With the decline of power of aristocracy, so declined the popularity of the Bolognese. As their popularity decreased, to did their numbers.They nearly went extinct. There were just a few dedicated breeders led by Gian Franco Giannelli, in Italy and Belgium that ket the breed viable. It wasn't until the 20th century that the Bolognese were brought into Britain and the United States. Their numbers dwindled even further after World War ll until 1979 when there were only seven left that were recorded in Italy!
Although not fully recognized as a breed yet by the American Kennel Club (AKC), they have registered them as "Foundation Stock" since March 3, 1999. Having them fully recognized as a breed is currently actively being sought. In the mean time, the Bolognese remain extremely rare, even in their homeland of Italy.
The Medici's bred them and so did the House of Gonzaga who reigned in Norther Italy from 1328-1708. Cosimo de Medici (1389-1464), a de facto ruler in Florence, gifted eight Bolognese to noblemen in Belgium.
Famous people that have owned Bolos: Catherine de Medici's, Catherine l, Catherine of Russia. Maria Theresa Empress of Austria loved her dog so much that when it passed away, she had it stuffed by a taxidermist. Today, the dog is on display at the Museum of Science in Vienna. The Duke d'Este gave King Phillip ll of Spain two Bolognese, to which the King wrote a thank you note saying "These two little dogs are the most royal gifts one can make to an emperor."
In more recent history, Marilyn Monroe also owned a Bolognese. They often accompanied their owners in paintings by artists such as Titan, Francisco Goya, Boss, Carpaccio, Tiziano Vecelli and others.
After the Mediterranean was conquered by the Romans, some of the little dogs who had their roots in Malta were transported to the Italian peninsula. Eventually, some of these little white dogs made their way to Northern Italy; to Bologna. They captured the hearts of the wealthy residents, and it is from this city that they were named "Bolognese".
The presence and popularity of the Bolognese spread as they became companions to the royal courts and to upper class families. Not only were they cuddly companions, they were excellent watchdogs because of their acute sense of hearing and their keen eyesight. Their owners took pride in them and bred them to give as precious gifts all over Europe from the 16th century to the 19th century. In fact, it was considered to be the in thing for the rich and famous to have a little dog sleep with them in their bed. During the Renaissance, they were highly favored companions that were presented as gifts to esteemed visitors to the royal courts of Italy, Spain, Belgium and Austria.
Written history, while vague, suggests, that the Bolognese have been around only since the 11th or 12th century. However, it is also believed that the Bolognese share their ancestry with the other dogs in the Bichon group: The Bichon Frisee, Maltese, Havanese, Coton de Tulear, Lowchen. Approximately 1500 B.C. to 300 B.C. the ancient island of Malta, which was known as Melitaie, was inhabited by the Phoenicians. It was just one of the many cities they inhabited along the Fertile Crescent and the Mediterranean coastline. The Phoenicians used a sailing vessel to aid them in living up to their name in Classical Greece and Rome as "traders". On their journey from port to port, they carried with them, their dogs, and sold them at the various ports. The dogs were called "Canes Melitenses" Aristotle (384-324 BC) was very fond of the tiny white dogs. He kept them for company and mentions them on numerous occasions and he referred to it as Canis Melitenses.
Throughout the centuries, they were used as mousers. They were kept on ships to hunt rats, and mice.