The American Kennel Club refers to the Bichon Frise as “merry” and “curious”, and the breed standard calls for a dog that is “gentle mannered, sensitive, playful and affectionate.” The dogs are generally very sociable and do well with an owner who takes them along on outings and are affectionate and intelligent. Bichons do well with children because they are playful and have lots of energy. If affiliated with a particular territory and encouraged by owners, they can become very territorial. Developed as a companion-dog breed, the Bichon Frise tends to get along well with both children and other animals. Bichon Frises are very obedient if training is started early and continued constantly.
Though not considered a retriever or a water dog by modern standards, the Bichon type, due to their ancestry as sailors’ dogs, have an affinity for water and enjoy retrieving. On the boats, however, the animals’ role was that of companion dog.
Bichon Frises are prone to scratching and chewing on themselves in the summer because of the warm and moist air, which commonly results in serious skin conditions. They are comparatively hypoallergenic, but they themselves suffer from allergies to fleas, ticks, chemicals, pollen, dust, etc. Loose knee joints, ear infections, cataracts, diabetes, and heart disease are also common.
Bichons are also prone to liver shunts. These often go undetected until later in life, leading to complications that cannot be addressed, and therefore liver failure. Bichons who are underweight, runts of the litter, or have negative reactions to foods high in protein are more likely to be suffering from a shunt. When detected early, shunt often can be corrected through surgery. However, the later in life the shunt is detected, the lower the likelihood of surgery being successful. Shunts can be kept under control through special low-protein diets and through medications to support liver function, help flush toxins that build up in the kidneys and liver, and control seizures that often occur as a symptom of the shunt. Without surgery, Bichons with shunts on average live to be 4–6 years old. Other symptoms include dark urine, lethargy, loss of appetite, and increased thirst. Seizures come in all forms; episodes of seizures can begin early in life but may go undetected. Early seizures can appear as a hypnotic state or an episode of vertigo.
The Bichon Frise is often depicted as a French dog. Although the Bichon breed type are originally Spanish, used as sailing dogs, also as herding dogs sometimes, the French developed them into a gentle lap-dog variety. The Bichon type arose from the water dogs, and is descended from the poodle-type dogs and either the Barbet or one of the water spaniel class of breeds. Modern Bichons have developed into four categories: the Bichon Frise or Tenerife, the Maltese, the Bolognese, and the Havanese, often treated as separate breeds.