Mediterranean Breeds - The Bichons
There are many mysteries in the world of dogs. From the entire species beginnings to the development of each breed. The origins of few dogs are known with exact certainty. Others can be pieced together by ancient writings or archaeological finds. And some are wrapped in the mists of legends.
One of the more fascinating locations for dog history lies in the Mediterranean. Two of the oldest groupings developed there. However, no one knows where their ancestors came from. These dogs are the small bichons and the primitive Mediterranean sighthounds. Neither is related, but both trace their roots throughout the islands in the region.
I have been updating the site and after researching both groups I thought I would compile my findings here. None of this information can be stated as fact, but it is the closest I have been able to come to a logical answer. Due to length I have split them into two posts, with today’s covering the bichons. The sighthounds will be covered next week.
The bichon family includes seven modern breeds of dogs that are recognized, the Bichon Frisé, Bolognese, Coton de Tuléar, Havanese, Löwchen, Maltese, and Russian Tsvetnaya Bolonka. There is disagreement in some additions to this grouping, mainly the Löwchen and the Russian Tsvetnaya Bolonka. Some experts believe the Löwchen is not part of the bichon family and many others (including most kennel clubs) do not yet recognize the Russian Tsvetnaya Bolonka as a breed.
Since several of these breeds are not well known, let’s introduce each of them before further diving into their history as a whole.
As we begin this winding journey, it is important to remember that until a few hundred years ago none of the bichons were a breed as we know today. Historically few dogs have been isolated enough to breed true without direct human intervention. Geographically, the Mediterranean has been a trade route for thousands of years. Ancient civilizations have risen and fallen in this region. While in later centuries European explorers would traverse the islands. Therefore, it is probable most, if not all, of the bichons interbred throughout their early beginnings.
Every state in the United States has their own state bird, but only 11 have honored dogs to represent them. As we celebrate our nation’s independence let’s take a quick look at how these breeds stand out.
On June 15th the American Kennel Club (AKC) announced that it had recognized 3 ‘new’ breeds – two of which aren’t new at all, and the third was developed from an already existing breed.
First up we have the Berger Picard, also known as the Picardy Shepherd, which hails from France. Traditionally the Berger Picard is used to herd livestock (and was accepted in the Herding Group), and is closely related to the other French herders, the Briard and Beauceron. The only thing new about the Berger Picard is its appearance on the American stage, as they are believed to be the oldest of these three breeds.
Next is the Lagotto Romagnolo, or Romagana Water Dog, an Italian breed. Like the other water dogs this dog has a tight, curly coat, reminiscent of the Poodle, Portuguese Water Dog, or Barbet. Classified in the Sporting Group, this breed’s specialty is to ‘hunt’ something that doesn’t move at all – truffles! Like the Berger Picard this is an old breed, known since at least the 16th century. Some experts have even boasted it is the oldest of the water dogs, although more often this title is given to the Barbet.
Last we have the Miniature American Shepherd, a miniaturized version of the Australian Shepherd. This breed originated in the United States in the 1960s from Aussies that were on the smaller side of their standards. Despite being a miniaturized version their fanciers have shied from tying ‘Australia’ to the breeds name, perhaps because their ‘parent’ is also from the United States. Like the Berger Picard the Miniature American Shepherd was designated to the Herding Group.