A Schipperke is a small Belgian breed of dog believed to have originated in the early to mid 15th century. In the late 15th century, the breed was chronicled by the monk Wenceslas as the impersonation of the Devil. Continuing to this day there is substantial debate over whether this type of dog is a spitz or miniature sheepdog.
The smallest of the Belgian shepherds, the Schipperke resembles a shorter than average haired black Pomeranian and is commonly mistaken for a miniature Spitz. While it is true that the breed does resemble that most archaic family of dogs; it would be the noble and renowned sheepdogs of Belgium that would lend their genes to the development of this tiny but bold breed. The creation of the Schipperke and other small breed working dogs in Belgium is thought to have partially resulted from laws passed by the French in the 14th century. At that time in history, Belgium was ruled by France and the nobility decreed that only by members of the aristocracy should be allowed to keep large dogs. That being the case, it would become necessary for the ordinary citizens of Belgium to create and utilize smaller dogs that could perform similar working duties as the larger breeds. From the larger sheepdogs, there would evolve smaller sheepdog breeds; one of which was the Leauvenaar, and from that now extinct breed, eventually the smaller Schipperke would emerge.
By the time of the displacement of the French in Belgium by the Spanish ruling class in the 15th century, the Schipperke could be found throughout the country, employed by the common folk as both a vermin eradicator and watchdog. By the late 1600’s the breed was being actively developed in the Flemish regions of Belgium and had become well liked by the artisans and guildsmen of the day. The workman of the guild would take their fondness for the breed to a whole other level by holding one first ever dog shows in history. The show, held specifically to showcase their own Schipperkes was held at the Grand Palace in Brussels in 1690. Over the next two centuries the Schipperke breed would be further developed and refined.
The Schipperke was not present at the first multi breed dog show held in Brussels in 1840; however, the breed was formally recognized as a unique and specific type by the Royal Belgian Cynological Club St. Hubert in 1882. Following the formal recognition of the breed, an official written standard would be established thereby setting the correct judging criteria for the breed, helping to promote its presence at dog shows where it received much attention and interest. Queen Marie-Henriette of Austria so adored her Schipperke, a cross-bred black and brown dog with white spots, that she commissioned a painting to be done of the little dog. Its popularity with the Austrian royal family led other royal families in Europe to take an interest in the breed and eventually the British nobility began to acquire these “small, black, tailless Belgian dogs” as well, sparking further interest in the Schipperke breed by British buyers.
In 1888, the Belgian Schipperke Club was formed to protect the interest in and to further the development of the breed. At this time, the Schipperke was known as the “Spits” or “Spitse”. With the creation of the Belgian Schipperke Club, the oldest breed club in Belgium, the breed was renamed ‘Schipperke' in an effort to distinguish the breed from the similar German Spitz Dog, a breed that in appearance, was very similar to the schipperke. The origin of the name Schipperke has been subject to much controversy. Some believe it was Flemish for “little captain” and was given to the breed to honor Mr. Reusens, a very influential breeder frequently called the father of the Schipperke breed who also operated a freight boat between Brussels and Antwerp in addition to his work with the Schipperke.
Traditionally the name is believed to have referred to the word 'schipper' and that the breed was mainly known for its use as a companion animal to Dutch and Belgian Canal boat captains. It was further believed that the these little dogs had a well defined job aboard these ships, as both and guard dog and vermin eradicator. This theory goes one step further by stating that is was the boatmen aboard these ships that were responsible for the elimination of the breeds tail; as a tailless dog was considered less likely to upset goods upon the narrow decks of the ship. In modern times; however, this theory is widely regarded as myth as there is no proof that the boatmen either created the breed or possessed a large number of them. In actuality the majority of these little black dogs were found in the homes of middle class businessmen and among the members of the tradesmen guilds throughout the various towns of central Belgium. This romanticized version of the dogs name seems to have been invented by British breeders during the 19th century that had become so enamored with the breed that they took it upon themselves to invent a colorful history about it.
This British version of the breeds history is not completely without truth as it wasn’t at all uncommon for the Dutch to have dogs aboard their ships, namely the equally small Dutch 'Keeshond'. An understandable mistake, when one takes into account that a fully coated Schipperke with the large ruff around its neck could have been mistaken for a Keeshond. The historical origin of the name becomes easier to decipher with evidence from the 17th and 18th centuries. According to the 19th century Belgian cynologist Charles Huge, it was during this time that wolf-like shepherd dogs were common in and around the province of Brabant, the area in which Leuven is situated. These large and most often black dogs were usually owned by common folk who put them to work in a variety of roles to include herding, protection and vermin eradication. Over the ensuing centuries these original shepherd dogs would provide the foundation for other breeds, the largest descendents would become the immediate ancestors to the four modern varieties of the Belgian shepherd: the Groenendael, the Mechelaar, the Tervueren and the Laeken. The smallest, which were unsuitable for herding or protecting larger livestock such as sheep found use keeping the mouse and rat populations in check and guarding the farm's poultry. These smaller dogs would become the ancestors of the modern schipperke. As a result the most likely scenario is that the name is actually a derivative of the word "scheper" (pronounced "shaper"), the Flemish word for shepherd; meaning that schipperke simply means small shepherd dog. There is additional theory, apparently born around the first quarter of the 20th century, that the name is was born out of the natural linguistic evolution of the Flemish word "Shapocke" or "Scheperke", meaning "little shepherd".
Regardless of where or how the breed acquired its unique name the Schipperke did gain a solid reputation as a good boat dog, where it was used as a ratter; to which duty it was extremely successful at if given the slightest opportunity. Being that the Schipperke was known to be a formidable barker and a brave guardian, the breed was also used as a watchdog for the boats and their cargo. The name change at this time may have implied that the Schipperke was known only for its work on the canal boats; however the breed had a long and successful past as a watchdog and vermin chaser for the shoemakers and workmen operating their businesses close to the docks.
During the 1880’s and 1890’s, Schipperkes traveled out of their native Belgium, and often into the homes of English fanciers. It was also during this time that some dogs would find their way as far west as Canada or the United States, often entering these new countries by way of England, and rarely directly from Belgian breeders. Although the Schipperke first entered the United States in the 1880’s, it was not until 1904 that the breed would enter the ranks of American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized breeds. The Schipperke breed would become extremely popular in England, where the first book devoted entirely to the Schipperke would be written in 1907. Whereas America was a different story and although the breed was now recognized by the AKC, it would be another two decades before the breed experienced any kind of real popularity in that country.
Over the next several decades, the World Wars would devastate Europe, and many dog breeds would teeter dangerously close to or become entirely extinct as a result of the devastation. It was during this crisis that a young American named Isobel Ormiston would be introduced to the breed in the 1920’s, through her contact with Belgian Soldiers during World War I (WWI). She fancied the little sheepdog from Belgium, and decided to acquire one of her own. Ormiston took her acquisition of a Schipperke seriously and conducted extensive research on the breed prior to purchasing a dog. Her studies took her as far as the University of Ghent in Belgium where she learned much information about the Schipperke breed. In 1924 she bought a Schipperke named “Flore de Veeweyde” and brought her home to America. Schipperkes existing in America at that time were mostly of English descent and over the following years, Ormiston would attempt to educate Americans about the Schipperke breed. She published numerous articles about the Schipperke’s history in an effort to promote the Belgian type.
In 1929, the Schipperke Club of America (SCA) was established by Ormiston and other breed fanciers. The SCA published their first book on the Schipperke breed in 1933. Following the creation of the club and the publishing of this first book, other books and articles about the Schipperke breed would follow. The Schipperke would grow in popularity over the continuing decades. Ormiston continued to import Schipperkes throughout her lifetime. Kelso Schipperke kennels, originally founded by Ormiston is in the lineage of most current American lines of Schipperkes today. Clearly, her devotion to the Schipperke breed was paramount in its growth and popularity in America. The breed would continue to be popular with Americans through the following decades. Today, the Schipperke is ranked 102nd out of 167 breeds on the AKC’s most popular dog breeds list of 2010.
The Schipperke is a small energetic dog that, although not a member of the Spitz type, has very similar physical characteristics to this ancient family of dogs. Like the Spitz, the Schipperke is fox-like in appearance with prick ears and a thick double coat. The Schipperke, despite its resemblance to the Spitz, is however a bred down sheepdog of the Belgian type. The breed is therefore built for agility and speed; square in shape and powerful for its size. Males are distinctly masculine in style and stand 11 to 13 inches at the withers, with females measuring in just under the males at 10 to 12 inches. There is generally no weight requirement for the Schipperke; however members of the breed often weigh well under 18 lbs.
The head and skull of the Schipperke is well proportioned, flat and slightly wide. There is no distinct stop present and the expression is mischievous and alert, always questioning. The oval shaped eyes of the Schipperke are small and brown, set forward on the head. The ears are of the pricked style, small and triangular in shape, set high on the head and erect when the dog is alert. The muzzle is tapered, narrowing toward a petite black nose. The jaw is strong and square, with the teeth displaying a perfect scissors bite.
The Schipperke has a slightly arched neck that is powerful, leading into a lightly sloping topline from withers to croup. The Schipperke’s shoulders are well-muscled and strong, giving way to perfectly straight front legs. The chest, reaching to the elbows, is wide and deep. The hindquarter appears slightly larger than the front, with a round rump and well-developed thighs and straight legs. The cat-like feet of the Schipperke are small, and the dog stands mainly on its tiny toes. The Schipperke traditionally possesses a docked tail.
The coat of the Schipperke is highly characteristic within the breed; it may vary in lengths and growth pattern, as well as thickness. The breed is double-coated and the hair is abundant; longer on the body, and longer still in the ruff that surrounds the neck, the cape, and jabot, but short and flat on the head, ears, and legs. The hair is thick on the back of the thighs, a feature called culottes. The ruff starts out at the back side of the ears and extends completely around the dog’s neck. The cape forms distinct layers down the back leading into the thick coat on the rear of the thighs, the culottes. The coat is straight and slightly harsh. The Schipperke is known for a distinct coat appearance, which is caused by the thick undercoat, especially thick at the neck. The general color of the Schipperke is solid black, occasionally with a lighter undercoat giving the dog a slightly reddish tinge; however other solid colors are allowed.
While Schipperkes are not generally a popular family pet in the United States, the breed does make a superb companion animal. Bred to hunt small vermin and to be a good watchdog; the Schipperke is confident, independent, intelligent, and energetic; utterly devoted to their master. The Schipperke will defend itself, it territory, and its master faithfully. The Schipperke has a vigilant watchdog instinct, and is wary of strangers and quick to alert its master of anything unusual. The breed will however, warm up to new comers fairly quickly and once the dog gets to know them a bit, the Schipperke breed is friendly and affectionate. Their size, together with their temperament and breeding make them an ideal breed for apartment dwellers who desire a protective companion dog.
Inquisitive and interested, the Schipperke is quite possibly the most curious of all the dog breeds. The dog will want to know what is happening around it every minute of the day; it will not want to miss a thing. The Schipperke is interested in just about everything; therefore nothing goes without examination or an investigation by this curious little breed. This alertness has given the Schipperke a great reputation as watchdogs. Trained to guard barges on the canals of Belgium, the breed became known for its intense loyalty and dependability. The Schipperke possesses a strong sense of responsibility and allegiance to what the dog perceives as its own.
Despite its small size, the Schipperke will not back down when challenged, even when faced with a much larger opponent. When alerted to suspicious activity, Schipperkes bark early and often. The breed will believe its job is to alert its owner to every new sight and sound in the area. The Schipperke breed is known to have a high pitched bark and can regularly be heard howling. The breed can therefore make itself a nuisance to neighbors living close by and should not be let outdoors because of this. The Schipperke is smart however, and the dog can easily be taught a stop barking command if necessary.
The Schipperke is listed in the category of “Excellent Working Dogs” by Stanley Coren in his book, The Intelligence of Dogs, published in 1994. Coren describes dogs in this category as being able to understand new commands in just 5 to 15 repetitions, and obeying new commands 85% of the time or better. Due to this natural intelligence, and an eagerness to learn, the Schipperke is easy to train. The Schipperke has a strong desire to please, but can be independent and strong willed. Training should therefore be begun early and it should be consistent. It is important that the Schipperke be taught who is boss at an early age, in order for the dog to understand what is and what is not acceptable behavior.
A dog breed of this level of intelligence can become bored quickly, therefore training sessions should be kept fairly short, and they should be varied and fun in order to keep the Schipperke interested. Corrections should always be fair, and they should be consistent so that the Schipperke is not confused as to what is appropriate behavior. The training should be firm as well, and rewards based. Harsh treatment is not successful in the training of the Schipperke breed. Schipperkes are so eager to please that rewards training will provide the best results with this breed. Once the rules have been firmly established in the household and the Schipperke understands and knows what is expected of it, the dog will be a faithful and consistent companion.
The Schipperke breed is mischievous by nature and can be a handful, therefore, professional training is recommended for first time dog owners interested in including a Schipperke in their home. If a Schipperke is allowed to get away with poor behavior and develops the idea that it is in charge of the home, the dog can experience separation anxiety, and grow to display unwanted behaviors like nuisance barking, excessive guarding, and in extreme cases the dog may even display aggression.
In addition to early training, the socialization of a Schipperke is also extremely important. Consistent with the breed’s watchdog instincts, the Schipperke is generally suspicious and wary of unfamiliar people or other animals. When someone new approaches the home for a visit, the Schipperke is likely to defend its territory by watching the stranger closely. Once the Schipperke is introduced to new visitors and becomes comfortable with them, understanding who is a welcomed guest and who is not, often the Schipperke becomes friendly and even playful with this new friend.
If raised together, generally a Schipperke will behave well and get along pleasantly with other animals living in their household. The Schipperke does have a dominant personality however, and as the dog matures its prey instinct becomes refined and highly developed. Being bred to chase vermin, the Schipperke will often try to dominate smaller dogs or pets, so care must be taken to ensure that the Schipperke understands proper behavior, and its place in the family. Commonly the Schipperke is best behaved with cats, as same-sex canines and other pets may cause the naturally dominant instincts of the breed to come forward. Early socialization will assist the Schipperke in comprehending its environment and its place in the world, therefore preventing any insecurity from developing in the dog’s personality, and thwarting its desire to dominate others.
Schipperkes make excellent companions to children, although an untrained and not properly socialized dog may be intolerant of toddlers who do not understand the dog’s boundaries. Schipperkes bond strongly with their masters and their “pack”. Schipperkes love children and are happy to play with them for as long as the child’s energy will last. The Schipperke is quite attached to its family and will want to be included in all their activities, whether it be sitting in front of the television, going for a ride in the car, or a family outing. The Schipperke considers itself to be a contributing member of the household, and will therefore expect to be treated as such by being included in all the family’s activities.
The Schipperke is an adaptable breed and will adjust well to its environment. It can live comfortably in an apartment or a large home. The Schipperke is highly active, and will therefore require a commitment from its family to an active lifestyle. The Schipperke will necessitate a walk several times a day, and should be allowed daily time to run and play. Time should be given to obedience training and agility work, in order to keep the Schipperke stimulated mentally as well as physically. The Schipperke likes to use its mind and body, and on the agility course, it can do both. Training of this sort will also provide much needed bonding time between the Schipperke and its owner. Being a highly intelligent breed, most poor behavior in the Schipperke, such as excessive barking, chewing, howling, and digging can be traced back to boredom and a lack of exercise.
Any exercise that the Schipperke is involved in should always include a leash, and the dog should be allowed to run freely only in a fenced yard. The breed was raised to hunt vermin and chase, making it their natural instinct to run. The Schipperke is also a creative escape artist, and fences should be checked regularly to make sure they will securely contain this tiny but feisty breed. The Schipperke is also a good climber and digger, so supervision of the dog while it is outside will be essential. Boredom and separation anxiety is a concern with the Schipperke breed, and it is recommended not to leave the dog alone for extended periods of time.
One concern with the Schipperke is that it is a difficult breed to housebreak. Often it will relieve itself when and where it chooses. The Schipperke should therefore, not be allowed to roam the house unattended until it is housetrained. Crate training has proven successful in housebreaking the Schipperke breed, and an owner should expect the dog to take 6 to 8 months before fully comprehending and adhering to the training. Although it may take longer than with other breeds, housetraining a Schipperke can work, but it will just require a dedicated and consistent commitment from the owner. Keeping the dog confined but allowing regular access to use the bathroom in the appropriate place and at the appropriate time, followed by praise for a job well done, will assist the Schipperke in developing the much needed skill of being house broken.
Regardless of your family situation and the size of your home, the Schipperke makes an excellent pet to someone looking for a small, affectionate, loyal, and intelligent companion. As long as the breed is properly trained and socialized at an early age, as well as exercised and mentally stimulated regularly, the Schipperke is an ideal housemate and friend. They can be a bit of a challenge for a first time dog owner; however the breed is a loving and devoted companion to children, and will generally behave well with other pets. The Schipperke is now, as it has been for centuries, a useful little dog that still does best what it has always done well, provide watchdog services and loyal devotion to its master and home.
Generally a clean dog, the Schipperke breed does not require an excessive amount of time spent on grooming. The breed does sport a double coat however, and is considered to be a moderate shedder, and because of this the dog will need to be brushed weekly to ensure that the coat stays healthy, free of mats and tangles, and so that the shedding of its hair around the home is kept to a minimum. Firm bristled brushes are recommended for the thick coat of the Schipperke, and dry shampoo can be used on occasion, to keep it clean as well.
Overall, the coat sheds very little throughout the year, but dogs possessing of thick double coats often experience periods of heavy shedding called “blowing” its coat; the Schipperke experiences this several times a year. When a dog blows its coat, the entire undercoat is shed. This process can take just a few days or up to 2 weeks. The loose hairs can be itchy and uncomfortable for the dog and can leave your home a mess. Outdoor grooming is therefore recommended during these periods of heavy shedding. Once the blow is over, the Schipperke will look like a short haired dog, or nearly hairless for the next several months, after which a beautiful new coat will reappear. The breed generally does not require that there be any clipping or trimming of the hair.
As with all dog breeds, the Schipperke’s ears, eyes, nose, teeth, and nails should be maintained on a regular basis to prevent any health problems from arising in these areas. Weekly brushing of the teeth and cleaning of the ears should be adequate, and if the nails do not wear down naturally on their own, they should be trimmed monthly.
There are few health concerns associated with the Schipperke breed, as it is a fairly healthy dog with an average lifespan well into its mid-teens, generally 12 to 15 years is the average, with many members of the breed living several years past that. Schipperkes have been known, in some cases, to live into the ripe old age of 18 years. Even with this being the case, the Schipperke is still a purebred dog and often there are health issues that arise within a family or type of dog and the Schipperke is not immune to this.
One health concern, particular to the Schipperke breed is Mucopolysaccharidosis type IIIB (MPS IIIB). It is a newly discovered disease which has been identified in up to 15% of the Schipperke population. The disease is understood to affect lysosomes within the cells of the body, causing problems with the dog’s enzymes and the disassembling of molecules within the cells. Dogs affected by MPS IIIB may experience tremors and have difficulty keeping its balance or walking. Testing for MPS IIIB is highly recommended for the Schipperke as the disease is progressive in nature and may eventually require that the dog be euthanized.
As with all breeds, regularly checking the dog for health concerns can help prevent issues from developing or can assist in catching a disease in its early stages, allowing for successful treatment when possible. Hip and eye tests are recommended for the Schipperke, beyond this however, most owners find that with proper nutrition and exercise, the Schipperke is a very healthy breed, requiring little health care beyond the standard preventative treatment recommended for all dogs.
Other Health concerns for the Schipperke have been noted, but to varying degrees and frequency. The following is therefore a comprehensive list of concerns which may or may not affect members of the Schipperke breed: