Papillon: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Standing side profile of a papillon dog on the grass

Tara Gregg / EyeEm / Getty Images

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.

Breed Overview


HEIGHT: 8 to 11 inches 

WEIGHT: 6 to 10 pounds

COAT: Straight, long, single-layer

COAT COLOR: White with markings and a mask of color, usually red, sable, black, or lemon

LIFE SPAN: 14 to 16 years

TEMPERAMENT: Intelligent, happy, friendly, energetic, alert


ORIGIN: France

Characteristics of the Papillon

Papillons are delightful little dogs that make great part-time lap dogs and part-time exercise buddies. They also make excellent companions for many types of households. 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. It's also a great breed for a first-time dog owner.

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

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).

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 Loteki Supernatural Being or Kirby Jason Green / Getty Images

Papillon Care

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. Papillons like interaction and mental stimulation and if they are left alone for long stretches, they can develop separation anxiety and behavior problems.


Papillons are also energetic and driven, so routine exercise is highly recommended. Papillons need plenty of active playtime. 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. Be aware during walks that because they have only a single-layer coat, they may need protection or a sweater during cold weather, but this breed tolerates hot weather well.


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.

They like to be the pack leader with other dogs in the household 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.

Papillon on agility course
Zoran Kolundzija / Getty Images 

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.
Paillons as Pets

Illustration: The Spruce / Kelly Miller

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 .25 to .5 cups 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.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Papillon

Before searching for a papillon, remember that it's a toy breed, and this type of dog is fragile, which means they can easily become injured since they are so light and small. But if papillons sound irresistible to you, 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.

Adopting a papillon will run a few hundred dollars to cover the costs of care. However, a breeder can charge between $800 up to $3,000 for a papillon puppy. It also helps to know that finding a papillon breeder can be challenging.

Papillon Overview

  • Friendly

  • Highly trainable

  • Active and playful

  • Needs a lot of attention and suffers from separation anxiety

  • Feisty with a stubborn streak

  • High tendency to bark

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.

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.

  • Are papillons good with children?

    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.

  • Are papillons aggressive?

    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.

  • Can you litter train a papillon?

    Papillon puppies are known to be one of the easiest breeds to litter train as part of their housetraining. This has many benefits for apartment-dwellers or if you're traveling with your papillon and it needs to go potty in an inconvenient area. Litter training a papillon is not meant to eliminate going potty outdoors, however.

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