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'The Butterfly Dog' is named for the large, classically looking butterfly shaped ears, which are fringed with long, fine hair. A Papillon with dropped ears instead of erect is called a 'Phaléne', which is French for 'moth'.


Seen in art and read about in literature for over 700 years, the Papillon is a toy breed of Spaniel. A popular dog in many parts of Europe including France, Spain and England, the Papillon was mainly owned by high society ladies and aspirational merchant families. The breed originally only had dropped ears instead of the erect ones we know today, and were called the 'Dwarf Spaniel'.

This small dog is easily recognisable in early Renaissance paintings, including works by some of the great masters of that time. They were often painted on the laps or at the feet of the noblewomen who commissioned the portrait. Over time, an erect eared type, fringed as to resemble the ears of a butterfly, developed and given the name Papillon, 'butterfly' in French. The most well known of all Papillon owners in history was Marie Antoinette who, when she was brought to face charges in court, had a small Spaniel with her. When Marie Antoinette faced her death, it is said that her small dog was saved and went on to live in Paris in a building that is still, to this day, called the Papillon House.


Average height to withers: Both males and females are between 8-11 inches.

Average weight: Females 3-4kg and males slightly heavier at 4-5kg.

The Papillon is a small, delicate and fine boned toy dog. The small head is slightly rounded between the ears and the muzzle is short and thin, tapering away to the nose. The dark, round eyes have black rims. The large ears can either be erect or dropped with rounded tips. The hair on the ears is long, and fringed, giving the characteristic butterfly look. The long tail is carried over the body, and also covered with long, fine hair. The single coat is long, straight and beautifully fine. This dog has more abundant hair on the chest, ears, back of the legs and the tail. Coat colour is white with patches of any colour including red, black, lemon, sable, brown and liver. A mask of a colour other than white usually covers parts of the head and face which enhances the 'butterfly' look for which the dog is named.


The Papillon is a very intelligent little dog and is easy to train in both obedience and other commands including tricks. It is much tougher than it looks and has quite a high level of stamina and a relatively high level of energy. As a result, this breed loves being outdoors and needs a structured amount of exercise and mental stimulation. Alert, confident, friendly and fun, this little dog is the complete package of charm itself!

Like many other small breeds, they can develop negative behaviours if allowed to become master of the house. Sometimes called 'small dog syndrome', the dog assumes the alpha role in the household and exhibits behaviours such as possession guarding, picky eating, separation anxiety and nipping. This is rectified when the owner of this breed shows firm, calm and confident leadership and instigates a routine of early training and socialisation, making sure the dog develops as a well rounded individual. They can be great with other animals and children if they are properly introduced to them and learn how to behave around them, but if not the Papillon can become untrustworthy and not a suitable family pet, which is a shame as this is the fault of the owner, not the dog.


Papillons are quite a long lived breed of dog, with a life expectancy of up to 16 years of age. Along with other toy breeds, Papillons are prone to a disease called Hydrocephalus. It is often diagnosed by the puppy having an abnormally large head, during the initial months of life along with symptoms such as a soft skull plate rather than a solid bone. They are often lethargic and do not grow as well as their litter mates. The outlook for a pup with this is not usually positive. That said, as a breed, they do exhibit a soft spot in their skulls, and they are the only breed of dog to be born with an incomplete skull. As the pup grows, this will usually join and complete, but care needs to be taken during the initial months until the skull is fully formed. Many vets not familiar with the breed or inexperienced breeders can mistakenly confuse this with actual Hydrocephalus.

Bone fractures are also common in this little dog, given that its bones are so fine, so the owner should be careful with them jumping down from furniture and the like. As they are so small, they can also squeeze through any tiny gap in fences and walls and, with its adventurous sense of independence intact, it can make a dash for freedom where injury can occur when not under supervision.

Caring for a Papillon

The Papillon needs a considerable amount of stimulation and exercise given its relatively small size, and this should not be overlooked when considering one as a pet. The long hair needs daily attention and grooming to maintain its healthy shine and, as it is quite fine, it is easily tangled.

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