Information about the Schipperke

A Schipperke is a small Belgian breed of dog that originated in the early 16th century. There has been a long informal debate over whether this type of dog is a spitz or miniature sheepdog.

Their small, pointed ears are erect atop the head. Schipperkes are double coated with a soft, fluffy undercoat that is covered by a harsher-feeling and longer outer coat. One of the breed characteristics is a long ruff that surrounds the neck and then a strip trails down towards the rear of the dog. They also have longer fur on their hind legs called culottes.

Dogs of this breed usually weigh 3-9 kg (7-20 lbs). Puppies are born with tails in different lengths; and, in Canada and the United States, the tail is usually docked the day after birth. In countries that have bans on docking, Schipperkes display their natural tails, which vary in type.

Known for a stubborn, mischievous, and headstrong temperament,it all so chases small animals.The Schipperke is sometimes referred to as the “little black fox”, the “Tasmanian black devil”, or the “little black devil”. They are naturally curious and high-energy dogs and require ample exercise and supervision. Schipperkes are very smart and independent; and sometimes debate listening to owners, instead choosing to do whatever benefits them the most. First-time dog owners would be well advised to familiarize themselves with the breed prior to purchase. Schipperkes require training and a secure, fenced-in space to run. They are formidable barkers and can be aggressive with other dogs.

The Schipperke has no particular health problems, and individuals often reach the old age of 17 or 18 years. Nonetheless, inactivity, lack of exercise and over-feeding are very harmful, and can lead to joint and skeletal problems and tooth, heart, lung or digestive conditions.

The one caveat to the Schipperke’s good health is MPS IIIB, a genetic mutation that occurs in at most 15% of the total breed population. The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine has developed a test for the disease and began accepting samples in April 2003.

The Schipperke does not need expensive or excessive grooming. This breed is a moderate shedder, however. A brush that can reach the undercoat is the best. Regular weekly brushing is usually enough to keep the coat in good condition. There is no need for cutting or trimming and the ruff (hair around the neck) fluffs up naturally.

Schipperkes can “blow” their coats up to several times a year, and usually females more frequently than males. When this happens, they lose their undercoat. Owners typically find warm baths helpful during this time to remove the undercoat, rather than getting fur all over the home. Blowing their undercoat can last several days or weeks, and can take up to 2-3 months for Schipperkes to grow back.

Schipperkes were first recognized as a formal breed in the 1880s, their standard being written in 1889. Much of what is known of their origins and early history comes from Chasse et Pêche (French for “Hunting and Fishing”) magazine, articles of which were translated into English and published by the English magazine The Stockkeeper.

The breed name of “Schipperke”, officially taken in 1888, in English-speaking nations to mean “little boatman”. In the 1920s, however, the people of Belgium decided they wanted the name to be a corruption of the Dutch word “Shapocke” or “Scheperke”, meaning “little shepherd”, because they noticed resemblance to the Belgium Sheepdog (Groenendael). This idea was first presented in an article in 1894 in the Chasse et Peche, where a Belgian man wrote, “if the little dog had not always been and was not still currently the watchdog of the boats from which he gets his name of ‘schipperke’ (little boatman), you could have written ‘scheperke’ (little shepherd).” It has been suggested that the idea of “little sailor” was an invention of the English, who mistook the Schipperke for a Dutch barge dog, this, however, has been disproved by the actual historical records. Some reports say they were found frequently as working dogs aboard barges in the canals, with three jobs onboard: security (barking vigorously when anyone approached the barge), keeping the barges free of vermin, and nipping at the towing horses’ heels to get them moving to tow the barge. Due to their bravery and adventurous character, not to mention low center of gravity, Schipperkes are to this day known as excellent boat dogs, and are often found cruising the world aboard sailing yachts and powerboats. They are not prone to seasickness.

Before the name “Schipperke” was officially taken, the breed was also known colloquially as “Spitzke”. It is thought that the name change was to distinguish it from the German Spitz. Schipperkes are widely referred to in the United States, albeit erroneously, as “Belgian barge dogs” or “Belgian ship dogs.”