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March 01, 2007
Breed Profile: Bichon Frise
Dark intelligent eyes sparkle beneath wisps of white hair as a friendly cloud with legs wags its curly tail at you. That is what I imagine when meeting a Bichon Frise. Pronounced BEE-shone free-ZAY or more commonly BEE-shawn, according to Patti Muraczewski, a pet trainer and Bichon enthusiast, the French name loosely translates to curly lap dog.
And it's an apt name, for this compact breed, which has a lot to offer as a companion. It's small, not more than a foot high with a puffy coat that is considered non-shedding. And it’s a charmer, exuding a friendly and playful demeanor. Behind the cute-as-a-button exterior of today's Bichon lingers an interesting, if not all together happy past.
Ships, thrones and streets
Although its name is French, says Muraczewski, the breed is of Mediterranean or Spanish descent. Originally a companion animal, it was very popular with Royalty, especially the French. There were many Bichons living in the lap of luxury, so to speak. Then disaster struck.
When the French nobility was overthrown during the revolution, the dogs that had once shared these families were also displaced. Homeless they roamed the streets looking for scraps. It was here, Muraczewski says, that their circumstances shaped the Bichon we have today. The cutest dogs, and those that did the best tricks were fed by amused townspeople.
Social and Playful
"They are good on their back ends – like dancing," explains Muraczewski. The playfulness of the Bichon allowed the breed to survive and still is one of the main characteristics of current dogs. "And I really like the fact that they are so friendly with people and other dogs," says Muraczewski.
She bought her first Bichon in the early '90s from a breeder, after meeting someone else's. Muraczewski named her dog Keshka, a strong Polish word that actually means something like blood sausage. Still it was a good hard sound and stood out in the show ring.
Having once been the director of the Elm Brook Humane Society, Muraczewski wanted to continue working in dog rescue even after she started her dog training school, For Pet's Sake. So she started a Bichon rescue, Bichon and Little Buddies Rescue. "It was my love of the breed," she says no doubt remembering Keshka, "and the realization there were Bichon Frises that needed to be rehomed."
Usually friendly, Muraczewski explains that the Bichon is very social, getting along well with other dogs, animals and kids. "It makes rescue easier, because they get along with others," adds Muraczewski who currently has three Bichons, two rescued dogs. "I like the good, happy disposition the breed has."
The Bichon also has a lot of talent. Muraczewski shows her Bichons not only for their breed characteristics, but for agility, and is training them for tracking. "I think they are more universal than people give them credit for," says Muraczewski. "They are capable of being more than a cutesy dog." Their personalities also make them good therapy dogs. They like to sit on people's laps, explains Muraczewski, and love attention.”
Being inside an apartment doesn't bother them either. In fact, in some cases Muraczewski noticed Bichons can get temperamental about the external temperature if it's too cold or wet. "Many of them don't want to linger outside," she says. "Their indoor activity is often higher than outdoor."
Their life span averages around 14 to 15 years, although some are much older. According to the AKC standards the Bichon should have a double coat with a soft and dense undercoat, covered by a coarser and curlier textured hair. The combination is said to give the dog a plush or velvety feel, as well as the powder puff appearance. The Bichon also has a plumbed tail that curls over its back. It reaches 9 1/2 to 11 1/2 inches high, which makes it around 7 to 12 pounds.
But Muraczewski warns these cuddly canines do have a few challenges. Because their curly coat sheds into itself (instead of onto everything else like other breeds) they need regular grooming to keep from getting matted. Even when given the shorter 'pet clip' Muraczewski suggests daily brushing with a trip to a professional groomer every 4 to 6 weeks.
Although easy to train in obedience and tricks, housebreaking can be difficult. It may be the breed's size, as many small dogs share this problem. Muraczewski says the Bichon needs good consistency. "They're not real communicative in letting you know they need to go out," explains Muraczewski. She encourages people to train with a bell. The dog rings the bell when they feel the 'call of Nature.'
And finally, as a purebred they can have a problem with allergies, requiring special diets or specialized care.
Still, the Bichon Frise is a curly lap dog that loves everybody, can dance, and has a playful personality. This popular breed has a steady place in homes looking for just the right companion dog. In discovering all the Bichon has to offer, it's no wonder these dogs make their owners feel like royalty.
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