The Papillon

    Papillon dog playing outside

    A Brief History of the Papillon

    In sorting through vast amounts of reference material I have gathered on the Papillon for more than sixty years, I discovered a pamphlet printed in 1957 that has great information on the history of the Papillon. It was written by Rachel D. Kemmerer, President Emeritus of the Papillon Club of America. I have copied it here, and it is excerpted with permission from the Papillon Club of America Board copyrighted by them in 1957.

    The origin of the Continental Toy Spaniel, of which the Papillon is the modern representative, can be traced through the paintings of the Old Masters of every country in Western Europe as far back as the earliest years of the 16th Century. Beginning about 1500, Vecelli, called Titian, painted a number of tiny spaniels, rather similar to the hunting spaniels of the day. In this century and the next, dogs—so like the Titian spaniel that it is safe to assume this was a pure breed—made their appearance in Spain, France, and the Low Countries.

    We can only speculate on the ancestry of the Titian spaniel. Classical Greece and Rome possessed toy dogs but these were a spitz type which seems to have become extinct. During the Dark Ages only hunting and working dogs would have been of value, but with the dawn of the Renaissance, Italy became a prolific source of toy breeds of many varied types: toy greyhounds, dwarf barbets (a sort of miniature poodle, often clipped lion-fashion), of Cayenne (which were curiously Pug-like), and a number of breeds which probably resulted from crosses of various sorts. The toy spaniel was quite different in its characteristics from any of these.

    One authority has suggested that the toy spaniel was brought from China, a country with which the Venetians had traded since the days of Marco Polo. The Chinese did, in fact, have as late as the 18th century a parti-colored, long-coated dog not unlike the Titian spaniel, along with those resembling the modern Pekingese. But since the breeders of the Renaissance were able to reduce greyhounds and barbets to minute size, it seems unnecessary to resort to the Chinese theory to account for the toy spaniel.

    The name spaniel means dog of Spain, for which reason it has often been inferred that the spaniel breeds originated there. The spaniel family, which includes the setters, is as old as such other basic canine patterns as the hounds, the mastiffs or the spitzes. It is therefore probable that the hunting spaniels came to Europe along with successive Asiatic tribes. In this case, spaniel was a misnomer for the hunting breeds as well as for the toy.

    The often repeated story that the conquerors of Mexico brought the Chihuahua to Spain and that the papillon is descended from it seems to have no historical basis. The Titian spaniel had been developed as a pure breed prior to the Conquest of Mexico. Furthermore, this theory seems to have been fabricated to account for the erect, oblique ears of the Papillon. But it explains nothing, because the Continental Toy Spaniel did not become the butterfly dog with erect ears until two and a half centuries after the Conquest.

    The continued popularity of the little spaniel in court circles gave the breeders a ready market for their dogs. Evidently they conducted an intensive breeding program for its refinement. Over the years it developed finer bone, more abundant coat, and profuse feathering. The most characteristic change, however, was in the shape of the head. Titian’s spaniels had relatively flat heads with little stop; a type of toy spaniel painted shortly after by Veronese and others had high-domed, sometimes bulging heads. By the time of Louis XIV, French and Belgian breeders had perfected the type they sought. Mignard, the official court painter, in his portraits of the child Marie de Bourbon, the Dauphin and His Family, and several paintings of Henriette d’Orleans, shows us a little spaniel that could scarcely be improved upon today.

    From Titian through Mignard and his contemporaries, all of the Continental Toy Spaniels had drooping ears. The ears were set high, although far enough apart to show the curve of the skull. They were of medium size, hanging, as one writer expressed it, “lightly.” There may, however, have been an occasional dog with leathers of sufficient strength for the ears to stand erect. Two 18th century paintings suggest this.

    Suddenly, toward the end of the 19th century, the erect ear carriage with its butterfly appearance became highly fashionable. In fact, it so caught the public fancy that the new term of “papillon” quickly became the name for the entire breed. Several attempts have been made in the past to straighten out the names of the two varieties, without much success. Recently, the international Papillon organization, to which the American but not the English club is affiliated, has given to the drop-eared variety the name of “Phalene.”

    The Titian dogs were red and white. Before long, specimens appeared in all shades from pale lemon to deepest chestnut, while some of the most beautiful examples were black and white or silver-grey and white. All these colors were usually marked with a white blaze and often with the thumb mark on the top of the head. Then, toward the end of the 19th century through the first two decades of the 20th, the vogue was for solid colors or for dogs with only the feet and chest splashed with white. Today, the solid colors have disappeared and the preference is again for an evenly marked parti-color.

    People often insist on a one-word answer to the question,”Where does the breed come from?” Baron Albert Houtart of Belgium, author of the most authoritative work for this subject, demonstrated that credit for perfecting the Continental Toy Spaniel belongs equally to France and Belgium. This statement is also true for the development of the erect-eared type. Both countries may rightfully consider the Papillon a native breed.

    The little Papillon has survived rather better than the Royal Families in whose courts he was once such a favorite. Men, women, and children, of all ages and in all walks of life, take him into their laps and hearts. Now, as in the past, he has found his way into the home where he is there to stay, as loving as he is beloved.

    The little Papillon has survived rather better than the Royal Families in whose courts he was once such a favorite. Men, women, and children, of all ages and in all walks of life, take him into their laps and hearts.

    Judging the Papillon

    This breed is one of those that can fool the judge into thinking they are perfect. They are perfectly clever since they have the ability to win a judge over by their “cuteness.” Cute is not a criteria of judging. So how does one go about judging correctly? I will try to lead you step by step through the process.

    When the dogs enter the ring, you should have them go around the ring once so that you can get a quick assessment of what is there. This movement allows Toy dogs to loosen up from the crate they have been in until judging time. It gets the kinks out of the muscles. Have the lead dog placed on the table and step back to get a good profile image of the dog. Then approach the dog as you would any large dog. The Toy dog becomes very suspicious of judges who creep up on them. Now you have the first look at the defining characteristic of the Papillon. The head with its “butterfly” ears is the reason the dog has the name Papillon. “Papillon” is French for butterfly. Place your hand on the front of the muzzle and feel your way up to the top of the head.

    Lately there have been ears that go straight out from the sides of the head. The ear leather should be firm and the tips are rounded, with or without fringing. Blacks and tricolors usually have abundant fringes whereas the reds do not. Occasionally the reds are blessed with fringing. However, I found that my reds fringed out after age five when we are through showing them, of course. I have always said that fringing is the icing on the cake and if it is scarce do not fault them. There is also a variety of ear type called the Phalene. “Phalene” in French means folded and the ear is folded to the head and dropped down much like the spaniel of long ago.

    The eyes are a nice brown and round, but not like a Chihuahua. The muzzle should be one-third of the head and have a decent stop. All of this can be observed in the first hands on the pup’s head. Don’t forget to check the teeth. They should have a scissors bite. Do not try to pry the mouth open. If the dog resists, ask the handler to show you the bite. The nose must be black, and if it is not then it must be severely penalized. Now, there is more to the dog than just the head. The judge must look beyond the head to the body, legs, etc.

    The head with its “butterfly” ears is the reason the dog has the name Papillon. “Papillon” is French for butterfly.

    Once the head has been examined, the judge needs to see that there is more to the dog than that. The body and legs must be equally sound and correctly proportioned. The Standard says, “the proportion should be slightly longer than tall.” However, there are no measurements or directions as to where to measure to or from. It is not a short-legged or a cobby dog. There is, however, a disqualification on height. If measured at the withers, over 12 inches is a DQ. But if the dog measures over 11 inches it is a fault. This is one of the two disqualifications we have.

    Now place your hands close to the neck and you can feel if the dog has neck. The head does not sit on the shoulders. He should hold his head regally. Once the head has been examined, the judge needs to see that there is more to the dog than that. The body and legs must be equally sound and correctly proportioned. Next, step to the side of the dog and use your hands to check the topline. This should be perfectly level. And be sure to lift the tail off the topline so as to really see it. Check the body for soundness such as rib cage, etc. Then we approach the rear structure where we find the tail. The tail is not low set. Instead, it should be set high and held up in a large arch over the back. Our description is “like a teacup handle.” It should never lie flat on the back nor stand straight up like a flag. (That is exactly what we call it, a flag tail.) Some puppies get too excited in the ring and the tail may flag a bit, but they should not carry it that way as an adult.

    Next, you need to go down over the rear legs feeling the muscle tone and the angulation. Remember to check testicles on the males. The legs should be fine-boned; not heavy. As with most other breeds, you check the stance of the hocks; neither in nor out. Then go forward to the front legs and look for the same fine bone. Shoulders should be well-developed so that the dog may move freely. Front legs should not be lifted as they move. Feet on all four legs should be elongated or hare-like. Too many are trimmed to look like cat feet. Dewclaws on the rear legs must be removed. Front dewclaws are optional.

    Ask the handler to then take the dog down and back. This is a critical part of judging Papillons. They have exquisite movement that in the Standard is defined as light, dainty, and of lively action. The behavioral characteristic that typifies the Papillon in the ring is the alert attitude and rapt attention displayed while showing. This and the lively movement have always made this breed a real “showdog” both in the Conformation ring and Obedience ring. They are lovable, adoring companions and will do anything for their owners and handlers.

    One of the biggest misconceptions about the Papillon is that it is a cute little fluff ball like the Pomeranian. Not so! The coat of the Papillon is silky and lies flat. It is a single coat and you need to be able to identify it. A simple movement on your part will do this for you. Put your hands on both sides of the body and lift up the coat, let go and it should drop right down flat to the sides. A double coat will stand out. A Papillon does not carry a heavy coat or a coat that is long and trailing in the rear and underneath the body. Many judges will not put up a dog without a lot of coat. Bitches in season will particularly have a difficult time growing a long coat since they drop it every six months after being in heat. I find, when I am showing my less than normal-coated bitch, I have judges comment that they really can see the structure. They understand. This is one problem in specialing a champion bitch.

    Our breed has an attribute in that the coat is literally wash-and-wear as it dries in an instant. In an emergency, you can bathe the dog an hour before going into the ring and, with a little help from a dryer, he will be ready. You, as a judge, can feel this silky texture when checking the coat.

    Finally we come to color. They are parti-colored or basically white with patches of color. Among the colors there is no preference except to the breeder. I like my red/sables over any other color because that is the color I began with. The color must cover both ears and extend from the ears to cover the eyes. If it does not, we call it a mismark and it should not be shown. I find no reasoning in the past history of the Papillon in specifying color placement. Nor is there any indication for the need to have a white blaze and nose band; just decisions of the majority at the time when proposing the Standard. I find that judges are not overly critical on these points. Good! I would rather have a judge be judging more on structure and soundness than color. There is a disqualification for an all-white dog. There have been some whelped, but these have been placed as pets.

    Just remember the butterfly look, and the light and lively movement when you go out and judge my breed. Have fun, as they are delightful little dogs with great personalities.


    1. Baron Albert Houtart,”Les Epagneuls Naims Continentraux”

    2. L’ABOI,(Belgium Kennel Monthly), various issues

    3. The Hon. Mrs. Neville Lytton,”Toy Dogs and Their Ancestors”

    4. Ada Milner, “Les Chiens d’Agrement”

    5. Josephine Z. Rine,”Toy Dogs”

    6. Isabel Rademacher, “The Butterfly of the Fandcy” With forward by Robert Leighton

    7. Hutchinson’s “Dog Encyclopaedia” by Arlene Czech

    Papillon Dog Breed Magazine

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    Papillon Breed Magazine - Top Notch Toys
    • Born in 1929 in Chicago, Illinois, having lived through the depression did nothing to stem the exuberance of the delightful Arlene Czech. Her Father was a newspaper executive, her mother, a secretary and Braillist so communication and perfectionism were bred into this young woman. She graduated from Northwestern University with honors in 1951, then moved to Detroit where she taught Science Grades 1-9. Arlene reports “To add to my income I was a fashion model for JL Hudson. In ’78 I won the Star Award from the National Science Teachers Association for my course of practical Science. Meanwhile, I bought a Papillon in 1954 and so began my doggie career. “In the past years after retiring in 1980, I continued judging until I had three groups and BIS; I’ve gotten to judge on every continent as well as many islands. I am now in my 50th year of judging and slowing down a bit. I have also been writing columns for the Gazette and TNT and Showsight magazines since the 1980s. “In 1991 I was elected to be the Delegate for the Papillon Club of America—and am still being reelected! Last year I was awarded the Lifetime Achievement, and in 2015 I was awarded AKC’s Toy Breeder of the Year medallion. I also was joined with Mary Jo Korpi in the dog world in 2001 and we are still breeding, showing and teaching conformation and Obedience with the Greater Naples Dog Club in Naples, Florida. We have 5 dogs certified by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and do nursing home visits. I have finished fifty or so Champions with most having some performance title as well. This year I attended the Papillon National for the 63rd consecutive year.” A journalist by birth and a teacher by nature, Arlene’s been with us for so long that we have awarded her Tenure.

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