bichon's soft white coat is in two layers. The top layer is curly and harsher in feel than the soft and straighter bottom layer. The non-shedding coat grows very fast and soon becomes matted and filthy if the coat is not trimmed every month.
Bichon frises are small dogs, only growing to an average height of 9 to 12 inches at the top point of the dog's shoulder. The average weight is from 10 to 16 pounds. Smaller and larger Bichons do occur--although they would not do well in the dog show ring, they still make excellent pets. It is common for male Bichons to be larger than females, according to "Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds."
According to the Bichon Frise Club of America, the major health problems in Bichon frises include tooth disease; knee problems; allergies to food, pollen, tobacco smoke or other irritants; Cushing's disease, where the glands make too much of the hormone cortisol; chronic ear infections which can lead to deafness; bladder infections which can lead to bladder stones; and chronic dry eye, where the dog cannot produce enough tears and may go blind.
A Bichon Frise has once won Westminster, America's most prestigious dog show. The 2001 Best in Show went to Special Times Just Right! Exclamation marks are allowed to be part of a show dog's registered name. His nickname is JR. He won at the ripe old age of three and then was retired to stud.