Marcy is fond of animal husbandry and cares for her intelligent Papillon,
The (cute) Papillon that rules the Earth. Please make way.
reabythebeach via Pixabay
Papillons Own You
Perhaps it’s not entirely accurate to say I’m owned by a Papillon. It’s
probably more rightly termed a “partnership” of equal standing. I do know for
certain that I’m not completely in charge. Katherine the Great, affectionately
known as “K8 the Gr8” to her friends, is very much her own dog.
All About the Papillon
If you’ve never had the good fortune to know a Papillon personally, but you’ve
seen photos or videos of them, you might dismiss them as perky, cute, good-
natured dogs—but lightweights. If you’ve been blessed with a Papillon in your
life, you’d laugh at the lightweight part. Papillon people know that beneath
those frilly ears and that Minnie Mouse smile, they are feisty, courageous,
demanding—and scary, scary smart.
When K8 Joined the Pack
K8 is soon to be 13 and has been training me for all but eight weeks of that
time. From the beginning, I knew she was a force to be reckoned with. She was
four pounds when I got her, if that; as a larger Papillon, she is now 15
pounds of fierce cuteness . . . or cute fierceness.
I had just lost my half-Pap half-Chihuahua and knew my life would not be
complete without a Papillon presence. I told the fellow I was dating at the
time that I was off to see a litter of Papillons, and he replied, “You’re not
getting one, are you?” I knew at that moment we’d never have a future. I
looked at him with thinly-veiled disdain and said, “If you think for one
moment I’m looking at a litter of Papillons and coming home empty-handed, you
don’t know me at all.”
K8 was the last one remaining of a litter of eight. Clearly, she waited for
me. How else to explain that the little ball of fluffy attitude could possibly
be left behind? She promptly took control of the household. She told the much-
larger Dalmatians exactly what to do. She had a knack for walking over to a
big dog and simply removing a toy, or bone, or anything else she wanted, from
its mouth, and sashaying off proudly. Was it charm, or the look in her eye
that said, “I’m small, but I’m feisty, and I can take you!” When my two Dal
sisters gave in to old age, I brought home brother and sister Labradors—big
ones, at that.
K8 immediately laid down the law to them. When Earl the McNab joined us a few
years ago, K8 promptly told him, “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is
mine, too.” She continues to snatch toys from the jaws of her bigger pals. No
one touches K8’s dinner, but she will saunter over and share theirs. K8 reigns
with an iron paw.
The Papillon who owns me.
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Papillons Are Good Herders, Mousers, and Ratters
If people recognize one thing about the Papillon, it’s the ears; and if they
know only one bit of trivia about them, it’s the meaning of their name.
Papillon is, of course, French for “butterfly.” It refers to the lovely
butterfly silhouette of their flowing-furred ears. There are also “Phalene”
Papillons, who have the same long-haired ears, but they are not erect; if you
have a preference for Spaniel-eared dogs, you might want to check into a
Papillons are an old French breed of Spaniel. The Spaniel lineage is what
gives them their resilience and spirit; they have a genetic memory of being a
sporting dog. Long kept by royalty, with many a Louis here and there, they
shared the royal bedchambers and protected the kings they owned from rodents.
They still retain that instinctive ability to catch and kill mice and rats.
I’ve always had farm animals around, and I live in a rural area; field mice,
packrats, kangaroo rats, and other rodents are never far off. K8 is a bold
hunter. I’m not exaggerating: I once dug up the mouse nests that had been
established in the bottom of my outdoor aviary and ran water to flush them
out. K8 killed 13 mice in a row and neatly stacked them.
For most of my life, I’ve kept chickens. For a while, I had some lighter-
weight chickens that were easily able to fly over the 8-foot fence and into my
backyard. K8 was an incredible chicken-shepherd. She’d race into action when
I’d say, “K8! Chicken!” and fly toward the door. I’d let her out to do her
job. She’d round up the hen, hold it against the fence, and I’d pick it up and
put it back on the proper side of the fence.
As such a hard-working chicken-hound, she felt entitled to the eggs she’d find
on “her” side of the fence, as well. She’d pick them up, carefully carry them
around without breaking them, and hide them in corners of the house.
K8 is probably not the only Papillon who “air buries” her treasures. The eggs
were no exception. She’d set them gently on the ground and shovel air toward
them as if burying them. Of course, when outside, she buried many a treasure
in the soft dirt — but what to do on tile? Obviously, air burial was the
K8 at the computer. I wonder what she’s ordering from Amazon this time?
(c) 2012 MJ Miller
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They Are Smart Dogs
Papillons are unbelievably intelligent. As such, they’re not for everyone.
They are more like tiny human geniuses in furry little bodies than they are
like dogs. K8 has such a reputation for braininess that whenever I’ve been
unable to find something, we’d suspect that K8 had sold it on Ebay. Although
at 12 her hearing has diminished considerably, I’ve always felt she
understands every spoken word—and who knows what she can read? She was
extraordinarily easy to train, and reacts as quickly to a tilt of my head or a
subtle expression as she does to words.
I always enjoy teaching my dogs odd little tricks. For example, I teach them
all to sneeze on command—just for the amusement value. K8 will sneeze when
waiting for her treats. Since K8 sleeps snuggled up against me in bed, I also
taught her that if I rub my hands together, that means “scat.” When I need to
turn over or get up, I just rub my hands together and she quickly hops away.
Usually, K8 predicts what I need her to do, and reacts before I have a chance
to warn her—she’s not the kind of dog who’ll get underfoot. For a small dog,
it’s a matter of survival.
The reason I originally picked Papillons was their ranking on dog intelligence
lists. They are generally cited in the top ten, and in my opinion, that
doesn’t do them justice. They’re smarter than a lot of people I know. They
communicate clearly, they express themselves creatively, they have a
tremendous sense of humor (clearly a sign of intellect!), and they have a
profound insight into “family dynamics” — they understand other dogs as well
as the human mind.
One interesting characteristic I’ve observed in K8 that isn’t as prevalent in
my other dogs is her ability to understand delayed gratification. It shows
itself on many occasions, but the best example is probably her dinner habit.
While the boys, Earl the McNab and Argos the Lab, are in a fit of anticipation
for dinner, K8 is the dignified lady. She sits down, one paw raised delicately
in the air, and waits for the dinner to be properly prepared. She is all
eagerness, but she knows it’s coming.
My husband, the master-feeder-of-dogdom, likes to add little surprises to the
meals. He’ll stick a biscuit in occasionally, standing it upright in the mix
of canned and dry dog food. K8 will carefully move it aside, and eat the
entire meal, licking the bowl clean—and then she’ll remove the treat and trot
over to her leather cushion with it, where she ceremoniously lies down and
slowly enjoys it. She understands the concept of “dessert.” The boys, of
course, go immediately for the biscuit and wolf it down before finishing the
rest of their meal. They can’t even spell delayed gratification, much less
Even when K8 insists on a mid-day snack (several times throughout the day,
truth be told), she is elegant and reserved when receiving it. This is a dog
who probably had an official taster back in her days at the royal court. Even
though it’s likely the same treat out of the same batch of favorite treats she
sampled ten minutes before, she always pauses, sniffs it carefully, and then
slowly reaches to take it. Her eyes always dart upward and rest on your own
briefly, as if saying, “Thank you.”
My husband gets impatient and sometimes slides the treat forward at her as if
trying to put a coin in a slot machine—or he’ll pull the treat away a couple
of times until she finally snatches at it, giving him an exasperated look.
Empresses don’t like to be trifled with.
The royal yawn. Ennui, anyone?
(c) MJ Miller 2012
Papillons Are Vocal and Great Communicators
Some dog owners take great umbrage when their dog growls. I don’t, unless it
is clearly an aggressive growl. But not all growls are equal. Dogs don’t just
growl out of aggression; they also growl to convey many other thoughts.
K8 growls to let us know, “Hey! I’m right here—don’t step on me!” She’ll growl
to invite us (or her dogmates) to play, or to make it clear that her toy is
HER toy. She’ll growl at her toys, as she’s spinning around in rapid-fire
circles, just before launching them across the room. She’ll growl at snakes
and toads. She’ll make a low, nervous growling noise when I’m doing something
that makes her nervous—like filing her toenails. It’s not a threat; it’s
K8 is not a yappy dog—certainly not. It would be beneath her. But she’s a very
verbal dog. She’s constantly communicating. She doesn’t like it when I sit at
the computer at night and write; she wants me to come to bed with everyone
else. She lies in the hallway, just next to the threshold of my office door,
and growls. She’ll growl like that for half an hour, if that’s what it takes.
If she needs to show me something, she’ll growl—I can tell when she’s saying,
“Follow me!” She used that technique when she needed to tell me that my yellow
Lab had locked herself in the bathroom, and when something’s not right with
some part of the house. K8 has it all under control.
My husband enjoys playing a certain game with K8, which is great entertainment
thanks to her innate courage and scrappy nature. When she stares at him and
growls, wanting attention, he’ll adopt a mean expression, roll back his
sleeves, and make a fist. He squares off against her like a boxer. K8 jumps
into action, dashing forward and bouncing against him, growling and barking.
She loves their mock fights. There is no fear in that dog’s body.
This morning, I took her to the barn with me and held her up to say hello to a
couple of the horses. The newest one, a big half-draft galoot of a guy, stuck
his friendly nose out to smell her and nibble on her fur. K8, without a second
thought, snapped and nipped at his nose. No one approaches the empress without
better manners than that!
In addition to her growling and occasional barking (never without a reason),
K8 has a wide variety of noises we can only describe as “lizard noises.” She
hisses, she whistles, she grumbles and rumbles. She sometimes sounds as if
she’s spoken. She snores—even while she’s awake. Eyes wide open, she’ll be
lying on the bed, staring at you—snoring. She is vocal, all the time, waking
or asleep. Each noise means something different; sometimes I’m just not smart
enough to keep up with her vast vocabulary.
A muddy-nosed huntress.
(c) MJ Miller 2012
Is It the Right Breed for You?
Perhaps you’re thinking about adding a Papillon to your family. First,
understand their unique temperaments: that’s why I’ve described K8’s
personality as I have. They must have owners who respect them, and understand
that they aren’t bad-tempered—they’re just verbal.
In fact, they’re some of the happiest, most spirited dogs you’d ever hope to
meet. They’re just darned smart. They expect to have a voice in the decision-
making, and they’re sensible enough that you might be best served by listening
to that voice. Papillons do everything for a reason, even if we don’t always
understand that reason. Trust the Papillon.
They’re easy to train, but you must train them—or they’ll run the show, and
the neighbor’s show, too. They excel at obedience, agility, and chess. They
are tough, athletic dogs who make great running partners. You must protect
them from other, aggressive dogs, though—I know K8 will not back down from a
fight, and she doesn’t realize she’s a midget.
Papillons have long, soft fur. As such, it will matt if you don’t groom them
regularly. They don’t need to be shaved, just brushed. They’re just the right
size to bathe in the sink (and K8 does love her baths). Get ready for the
“rocket-dog” antics once you’ve toweled them off and put them on the floor.
You might want to have the video camera ready.
Along with that beautiful fur comes the shedding. They shed a little year-
round, which is minimized if you feed a good salmon oil or olive oil on a
regular basis, but twice a year K8 blows her coat. For a couple of weeks,
it’ll look like someone slit open a pillow—fluff wafts through the air with
each movement. It’s easy to pick up—on your shirt, your pants, and your
linens, that is. A little bit of K8 fur used to accompany me to my office at
work, where it would attach itself to my office chair 20 miles away. Invest in
a good lint roller—or just use duct tape folded over your hand, sticky-side
Papillons, being the smart and active dogs they are, are very interactive.
They aren’t the breed for the person who wants a dog who’ll lie in the other
room and stay out of the person’s way (seriously, get a cat). Low-maintenance,
they’re not. They want to be with you, engaging you in conversation. They want
to be snuggled up beside you at night, to best ensure no bed-monsters will
attack you. It’s for your own good. They want to go on all your road trips.
If you get one from a proper breeder, as you should, you’ll find they’re
remarkably well-adjusted, vigorous, hardy, and not prone to skin issues,
musculoskeletal disorders, eye problems, or breathing difficulties. The breed
is, fortunately, not so bred for “type” to have created freaks of nature. As
with many small breeds, though, housebreaking can be challenging. Crate-
training is a great help, and securing them in a playpen while you’re out is a
good way to remind them not to use that far corner of the house as their
They are naturally clean dogs, but that doesn’t stop them from enjoying a good
dig in the mud when there’s a rodent to be harassed. Handle their paws a lot
when they’re puppies so you’ll have an easy job of it when you need to trim
their nails. I use a Dremel tool on K8; as long as my husband is holding her
against himself snugly, she’s a perfect lady for her pedicure.
Papillons are nothing short of amazing personalities. They’ll have you
laughing at their constant antics. K8, even at the age where her muzzle and
eyebrows have greyed, continues to come up with new acts. Every time I quit
petting her and she gently takes my hand in her teeth and places it back on
the spot she wants scratched, I admire her ability to convey her wishes. Each
time she greets me with her favorite toy (a Mr. Bill) and I hear it saying,
“Ohhhh noooooo!” as she madly squeezes it, I laugh. And in her sweeter
moments, when she and Earl the McNab gently extend their noses and kiss each
other lovingly, I marvel at the deep affection between them.
If you’re lucky enough to be owned by a Papillon, you’re in for a royally good
Questions & Answers
Question: Our little two year old Papillon, Princess, is very similar to
K8. Why do we continue to have aggressive growling and snapping at my husband
in the early morning when all he wants to do is remove her from our bed to
leash her and let her pee outside? She returns to bed immediately to complete
her beauty sleep–but it’s always the same routine and we always get the
snapping and growling! How do we reason with her?
Answer: Papillons tend to be very vocal about their likes and dislikes!
The Papillons I’ve had were all growlers; as small dogs, they’re keenly aware
of their vulnerability, and they use growling to vocalize for their own
safety. Bedtime growling is often a means of saying, “Don’t roll over on me,”
or – as it is in Princess’s case – “Don’t disturb me.” I allow mine to growl,
but snapping is not permitted. I’m afraid I don’t have an easy solution to
recommend; what works for me is scolding my current Papillon (Mattie-K8) when
she goes from growling to snarling. Perhaps performing an “alpha roll” might
help – rolling Princess over firmly but not roughly and holding her with her
belly up while telling her, “Princess, stop it.” They’re such smart dogs that
sometimes it’s like dealing with a stubborn human child!
Jess on November 15, 2016:
I loved reading your article! Every word you wrote I felt you could have been
writing about my papillon Carlee Rose. It is utterly amazing to me how
accurate you were in the breeds discription and I had not realized how may of
the things Carlee does are due to the natural personality of a papillon.
You are so right Carlee Rose and I co-own each other, when people ask how I
train such a well behaved dog I tell them “She trained me!” and it’s the
truth. I tell people it is very difficult to have a dog smarter than you are,
she some days is. When asked if I “let” her sleep in bed with me, I answer to
shocked faces “No!” Then I say, “She lets ME sleep in bed with her!” To which
I always get a laugh. She is an amazing little creature and I feel very
fortunate to be able to live each day of my life with her by my side! How did
I get so lucky?
Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on April 14, 2014:
Thanks so much, Diana. I’ve always enjoyed having one small dog and two bigger
dogs at any given time. Funny how the little ones rule the roost, isn’t it?
Thanks again and best wishes! — MJ
Setab on April 14, 2014:
I’m so sorry for your loss. I know that pain. We have small dogs also and have
to watch them due to the Mtn Lions and Bobcats in the mtns here. We just love
our Mini Schnauzers and can’t live without them. Good luck with your new dog.
Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on April 13, 2014:
Oh, Diana, thanks so much for your kind comment. I am sad to say that we lost
K8 the Gr8 in November to lung cancer. She was 13. She took a huge chunk of me
with her. I’ll never know another dog so human in her ways — for such a tiny
girl, she left giant paw prints to fill. A week ago, her “big brother,” my
black Lab, joined her. Thank heavens we will be picking up our new puppy (a
McNab) next weekend. If it weren’t for our harsh setting with so many threats
to small dogs, I’d be picking out a new Papillon as well — but the coyotes,
bobcats, scorpions and rattlesnakes here are awfully dangerous to the little
ones. What do you want to bet I won’t be able to go without one in the family
for very long?
Best wishes — MJ
Setab on April 12, 2014:
What a great dog. Thanks for sharing her story, I love to hear about the
different breeds. You have a way with words.
Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on May 01, 2013:
Peggy, thank you for enjoying K8’s hub. She is a very special little girl.
There is no end to her energy, her intelligence, and her amusing and
entertaining antics! I hope a Papillon joins your other furries someday —
you’d love them! Thank you for pinning.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 01, 2013:
I love how you described your smart little feisty Papillon girl who has
captured your heart. We have never been owned by one…but I would now know
what to expect were it to happen. Up, useful and interesting votes and pinning
to by dogs board on Pinterest. Enjoyed reading this as we are animal lovers.
Marcy J. Miller (author) from Arizona on April 17, 2013:
Thanks so much, DrMark! No, I don’t have a scoop.it account. Papillons
certainly do shed — boy, do they ever! It’s one of many things they excel at.
They shed minimally throughout most of the year (although it’s still
noticeable, as the hair clings to everything) but twice a year they blow their
coats. Rodent-sized chunks of fluff roam the hallways as that hair comes off.
The coat-blowing only lasts a few weeks but it makes a believer out of you. In
recent years, K8’s shedding patterns changed — her coat tufts rather than
shedding evenly, and the tufts stick out of her like a moth-eaten wool
sweater. My brush is always close at hand! Thanks again — I so appreciate
your kind words.
Dr Mark from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on April 17, 2013:
I really enjoyed this. You were able to tell it all about this breed, the
good, the bad, and the scary.
Do you have an account on scoop.it? I read an article the other day on the
Papillon. Did you know that they do not shed? I was surprised too.