The bichon frise were divided into four categories: the Bichon Maltese, the Bichon Bolognaise, the Bichon Havanese and the Bichon Tenerife. All originated in the Mediterranean area. Because of their merry disposition, they traveled much and were often used as barter by sailors as they moved from continent to continent.
The dogs found early success in Spain and it is generally believed that Spanish seamen introduced the breed to the Canary Island of Tenerife. In the 14th century, Italian sailors rediscovered the bichon frise puppy on their voyages and are credited with returning them to the continent, where they became great favorites of Italian nobility. Often, as was the style of the day with dogs in the courts, they were cut “lion style,” like a modern-day Portuguese Water Dog.
Though not considered a retriever or water dog, the bichon frise, due to its ancestry as a sailor’s dog, has an affinity for and enjoys water and retrieving. On the boats however, the dog’s job was that of a companion dog.