Introduction to the Schipperke
The Schipperke may not be a household name, but this little powerhouse of a dog is certainly one known for its personality. If you’re new to the breed and want to learn more, this essential guide to understanding your Schipperke is an excellent place to start. We will take a look at the history of the breed, its traits and characteristics, and just about everything you want to know.
Here is an essential guide to understanding your Schipperke and what all is involved with owning one.
A History of the Schipperke
The Schipperke goes by a lot of names – or, it has in the past. Such names include (d) Spitke and Schips. The pronunciation is SHEEP-erk but SKIP-er-kee is also acceptable. And even though on of its past names sounds similar to the Spitz dog, the Schipperke isn’t even related to that breed. Instead, it is a smaller version of the Black Sheepdog. It also bears a resemblance to the Pomeranian but again, there’s no relation. In fact, along with the Schipperke, the Groenendael was another sheep herder in the provinces of Belgium. Its name means “little captain” in Flemish and this little powerhouse was perfect for working the canals. It is part of the non-sporting group.
According to Dog Time:
The loyal and intelligent Schipperke originated in Belgium as a small version of a black Belgian sheepdog known as the Leauvenaar. The name Schipperke is thought to have come from a word meaning “little shepherd,” but the dogs were best known for guarding the boats that plied the canals between Brussels and Antwerp. Shoemakers and other tradesmen kept them for their ratting abilities.
What started in the 1600s became the dog we know today.
The Schipperke Club has an interesting piece of history behind this dog breeds origins:
In 1690, a show for Schipperkes of the Guild workmen was held in the Grand Palace of Brussels. The breed was called Spits or Spitske then; the name Schipperke was given it only after the forming of the specialty club in 1888. The name is Flemish for “little captain”. Though called a canal boat dog, the Schipperke was as popular with shoemakers and other workmen as it was on the canals. The legend of the Schipperke relates that the custom of cutting the tails arose in 1609. It tells the story of a shoemaker who, angered by the repeated thieving of his neighbor’s dog, cut off its tail-thereby showing the improved appearance soon copied by others and continued to this day. There is no evidence that the breed was ever born tailless; in fact, it seems that more dogs are born without tails now than earlier in their history.
This breed didn’t become a part of the United States until 1888, when it was imported. There was a club devoted to its breed for a while but it eventually disappeared. However, interest was rekindled by some interested fanciers and in 1929 the Schipperke Club of America became known.
It is interesting to note that according to Orvis:
The most widely accepted theory holds that the development of the Schipperke began with Belgian shepherd dogs, specifically the now-extinct Leauvenaar. In the 14th century, France ruled Belgium and restrictions were placed on dog ownership. Because only the aristocracy could own large dogs, the small shepherd dogs were developed to do everything the large shepherd dogs could—but were kept by common families to tend flocks and hunt vermin.
The Schipperke earned a royal fancier when Queen Marie-Henriette of Belgium discovered the breed at a dog show in 1885 and had to have one of her own. They made their way to America in 1888 and the AKC accepted the breed in 1904.
Whether this is all true or not is up to debate but one thing that is certain is that the breed found its way here. There isn’t a solid answer on what the original use of this dog was. While many think it was used to hunt rats or vermin, some claim that it was decorated by shoemakers and shown off in a yearly competition. Maybe it’s a little of both. We may never know for sure but what we do know is that it has made its way into not only being a beloved breed, but one that is recognized by the American Kennel Club.
The Look of the Schipperke
The Schipperke is a tiny fellow weighing in around 10 to 16 pounds. Its life expectancy is approximately 12 – 14 years which is close to average for this size of dog. His body is square and thick with a neck slightly arched. The head showcases triangular ears and oval eyes small in size. This all balances together to give a playful, yet mischievous look to these pups.
The dogs have black coats and those are at their best looking natural with not a lot of trimming. This is because there is quite a bit of variation throughout the Schipperke’s body. The undercoat is soft, while the overcoat is more coarse and full and the neck has a ruff that melds seamlessly with the apron and cape of the dog. The back thighs have flat hair and culottes. And one thing that is essential is that the Schipperke does not have a tail.
Males are around 11 to 13 inches and females are 10 to 12 inches in height.
Show Dog Standards
When it comes to showing the Schipperke, there are a few distinctive musts. For instance, the ears must not be floppy but always erect. Their triangular shape is sharp and stands up straight. If the ears are not this way and show any deviation or limpness, the dog is disqualified.
According to Orvis:
Schipperkes are born with either a bobtail, a short tail, or a full tail. The breed standard states that a tail should not be present, but it is not required that the tail be docked. The presence of a tail is only a fault, and not a disqualification in the show ring. Full-tailed Schips display an impressive curled tail that begins to curve over the back from a few weeks after birth.
Another area is the dog’s bite characteristics. A level or scissors bite is the only thing acceptable.
The skull of the Schipperke is medium in size and narrows near the muzzle. It has a small round look in profile and the length of the Schipperke’s muzzle is just a tad less than the length of its skull. If you were to take a look at the dog’s head from above, you would see a wedge shape since the upper jaw is pretty filled in underneath the eyes.
The forequarters have a specific look with laid back shoulders and legs that extend straight down the body. As a person looks from the front, that is what they should see in a standard Schipperke. From a side view, the placement of the legs is well underneath. Pasterns should be flexible yet strong with a thick and short stature. There should be somewhat of an angle upon side viewing. As far as the feet of the Schipperke, they are tight, round, and small with the dewclaws removed.
The hindquarters are muscular with a front balance and a little lighter than the forequarters. Stifles are bent and hocks are pretty let down. There are penalties in showing for Schipperkes that show major angulation. There should be no rear dewclaws and the legs in the rear portion of the dog extend through the hock to the feet and come straight down from the dog’s hip.
In the coat of the Schipperke, there is a specific pattern in adults. The length of the hair should adhere to this pattern and grow naturally. It starts with the front area – the face, front of forelegs, ears, and hocks. On the body, the medium length hair is prevalent. The hair then gets longer at the cape, culottes, ruff, and jabot. The ruff area is at the back of the ears and around the neck area. The jabot is along the front legs and across the chest. The cape is just an extra yet distinctive layer past the ruff. Where the hair should lie flat is down the middle of the Schipperke’s back – starting at the back of its cape and all along the rump area. You’ll find that in the show Schipperke that the hair should be longer than the leg sides and body but a little shorter along the cape. The rear of the coat is where you’ll find the culottes, which are the same length as the ruff – slightly longer. Any non-standard differentiation in coat lengths are subject to major penalties.
The texture of the coat is another area of importance. It should feel a little rough to the touch, be straight, and in abundance. The undercoat is not forgotten and is checked for a softer touch, short, and dense around the neck area. This ensures that the ruff area of the dog stands out. Areas subject to penalties at a dog show include coats too silky, short coats with a harsh overall texture, and coats that are three inches or more along the body.
Here is something interesting about the Schipperke coat. It is considered a natural breed. This means it was not bred to specific human standards like mixing two breeds together. So when it comes to haircuts, the Schipperke is not to be trimmed except for two areas that are optional – foot pads and whiskers.
The color is always black, with no exceptions. Well, there is one minor exception and that is when an older dog is graying. In the show world, it is not acceptable for your dog to show any reddish cast which happens during shedding. While this is a natural thing, in the show world it will cause a penalty against you. Now these dogs do carry the gene for other color variations. Some come in blonde, tan, tricolor, and dilute and some breeders have offered these are rare colored Schipperkes. However, the breed standard is black and any show dog must be that color only. Schipperkes should never be bred for color variations other than black.
The gait needs to be graceful and smooth. It should also be well-coordinated like a moderately speed of double tracking. This gait will slowly meet towards the middle underneath the dog as it walks (or trots) faster. Both the back and front should be in-sync with an ample reach in the front and ample drive in the rear. The topline area (the shoulders to the rump) should be even, although there is allowance for a small slope downward. As the judge views the dog facing front, the dog’s elbows should be more tight against the body. Still facing frontward, the legs should make a straight line from the shoulders. This continues from the elbows to the toes. From a back view of the rear, the legs should form the same straight line as in the front. This will run from the hip through the hocks to the pads, with the feet pointing straight ahead. No matter which view the judge is facing, front or rear, the toes should always point straight ahead.
Temperament is a key area of a show dog’s entire persona. In the Schipperke, he should be interested, alert, and curious. In the past, this dog was reflective of its original purpose – to hunt rats and provide companionship. This reflects how the breed acts in the home – ready to protect his family while cautious around strangers.
All of this information is listed on the Schipperke Club of America where they are experts on this dog.
The Schipperke Traits and Characteristics
The Schipperke are cute as a button. But don’t let those adorable faces fool you. In fact, there was a writer in Belgium back in the late 1880s that called this little dog an all-black devil. He stated that the only thing missing was a devil’s tail and cloven hoof. While this seems pretty dramatic, the Schipperke certainly is a character.
As mentioned in the show dog area, the Schipperke was originally bred for a couple of things – hunting rats and vermin and being a companion. While the Schipperke is quite mischievous and curious, he is protective of his family and doesn’t take fast to strangers encroaching upon his territory.
The endurance of the Schipperke is quite impressive. They have plenty of stamina and energy and often outlast their human companions. In fact, it is common for them to be able to jog up to around five miles. For hiking, they show an impressive level of endurance with a 10 mile hike being doable. Do keep in mind mention of their desire to explore. Always use a leash on public jogs and walks so your Schipperke doesn’t wander off as they love to do.
We will discuss more about the Schipperke’s characteristics but the main takeaway is that he is smart, full of energy, and very curious.
Like any breed, the Schipperke has a few health concerns to be aware of.
According to Vetstreet:
The Schipperke Club of America, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For a Schipperke to achieve CHIC certification, he must have patella (knee) and thyroid clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation. Optional tests are OFA clearances for hips and Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, and a DNA test for mucopolysaccharidosis type IIIB. Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. You can check CHIC’s website to see if a breeder’s dogs have these certifications.
Most of the Schipperke’s health concerns involve just a few things:
- Cataracts While most people seem to have cataracts due to aging, in dogs it can also be genetic. Along with eye trauma, age, disease, or related to diabetes – an inheritance of cataracts if often possible.
- Hip Dysplasia This is a common problem in many dog breeds, not just the Schipperke. This is when the hip socket is abnormal and can cause arthritis or lameness. While it is affected by environmental issues, it is quite often due to genetics.
- Progressive Renal Atrophy This is a renal disease that can cause blindness and is a genetic condition.
- Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease Located in the hind leg of the dog,spontaneous degeneration of the head on the femur bone.
- Mucopolysaccharidosis Type IIIB This is a rare condition found in people too. It is when the body cannot break down large sugar molecules and causes issues like seizures, insomnia, aggressive behavior, and a wealth of negative symptoms.
- Hypothyroidism Another disorder that affects people, hypothyroidism slows down your dog’s metabolism due to a lack of secreting enough of the thyroid hormone.
While most of these conditions may never affect your Schipperke and some are even rare, it is always a good idea to protect yourself with pet insurance. This is important for when you cannot afford a large bill or you do not have savings to cover a surprise medical emergency.
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Make sure you visit the vet regularly and keep up with any needs your dog has like flea, tick, and heartworm control. Parasite control and regular checkups will make a world of difference in your dog’s health. It won’t fix a genetic problem but it can catch problems before they are worse. And, it will take care of issues that are easily preventable.
Caring for the Schipperke
Caring for the Schipperke is pretty straightforward but there are a few variations like with grooming.
Like any breed, this dog needs food that is quality and fresh water. The dog food is best when it is specific to the dog’s age and activity level so look for foods that specify that. Ingredients are important too. The first item on the ingredients list should always be a meat product. Look for things like fillers and unnecessary things your dog doesn’t need. The recommended diet for this breed (or most of them) is about ¾ to 1½ cups of high-quality dry food daily, based on the dog’s average weight and activity level. This amount should be split between two meals, or can be offered in a food-dispensing puzzle toy.
A Schipperke will shed around twice a year but the good news is that the grooming on this dog is very simple. Just brush your dog once a week – more so during shedding. As mentioned earlier, these dogs are not trimmed to meet a specific look and should be kept natural. This saves quite a few trips to the groomer. Although it is important to keep their nails trimmed on a regular basis. If the nails are too long, not only do they cause discomfort, they become harder to handle.
We can’t stress enough how important it is to be sure this dog has plenty of exercise. If they’re not outside playing, exploring, or running, they may run around your house to get their fill of play and let off steam. It is imperative to take the time to not only train your Schipperke but to exercise them as well. If you can combine the two, that’s even better. Consider hide and seek games, fetch games, or playful exercise you both can enjoy. Try to do at least a half hour each day when it comes to exercise and activity with your Schipperke.
One thing that is interesting and important is that some Schipperke’s will bark a lot if they aren’t trained not to. Another thing to be aware of is their tendency to want to explore. This is why it is important to keep them on a leash when not in your own fenced-in yard or in the house. Teach them to come to you promptly too, just in case. They are headstrong, yes. But these dogs are ideal as herders, as well as sports like agility and obedience. Again, patience and time is key.
Life With a Schipperke
There is quite a bit to know about having a Schipperke as a companion. While these little fluff balls are super cute, there are a few things to keep in mind.
These dogs are generally considered not too kid-friendly. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible just that on average, it is not suggested. They may be fine for older kids but for toddlers and young children, there is the possibility of this dog nipping if he feels threatened or is rough housed too much.
As far as being pet-friendly, they are a little more adept at that but again, caution should be used to ensure a smooth transition to the home with other pets – or when a new pet is brought home around the Schipperke. Other dogs are sometimes just fine yet the Schipperke is not a dog that backs down from a fuss with another dog. As far as cats, they are prone to chase them.
As far as strangers, the Schipperke is not a people person. They’re highly protective of their family but wary of strangers so you might not expect them to run up to someone unfamiliar and want a belly rub. They may be too small to be an adequate watchdog, but they will certainly try their darnedest.
As far as independence and energy level, the Schipperke ranks high on both lists. This mischievous little guy loves having plenty of room to play and run. They have a high energy level and need the ability to work that off. Like any breed, a dog with too much energy is going to be harder to handle and get into more trouble than one that has worked off its extra energy.
You can leave your dog home alone if you work as long as you have plenty of time to devote to exercise and play before that. They can be quite independent and won’t mind the alone time but they must have playtime to counterbalance this time by themselves. But, make sure you have trained your Schipperke not to bark as we mention in this article. Some people find good success with crate training but your dog will definitely need its playtime regardless. And as always, leave food and water. If you’re on a feeding schedule, at least make sure your dog has plenty of fresh water any time of the day but especially when you are away.
A yard is best for your dog but not on a full-time basis. This dog is not meant to be an outdoor dog. Another must-know is that we can’t stress enough how these dogs love to explore. This also means that they can be quite the escape artist. So even if you do have a backyard that your Schipperke can play in, please make sure that you keep an eye on him and he is supervised. It is not uncommon for them to find a way out – like under the fence or any weak spot in the perimeter.
And since the Schipperke is quite smart, it can be a little difficult at times. This is not to be contrary but instead it is simply the way this dog may act. Especially if there is no value in what you have asked. For example, if this breed (and many others) has a job to do then it is a happier dog.
You can socialize and train your Schipperke effectively but it takes one main component – a lot of patience. Well, make that two components – patience and time. You cannot simply try to teach a few commands and expect your dog to be ready to do every trick. You also cannot expect that it will love strangers without proper socialization.
Like with any dog, the Schipperke has a lot of quirks and is a very independent breed. You may find some resistance when trying to work with your dog but it’s well worth it. The Schipperke loves its family and is intelligent – two aspects that make it a fine companion and show dog.
Getting Your Own Schipperke
If you don’t have a Schipperke already, here are a few ways to find one of your own.
The best way to help a dog and get the dog you want is with a rescue organization or at your local rescue place. That may be difficult due to there being a lack of this breed but when you can – always adopt.
As far as getting one from a breeder, a quality, trustworthy, and knowledgeable breeder is the only kind to use.
A good place to start is the breeder’s website or a website for the breed itself. Something like the AKC or the aforementioned Schipperke Club is a way to relieve a little of the research you must do on your own. These sites may have breeders who are trusted and reviews and information from other people who have gotten a dog from them. For example, the AKC has a breed finder that lists Schipperke puppies for sale. You can sort by breeders of distinction, club members, dog size, if there are puppies available, champion bloodlines, and those who list photos of their dogs.
Once there, you can look at the breeder’s information where there is a page dedicated to them. It will list their website, name, phone number, messaging capability, location, If they have photos, there is a gallery where you can see the dogs they have or have had in the past.
A Loving Companion
We’re sure this has been a lot of information to digest but hopefully it gave you enough information. Whether you already have a Schipperke or are thinking about getting one, this guide has plenty of good starting points on what to know about this gorgeous canine.