Also known as the Bolognese Toy Dog, the Bologneser, the Gutschen Hundle or the Schoshundle, this dog has been popular as a household companion in northern Italy for centuries. It has been known by several nicknames, including the Bolo, the Botoli and the Bottolo.

This small, white-coated member of the Bichon family is distinguished from its close relatives by its unusually fluffy hair, sometimes described as "flocked". There is no undercoat – the dog being well adapted to a hot climate – and the main hairs are "raised from the body".


This little lapdog has a history stretching back to at least the IIth century, and has been the pampered favourite of many European aristocrats and members of royal houses, including Madame Pompadour, Louis XIV of France, Philip II of Spain, and Catherine the Great of Russia (who shared her bed with one). The ruler of the Austrian Empire, Queen Maria Theresa, loved her Bolognese dog so much that when it died she had it taxidermized, so that it could remain near her for ever. Her pet can still be seen today, on display in a Vienna museum. During the Renaissance, the Medicis not only kept these dogs but actively bred them and sometimes sent groups abroad as special gifts to other leading families in Europe.

According to early records, this cherished breed was so revered that it was sometimes fed from solid-gold bowls and, in 18th-century Italy, servant women were occasionally known to suckle Bolognese dogs as a special service for their titled superiors.

There are two theories concerning its ancestry. The most popular one sees it as a descendant of the Maltese dog that originated further south, on the Mediterranean island of Malta, and then spread north through Italy until it arrived in the region of Bologna. The other views it as a descendant of the now extinct Shock Dog, a petite water dog.

One curious report suggests that, when Pope Julius II drove the wanton Giovanni II out of Bologna in 1506, the disgraced ruler took his Bolognese dogs with him and retreated into exile on Malta. Once there, his pets are said to have crossed with very small local dogs to create the Bichon breed we know today as the Maltese. Clearly, there is a major contradiction here. One theory depicts the Bolognese as a descendant of the Maltese and the other depicts the Maltese as the descendant of the Bolognese. At present, the evidence is too scanty to decide between these two diametrically opposed opinions.


In personality, this attractive animal, with its up-curled tail and soft, fluffy coat, has been called serious, reserved, devoted, loyal, alert, intelligent and quick to learn. It becomes so strongly attached to its owners that it is like a shadow, never leaving their side. It is healthy, long-lived and, after centuries of noble living, markedly non-aggressive.


In size it is 10—12 in (25—31 cm) tall and weighs only 5—9 lb (3—4 kg).

The Bolognese’s body structure should be fine and its body proportions square. Its muzzle should be short and strong. The coat should be long, standing out from the body, with loose curls all over, except on the nose ridge where it should be short. Pigmentation on the nose, lips and eye rims should be black. Pigmentation other than black is considered a serious fault. The overall look should be natural and not scissored; the coat texture should be soft but not woolly. The color should always be white, although light lemon markings on the ears are tolerated.

Today, all dogs of this breed are pure white, but in earlier centuries they were sometimes black, or black-and-white.

Despite its ancient pedigree and obvious appeal, it remains today a rare breed. It did not appear in the United States until the 1980s, when the Bolognese Club of America was founded, following the arrival of the first imports from Italy.

Gallery of Bolognese