Continental Toy Spaniel (Papillon, Phalene)

Country of origin:
Belgium, France
Height (cm):
Weight (kg):
1,5 - 2,5 / 2,5 - 4,5
Life span (years):
white prevails, any kind of patches possible
Hair length:
Recognized by:
FCI code:
Good with kids:
Pros Cons
  • devoted friend
  • small size
  • excellent family companion
  • playful
  • needs regular coat grooming
  • requires regular physical and mental stimulation
  • not easy to housebreak


Don’t let the meek appearance of the Continental Toy Spaniel dupe you. Although it will gladly lay with you on the sofa, this extrovert is most satisfied while investigating the environment or getting friends. This dog is widely-spread throughout Europe and its origin is disputed between such countries as Spain, Italy, France, and Belgium. There are two varieties of this breed:
  • Papillon, which stands for butterfly in French and describes dogs’ funny upright standing ears;
  • Phalene, which stands for geometrid (variety of butterfly) in French and describes dogs’ hanging ears.


There is a strong argument in favour of an ancient age and lasting popularity of the Continental Toy Spaniel. Its cute muzzle was depicted on many pictures dating from the XIV century. It appeared in the masterpieces of Watteau, Rubens, Rembrandt, Boucher, Van Dyke, and Fragonard, usually sitting on the laps of their mistresses. The small dog was the most-preferred canine companion of nobility all over Europe. Merchants transported it in baskets on donkeys through France, Italy, and Spain.

Throughout its history the Continental Toy Spaniel was in high favour with royalty. The originators of the fashion on this dog were Italian kings and noble people who sent their puppies as presents to rulers of other countries. Thereby it found its way to the Polish Court and was brought to France during the reign of King Francois I. The breed quickly became trendy in this land among ordinary people as well. It wasn’t until the end of French Revolution when it earned immense popularity with people of Belgium.

Few early suggestions proclaimed that the toy spaniel is probably originated from China because of its centuries-long trade relations with Venice. As the matter of fact, the Chinese did breed the dog with resembling physique and coat colour. Other theory holds, that Continental Toy Spaniels’ lineage has its roots in Spain, with the word spaniel meaning «dog of Spain». Third assumption denied the latter and refers us to French court of Louis XIV, where in XVII century a little spaniel with erect ears was created and granted the name Papillon for its similarity to a butterfly.

It’s widely suggested that the Continental Toy Spaniel was generally developed from the Spanish Dwarf Spaniel. For centuries of its existence the breed was known under various names including Belgium Toy Spaniel, Little Squirrel Dog, Royal Toy Spaniel, Butterfly Spaniel, Dwarf Continental Toy Spaniel, Phalene, Papillon and many others.

Before XVI century the Continental Toy Spaniel came only in one variety – Phalene – the one with hanging ears. The Papillon variety (the dog with standing ears) was documented for the first time in the XVI century and became popular by the XIX century. Phalene and Papillons are born in the same litter. In spite the fact that Phalene was the first breed variety, its popularity fell during last two decades, but today it is gaining it back.

The Continental Toy Spaniel became a recognized American Kennel Club (AKC) breed in 1915. The breed was brought to England in 1901, but the Kennel Club (England) recognised it only in 1923. In the first half of the XX century the number of this dog fell dramatically as dog lovers turned their attention to other miniature breeds. Nonetheless the last forty years were marked by revival of interest to this grand dog. Breeders from America and Europe worked assiduously in order to restore its population. Presently the Continental Toy Spaniel enjoys the life of a companion dog all over the world and its long-term future is fairly secured.

It is very hard to make any general conclusions about the Continental Toy Spaniels’ character and temperament. Some specimens may be brave and bold, while others are careful and shy. Nonetheless, the number of common traits can be singled out for this dog.

The demeanour of typical Continental Toy Spaniel differs greatly from that of most other tiny breeds. The vast majority of the dogs are lively and emphatic animals and surely not couch potatoes. Though most dogs would choose an active pastime over sitting on your laps, this is undoubtedly a companion breed. The Continental Toy Spaniel sets up close relations with all family members but some dogs may develop especially intimate connection with one person. Nevertheless, most dogs become equally attached to all family members.

The Continental Toy Spaniel is friendly with children and is probably more suitable for coexisting with the children around 8 or 9 and older. They can be taught the proper handling of the dog since it’s quite fragile and easily injured especially in puppyhood. Without training the dog may try to apply aggression in response to careless treatment, but this breed will more probably escape and hide.

On average the Continental Toy Spaniel is well-behaved with unknown people though it can show certain restraint. With the lapse of time the dog will accept and love new person in its life, but non-socialized members are often shy around strangers, and from time to time express light aggression. Actually all Continental Toy Spaniels will react with repetitive barking to the nearing stranger, therefore this dog makes a superb watchdog.

Many Continental Toy Spaniels do have problems with other animals, though they are usually not serious. The dog will most of the time welcome another canine fellow in the same household but can become pretty aloof with strange dogs. On the whole, unlike other toy breeds it tends to be much more aggressive and willing to assert its dominance. The breed can confront dogs of any size, so the master should be extra careful around bigger canines otherwise it puts the dog at a risk of serious injury or it can even be killed.

The Continental Toy Spaniel preserves a much stronger hunting drive than most toy breeds. So the breed is not advisable for keeping together with such small creatures as hamsters, guinea pigs, rats etc. The well-socialized dog gets along with a family cat, but only if it doesn’t try to harm the dog purposefully. It’s worth considering though that most Continental Toy Spaniels will occasionally bother the home cat in a try to play.

Health Problems

The most common problems for the breed include:

• patellar luxation;
• epilepsy;
• ear infections;
• broken bones (from injury, not genetics) ;
• eye problems.

The long hair of the Continental Toy Spaniel demands much less amount of attendance as it may seem from the first glance. Gentle brushing should be done several times per week. You won’t need much more than an hour a week to keep the dogs coat in acceptable condition. Matts and tangles should be in time taken care of so they won’t bring any trouble in the future. For this breed bathing and shampooing are essential part of systematic care procedures and be done as needed.

Intent attention should be turned to a Continental Toy Spaniels’ ears. Different stuff such as dirt, debris, food remains seem to stick in its huge, hairy ears, particularly while they are hanging down (the Phalene variety). And consequently the dogs’ ears should be closely and regularly supervised in order to prevent probable infection or irritation from developing.


The Continental Toy Spaniel gets in the top among all toy breeds, when things concern trainability and intelligence. Its achievements are exceptionally prominent in obedience and agility contests where it has deserved a reputation as one of the most skilled of all breeds. The breed is able of grasping unbelievably complicated assignments and is known to be an easy-learner with proper positive reinforcement and steady training routine. But remember that the Continental Toy Spaniel is always an independent thinker and knows how to evade some undesirable rules imposed by the master.

There are two difficulties that the handler may encounter while training this breed. One is that the Continental Toy Spaniel is comparatively harder to socialize. So make sure to put sufficient time and efforts to show it proper ways of conduct with children, strangers, and unknown animals.

The other matter of concern is housebreaking. The main reason is that the Continental Toy Spaniels’ small bladder requires greater time to mature and it can’t restraint its natural needs early in life. Furthermore due to the small size of the dog its initial failures often can be overlooked and not corrected.

It is hard to believe, but the Continental Toy Spaniel is sportive and active breed. Its high energy level demands long and brisk walks every day or opportunity to run unrestrained in a secure area. The dog is great at finding a way out of almost anywhere and should be always supervised.

The Continental Toy Spaniel is always eager to play and fetching game is its favourite. It solves mental tasks as fast as physical and exceeds at running through barriers or competing at Flyball. It is important to mention that lack of exercise in the life of this tiny dog may lead to development of such unwelcome behavioural patterns as shyness, sudden outbursts of violence, urinating in the house, and on-going barking.