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Breed Priorities – The Bichon Frise

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248 – September 2019

By Nikki Riggsbee

The Bichon Frise is one member of the Bichon family of dogs that also includes the Bolognese, Coton de Tulear, Havanese, Mal-tese, Löwchen, and Russian Tsvetnaya Bolonka. All are small and friendly, with long hair that mostly doesn’t shed, drop ears, short muzzles, and with tails carried over their backs when moving. The Bichon Frise is unique in the family with the curly coat.
We put together a list of 26 Bichon Frise experts to invite to take a survey on their breed’s priorities, although some of their emails bounced. Fourteen people agreed to participate, and nine completed surveys were returned. The group averaged 35½ years in the breed. Those who judge have been doing so for nearly twelve years on average, and several have judged their national and other Bichon specialties.
As with some other breeds, finding Bichon Frise photos with the dogs in full profile to outline for the survey was a challenge. This breed’s national was near me this year, so I attended and took several suitable photos for this project. I’m still looking for full profile photos of Affenpinschers, Maltese, and Yorkshire Terriers. Hope someone reading this can help.

Bichon Frise Virtues

The survey included a list of Bichon Frise virtues taken from their breed standard for the experts to prioritize. Here is the list in sequence by their average ranks, with one being the most important.

1. Cheerful attitude
2. Plumed tail carried jauntily over the back
3. Body one-quarter longer than height at withers
4. Eyes round, black or dark brown, set to look directly forward
5. Balanced head is three-parts muzzle to five-parts skull
6. Movement at a trot free, precise, effortless
7. Arched neck long and carried proudly
8. Compact and of medium bone throughout
9. Shoulders laid back to near a forty-five degree angle
10. Scissors bite
11. Powder puff look
12. Topline level except for slight, muscular arch over loin
13. Chest well developed, wide enough to allow free and unrestricted movement
14. Hindquarters well angulated, muscular thighs, spaced moderately wide
15. Undercoat soft and dense, outer coat of a coarser and curlier texture
16. Feet tight, round, resembling those of a cat, point directly forward

The group had majority opinions on ten of the sixteen items, although most of the majorities were minimal. Several features had split opinions. Agreement is determined by the number of surveys that rank a feature within four places, such as 1st – 4th, 2nd – 5th, 3rd – 6th, and so on to 13th – 16th.
“Cheerful attitude” (1st) was placed first or second by all but one of the experts. All of the group ranked “Feet tight, round, resembling those of a cat, point directly forward” (16th) within their bottom three.
“Plumed tail carried jauntily over the back” (2nd) was ranked 2nd – 5th by five. Another five placed the adjacent item “Body one-quarter longer than height at withers” (3rd) 7th – 9th. The average ranks of the two were within three-tenths of each other, so you can see that the remaining four opinions can affect the placement nearly as much as the majority.
Five had “Balanced head is three-parts muzzle to five-parts skull” (5th) between 2nd – 5th; three ranked it at eleventh or twelfth, lowering its placement. “Movement at a trot free, precise, effortless” (6th) was in the third quartile for five, but three had it 2nd – 5th, improving its placement. Five placed “Arched neck long and carried proudly” (7th) in the second quartile, while four put it tenth or eleventh.
I thought coat would be considered important, but the minimum majority ranked “Powder puff look” (11th) in the bottom quartile. Three others placed it first, however. Also on coat, “Undercoat soft and dense, outer coat of a coarser and curlier texture” (15th) was in the last quartile for five; three others had it around the middle. “Hindquarters well angulated, muscular thighs, spaced moderately wide” (14th) was 12th – 14th for five; three others ranked it 9th.
The remaining virtues did not garner majorities. “Eyes round, black or dark brown, set to look directly forward” (4th) had four surveys ranking it 6th – 8th, with two at 12th. Four experts ranked “Compact and of medium bone throughout” (8th) 10th – 13th, but three thought it very important at second or third.
“Shoulders laid back to near a forty-five degree angle” (9th) was 6th – 9th for four and 11th – 13th for another four. The opinion differed more on “Scissors bite” (10th) with four putting it 4th – 6th and three in the bottom quartile.
Four had “Topline level except for slight, muscular arch over loin” (12th) around the middle; three ranked it 15th. “Chest well developed, wide enough to allow free and unrestricted movement” (13th) was in the last quartile for four, but in the second quartile for three.
“Cheerful” (1st) averaged three and a half points higher than the second-place virtue, cementing its position at the top. “Feet” (16th) had an average nearly four points lower than the next lowest virtue, confirming its location at the bottom. These two virtues had the greatest agreement.
“Body proportions” (3rd) and “Eyes” (4th) were about one-tenth of a point apart on average, so additional input could easily change their rank.

Bichon Frise Faults

The experts also prioritized a list of faults taken directly from or derived from the Bichon Frise standard. The faults are listed below in sequence by the average ranks, with one being the most serious.

1. Temperament atypical – not gentle, sensitive, playful, or affectionate
2. Unsound movement
3. Lacking halos surrounding the eyes
3. Low tail set, tail carried perpendicular to back, tail droops, or corkscrew tail
3. Weak or snipey foreface
6. Upper arm doesn’t extend well back so elbow not below withers
7. Undershot or overshot
8. Eye color other than black or dark brown
9. Coarse or fine
10. Wiry coat, limp silky coat, coat that lies down, or lack of undercoat
11. Lacking well bent stifle joint
12. Over 12 inches or under 9 inches
13. Forechest not well pronounced, doesn’t protrude slightly forward of point of shoulder
13. Bow or curve in forearm or wrist
15. Any color other than white in excess of 10% of entire coat of mature specimen
16. Missing teeth
There were eleven faults with majorities, and a three-way tie at third and a two-way tie at thirteen, more than any other survey that I can remember. The greatest majority of eight of the nine placed “Temperament atypical – not gentle, sensitive, playful, or affectionate” (1st) in the top quartile. Seven experts concurred on “Lacking halos surrounding the eyes” (tied at 3rd) and “Missing teeth” (16th).
Six surveys agreed on these faults:

• “Low tail set, tail carried perpendicular to back, tail droops, or corkscrew tail” (tied at 3rd)
• “Weak or snipey foreface” (tied at 3rd)
• “Over 12 inches or under 9 inches” (12th)
• “Any color other than white in excess of 10% of entire coat of mature specimen” (15th)

“Weak/snipey foreface” (tied at 3rd) was in the second quartile for the majority and below average for the other three. “Too tall/too small” (12th) ranked from 11th – 14th for six, but two placed it first. “Not mostly white” (15th) was placed at the bottom two for most, but two had it third.
Five had “Unsound movement” (2nd) around the middle, just below “movement” as a virtue, but four placed it second which raised its average. Five ranked “Upper arm doesn’t extend well back so elbow not below withers” (6th) 3rd – 5th, but three had it 12th – 14th. “Undershot or overshot” (7th) was in the third quartile for five, similar to “Bite” as a virtue, but three had it second or third. “Bad bites” are often more serious as a fault than a “Good bite” is valued as a virtue. “Bow or curve in forearm or wrist” (tied at 13th) was in the second quartile for five, but four in the last quartile put it further down the list.
“Eye color other than black or dark brown” (8th) was ranked middling by four; two put it fourteenth. Four thought “Coarse or fine” (9th) 3rd – 6th, but another four had a different opinion, 11th – 13th. “Lacking well bent stifle joint” (11th) was 11th – 14th on four surveys, while three others had it 4th – 7th. Four ranked “Forechest not well pronounced, doesn’t protrude slightly forward of point of shoulder” (tied at 13th) 4th – 6th, but another four had it in the last quartile.
The biggest split was on “Wiry coat, limp silky coat, coat that lies down, or lack of undercoat” (10th). Four had it in the bottom quartile, three had it first, and two ranked it ninth.
Additional input would break the ties at three and thirteen. “Lacking upper arm return” (6th) averaged just one-tenth of a point from the three tied at third.
As with “Good temperament” as a virtue, “Bad temperament” was nearly three points above the second placed fault, reinforcing its seriousness as a problem. “Not white” (15th) was over two points below those tied at thirteen, confirming the lesser importance of the bottom two faults.
The group was consistent on many issues. Temperament was most important on both lists. There was general agreement between the lists on tail, muzzle, bone, chest, rear, and bite. Movement and coat were more important when faulty.
There were many split opinions. I don’t know if this is typical of Bichon Frise fanciers, or if this small sample didn’t reflect the larger community.

Bichon Frise Outlines Pick Best of Breed and Best of Opposite Sex


The experts were asked to place two sets of outlines, one of dogs and one of bitches, first through fourth as they would a dog show class. The outlines were made from actual photos of real dogs. We tried to use photos of very good dogs, but none is perfect. Recognize that the placements were made on outline only. The placements might well change if the experts got their hands on the dogs, saw expression, and watched them move.
The dog with the best average placement and most first placements among the males was Bichon Frise “C.” Those who liked him commented “most balanced, correct proportions, good muzzle,” “nice forechest, slightly longer than tall,” “best but tail set looks low,” “nice head, neck,” “best make, shape, substance of a small, sturdy compact dog,” and “nice silhouette.”
The dog with the next best average placement and the only other dog outline placed first was Bichon “E.” Experts who placed him first noted “pleasing shape with nice measurement from occiput to withers and point of chest to point of buttocks, a bit more up on leg with nice arch of neck, good angles behind,” “easily best outline, standing over front assembly, properly proportioned, correct neck length and placement,” and “pleasing silhouette, correct length to height, long neck, good tail set, alert, balanced haircut.” One note – those who liked “E” said more than most about their choice.
The bitch with the best average placement and the most first placements was Bichon Frise “Z.” She was placed first or second by all of the experts. Those who placed her first said “excels in breed type,” “best trim, maybe a tad short in body,” “best balance, forechest, nice neck and head,” “best in size, proportion, and substance for a small compact dog,” “beautiful silhouette and neck crest,” “pretty, moderate, front underneath and in line with withers, angles nice fore and aft, good tail set with nice tail plume,” and “pictured in full profile.”
The bitch with the next best placement average, but not really close to “Z,” was Bichon “Y.” Comments on her included “stands out in the group, long neck, excellent tail carriage, good rear angulation, stands proudly and with animation,” “proportions difficult standing three-quarter, but decent, might be a little long in body,” “balanced haircut,” and “front under forechest.” “Y” may have been penalized because she wasn’t in full profile.
Bitch “Z” was Best of Breed with the best average placement overall, seven first placements, and was selected Best of Breed five times, the only one selected more than once. Dogs “C” and “E” and bitches “W” and “Y” were each named BOB once.
Only two dogs were placed first – “C” six times and “E” three times. All of the dog outlines were out of the ribbons at least once, “F” and “D” most often.
Bitches “Z,” “W,” and “Y” placed first at least once, bitches “U,” “V,” and “X” did not. All bitch outlines were unplaced at least once except “Z;” “U” and “X” were most often out of the ribbons.

Bichon Frise Outlines Pick Best of Breed and Best of Opposite Sex

Essential Characteristics

The survey asked the experts what features a Bichon Frise must have to be considered a good one. Coat and attitude were listed most frequently. A cheerful temperament as a hallmark of the breed was confirmed in the lists above. But coat ranked much lower on both lists. Also frequently mentioned were dark round eyes with halos, height and length proportions, and balance. Proportion and eyes were important on the lists as well.

Additional Notes

Below are some comments offered by the Bichon Frise experts to help others understand and evaluate their breed.

• Get into the coat during examination; clever grooming can hide a multitude of sins.
• The one-quarter longer than tall should be from the withers forward to the point of forechest. The extra length is not in the back.
• A Bichon in show coat is an illusion, the outline man-made.
• This is not a short-legged, long-backed breed. The correct silhouette should look almost square.
• Under the hair, the Bichon is a basic spaniel-type dog, nothing extreme or exaggerated.
• They should not drop their tail nor should they shy away on the table or the ground.
• The expression is important and should be inquisitive and almost playful. Rounder, dark eyes with dark pigment around eyes, nose and lips contribute to the expression.
• Must have a beautiful head piece and strong silhouette including a crested neck, high tail set, front under, pronounced prosternum, and extended hindquarter.
• Reward a well-groomed dog, but not at the expense of a better dog that is not “well dressed.”

Thanks so much to the Bichon Frise experts who contributed to this project.

Official Standard of the Bichon Frise

General Appearance: The Bichon Frise is a small, sturdy, white powder puff of a dog whose merry temperament is evidenced by his plumed tail carried jauntily over the back and his dark-eyed, inquisitive expression.
This is a breed that has no gross or incapacitating exaggerations and therefore there is no inherent reason for lack of balance or unsound movement.
Any deviation from the ideal described in the standard should be penalized to the extent of the deviation. Structural faults common to all breeds are as undesirable in the Bichon Frise as in any other breed, even though such faults may not be specifically mentioned in the standard.
Size, Proportion, Substance: Size – Dogs and bitches 9½ to 11½ inches are to be given primary preference. Only where the comparative superiority of a specimen outside this range clearly justifies it should greater latitude be taken. In no case, however, should this latitude ever extend over 12 inches or under 9 inches. The minimum limits do not apply to puppies. Proportion – The body from the forward-most point of the chest to the point of rump is one-quarter longer than the height at the withers. The body from the withers to lowest point of chest represents half the distance from withers to ground. Substance – Compact and of medium bone throughout; neither coarse nor fine.
Head: Expression – Soft, dark-eyed, inquisitive, alert. Eyes are round, black or dark brown and are set in the skull to look directly forward. An overly large or bulging eye is a fault as is an almond shaped, obliquely set eye. Halos, the black or very dark brown skin surrounding the eyes, are necessary as they accentuate the eye and enhance expression. The eye rims themselves must be black. Broken pigment, or total absence of pigment on the eye rims produce a blank and staring expression, which is a definite fault. Eyes of any color other than black or dark brown are a very serious fault and must be severely penalized. Ears are drop and are covered with long flowing hair. When extended toward the nose, the leathers reach approximately halfway the length of the muzzle. They are set on slightly higher than eye level and rather forward on the skull, so that when the dog is alert they serve to frame the face. The skull is slightly rounded, allowing for a round and forward looking eye. The stop is slightly accentuated. Muzzle – A properly balanced head is three-parts muzzle to five-parts skull, measured from the nose to the stop and from the stop to the occiput. A line drawn between the outside corners of the eyes and to the nose will create a near equilateral triangle. There is a slight degree of chiseling under the eyes, but not so much as to result in a weak or snipey foreface. The lower jaw is strong. The nose is prominent and always black. Lips are black, fine, never drooping. Bite is scissors. A bite which is undershot or overshot should be severely penalized. A crooked or out of line tooth is permissible, however, missing teeth are to be severely faulted.
Neck, Topline and Body: The arched neck is long and carried proudly behind an erect head. It blends smoothly into the shoulders. The length of neck from occiput to withers is approximately one-third the distance from forechest to buttocks. The topline is level except for a slight, muscular arch over the loin. Body – The chest is well developed and wide enough to allow free and unrestricted movement of the front legs. The lowest point of the chest extends at least to the elbow. The rib cage is moderately sprung and extends back to a short and muscular loin. The forechest is well pronounced and protrudes slightly forward of the point of shoulder. The underline has a moderate tuck-up. Tail is well plumed, set on level with the topline and curved gracefully over the back so that the hair of the tail rests on the back. When the tail is extended toward the head it reaches at least halfway to the withers. A low tail set, a tail carried perpendicularly to the back, or a tail which droops behind is to be severely penalized. A corkscrew tail is a very serious fault.
Forequarters: Shoulders – The shoulder blade, upper arm and forearm are approximately equal in length. The shoulders are laid back to somewhat near a forty-five degree angle. The upper arm extends well back so the elbow is placed directly below the withers when viewed from the side. Legs are of medium bone; straight, with no bow or curve in the forearm or wrist. The elbows are held close to the body. The pasterns slope slightly from the vertical. The dewclaws may be removed. The feet are tight and round, resembling those of a cat and point directly forward, turning neither in nor out. Pads are black. Nails are kept short.
Hindquarters: The hindquarters are of medium bone, well angulated with muscular thighs and spaced moderately wide. The upper and lower thigh are nearly equal in length meeting at a well bent stifle joint. The leg from hock joint to foot pad is perpendicular to the ground. Dewclaws may be removed. Paws are tight and round with black pads.
Coat: The texture of the coat is of utmost importance. The undercoat is soft and dense, the outercoat of a coarser and curlier texture. The combination of the two gives a soft but substantial feel to the touch which is similar to plush or velvet and when patted springs back. When bathed and brushed, it stands off the body, creating an overall powder puff appearance. A wiry coat is not desirable. A limp, silky coat, a coat that lies down, or a lack of undercoat are very serious faults. Trimming – The coat is trimmed to reveal the natural outline of the body. It is rounded off from any direction and never cut so short as to create an overly trimmed or squared off appearance. The furnishings of the head, beard, moustache, ears and tail are left longer. The longer head hair is trimmed to create an overall rounded impression. The topline is trimmed to appear level. The coat is long enough to maintain the powder puff look which is characteristic of the breed.
Color: Color is white, may have shadings of buff, cream or apricot around the ears or on the body. Any color in excess of 10 percent of the entire coat of a mature specimen is a fault and should be penalized, but color of the accepted shadings should not be faulted in puppies.
Gait: Movement at a trot is free, precise and effortless. In profile the forelegs and hind legs extend equally with an easy reach and drive that maintain a steady topline. When moving, the head and neck remain somewhat erect and as speed increases there is a very slight convergence of legs toward the center line. Moving away, the hindquarters travel with moderate width between them and the foot pads can be seen. Coming and going, his movement is precise and true.
Temperament: Gentle mannered, sensitive, playful and affectionate. A cheerful attitude is the hallmark of the breed and one should settle for nothing less.

Approved October 11, 1988 – Effective November 30, 1988

This article is not intended to promote fault or part judging. Nor is it to imply that any characteristic called for in the standard is unimportant. Judging, and breeding, is about prioritizing and about what the judge or breeder will forgive. Discussing priorities can help in learning how to better evaluate a breed. Questions, Comments, or Concerns??Contact AKC?Judge Ms. Nikki?Riggsbee at this email address:?

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248 – September 2019

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