Let's talk Continental Toy Spaniels

Fine-boned and expressive, with delicate, feathery hair and oversize ears, the diminutive Continental Toy Spaniel breed is a perfect bundle of cuteness. This curious little dog makes a lovely family pet and despite its small stature, an efficient guard dog. This is also a dog with a long and illustrious history—while they may no longer be the pet of choice of the monarchy, these tiny dogs still carry themselves with an upright, almost regal bearing. 

Official name: Continental Toy Spaniel

Other names: Epagneul Nain Continental, Papillon, Phalène

Origins: France, Belgium

Close-up of Continental Toy Spaniel in black and white
 Drooling tendencies:

Very low

Warm weather? High
 Shedding level: Low
Suited to apartment living?  Very high
 Energy level (high, low, medium) *: Medium Family pet? *
 Compatibility with other pets: Low
Can stay alone? * Very low

 * We advise against leaving pets alone for long stretches. Companionship can prevent emotional distress and destructive behaviour. Speak to your veterinarian for recommendations.

Every pet is different, even within a breed; this snapshot of this breed’s specifics should be taken as an indication.

For a happy, healthy and well-behaved pet, we recommend educating and socialising your pet as well as covering their basic welfare, social and behavioural needs.

Pets should never be left unsupervised with a child.

All domestic pets are sociable and prefer company. However, they can be taught to cope with solitude from an early age. Seek the advice of your veterinarian or trainer to help you do this.

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Illustration of Continental Toy Spaniel
20 - 28 cm translations.feature.breeds.height
2.5 - 5 kg translations.feature.breeds.weight
20 - 28 cm translations.feature.breeds.height
2.5 - 4 kg translations.feature.breeds.weight

 Baby age:  Birth to 2 months
 Puppy age:  2 to 10 months
 Adult age: 10 months to 8 years
 Mature age:  8 to 12 years
 Senior age:  From 12 years

Two Continental Toy Spaniels sitting in grass looking at camera


Get to know the Continental Toy Spaniel

All you need to know about the breed

Continental Toy Spaniels may be a small breed but don’t underestimate them. As well as being cute and fluffy, they are also active and curious, seeming to take their responsibilities as family dog seriously: They’re always on the alert (they make good pint-sized guard dogs), willing to learn and ready for a game with their humans.

However, it must be said that their looks are quite simply lovely — those butterfly-like fringed ears, the inquisitive expression and the delicate frame make for a truly harmonious whole. Their personalities are charming too—Continental Toy Spaniels are friendly, playful and affectionate with their families as well as being versatile: Other pets or apartment living shouldn’t faze them.

Once trained, they get on well with children, as long as the children can be trusted to be gentle with a breed that – because of its small size – could be vulnerable to accidental injuries.

Continental Toy Spaniels have been bred as companions to humans for hundreds of years, so it’s no surprise that what suits them best is being at the heart of the family, involved in what’s going on.

Continental Toy Spaniel jumping in the air


2 facts about Continental Toy Spaniels

1. Mini mountain goats 

Continental Toy Spaniels are a breed that loves to climb and if given the chance will use your furniture as a mini-canine obstacle course, perhaps pausing to survey their realm from the back of the sofa. Just take care that they don’t hurt themselves. They are intrepid, but after all, still small and a little fragile.

2. Weighing in 

When you weigh 4-5kg (9-11lb), less than many of your feline friends, every gram counts. As the owner of a Continental Toy Spaniel, you’ll need to make very sure you keep a close eye on their rations, to avoid them becoming overweight, which can lead to health problems. If using food rewards as part of training, make sure they come out of the dog’s daily rations.


History of the breed

Although their precise origins are a little hazy, it is thought that spaniels originally came to Europe (initially Spain, where they acquired their name) from China. Toy breeds had begun to emerge at least by the 1500s—little red and white canines are depicted in Italian art from that period. British monarchs also owned the forerunners to the breed we now know as the Continental Toy Spaniel, although their popularity with the Catholic monarchs in the 17th century almost led to the breed’s extinction, when Protestant rulers (who preferred Pugs) took over.

Luckily for Continental Toy Spaniel fans, the breed made a comeback, possibly through crossbreeding with delicate little Japanese Chins, giving the modern-day breed its distinctive big-eared look. On the subject of those magnificent ears, the Continental Toy Spaniel breed also has an offshoot – the Papillon (French for butterfly) – which is considered the same breed by the American Kennel Club but a separate breed in France and Belgium, where the Papillon is popular. The non-Papillon version of the breed is, just to add to the confusion, also sometimes called the Phalene.

Close-up of Continental Toy Spaniel in black and white


From head to tail

Physical characteristics of Continental Toy Spaniels

1. Ears

Upright, prominent and tufty ears.

2. Coat

Abundant long fur, mostly white with black and brown.

3. Tail

Small, delicate build with a high-set feathered tail.

Close-up of Continental Toy Spaniel looking away from camera


Things to look out for

From specific breed traits to a general health overview, here are some interesting facts about your Continental Toy Spaniel
Continental Toy Spaniel sitting in grass looking at camera


Caring for your Continental Toy Spaniel

Grooming, training and exercise tips

That gorgeous coat may look high-maintenance, but looks can be deceiving and not much grooming is required for the Continental Toy Spaniel—just a brush once a week to prevent the longer feathered portions of hair from getting matted. They do shed a fair amount though. Daily teeth brushing will help them maintain good oral hygiene. These dogs have little legs, so you won’t need to take them on ambitious hikes—however they are energetic and lively dogs who need plenty of physical exercise (proportionate to their size) as well as mental stimulation. A combination of regular walks and play sessions is ideal. Continental Toy Spaniels are intelligent and eager to please so training should not be too much of a challenge, as long as you’re patient and consistent. You do need to start early, as these dogs are known to have a stubborn streak and will find un-learning bad habits much more difficult than not picking them up in the first place. Early socialisation is important too, as it will help make sure they are at ease in everyday situations.


All about Continental Toy Spaniels

There is some truth in the stereotype of the small dog who likes to yap. Despite their diminutive size, Continental Toy Spaniels are known for their guard dog skills, using a bark or two to let owners know of any perceived threats. Proper training should ensure their vocal tendencies stay under control.

Yes—these tiny dogs are affectionate, alert and playful, and once trained are known to get on well with children. Small children need to be made aware that, despite the name, these dogs are not toys and need to be handled with care so they don’t get hurt. As long as they get plenty of exercise Continental Toy Spaniels are well-suited to apartment living too.



1 - Veterinary Centers of America https://vcahospitals.com/ 

2 - Royal Canin Dog Encyclopaedia. Ed 2010 and 2020

3 - Banfield Pet Hospital https://www.banfield.com/

4 - Royal Canin BHN Product Book

5 - American Kennel Club https://www.akc.org/