The Phalene, a Lap Dog Loved by Kings

By Linda Cole

The early years of the Phalene were spent in the company of kings and queens as lap dogs to help keep their royal masters warm. The dogs were also good at catching rats that dared to wander the great hallways and rooms of these majestic castles.

This small dog breed has also been called Little Squirrel Dog (because of his bushy tail), Continental Toy Spaniel, Belgium Toy Spaniel, Royal Toy Spaniel and Epagneul Dwarf Spaniel. The name most people will recognize, however, is the Papillon. The Phalene and Papillon are considered separate breeds, but both are judged by the Papillon standard by the AKC, even though there is a difference between the two.

The history of the Phalene and Papillon are one and the same, with the Phalene being the older of the two breeds by a couple of centuries. The Phalene was bred as a companion pet, mainly for ladies, and their primary function today remains that of a companion pet. This is a happy dog that gets along well with other pets and wants to be with his human at all times. He is extremely loyal and protective of the one he loves.

No one knows for sure where or when the Phalene roots began, but three countries – Spain, Belgium and France – insist that the breed originated in their country. This little dog was also widely found in Italy. From the 15th to 18th centuries, Italian artists created portraits and tapestries of kings and queens with small dogs at the feet of their royal owners, and the earliest known portrait that included a Phalene is Italian, dating back to the 1400s.

This breed is believed to be a descendant of the Cayenne Dog and the English Toy Spaniels that are commonly seen in centuries old paintings. He is considered among the oldest of the toy spaniels. King Louis XIV, a 1600 French king, was very fond of this dog breed, as was Marie Antoinette. After the French Revolution, the Phalene became more popular in Belgium.

The only difference between the Phalene and Papillon is their ears. The Phalene has what is called “drop ears,” and the Papillon ears stand erect and resemble butterfly wings. The French word for butterfly is Papillon, and Phalene in French means moth. In the early years, drop ears were the only ones found. The first documented evidence of a dog with erect ears was in the 1500s, but the Papillon didn’t find a following until the late 1800s. As the Papillon became more popular, the Phalene’s appeal decreased and it became difficult to find a dog with drop ears. Today, the breed is slowly coming back due in part to a renewed interest in this cute little dog.

The American Kennel Club treats the Papillon/Phalene as one breed, with the ears as the only exception. Countries that follow FCI guidelines consider the two dogs as separate breeds. A litter of pups can produce both breeds and only the type of ears will tell you if you have a Phalene or a Papillon. You won’t know if a pup will have drop ears or erect ones until he’s older, 8 weeks or longer in some pups. Their ears can flop back and forth, and out to the side during teething, before staying one way or the other.

The Phalene may be small and bred as a companion pet, but is an energetic athlete, always ready to play, and requires a certain amount of exercise. If you enjoy doing agility, this is a dog that will surprise you with his speed. He’s very intelligent, outgoing, affectionate, happy, easy to train, and does well in obedience because of his desire to please. Due to their spaniel heritage, Phalenes will gladly take care of any small rodents they find. The dog is too small to kill a rat outright, but he will worry the rodent to exhaustion, and then attack it.

Phalenes have the attitude of being much bigger than they are, and can suffer from Small Dog Syndrome if they feel leaderless. This long lived breed gets along well with people, other dogs in the home and cats, as long as they’ve been introduced properly or at a young age. He can be suspicious of strangers, which is why he’s a good watch dog. The Phalene/Papillon sits in the number eight spot on the smartest dog list.

The “little moth dog” that was loved by kings and queens almost disappeared into the pages of history because of his drop ears. Even though the Phalene and Papillon are essentially the same breed in the United States, the canine world is enhanced by two cute dogs who share the same history.

Photos by mank0702

Read more articles by Linda Cole

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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