The Schipperke is an agile, active watchdog and vermin-hunter. It is a small, tailless dog, with a fox-like face and is characterized by its silhouette, which slopes downward from head to rump. And though its origins remain a mystery, the Schipperke continues to be a unique selection for dog lovers seeking an alert watchdog or a friendly house pet.
The square-proportioned Schipperke is a small dog that seems to slope from the shoulders to hindquarters. Its black double coat stands off like a ruff and forms culottes and cape, enhancing the dog's appearance. The Schipperke's fox-like face, meanwhile, has a mischievous, questioning and sometimes saucy look.
Active and agile, the Schipperke has a graceful and smooth trot, which originates from its role as a vermin hunter and watchdog.
The Schipperke can be headstrong and independent, but it is a bold companion. Adventurous and energetic, this little dog pokes its nose everywhere. An alert watchdog, it is also reserved with strangers. If given exercise daily, however, it can become a pleasant and friendly house dog.
Although the Schipperke enjoys spending much of the day in the yard, it should not be allowed to live outdoors. Its double coat requires weekly brushing and more often when shedding.
As this breed is very active, mental and physical exercises are essential. These exercise needs can be easily met, though, because of its small stature. A moderate on-leash walk or a vigorous outdoor game is sufficient.
The Schipperke, which has an average lifespan of 13 to 15 years, may suffer from minor problems like Legg-Perthes disease, epilepsy, and hypothyroidism, or major health issues like mucopolysaccharidosis (MPS) type IIIB. Occasionally this breed may be prone to canine hip dysplasia (CHD), entropion, distichiasis, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). DNA, hip, and thyroid tests are often recommend for dogs of this breed.
There are different theories regarding the Schipperke’s origin. One credible theory states that this dog originally belonged to boatmen, who traversed from Brussels to Antwerp. In fact, a "schip" is a boat in the Flemish language and Schipperke means a small boatman. However, Belgian townspeople did not refer to the breed as Schipperke but as a spitz.
The other possible theory is that the Schipperke was a dog in middle-class households and trade guilds, where it was a ratter and small watchdog. As the breed looked like a miniature Belgian Sheepdog, the name Schipperke may have been derived from "scheper," a word for shepherd.
There was also mention of a small, tailless black dog of intermediate size in 15th and 16th century Belgian writings, but evidence of the actual breed would not be recorded until 1690. A group of shoemakers in Brussels arranged regular competitions for Schipperkes, taking pride in decorating their dogs with beautiful brass collars. By the 1800s, the breed became so popular it was one of the few pet dogs available locally; it would later become recognized as the national dog.
Queen Marie Henriette bought a Schipperke from a dog show in 1885, instantly creating an interest for the breed. Soon its role was promoted to that of an elite companion instead of a worker’s dog. However, the breed's numbers decreased due to extensive exports to England, where the dogs were considered a fashion statement.
As many Belgians regarded the breed as common, they sought more exotic breeds. During the late 1800s, some Belgian Schipperke fanciers tried to restore the purity of the breed by setting a standard.
The first Schipperke was imported to the United States in 1888 and the first specialty club for the breed was founded in 1905. It is no longer the popular pet it once was in Europe, but still remains a favorite among select dog fanciers.