Bolognese (Bolo): Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Bolognese

 

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The Bolognese (also known as Bolo) is a toy Italian dog with small eyes, floppy ears, and a unique curly, ruffled white coat that grows upward on the top of the head. More than just another fluffy white lap dog, this breed is known for its especially calm demeanor. Bolognese dogs are affectionate toward their owners, and they enjoy being around people so much that they're prone to separation anxiety when left alone.

The Bolognese might remind you of the Bichon Frise, and with good reason—they’re closely related and are sometimes called the Bichon Bolognese. These dogs are also cousins to the Maltese, Havanese, Coton de Tulear, and Lowchen. While they aren't suited to all types of families, if you're looking for a companion to stay loyally by your side, the Bolognese might be just right for you.

Breed Overview

Group: Toy (AKC Foundation Stock Service)

Height: 10 to 12 inches

Weight: 6 to 10 pounds

Coat: Long, cotton-like curly coat

Coat Color: White

Life Span: 12 to 14 years

Temperament: Playful, even-tempered, loyal, docile, serious

Hypoallergenic: Yes

Origin: Italy

Characteristics of the Bolognese

The serene Bolognese can be a wonderful family pet, known for its docile personality and loving nature toward humans. As a companion dog in the truest form, this breed chooses its favorite human and wants to be close to them in every moment. Bolos also get along with other dogs and enjoy playtime whenever it's available. However, for owners that aren't active throughout the day, this breed's laid-back temperament also makes it content to stay inside and relax.

The Bolognese may not be suited to all households with young children—with its small frame, this dog can easily become overwhelmed by bursts of affection from an enthusiastic child. But when children know how to interact with the dog respectfully, the Bolo is happy to coexist and play together.

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs Low
Playfulness High
Energy Level Low
Trainability Medium
Intelligence Medium
Tendency to Bark High
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the Bolognese

Descended from Bichons, the Bolognese dog originated in Bologna, Italy in the 11th century. The breed was loved by nobility and was a frequent gift between noble families during the Renaissance (particularly between Italian and Belgian royalty). When nobility started to die out, the breed almost went extinct.

It wasn't until the 1980s that an Italian breeder named Gian Franco Giannelli, along with a few other European breeders, helped to restore the Bolognese to its present-day popularity. The breed was brought to England, where it was first shown in Imported Register classes in 1990. Bolos have been showing at the Crufts dog show since 2002. The breed isn't registered with the AKC yet, but it can still be recorded for breeding and competition purposes.

Bolognese Care

Like all dog breeds, the Bolognese requires some mental engagement and physical exercise every day, but these dogs are usually easygoing. They need to be moderately active and require basic training to stay happy and well-mannered. In the grooming department, Bolos are known for being a bit high-maintenance thanks to their long, curly coats.

Exercise

Bolognese dogs aren’t bred to be athletes, and they're generally satisfied with running around the backyard or going on leashed walks. Exercising for about 30 minutes once to twice per day should be plenty to keep this breed fit. These dogs are recommended for owners that are home often and able to provide them with plenty of attention, and playtime at the house is a great way to keep your Bolognese active and engaged without overexertion.

Grooming

Like many other long-haired dogs, the Bolognese requires significant grooming. Some owners prefer to keep this breed's coat trimmed short to prevent the need for daily brushing, but haircuts will be necessary often to maintain a short length.

If you let your Bolo's hair grow out, plan to brush the coat every day to avoid matting and odor. Since these dogs don't shed profusely, they're a good option for owners with mild to moderate allergies, but long white hairs will still shed around the house in small amounts. Along with caring for the coat, owners should also brush this dog's teeth, trim its nails, and check its ears for dirt and buildup. Clean the ears and brush the teeth on a regular basis to prevent infections.

Training

The Bolognese can begin basic obedience training in puppyhood at about eight weeks of age. This intelligent breed tends to pick up on training quickly, but owners should keep lessons interesting. Use positive reinforcement methods in short sessions, offering rewards like treats, affection, and playtime for desirable behavior.

Because of their tendency to develop separation anxiety, these dogs are not suitable for people who work outside of the house full-time. Owners should be sure to provide them with plenty of puzzle toys and other methods of entertainment whenever they are left alone. Bolos are usually quite friendly, though, and can thrive in a doggie daycare that has a good setup for small dogs. This is a good option while owners are on vacation or away for the day every so often, but it isn't best for a full-time plan.

Common Health Problems

As a relatively rare breed, Bolos are usually healthy without inherited medical problems. Though their gene pool is small, it’s mostly maintained by very dedicated breeders. Before purchasing a Bolognese puppy, ask the breeder for proof of a patella exam and CERF (eye) exams at a minimum.

It’s important to research responsible breeders who do extensive health testing for their puppies. Proper breeding practices include more than just taking the parents and the puppies to the vet; routine exams don’t always catch genetic diseases. By receiving clear test results and clean bills of health for the litter's parents, you'll help increase the chances of your Bolognese living a long, healthy life.

bologneses as pets illustration
Illustration: The Spruce / Emilie Dunphy 

Diet and Nutrition

Like all dog breeds, your Bolognese should be fed high-quality dog food appropriate for its nutritional needs at different stages of life. Small-breed formulas are recommended, but your veterinarian can help you narrow down the best options and create a healthy portion plan based on your specific dog's age, weight, and activity level.

Keep an eye on your dog's weight and avoid overfeeding, which can cause health problems down the road. Use your hands to check for a healthy weight—since these dogs have thick coats, it can be hard to see their waistlines. Feel for the hipbones and ribcage, ensuring that you can reach them without digging through any fat (and that they aren't sticking out, either). If your dog becomes overweight, consult your veterinarian about the best options to reach healthy goals. Exercising and playing more often, feeding fewer treats, and using puzzle feeders are all helpful ways to help your dog burn some energy.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Bolognese

Before you bring home a new dog, explore similar breeds to compare their personalities and care requirements. Speak to owners, breeders, and rescue groups and meet a few Bolognese pups in person to learn more.

Finding a Bolognese rescue may be challenging, as this breed is rare and doesn't turn up in shelters often. Prospective adopters can register with The American Bolognese Club's Re-Home, Adoption, and Rescue Program to be contacted if a dog in need of a forever home becomes available.

If you plan to purchase a puppy from a breeder, start by researching responsible breeders in your region. You may need to join a waiting list or travel to find a puppy. These dogs typically cost between $1,000 and $2,500, but prices can vary depending on pedigree and availability.

To start your search, check out these resources for rescues, the national breed club, and the AKC:

Bolognese Overview

Pros
  • Calm, friendly, and affectionate

  • Can live in any size home with moderate daily exercise

  • Low shedding coat

Cons
  • Prone to separation anxiety, which can lead to destructive behavior

  • Not always suitable for homes with children

  • Requires significant grooming

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you love the Bolognese, you may also be interested in these similar breeds:

There's a whole world of different dog breeds that can join your family. With a little research, you can find your next best friend!

FAQ
  • Are Bolognese Dogs Easy to Train?

    Intelligent and attached to their owners, Bolognese dogs are typically easy to train. This breed picks up on obedience lessons quickly, but training sessions should be kept short and entertaining (with plenty of positive rewards) for best results.

  • Is the Bolognese a Good Dog?

    Bolognese dogs are known for being great companions, but they're prone to develop separation anxiety when left alone, sometimes called "velcro dogs." This breed is a wonderful pet and devoted friend for owners that are home often, as it requires only moderate exercise and basic training.

  • Is a Bolognese a Purebred?

    The Bolognese is a dog breed all its own that was first bred in Italy during the 11th century. These dogs share similar ancestry with breeds like the Bichon Frise, Maltese, Havanese, Coton de Tulear, and Lowchen.