Judging the Bichon Frise | As you stand in the ring with your judges book and pen in hand, and check off each armband, you find it is a bit difficult to keep your mind on the paperwork requirements without moving your eyes downward to catch a glimpse of the stunning, joyous parade propelling themselves into the ring with an exhibitor attempting to get some bit of control from their entry. It’s an instant “feel good” moment. Well, you smile to yourself, this ought to be fun! And, I promise you, it will be.
You may be fairly new to this breed, as well as new to dogs with an abundance of coat, but your eyes have long been trained to see and evaluate leg movement. As you take them around the ring to the examining table, you watch to see which ones display equal distance of reach in the front and matching rear. Your experience also tells you that you can have equal front and rear leg extension—and still not get anywhere. This style of dog has reach in front that never gets out from under his chin, but, Glory B, the rear has the same stretch! That means the dog is balanced, doesn’t it? There’s good balance, underbalanced, and overbalanced. A Bichon was once the circus trick dogs and as such must have a healthy reach and drive that will propel him agilely toward his goal. They want and should move right along, but not as if the devil himself is chasing them with evil intent. It is not a race of speed, but a pace to get where they need to be, efficiently—and then be ready for the next cool thing asked of them.
You probably didn’t get to see the hallmark of the breed, the face and head, as they were coming in and going around. But on the examining table, you can quickly and breathlessly have your heart stolen right out of your body as you look into those sweet faces. At this point, you’re probably saying, “I have got to have one of these at home, so I can look at that face all day long!” If the correct head and face are not maintained, the breed will totally lose its individuality, appeal, and a good bit of its purpose as a companion dog. So, let’s begin a thorough study of what we should see in this cloud of white and prominent black portions arranged so pleasingly.
The Bichon is not a narrow, elongated dog with refined bone. It is a sturdy dog, with sound bone and a solid body. Therefore, the head should equal the density of the body. In other words, it is a rather broad head to allow the pleasing picture of two extremely bright, dark eyes to be able to look forward on a skull that is wide enough to allow the eyes to lay on the face without having to curve a bit around a too narrow skull. The eyes are totally on the front of the face—this is important. They are dark and round and have a natural (hum, well) dark halo on the skin surrounding the eye and eye rims that have a dark unbroken rim. Sometimes, an extremely round-eyed dog will have a bit of a bulge to his eyeball. The Bichon does not—please! The roundness of the Bichon eye is not Coke-bottle round but is much softer. The skull is rounded slightly and is greater in width and depth than the muzzle. Actually, the muzzle is short, and with the coat parted on the bridge of the nose, with usually some wispy hairs sticking out and up, will look even shorter. A good balance of skull to muzzle is not half as much muzzle as skull, but a bit less in length of muzzle. Or, as the Standard says, “Three parts muzzle to five parts skull.” However, your brain visualizes things, the point being made here is—it is not a 50–50 balance. There is a stop and not just a hint of a sloping indentation. The skull doesn’t slide down into the muzzle, and the muzzle width and depth, while not the same circumference as the skull, must match the apparent fullness of the skull and not be narrow, snipey or chinless. The nose is somewhat prominent and very, very black. The lips are also black, thus giving a pronounced contrast of black and white. With the ears placed slightly above the eyes and being very flexible, they can swing forward at attention and give the most beautiful frame to the sweetest face at the dog show.
Now that you have the head in your mind’s image, how do you determine if that skull is wide and rounded and the ears are not too high or too low and houndy? Yes, you can put your hand in all that coat to feel. It is incumbent of you to find and reward the proper structure. The exhibitor can and will fluff it back up before the down and back. Please allow just a few seconds for this repair. It is much easier to judge a dog that looks good than it is to have to judge a totally disheveled one. The Bichon coat is double and, therefore, an adult coat should merely shake back into place.
The coat texture is certainly not like a Maltese, Havanese, Lowchen, Poodle, etc., other than, as with some of these breeds, it has a soft undercoat. It is this undercoat that helps to keep the coat off-standing and prevent it from lying flat. A puppy will have a very soft texture, with undercoat just developing, and its coat will, therefore, hang downward. Forgive this—it’s only temporary. Unless you’ve been in the breed for years and know your bloodlines well, it would be impossible for you to guess whether or not the coat will become the full-bodied textured substance it should become. Remember, “On the Day.” In my opinion, just acknowledge that the puppy has predominately white hair and just accept it.
The texture of a mature coat, while still of a comfortable, soft feel, is not like silk and smooth. Eachhair is more bodied than that, with a feel of straightened curl to it. Some people suggest it offers the feel of cotton. I can only guess they are suggesting a pulled-apart cotton ball with fibers of strength, but pleasant to the fingers.
When Bichons first came to America, we didn’t really know what to do with all that hair that, by golly, just kept growing and, if not brushed frequently, matted. A pattern of presentation was developed and this style of grooming has remained, enhanced, poofed, enhanced some more and, nowadays, you will see in the ring many different perspectives. For me, this is the hard part. I had my style of pattern that I had developed from watching many different non-Bichon groomers, including a great influence from my Terrier roots and George Ward’s insistence that I give them a decent rear, as well as Bichon groomer, Joe Waterman, who presented the gorgeous California “awning” of coat extending over the eyes. And so, I have had to learn to accept other styles and patterns from reputable breeders, exhibitors, and handlers who may not meet what I personally preferred. But, if it looks good, I can hardly argue with the overall picture. You must develop your own eye for what you want to see in the grooming presentation of the Bichons that come into your ring.
It is important that you understand that some coloration in a Bichon coat is okay. Puppies will frequently exhibit a spot or two of near-red in splotches, and 99 percent of the time this fades to all-white upon maturity. It is this presence of color that aids in the good, dark pigment required in the face and pads. As an “I didn’t know that!” thought, many Bichons that started out with color in their coats will have it return in their senior years. That’s okay, too. Good genes!
The lengthy coat of the head, and the tremendous length of coat down the top ridge of the neck to the flat topline, is pretty much the accepted pattern. There are many, many fabulous groomers out there, and they are all trying to enhance the outline of their exhibits. If, in your opinion, for example, too much coat is left on the underside of the body, making the dog appear short and low, why don’t you run your hand along the bottom of the chest and up the tuck-up, holding the coat back so that you can actually see how much leg is there and if it balances with the length of the body? If you didn’t catch it as they went around, I see no problem with requesting that the dog go back on the table for a quick check. You certainly wouldn’t want to do this with all the dogs in the ring, but only the one you really would like to consider and are trying to decide if it’s grooming or structure that is throwing your eye off. Being somewhat pushy, I don’t hesitate to mention grooming suggestions to the exhibitor. The professional handlers might look at me like they’d like to pinch my head off, but the sincere exhibitor who never gets to see his/her finished product from a distance appreciates the perception. Almost all groomers of Bichons will groom their dog to embellish its qualities and will do their darndest to hide the lesser traits. This is, in fact, the basic premise of the dog game.
Try to keep your eye from being swayed by exaggerations and watch for the good, sound, all-round dog you’d be happy to take home. Flash may win the day, but what will it produce in the kennel? Help to maintain the high quality of the breed with your awards. Selecting the sounder dog with perhaps less in-ring “sex appeal” does not make you a “giant killer.”
This is a happy breed that might at some point in their inexperienced show career show signs of shyness. The tail will drop, they will go around the ring hesitatingly, and generally not do a bit of good for themselves. That’s when you show your compassionate side and offer encouragement to the dog with praise, pats on the table, and all the kindness you can muster. Take a bit more time with the dog so that the next time it’s in the ring the memories will be good ones and the exhibitor will think you’re the best judge in the whole USA. But, for the most part, the breed is just naturally happy, eager, and so very willing to please. You can ask anything of a Bichon and he will do his best to comply. That’s why they make such excellent companions, hospital greeters, cheerleaders, agility and obedience dogs, and teachers of children as to how to be good pet owners.
You can ask anything of a Bichon and he will do his best to comply.
Bichon Frise is a breed that is a delight to judge. Not only for the sheer joy of looking at their pure, wholesome beauty, but because they fill every need a person or family could ever want in a beloved pet. Unfortunately, one is never enough.
Judging the Bichon Frise
(A version of this article appeared in the January 2019 issue of SHOWSIGHT.)
By Ann D. Hearn, breeder/exhibitor/judge