Papillon Dog Breed information and care

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The Papillon is a petite yet hardy toy dog with an alert, active, and friendly demeanor. Though named for the butterfly-like appearance of its erect ears, the breed can also be seen in a drop-eared variety. The breed originated in France as dwarf spaniels, which didn't have the erect ears that the breed is named for now. The ears are a matter of personal preference, so they are not considered a fault or defect if dropped. Puppies with each type can appear in the same litter.

Papillons are smart dogs that can be trained to participate in dog sports or compete in obedience competitions. While tiny in size, they are more active than the typical lap dog and will want to be busily exploring.

Breed Overview




8 to 11 inches


6 to 10 pounds

Coat and Color:

Papillons are white with markings and a mask of color—usually red, sable, black or lemon. They have a straight, long, single-layer coat with frills.

Life Expectancy:

14 to 16 years

Characteristics of the Papillon

Affection LevelHigh
Exercise NeedsHigh
Energy LevelMedium
Tendency to BarkHigh
Amount of SheddingLow

History of the Papillon

The Papillon originated in France, where it was named for its signature ears. Papillon means butterfly in French. However, not all of them have erect ears: The drop-eared variety is known as the phalene (moth).

long-coated brown dog near green leaf trees
long-coated brown dog near green leaf trees

The breed was once known as a dwarf spaniel and may date back as far as the thirteenth century. Papillons gained popularity in Spain and Italy over time, where they were often depicted in classic paintings. Those were the drop-eared variety; papillons with erect ears didn't appear until the late 1800s. Famous owners include King Louis XIV of France and Marie Antoinette.

Papillons were brought to the U.S. during the late 19th century. The breed was first recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1915 and fully represented by their own breed club in 1935.

A papillon named Loteki Supernatural Being (Kirby) won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in 1999. He also won the World Dog Show and the Royal Invitational in Canada.

1999 Westminister Kennel club dog Show winner of Best-In-Show Ch. Loteki Supernatural Being or Kirby as he is known struts his stuff in the center ring.
1999 Westminister Kennel Club Dog Show Winner Of Best-In-Show Ch. Loteki Supernatural Being Or Kirby As He Is Known Struts His Stuff In The Center Ring.

Papillon Care

The Papillon has a long, fine, silky hair coat that requires moderate grooming—specifically hair brushing two to three times a week. However, the hair does not grow continuously, so the breed should not need haircuts.

Like many small dogs, the Papillon may have a feisty and stubborn streak, though the breed is quite smart and should learn well if you are diligent. Consistent obedience training is a must. Papillons are also energetic and driven, so routine exercise is highly recommended.

white poodle puppy on green grass field during daytime
white poodle puppy on green grass field during daytime

Papillons are delightful little dogs that make great part-time lap dogs and part-time exercise buddies, and excellent companions for many types of households. They love children, but you will need to ensure that the child understands how to handle the dog—papillons are easily injured and may defend themselves if mistreated or mishandled by a youngster.

This breed is usually good for households that have more than one pet and papillons get along well with cats if you have socialized them. They like to be the pack leader with other dogs and will also be the pack leader towards humans if you don't train them correctly. This can lead to small dog syndrome, where the dog exhibits undesirable behavior like jumping up and growling at its owner. Papillons like interaction and mental stimulation; if they are left alone for long stretches, they can develop separation anxiety and behavior problems.

Papillons need plenty of active play time. They should be exercised with two to three walks per day for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. It's good to have a yard or dog park available where they can run around as well.

As is typical for small dogs, they may be difficult to housetrain unless you keep them on a schedule and you will need to be consistent. Interestingly, Papillons can be trained to go in a litter box.

pet dog inside cage
pet dog inside cage

Papillons will alert you to the approach of strangers or noises that concern them by barking. This can be a problem if you live in an apartment where there is lots of activity nearby. Although they will bark to alert you, they are generally not aggressive towards strangers.

This breed tolerates hot weather well. Because they have only a single-layer coat, they may need protection or a sweater during cold weather.

Papillon on agility course
Papillon On Agility Course

Common Health Problems

Responsible breeders strive to maintain the highest breed standards as established by kennel clubs like the AKC. Dogs bred by these standards are less likely to develop hereditary conditions. However, some hereditary health problems can occur in the breed. The following are some conditions to be aware of:

  • Patellar Luxation: This is a loose kneecap that can slip out of place and cause pain and lameness until the muscle relaxes so it can return to its position.
  • Collapsing Trachea: This can be seen with symptoms of coughing.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): This is a degenerative eye condition that can lead to blindness.
papillons as pets illustration
Papillons As Pets Illustration

Diet and Nutrition

You will need to ensure this tiny dog doesn't become overweight as that can exacerbate any tendency towards knee problems. Most Papillons do well with one-quarter to one-half cup of dry food, divided into two meals. That may seem like a tiny amount, but it is easy to overfeed a papillon and see weight gain. Don't leave out food for free-feeding throughout the day. Make sure you and your family members don't feed a papillon human food as a treat.

If you notice your papillon has gained weight, discuss this with your veterinarian to get a recommendation for a feeding schedule, dog food, and exercise that can help keep your dog at the correct weight.

person holding black white and brown short coated dog
person holding black white and brown short coated dog
Which is the most intelligent breed of dog
  • Friendly

  • Highly trainable

  • Active and playful

  • Needs a lot of attention and suffers separation anxiety

  • Feisty with a stubborn streak

  • High tendency to bark

Where to Adopt or Buy a Papillon

The Papillon Club of America is a great place to start your search for a pup. Consult their breeder referral list (organized by state) to find a member breeder. You can research rescue groups in your area, or try the PapAdopters & Placement Service, a volunteer organization dedicated to rescuing and re-homing purebred Papillons.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Before you decide whether the Papillon is the right dog for you, be sure to do plenty of research. Talk to other papillon owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more.

white and brown siberian husky puppy
white and brown siberian husky puppy
beige concrete structure
beige concrete structure

If you’re interested in similar breeds, look into these to compare the pros and cons:

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there. With a little research, you can find the right one to bring home.