Like a supermodel with a Ph.D in nuclear physics, the Papillon first catches your eye with his looks - his trademark butterfly-wing ears, silky coat and dark eyes - his grace and his expressiveness. But packed inside that pretty purse-sized body is one of the smartest of all dogs, a clever, active little guy who excels at almost anything dogs do, from organized sports like canine agility to long walks in the park – and of course, companionship.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

If you want a lazy little lap dog, don't get a Papillon. He's bright and busy and ready for just about anything. Admire him for his smarts, give him things to do that you both enjoy, and sit back and watch when he decides to put on a show, and you and your Papillon will be the perfect match.

Which isn't to say he's not going to sit in your lap. Tire him out and keep him from being bored, and you'll be rewarded with a particularly trainable, well-behaved, extremely affectionate dog who looks to you for his cues and his amusement. But consider yourself warned: Expect him to lie around all day and gaze adoringly at you all night, or relegate him to backyard or garage, and you'll end up wondering just how such a very tiny dog can do so much damage to house and yard -- and make so much noise.

Certainly his small size means he can live happily in an apartment, but he needs time to run around safely and play with other small dogs, along with long leash walks every day. He also needs gentle, consistent training to keep bad habits, like nuisance barking, from getting out of hand.

Although the Papillon's long, silky coat looks like it needs frequent grooming, he's an easy-care dog. Just a little brushing a few times a week, along with regular ear-cleaning and nail-trimming, and you're good to go with a Papillon.

However alert and active they are, Papillons are still extremely small, and need to be protected from rambunctious children and dogs. Since he has no idea he's as small as he is, he's likely to challenge much bigger dogs, as well as leap tall buildings in a single bound -- potentially with broken bones as a result. Other than that, he's a believer that "the more, the merrier," and he likes to live in multi-pet homes. Many Papillons and cats have become fast friends.

As with many small dogs, Papillons may be harder to house-train, especially if you purchase from a pet-store or from a shoddy breeder. Finding a responsibly bred puppy isn't so easy, however; as with all cute little breeds and cross-breeds, Papillons are a favorite with puppy mills, pet stores and anyone looking to make a buck.

Variations of the Papillon

While the dogs are named for their distinctive ears like a butterfly wing -- "papillon" is French for "butterfly" --they can have hanging ears as well. Although these dogs are usually referred to as "Phalenes" rather than "Papillons," the dogs are otherwise identical and in the United States are registered, bred, and shown as a single breed. While the ear does hang down, it does not lie close to the head and is light and very mobile, so Phalenes are not at an increased risk of ear infections as are some drop-eared dogs.

Papillons who win in the show ring are generally very small, between 3and 9 pounds. Pet Papillons can be quite a bit larger. Buyers need to be aware that there is no such thing as a "teacup" Papillon. That is a marketing term designed to fool you into thinking you're getting something special or rare, when all you're getting is a dog who is quite a bit under the usual size of the breed. These dogs are often plagued with severe health problems and rarely live a normal lifespan, and they may have a liver defect that has stunted their growth. Avoid breeders who use the term, or any similar terms, to suggest that their extra-small dogs are more desirable than a dog of the usual size.

Health Issues Common to Papillons

While generally a healthy and long-lived breed, the Papillon can be affected by any of the health problems common to toy dogs, such as a collapsing windpipe, which causes respiratory problems and makes wearing a collar difficult. They can have dental problems caused by the size of their mouths, and their kneecaps sometimes slip out of place, a condition known as "luxating patellas." Ask your veterinarian to examine your dog's knees regularly, especially if you notice him limping or "hopping" while running.

Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is also a problem in the breed (especially in the smaller dogs and in puppies), and Papillons are at risk of a liver defect known as "porto-systemic shunt," which can only be treated with expensive surgery.

Papillons may have what's called an open fontanel, which is a soft area of the skull that should close up and become hard within six months of birth. In a few dogs, the fontanel never fully closes, but they can otherwise live a normal lifespan.

Although it is not common, there is a disease newly recognized in the Papillon. Called neuroxanal dystrophy, puppies with this condition may seem clumsy or awkward, and walk with an odd, high-stepping gait. The condition is untreatable and progressive, and the affected dogs rarely live beyond a few months. The mode of inheritance is only now being studied, and it's been well-publicized in the responsible breeding community. If your puppy's breeder isn't aware of the problem, consider that a bad sign and find a breeder who is.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Patellar Luxation Medium $1,500-$3,000
Portosystemic Shunts Medium $2,000-$6,000
Deafness Medium $100-$300

6 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Papillon Puppy

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store. You're more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to housetrain puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills. Puppy mills also advertise though Internet sites, so never deal with a breeder who'll ship anywhere to anyone with a credit card.

Stack the odds in your favor by finding a breeder who is in good standing with the Papillon Club of America and has agreed to abide by its Code of Ethics, which specifically prohibits selling puppies through retail outlets such as pet stores.

Ask your breeder to discuss any health or behavior problems in dogs related to your prospective puppy -- and if she says there aren't any, run. She'll also provide written documentation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) that the parents of the puppy have healthy hearts and knees, as well as from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF), certifying that they were free of vision problems. Knee and eye certification must be repeated annually.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Papillon aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. In addition, a Papillon can live 15 years or longer, so an adult dog will still be a part of your family for a long time to come.

Puppy or adult, take your Papillon to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues. Ask specifically about dental care, as most toy breeds suffer from dental problems.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Papillons

Pet insurance for Papillons costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Papillons are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Papillons are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Papillon is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.