History Of The Bichon Frise
Although the exact origin of the Bichon Frise may be a bit obscure, it is well documented that the Phoenicians and other ancient traders carried small white dogs on their journeys long before the time of Christ. It is believed that these little dogs were related to the Barbet, a water spaniel.
The Barbet gave rise to the Barbichon and the Caniche (or Poodle). The Barbichon evolved into the six Bichon related breeds including the Bichon Tenerife, the Bichon Bolognese, the Bichon Havanese, the Maltese, the Lowchen, and the Coton de Tulear. Today's Bichon Frise descended from the Bichon Tenerife.
As a descendent of the Barbet and the Barbichon, the Bichon Frise is of Mediterranean ancestry. Its historical origins trace back to the days of ancient exploration and the opening of trade routes between the east and west.
Probably traveling as the companions of Spanish sailors, it is likely that these dogs also became exotic items of trade. As a result of these travels, the breed found it's way to Tenerife Island. Tenerife is one of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Spain and northwest of the African coast. Here on the Tenerife Island this breed of Bichon was recognized and given the name "Bichon Tenerife."
By the 1300s Italy had become a major center for trade and commerce as the advent of the Renaissance ushered in a period of exploration. Italian sailors visiting the Island of Tenerife returned to the continent with the Bichon. Here it attracted the attention of nobility and the newly growing middle class of merchants.
Late in the 1400s, France invaded Italy and the Italian influence, including their Bichons, filtered north. Sometime between 1515 and 1547, the Bichon Tenerife made its debut in France during the reign of Francis I, the patron of the Renaissance. The popularity of the breed grew during the reign of Henry III (between 1574 and 1589). One favorite Bichon legend tells that King Henry was so enamored with his Bichon that he carried his little dog everywhere he went in a basket that was fastened around his neck by ribbons. This apparently became a greatly imitated practice within the French court at that time. It is said that the pampering and decorating of the dogs gave birth to the French verb "bichonner," meaning "to make beautiful, to pamper." History indicates that the period during the rule of Napoleon III was another time of tremendous popularity for the Bichon in France.
As the 1800s drew to a close, the Bichon Tenerife was no longer the pet of royalty. During this time the breed was found performing tricks in circuses, at fairs, and while accompanying organ grinders.
Following World War I, a few dog fanciers in both France and Belgium began to seek and breed the Bichon Tenerife. History indicates that during this time the breed was actually called by either of 2 names: the "Bichon" or the "Tenerife."
The official standard of the breed was adopted in France on March 13, 1933. There a discussion ensued to determine an official name for the breed. When the Head of the Breed Standards Committee of the Federation Canine Internationale asked for a description of the dog, she was told that it was a "fluffy, little white dog." At that point she proclaimed that it would be called "the Bichon Frise," which means "fluffy little dog" in French.
In October 1956 the Bichon Frise arrived in the United States with Francois and Helene Picault. The Picault family moved from France to Wisconsin where they lived until moving on to California in 1960. For the next 4 years southern California was the prime focal point of Bichon Frise breeding and activities in America. In 1964, several kennel owners formed the Bichon Frise Club of America to pursue recognition of the breed by the AKC.
During the annual Bichon Frise Club meeting in 1969, a grooming demonstration was presented by Frank Sabella, an internationally acclaimed professional handler and dog show judge. This set the stage for the appealing rounded look that is now accepted worldwide for the breed.
In 1971 the Bichon Frise was accepted by the AKC into the Miscellaneous Class. It achieved full recognition in 1973 and was placed into the Non-Sporting Group.
While the ancient origins and much of the history of the Bichon Frise trace back to Europe and the surrounding areas, American breeders played a vital roll in the achieving the quality that has brought the breed the distinction and respect that it enjoys today.