How to Train a Papillon

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The quick, curious Papillon is a toy dog of singular beauty and upbeat athleticism. Despite his refined appearance, the Pap is truly a ‘doggy dog’ blessed with a hardy constitution. Papillon fanciers describe their breed as happy, alert, and friendly. A tiny dog, measuring 8 to 11 inches at the shoulder, you can still spot a Papillon a block away thanks to the large, wing-shaped ears that give the breed its name (‘papillon’ is French for ‘butterfly’).

Some Paps have erect ears; in others, known as the Phalene type, the ears are down. Paps are dainty and elegant, with a plumed tail, and a long, silky coat of several color combinations, the base color being white. More robust than they look, Paps are little dogs for all seasons and reasons. They thrive in warm or cool climates, in town or country, and are eager to join family fun. They are excellent agility dogs and are consistent winners at the sport’s highest levels; less ambitious owners can train them to do all kinds of tricks.


Papillons were originally bred as charming and attentive companions for noblewomen, and for hundreds of years these enchanting lap warmers were great favorites in the royal courts of Europe. They appear in many portraits of long-ago queens and princesses painted by Europe’s most renowned artists. Rubens, Rembrandt, Goya, and Toulouse-Lautrec are among the masters who included Papillons in their paintings. Paps were developed in Renaissance times by crossing existing toy breeds with spaniels (the breed’s early ancestors were known as “dwarf spaniels”) in keeping with the era’s mania among nobles for miniaturized versions of their favorite breeds. The sporting-spaniel blood in the Pap’s background might explain why these dainty dynamos are among the more athletic and biddable toy dogs in the canine kingdom. With admirers like Madame de Pompadour, Louis XIV, and Marie Antoinette (whose Pap, named Thisbe, stood faithfully outside the prison where the hapless queen awaited beheading), the breed’s French connection is strong. But it was in the early breeding centers of Italy and Spain that Paps were refined and popularized. The AKC registered its first Papillon in 1915.

Quick Facts

Temperament: Friendly / Alert / Happy

Height: 8-11 inches

Weight: 5-10 pounds

Life Expectancy: 14-16 years

Toy Group


Papillons are tough and gutsy, but they are very small. Owners need to be careful with them, especially when they are puppies, around stairs, furniture, and other, larger animals. A small child can accidentally hurt his puppy friend very easily. Responsible breeders screen their stock for health conditions such as a fontanel in the top of the skull, similar to a human baby’s soft spot; and patellar luxation, or kneecaps that can “slip” or dislocate, sometimes briefly, sometimes completely.

Recommended Health Tests From the National Breed Club:
  • Patella Evaluation
  • Cardiac Exam
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation


For a breed with long, silky hair, Papillons needs surprisingly little grooming, mostly because they do not have an undercoat. Grooming every month or so is fine. Between full grooming sessions, you might want to spend a few minutes running a comb or soft slicker brush through the hair inside the hind legs, behind the ears, and on the “culottes,” or thigh hair, as mats tend to form there. A Papillon will need a bath every few months, or when he or she gets especially muddy or dirty. The Papillon’s nails grow quickly and should be trimmed regularly’¿especially the dewclaw, which can curl around and pierce the leg. Finally, regular tooth brushing is vital for dental health.

Thanks to their small size, Papillons make wonderful indoor pets, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need exercise. They are active, smart dogs, and they will want their people to play with them. Indoors, they enjoy retrieving a small ball or toy’¿a Papillon will quickly learn to bring it back so you can throw it again. Outdoors, true to their spaniel heritage, Papillons will happily run in the yard to chase after squirrels, chipmunks, and even insects. Papillons tend not to realize how small they actually are, so owners need to watch carefully if they set out after a larger dog, or even a cat.



The Papillon should do well on a high-quality dog food, whether commercially manufactured or home-prepared with your veterinarian’s supervision and approval. Any diet should be appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior). Some dogs are prone to getting overweight, so watch your dog’s calorie consumption and weight level. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times.