Papillon & Phalène

Smart, happy, energetic small de luxe toy spaniel

The small but feisty Papillon is here to refute what you thought you knew about lap dogs. Their height and delicate appearance might make Papillons look like dainty couch potatoes – which they undoubtedly can be – but they are also a highly active breed that is sure to keep you on your toes.

The two varieties, the Papillon (French for “butterfly”) with its erect ears and the Phalène (French for “moth”) with its dropped ears, share a bubbly personality, energetic temper and high intelligence.

The Papillon is a breed for everyone who appreciates agility, liveliness and energy in pocket-size. These dogs thrive on exercise that plays to both their mental and physical strengths and are always out to please and impress their beloved owners. Being fast learners, Paps can be trained to do all sorts of tricks.

However, as Papillons are also excellent watchdogs, they are considered very vocal and garrulous, like many other toy dogs. They need to be properly socialised, so that they do not show distrustful or aggressive tendencies towards other dogs and people.

"Epagneul Nain Continental" (Continental Toy Spaniel) is the official name in the FCI referring to both the Papillon and the Phalène.
It's said that Marie-Antoinette had her Continental Toy Spaniel named Coco under her long dress when she was beheaded in 1793.
Continental Toy Spaniels are one of the oldest breeds of dogs, with a recorded history going back nearly 700 years. Their early ancestors were known as "dwarf spaniels".
A Continental Toy Spaniel with erect ears is called Papillon (French for butterfly) while the one with dropped ears is called Phalène (French for moth).
Their long, silky coat - which needs surprisingly little grooming due to the lack of undercoat - comes in various colour combinations, with the base colour always being white.

Papillon & Phalène characteristics

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Not many breeds can claim to be featured in paintings by some of Europe’s most famous painters. As early as the beginning of the 16th century, Continental Toy Spaniels – the direct ancestor of the modern Papillon – could be found in portraits depicting the members of influential and noble European families. Tracing the evolution of the breed through the centuries means spotting their appearances in portraits of Titian, Vermeer, Rembrandt and many more, up until the 19th century, when these dogs unmistakably became the modern Papillon.

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It is believed that the Continental Toy Spaniel developed out of crossing existing toy breeds with spaniels during the Renaissance. In the early 1500s, these spaniels were featured in multiple portraits by famous painter Titian. One century later, they could be found in Spain, France and parts of the Netherlands and Belgium. Their appearance was so similar to that of the ‘Titian spaniels’ that it is assumed they were purebred even then.

The small dogs became immensely popular as companions for the members of the Courts across Western Europe. You can spot the spaniel-like dogs in many portraits: curled up in a Lady’s lap, by their owner’s feet or in the arms of children who look just a little too serious. Due to this popularity, breeding was vigorously pursued and perfected over the following centuries, especially in France and Belgium, which the FCI states as the breed’s countries of origin.

One signature characteristic of the Papillon, however, didn’t make an appearance until late into the 19th century. The vast majority of the portraited dogs up until that point had drop-ears, but from then on out, the erect ears became fashionable, earning the breed the name “Papillon” along the way.

Breed facts

FCI: Companion and Toy Dogs - Group 9
AKC/KC: Toy Group
white with any colour
View colour distribution
Agility, Obedience
The Papillon can also be seen participating in Flyball and Dog Dancing.
Belgium, France
very small
Coat type
long, silky, no undercoat


The Papillon can be affected by patellar luxation, a condition especially common in small dogs, in which the knee cap pops out of its groove on the femur. Progressive retinal atrophy is also known to manifest in the breed, which eventually leads to blindness. A serious condition occurring at a young age, between six months and one year, neuroaxonal disease (NAD) leads to a degeneration of the nervous system and unfortunately can’t be cured as of yet.

The Papillon’s size and delicate build also makes it susceptible to injuries, especially as a puppy. Larger animals and small children can harm them by accident, which is why Papillons should be adopted into households with older kids.