The Papillon: Big Dog in a Toy Body

The Papillon (pronounced pappy-yawn) is the toy dog lover’s answer to the perfect dog. Bred for companionship, this dog loves hanging out with his human and can make an excellent family pet if placed in the right conditions.

The Papillon is one of the oldest toy dog breeds, dating back to the 14th century. Once known as the Toy Spaniel, it is today sometimes called the Continental Toy Spaniel. “Papillon” is French for butterfly, and with its erect large ears and unique facial coloring, it is not hard to see the resemblance. Phalenes (pronounced fa-len) are Papillons with drop style ears; their name is French for night moth. The drop-ear was the original in the Papillon, but gradually the erect ears became more fashionable. Papillons were a court favorite among Europe’s aristocracy. Marie Antoinette of France was one of the many historical ladies reported to own a Papillon. Though the origin of the breed is under dispute, France is generally recognized as Papillon’s native soil.

“Paps”, as owners like to call them, are mostly white with various colored markings on the ears and extending over the eyes and face, usually with a white blaze down the bridge of the nose. Paps have long, flowing, soft, silky hair. The hair is short on the head, face, and the front of the legs. They have a bit of a frill on the chest and a long plume for a tail which curls up over their back. Paps are dainty dogs, averaging between eight and eleven inches in height.

Papillons can make great pets. Since a Papillon’s greatest desire is to be with his human, a home where the dog gets plenty of attention would be ideal. Paps can adapt to small living quarters or an environment with lots of space, but they do need exercise. They are attentive, energetic, and thrive on attention and stimulation. Unlike other toy breeds, the Papillon is generally a confident dog, seldom nervous or yappy. A generally healthy breed, Paps have an average life span of 12-15 years, with proper care. Their lack of doggy odor is an added advantage.

Their long, silky coats need regular brushing. Paps like to be clean, so regular washings are easy and help condition their coats. They do not require trimming, making their care comparably easier than other breeds with showy coats. Papillons shed, but since they are single coated (there is no undercoat), they do not shed twice a year as with most long-haired breeds.

Papillons generally do very well with other pets, especially other small dogs and even cats. Larger dogs sometimes pose a problem. Papillons are known to think they are big dogs, too, and invite bigger dogs to play, to their own detriment. Large dogs might even view the dainty Papillon as prey.

Homes with small children are not a good formula for most small dogs. Papillons, though friendly, will protect themselves if they feel they are being mistreated. Constant supervision will be required with small children, along with education about the vulnerability of a small dog. Papillon’s love to jump, but don’t always have the sense to gage doable distances. A small child squeezing her pup might cause it to wriggle from the unwelcome grasp, suffering broken bones.

Papillons have a high trainability rating. Some are even working as service dogs for the disabled. They make excellent Hearing Ear Dogs – serving as the ears for the deaf or hearing impaired. They even serve as mobility service dogs. Though their small size makes it hard to compete with the large dogs to do the physical jobs a mobility service dog is called on to do, like tugging or pulling, or helping his partner to maintain balance, the Papillon thinks he is a big dog, and is able to do most tasks a large dog performs. Paps also make excellent therapy dogs for hospital patients, or for the elderly in nursing homes.

Papillons are not a common breed in America, but are gaining popularity. Papillons are naturals for dog shows with their eagerness to please their owner, and to show off to others.

The prospective Papillon owner would do well to avoid pet stores and breeders only interested in making a profit. Papillons without good breeding can be prone to diseases such as PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy), patellar luxation, bite or plate defects, and knee problems. Such conditions can cost the owner significantly more than the initial cost of purchasing the puppy. A good breeder will provide references, and will also ask for them to determine whether the buyer will provide the right environment for the puppy. See to find sources of reputable breeders.

A Papillon can make a loving pet to the owner willing to allow this loyal animal a generous share of his or her time.

Papillon Pros:

Good watch dog (will bark to alert to strangers)
Good with children
Great with most animals
Playful, active
Relatively healthy breed
No doggy odor
No undercoat to shed twice a year
Requires no trimming of the coat
Like to be bathed
Generally not nervous, yappy dogs
Enjoy attention
High trainability rating
Travel easily: crates fit under airplane seat, travel sickness rare

Papillon Cons:

Not good with small, immature children
Can be possessive of their owner
Might be bossy toward other dogs, even larger ones
Think they are big dogs – unaware of their vulnerability
Not good guard dogs
Do not thrive in homes where there is little time for the dog
Anesthetic sensitve; require alternatives
House training may take longer, as with most toy dogs



  1. What you say about their pros and cons is SO true. I have (8) Papillons. Each of them has a different personality. I love them and they're part of the family. They sleep with us, as well. Why haven't you posted in awhile?

  2. I have adopted a approximate healthy, altered Alpha ginger Male from the pound and needs to grow his hair back from flea problems. I took care of two female/sisters last year and had anxiety separation. So here I am cooking, walking, and trying to learn what he wants. A bit different from unaltered females; but need the same extra amounts of exercise. Next lesson is separating for a few hours a day without problem. Any suggestions. btw, if they are following you around the house they are trying to be companions and want to play, maybe?

  3. I got my papillon 2 months ago, Sugar, has gotten super protective over me to the point, I'm afraid if my daughter comes into my room at night she would bite her….as of now her growling wakes me up before. Does anyone have any ideas on how to help??

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