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The little-known Schipperke has been the subject of much debate in recent years regarding whether it is really a spitz breed of dog, or whether it’s descended from a miniature sheepdog. Whatever this little dog’s origins, what is known is that the breed was developed in Belgium in the 16th Century and was used aboard the country’s barges – keeping them free of vermin, barking at trespassers and nipping the heels of the horses to keep them moving along.
The breed standards for the Schipperke were written in 1859 after it was recognised as a formal breed in 1880. There is some confusion over the name ‘Schipperke’ as the English first thought it was a corruption of the Dutch for ‘little boatman’, however the Dutch themselves decided to adopt the name Schipperke as a corruption of the Dutch word ‘Scheperke’ or ‘Schapocke’ which means ‘little shepherd’. It’s presumed that the Dutch preferred this name as the little Schipperke closely resembles the Belgium Sheepdog.
The dogs do indeed have a boating history however, and were often found working on the barges so the English can be excused for making the mistake with the name. The Schipperke’s adventurous and courageous nature, coupled with its low centre of gravity means it made an excellent boat dog and they can still be found accompanying their masters on cruises across the globe. They are unusual as they do not suffer with seasickness.
During WWII Schipperkes were used by the resistance to carry messages between bases and hideouts and they managed it without the Nazis ever finding out. Beatrix Potter also featured a Schipperke named Duchess in her tale ‘The Pie and the Patty Pan’.
Average height to withers: 13” – 18”
Average weight: 5.5 – 8kg
Schipperkes have pointed ears that are held erect and a long, fluffy undercoat that is covered in straight, coarser guard hairs. They have a characteristic ruff around the neck which develops into a strip that carries on along the back of the dog. They also have longer fur that covers the tops of the back legs to the knee – this fur is known as Culottes.
Schipperke puppies are born with tails of different lengths and in certain countries the tails are docked soon after birth. In areas where docking is outlawed the breed displays its natural tail which varies from dog to dog.
Sometimes referred to as ‘the little black fox’ or ‘the black Tasmanian devil’ the Schipperke is tenacious and can chase small animals.
The Schipperke is a headstrong, mischievous and stubborn little dog and is not suited to first-time dog owners. Any owners considering bringing a Schipperke into their lives would be wise to thoroughly research the breed before purchasing a puppy.
They are high-energy dogs and can also display an insatiable curiosity. They are extremely intelligent and very independent little animals. They can often completely disregard their owners, instead choosing to do whatever they like instead. Training should be introduced at an early age and should be consistent throughout the animal’s life.
The Schipperke needs ample outdoor space in which to run and regular daily exercise. Despite the fact they are high-spirited and can be naughty, the Schipperke can form strong, long-lasting bonds and they are particularly fond of children. They make an excellent guard dog and show a bravery that belies their size – the Schipperke will back down from no one.
The Schipperke can be prone to barking and howling – particularly if they have been allowed to believe they are in charge. Any excessive barking should be dealt with quickly and firmly to prevent it becoming a persistent problem.
The Schipperke is a very long-lived breed with some examples reaching a very respectable 17 or 18 years of age. The main contributing factors to ill health in the breed, according to Kennel Club research, have shown to be lack of exercise and an inappropriate diet. These two factors can lead to serious joint and skeletal issues, as well as dental, heart and lung conditions.
Certain examples of the breed have also presented with hip dysplasia – a malformation of the joint which can cause repeated dislocations and lameness. Progressive Retinal Atrophy is also present and the genetic disorder MPS 111B can also present in Schipperkes, although a test has now been developed for this condition. The condition, which is also found in humans, is also known as San Filippo Disease and is an autosomal recessive lysosomal storage disease which is severely life-limiting in humans and causes a range of neurological disorders.
The lively, strong-willed, little Schipperke is not a dog for a first-timer and will severely test a weak-willed owner. Their place in the pack should be established when the animal is still young and training should be consistent to remind them who’s in charge and to keep their very capable minds active.
Regular exercise is an absolute must and a place where the animal can blow if steam such as a garden or larger yard is also a necessity. Despite its mischievous streak the Schipperke makes an excellent family dog, providing it is handled firmly, but sensitively.
The dog should be groomed regularly and he should be taught to accept handling when young as these can be aggressive dogs that will bite if provoked. The coat will ‘blow’ up to three times a year on bitches. This ‘blowing’ can last up to 10 days and often the entire undercoat will come away. A professional groomer can help remove the loose hairs to prevent them causing a problem in the house.
Diet is also an important consideration as Schipperke’s can develop numerous health problems is they are fed too much and exercised too little. If a potential owner is unsure about how to feed their dog they should consult their breeder or a breed society, or their vet will be able to help.