Height: Male – 13.2in / 33.6cm
Female – 12.3in / 31.2cm
Appearance: Schipperkes are small to medium-sized dogs. They have a double coat that is usually black or blond, the hair is longer on the back. Their ears are pointy and erect and their eyes small and dark. Traditionally the tail is docked soon after birth, but in countries where this is forbidden you can see the natural tail which is of variable size.
Temperament: This breed is often described as a little dog with a big personality. They are active, curious and friendly animals. Like any dogs they need to be socialised as puppies to avoid problems as adult dogs. These are not a great choice for homes where there are noise restrictions as they tend to be vocal and bark at strangers. Schipperkes are often stubborn and absolute masters at finding an escape whether from your house or backyard.
Skills: Schipperkes learn quickly and are adaptable, so they’re used in many different working roles, including herding, search and rescue and even as sniffer dogs for explosives or drugs. In the home environment you can create an outlet for your dog’s energy by participating in dog sports such as herding, obedience or agility competitions.
Behaviour Toward Other Animals and Kids: Normally Schipperkes are suspicious with strangers but they are loyal and love their owners. They aren’t a violent breed but just like any other dog they will react if they feel threatened. If you bring a Schipperke into a family home it’s just as important to train your children how to treat the dog as to insure that the dog is well-socialised with the children. For the most part Spits do well with other animals but they are territorial and will protect their space.
Common Health Problems: The most common Schipperke health issues include luxating patella, LeggCalvePerthes syndrome, autoimmune thyroiditis, Mucopolysaccharidosis Type IIIB and in some cases epilepsy.
Lifespan: Average 13-15 years
With Schipperkes, successful housebreaking will depend on diligent adherence to a fixed schedule. Schipperkes are known for their mischievous streak and consistency is key when training one of the “little black devils”, as their owners have come to fondly describe them. The housebreaking period may take a good week or more, during which the puppy should remain in the comfort of his crate except for feeding, playing, and relieving outside. Puppies have small bladders and need to eliminate every four hours – after he wakes up, before he goes to sleep and after feeding and exercise. Since puppies’ feeding schedule is based on three meals a day, this means he will have to be taken to his relieving area about six times a day. This may be a challenge to owners who are away for the most part of the day and they may resort to paper training as a way of housebreaking – using newspapers or special pads to attract the dog to eliminate in a designated area inside. The paper is gradually removed, making the relieving area smaller until the dog has developed enough bladder and bowel control to be able to wait and be taken outside. When training the dog to eliminate outdoors, pre-scented pads can be placed in the designated toilet area, and the eliminating can be designated and reinforced with a word or phrase. Owners should stick to a schedule when taking the dog outside and be patient. Treats can be used as rewards when the Schipperke uses the potty area successfully and he should never be reprimanded or hit when he makes mistakes. Odour-neutralising products are of great help to prevent the dog from soiling the spot again, as only soap and water can’t completely cover the scent.
Schipperkes have a habit to beg food off their owners’ table – a negative behaviour that has to be snapped early on. Family members and guests should be warned not to succumb to paws on their knees and sweet eyes as even the smallest bites fed from the plate can encourage the dog to keep pestering people and go out of his way to get a taste of their food. Patience is key as discouraging this behaviour may take weeks or even months. Repeating a word such as “Off” when the Schipperke begs for food and rewarding good behaviour when he acts in a way that is expected of him will eventually pay off.
Another behaviour of Schipperkes during feeding which might be a concern is their penchant to often play with their food and puddle in their water bowls. They may drag food around, hiding it in inappropriate places for a snack later on or spill their water. If the dog starts doing this, he needs to be told off in a firm tone when he’s playing around with food and praised when he’s eating correctly. A dog should not be reprimanded after he has misbehaved as he won’t be able to make an association between his actions an hour ago and the correction. Disciplining should be done only while the dog is acting inappropriately, not after.
Schipperkes are headstrong dogs and a proper obedience training is a must in developing good habits. Prior to training, it is essential that pack order is established and that the dog recognises his owner as the Alpha leader. Order within the pack where everyone knows their place is the natural way of social coexistence that dogs recognise and accept. Discipline should always be in the form of positive reinforcement, not punishment. A dog recognises food treats, cheerful voice tone, friendly pats and rubs on the head as rewards and will try to repeat the behaviour that earned them. Schipperkes are eager to please their owners and a simple scowl and a firm tone are sufficient for him to understand that he’s done something wrong. The dog’s name should be reserved for positive reinforcement and never used when his negative behaviour is being corrected.
Training sessions should be kept short and exciting as, although dogs are animals of habit and welcome a routine, drilling techniques and overly repetitive training will make them bored and unresponsive. Commands and locations should be varied, and short breaks between training sessions should be taken for some play. The dog has to learn some key commands for the sake of his own safety, such as “Sit”, “Down”, and “Come”. Dog training is a black-and-white activity and the results have to be unconditional. Some owners will satisfy with a down position when they want to get the dog to sit. This should be avoided, it is important for the dog to fully understand and comply with commands. It may be best for him to be enrolled in an obedience class.
Sit is easily taught with sharp timing and positive reinforcement – all it takes is for the owners to observe the dog and as he is about to sit, introduce “Sit” as a command, praise and reward with “Good boy”, a treat or a head pat. Another way is by holding a treat in the palm of the hand, slowly moving it upwards so that as the dog follows it and his head tilts back, he will eventually have to sit. At that point he has to be rewarded with the treat and praised.
In formal obedience, “Stay” is used with “Stand”, “Sit”, and “Down”. This is a command that most Schipperkes pick up easily after only a few repetitions, and it is relatively easy one to teach. With the dog at the left side of his owner or trainer, the person doing the training places their hand – palm facing the dog – in front of the dog’s face and says “Stay”, as they walk away. If the dog follows, he has to be put back in the stay position. The command has to be repeated until the dog fully complies with it, and the owner or trainer are able to walk further away every time while the dog remains in the position.
Schipperkes learn “Down” easily after they’ve mastered “Sit”. Once the dog is in the sit position, owners hold a treat, drawing their hand towards the floor, verbally reinforcing “Down”. As the dog reaches for the treat, he should be given it as a reward and praised. Most Schipperkes grasp this command in only a few tries.
“Come” is a very important command for the dog’s safety and will make him one step ahead when he’s enrolled in obedience classes. “Come” should be reinforced and praised every time the dog simply runs to his owner. During playtime, owners can walk a few metres away from the dog and beckon him while drilling “Come” and again praise and reward when he does. It is very useful if the Schipperke learns to come not only on verbal cue, but also at the wave of the hands.
Although relatively obscure, the origin of the Schipperke can be traced to Belgium and the Leuvenar – an early breed of a black sheepdog, which is also believed to be the foundation dog of the larger Groenendael (Belgian Sheepdog).
In the 14th century, the French ruling class in Belgium passed laws that restricted the ownership of large dogs to aristocrats only. Ordinary people still needed working and guard dogs, which necessitated the development of two small breeds: the Groenendael developed to be used as a herding dog, and the smaller Schipperke, developed to be a watchdog, often seen guarding the boats on the canals between Brussels and Antwerp. Under the French rule of the 15th century, Schipperke type dogs were used as ratters and a watchdogs, and were very popular with craftsmen, such as cobblers and blacksmiths.
By the 17th century, the Schipperke was a favourite of the working men in the St.Gery quarter of Brussels and even had its own specialty show in 1690 when members of the shoemakers guild were invited to the Grand Place of Brussels to display their Schipperkes and the intricate brass collars they’d hammered for them. Schipperkes weren’t displayed at the first dog show held in Brussels in 1840. The breed was recognised in 1882 with the Royal Belgian Cynological Club St. Hubert being established and the breed’s standard written and registered. In the years to come, Schipperkes were not only displayed in dog shows, but also quickly became a favourite pet as Queen Marie-Henriette of Belgium acquired one after she saw the breed at a dog show in Brussels in 1885. In 1888, the breed was officially named Schipperke and the breed’s club – the oldest breed club in Belgium, was founded.
It wasn’t long before the British Royal Family also obtained some Schipperkes, ensuing an invasion of British buyers eager to follow fashion and get one of the black tailless dogs from Belgium themselves. The breed’s popularity grew rapidly and the Schipperke was imported into the United States in 1888.
The breed’s name is believed to be a diminutive of the word “scheper”, Flemish for shepherd, meaning small shepherd dog. A common misunderstanding is that the etymology of the name actually refers to the word “schipper”, Dutch for bargeman and that the dog was a guard dog, a ratter, and a companion to Dutch and Belgian canal boat captains. This theory is now considered a myth and largely attributed to the imagination of British breeders. Although the breed is not associated with Holland in any way, it has often been erroneously called a “Dutch Dog” due to misinformation in Rawdon Lee’s 1894 publication “Non Sporting Dogs”, in which he confused the “white Dutch keeshond” with the Belgian Schipperke.
Schipperkes expend their energy actively and burn calories at a very high rate on a per pound basis compared to other more passive breeds. Their high activity levels and ability to properly utilise food keep them in good shape and are considered determining factors to the breed’s longevity. The native diet constituents for the breed’s ancestors would have been fish – both ocean and freshwater, dairy cattle, lowland vegetables, such as beets, and grains. As a pet companion, the Schipperke’s diet should be based on beef and fish, beets, corn, wheat and oats.
Puppies up to the age of six months need a feeding schedule of three meals a day and dogs aged 6-12 months should be fed two meals every 24 hours. Human food should be given with moderation in order to prevent bad eating habits, obesity, mineral and vitamin deficiency, and bone and teeth concerns. The feeding routine of adult Schipperkes can include one large meal or two smaller portions a day, considering different factors, such as activity and stress levels, medical conditions, and any other nutritional requirements. Premium-quality dry food can be mixed with water, broth, and canned food, and varied with boneless fish, raw or cooked beef (without cooked bones), cheese bites, and boiled eggs. Schipperkes shouldn’t be fed soy, white rice, avocados and citrus fruit. Based on the dog’s individual nutritional needs, the diet can be supplemented with Vitamin A Beta Carotene , Vitamin B-2 Riboflavin, Biotin, Folic Acid, Calcium bone meal, Copper gluconate , Iodine sea kelp, Magnesium Magnesium-Gluconate, Phosphorus bone meal, Potassium Potassium-Gluconate, Zinc Zinc-Gluconate.
Schipperkes are generally robust sturdy dogs with few medical conditions known or suspected to include a hereditary component. At the UK Kennel Club’s request, the Schipperke Club has specified the three most common, however not prevalent, conditions among the breed: MPSIIIB (a degenerative disease which occurs only in Schipperkes and affects the neurological system), epilepsy in varying degrees of severity, and Legg Calve Perthes Disease (disease of the hip joint which results in deformity of the ball of the joint). The club has concluded that in the current breed standard there are no features which might compromise health or lead to exaggerations in conformation.
A survey carried out by the Schipperke Club in 2009 has confirmed that the Schipperke is generally a hale and hearty breed. Based on individual test results, received and recorded by the Kennel Club from a British Veterinary Association / Kennel Club Health Scheme or an official Kennel Club DNA testing scheme, no points of concern are currently listed for Schipperkes under the Breed Watch section on the Kennel Club’s official page.
Schipperkes have minimum grooming needs and require simple combing or brushing to prevents matts and tangles. The breed sheds little except when the coat blows. This normally happens once a year in males and before heat periods (usually twice a year) and after whelping in females. During shedding periods, the thick undercoat sheds in thick tufts before the top coat. Loose hairs and burrs can be removed using a steel comb with medium-spaced teeth, a slicker or a pin brush. Brushing the dead hair out should start at the head, working towards the tail, at first against the grain to remove dead hair and dirt and then with the grain to smooth the coat. Schipperkes have longer hair around the neck, on top of the neck, forechest and the back of the thighs.
Schipperkes don’t require additional hair trimming or cutting, and bathing is not necessary unless the dog has rolled in some substance that won’t come off with a simple brushing or has swum in salt water. Schipperkes’ small size allows for them to be bathed in a basin or a sink and only the parts of the coat that have got dirty can be washed. Only specialised dog shampoo with a low pH should be used and thoroughly rinsed after with a spray shower. Towel dried, the coat can be left to air dry or blow-dried with an electrical drier on a low-heat setting.
The ever-alert and energetic Schipperke needs to have his body and mind occupied most of the time. They are very difficult to wear down and will need brisk walks in the mornings and evenings, as well as a good share of indoor or outdoor exercise. Their small size makes them well-suited for flat living and they can keep themselves entertained exploring the rooms. The loyal Schipperke is an excellent house dog that enjoys the company of his owners and makes great game companion for children. Outdoor off-leash activities should take place in a secured area as their curiosity and independent streak may get the better of them.