While many people have heard of the Bichon Frisé few are aware that there are in fact six Bichon breeds, all descendants of the “little white dog of antiquity”. This dog, also known as the “Barbet,” can be traced as far back as the Roman Empire.
Differing in appearance and personality, each breed was developed in a Mediterranean port city and reached the world beyond through traders and sailors. The breeds were also regarded as treasured gifts by the nobility of the ancient world.
The Bichon Frisé, Bolognese, and Havanese are doublecoated breeds each boasting a topcoat and undercoat, while the Coton de Tulear, Lowchen, and Maltese are singlecoated. All are non-shedding and produce low levels of dander making them a good choice for allergy sufferers and leading to them often being desvribed as hypoallergenic. While each breed has its own unique characteristics and charm none of them can be considered low-maintenance as far as grooming is concerned.
The Bichon Frisé is known also as the ‘Tenerife Dog’ because history has it that fourteenth-century sailors found him on that island, fell for his charms and took him back to Europe. During the Renaissance, Italian traders took the little white dog home to Italy where it attracted the attention of nobility and wealthy merchants.
Finding its way to France in the late 1400s, the Bichon became the darling of royalty — a status it enjoyed well into Napoleon’s rule. Because the Bichon was seen as a symbol of the aristocracy during the French Revolution, it was tossed out on its ear, surviving as a street performer with organ grinders and in the circus.
The Bichon Frise was recognised by the French Kennel Club in 1934 though his recognition in Britain did not occur until after both America and Canada entered him on their registers in the 1970s.a compact and loveable dog whose ancestors came to the Canary Islands with Spanish sailors. With its downy undercoat and springy topcoat curls, the Bichon’s beauty is accentuated by the way it is groomed: scissor-sculpted to accentuate its roundness, its shimmering whiteness contrasted by its dark eyes and jet-black nose and lips. Without brushing several times a week to remove dead hair and prevent matting, skin problems will develop.
The Bolognese is an ancient, charming and intelligent breed of small dog hailing from the centre of Northern Italy. It is after the style of other Bichon types, but has a distinctive non-shedding coat which forms into flocks. These fluffy waves are typically not cut and require careful daily grooming to keep them in top condition. The Bolognese is said to have been a favourite with Russian nobles where servants saved it from extinction during the Russian Revolution. American fanciers imported a Bolognese from Russia in 1991 to breed with specimens gathered in Europe, resuscitating the breed fairly recently. Despite its small size, it is self-important, relishing the role of family watchdog.
The Coton de Tulear also known as the Royal Dog of Madagascar, was first recognised in the UK in 1990 but has existed in his native Madagascar, particularly on the island of Tula, for several hundred years. It is believed that the breed's ancestors were imported to Madagascar during the 17th century where they became popular in the port of Tulear — a haven for pirates and slave traders. Protected by tribal rulers, the dog became known as the Royal Dog of Madagascar. The Coton takes its name from the French for “cotton,” which is the perfect description for its soft, fluffy coat. Requiring brushing several times a week, the Coton de Tulear is not scissored for the show ring, but owners often opt for a shorter trim. The Coton de Tulear comes in three colors: white, black, and white and tri-colored often sporting lemon and grey tips on its ears.
The Havanese is the Cuban member of the Bichon family and is known in its native country as the Bichon Habanero where it ranks as the national dog of Cuba. The breed reached Cuba as a result of either Spanish colonists or Italian traders and ended up as the playthings of the wealthy. A small, sturdy, long-coated, drop-eared dog with a feisty personality Havanese are longer than they are tall. Their double coats have a light texture and are traditionally unclipped, requiring brushing and combing several times a week. A fun-loving pet, the Havanese is rising fast in popularity and comes in a variety of colors.
The Lowchen or “little lion dog,” is named for its haircut and while its exact origins are murky it has been known in Europe since the 1500s. Loveable and cheerful, the Lowchen was the favorite of Florentine nobility during the 15th century where ladies of the court took to grooming it to resemble a little lion. The breed was brought back from near extinction by a dedicated Belgian fancier after World War I and as recently as 1960 the Lowchen was described as being the rarest breed in the world. However it has since increased in numbers, being registered in Britain for the first time in 1971 and gaining championship status here just five years later. Untrimmed, the Lowchen’s silky single coat is long and wavy, requiring frequent attention to keep mats at bay. Available in a variety of colors, the Lowchen looks adorably unique when trimmed like a little lion with its full ruff and mane, shorn hindquarters, and tufted tail.
The Maltese is the smallest member of the Bichon family typically weighing 4 to 6 pounds. Named for the Isle of Malta where it is believed to have been introduced by Phoenician traders, this breed may have been worshipped by the Ancient Egyptians. Its regal coat is long, silky, straight and hangs to floor level therefore requiring daily combing and brushing unless kept clipped.