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Luther Purrrbank's History of the Bichon Frise
Quoted from Martin Weill's book, Bichon Frise

The diminutive Bichon Frise (pronounced bee-shawn free-zay), a most charming member of the Non-Sporting classification of the American Kennel Club, is primarily a companion and show dog in today's society. The original purpose of this breed was not to chase game, flush birds, or herd animals--it is a domestic companion first and foremost.

Early Development
Like the Poodle and many of the other curly-coated dogs  that originated in europe, the Bichon Frise is descended from the Barbet or  Water Spaniel. The name "bichon" is actually a contraction of "Barbichon," which is the diminutive form of "Barbet." While these early Water Spaniel types served as hardy workers--in the capacity of retrieving fowl from waters--the much smaller Bichon developed into a companion dog, rather than a hunter's dog.

Since the time of the  Renaissance, the breed has been  known as the Bichon Teneriffe, the name taken from the largest of the Canary Islands. Apparently, Spanish sailors brought this Mediterranean dog with them to the Canary Islands, where the exotic name "Teneriffe" became attached to it, and whence it was reimported into Europe as a pet for Italian and spanish noblemen. The early popularity of the breed is evident, for the  French invaders of Italy in the 1500's brought many of the dogs home with them as war booty.

Under Francis I (1515-1547) the Bichon became established in the French royal court society. Its peak of popularity came, however under the reign of Henry III (1574-1589). the monarch, unhappy to be separated from his beloved dogs for any length of time during the day, fashioned a basket in which to hold them, and tied it around his neck with ribbons. Carrying the little white dogs thus, he would stroll about the imperial court and conduct his royal affairs with his favored pets always at his fingertips!

The ladies of the royal court entered into the spirit of the king's fancy adorning themselves with the small dogs--either clutched under an arm or wrapped in the folds of a gown or shawl. Treated almost as though they themselves were of royal blood, the royal court Bichons had loving atention lavished on them.

The Bichon in the Arts
Francisco de Goya in Spain, depicts a tiny Bichon with the Duchess of Alba, no taller than the hem of her gown. Fragonard depicts the Bichon on a settee next to his mistress leaning on a writing table. This painting was reproduced on a postage stamp in Yemen! They have been depicted in Porcelain. During the reign of Napoleon III (1852-1870) the Bichon also was pampered inthe royal court.

Current Development
Toward the end of the 19th century, the little bichon was associated with traveling circuses and served as catchpennies for street beggars, somehow having fallen out of favor at the royal court. Queen Victoria preferred the Pekinese, and Queen Elizabeth II has been known to keep Cardigan Welsh Corgis.

The docility and love for its owner inherent in the Bichon was never lost, even when it began to mate with other types of dogs. These prized traits enabled it to become a seeing-eye dog in Britain. It also delighted many as a canine clown in roadshows, performing delightful tricks and routines for onlookers.

Despite the apparent fall from grace, the  Bichon continued to captivate the hearts of those who came to know it. In a world torn by war and social conflict, the irrepressible "I love you" spirit of the  bichon became as treasured by the working classes as it had formerly been adored by the nobility.


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