The papillon is one of the oldest toy dog breeds in existence. Papillons and phalenes, the papillon’s sibling, are also one of the friendliest and most energetic of all the toy breeds.
These dogs get their names for the shape of their ears. Papillon means butterfly in French, while phalene means night moth. The papillon has huge butterfly-like ears that stand straight up on top of its head, while the phalene has dropped ears that hang against the side of its head like a moth’s wings.
The papillon is a rare breed — a continental toy spaniel — and is also referred to as the Butterfly Dog or Le Chien Ecureuil (Squirrel Dog). Papillons and phalenes are essentially the same dog. Two papillons can have a litter that includes both papillon phalene pups. A papillon can’t be differentiated from its phalene sibling until the dog matures enough for its ears to be erect.
Papillons came after the cross breeding of a bicon and a smaller spaniel some 700 years ago in the Spain and France region. Quickly becoming a beloved dog in the region, papillons were very popular in paintings. The Louvre Museum in France, for example, has a painting of Louis XIV, his children, and their pet papillon. The breed was introduced to the United States around the 1930s.
While papillons are probably most easily recognized by their ears, they have several other recognizable attributes as well. As adults, these small dogs reach a height of about 8-11 inches (20 – 28 cm) and 3-9 pounds (1.3 – 4 kg). Easily trained, papillon are common show dogs and often a great pick as a pet. While the papillon is wonderful with children and other animals, they typically should be kept from small children and big dogs as the papillon’s bone structure is slight and fragile, and is likely to break easily. Papillons are easily cared for because they only have one coat of fur which limits shedding.
The colors on a papillon vary from dog to dog. The most common coloring is sable, a light reddish brown, with a white undercoat. Other colors include white and black, white and red, white and lemon, and tri-colored — black, white, and tan with a white undercoat.