What to Expect From a Papillon Pup

Updated January 13, 2022
Papillon puppies

The Papillon dog is an old and well-loved breed. The name Papillon, which means "butterfly" in French, comes from the distinctive, fluffy ears of the breed. This diminutive dog has a big heart and makes a great companion.

Origin and History

The Papillon dates back centuries in Europe. The breed's heritage traces to the Continental Toy Spaniel, and was once called the Dwarf Spaniel. Long popular with royalty and nobility, the Papillon dog appears in numerous works of art. The Renaissance painter, Titian, painted the dog frequently. The breed also appears in a portrait of the French King Louis XIV and his family.

The original dog had drop ears, as shown in many art masterpieces. It wasn't until the 18th and 19th centuries that the erect ears emerged. The drop-eared version became known as Phalene, meaning "night moth." In Europe, the two versions are considered separate breeds. In the United States, the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes both versions as the same breed.

The Papillon was recognized by the AKC as a breed in 1935. In 1999, a Papillon dog was first awarded "Best in Show" at the prestigious Westminster Dog Show.

Breed Characteristics

A Papillon dog makes a great family member, but they're not a particularly good fit for families with small children. These dogs are usually good with children, but they can be injured in rough-housing.

Papillion characteristics


The "butterfly dog" is a small breed that stands between 8 and 11 inches at the shoulder. They are light and fine-boned, and weigh less than an adult cat. The Papillon has the rounded head of a spaniel, as well as warm, brown eyes. Their tail should arch over their back in a feathery plume.

A Papillon coat should be silky and abundant. The coat lacks an undercoat, and this makes it easier to maintain. There should be a ruffle of hair at the chest and feathering on the back legs. The coat should be parti-colored, meaning white with another color. All-white coats or coats with no white are considered a fault.

The most distinctive feature of the Papillon dog is, of course, the ears. Whether dropped or erect, the ears should be large, rounded and set on the side and back of the head. Erect ears should move like the wings of a butterfly; the drop type should lie flat.


The Papillon is an energetic and intelligent dog. Despite their small size, they are agile and need regular exercise. Many paps compete successfully in agility competitions. A loving companion, the Papillon has been bred to be a lapdog, so they are never happier than when they're near their owner.

Papillons make excellent apartment dwellers. They are easily trained, obedient, and alert, but they do have a tendency to bark quite a bit.


The pap benefits greatly from early training. As one of the smartest breeds, this dog will learn quickly. Like other toy breeds, the Papillon may have some house-breaking issues. Patience and consistency will usually help this smart canine learn the lesson.

Running Papillon Dog

Exercise Requirements

The Papillon's energy level runs from moderate to high, and because they're extremely trainable, they are an excellent candidate for canine sports like agility or rally. Papillons are also great obedience competitors, and they are the most popular toy breed in obedience competition. With positive reinforcement, patience, and sufficient exercise, this breed can become a well-rounded, obedient dog.


This breed is prone to several issues:


In general, this dog is healthy and long-lived with a life expectancy of 13 to 16 years.

A papillon breed dog lying in the grass


Although their coat is long and fluffy, Papillons are relatively simple to groom. Although the coat isn't easily matted, it should be combed and brushed once or twice a week to distribute natural skin oils and keep their fur and skin healthy. Bathing should be done only when necessary to prevent drying the skin or damage to the fur's natural oils.

Fun Facts About the Breed

Although this is a relatively well-known breed, there are a few facts you may be unaware of:

  • Phalene is the French word for moth, and it refers to a Papillon with lowered ears.
  • Beginning approximately 1500, Tiziano Vicelli painted these little dogs in a number of notable works, including the Venus of Urbino (1542).
  • Papillons can be found in artworks of royal families all over Europe.
  • Lauren Bacall's estate was worth $26.6 million when she died in 2014, and it was divided among her three children, as well as her beloved papillon. Sophie, the dog, was given $10,000 to continue living the extravagant lifestyle she had been accustomed to.
  • The Papillon has been called many names, including the Belgian Toy Spaniel, Continental Toy Spaniel, Dwarf Continental Spaniel, Epagnuel Nain, and Dwarf Spaniel.

Purchasing or Adopting a Papillon

If you're looking for a Papillon puppy, a good place to start is the Papillon Club of America. They have a breeder directory available as well as helpful tips on how to find responsible breeders with quality dogs. The AKC Marketplace page also has a breeder search. Expect to pay around $800 to $2,000, although higher-end show dogs from champion lines can cost as much as $3,000.

Two Papillon on a green background

Rescue Organizations

If you would prefer a rescued dog, you can search PetFinder and Save-a-Rescue. You can also contact these breed-specific Papillon rescues:

  • Papillon 911 Rescue: A non-profit organization primarily dedicated to saving Papillons from puppy mill operations.
  • Papillon Haven Rescue: An all-volunteer group spanning across the United States in an effort to rescue Papillon dogs of all ages.
  • Pap Adopters: A multi-state, all-volunteer, foster-based nonprofit rescue organization committed to rescuing and rehoming purebred Papillons.

Is this the Breed for You?

The breed is alert and protective. While their diminutive size may not make them particularly effective guard dogs, they will bark at perceived threats to their domain. This may cause some problems in apartment settings. This beautiful breed has a long history of being a human companion. Generally healthy and energetic, they adore being with their human. Papillons' intelligence and personality make them a great choice as a new family member. If you are searching for a fun-loving, affectionate dog, and have the patience to handle excessive barking from time to time, this could be the breed for you.

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What to Expect From a Papillon Pup