Although the Belgian pedigree sheepdog breed known as the Schipperke doesn't grow much bigger than 30cm, it doesn't lack self-confidence. After all, these sporty little power packs with an attentive gaze make courageous guard dogs that loyally and gallantly defend their family.
Sitting still isn't in their nature, with little black Schipperkes happiest when they are being active. Thanks to their alert and curious nature, they find something to do everywhere they go. Schipperkes may find enjoyment chasing mice in a field or even guarding their owner's shopping. These Belgian dogs aren't easily bored, so owners should be the opposite of simple-minded.
Small dog – big personality
Schipperkes need lots of exercise and activity. Miserable weather is no excuse for this breed with their thick coats, so owners better wrap up warm! Along with daily walks in the fresh air, attending a dog school is definitely recommended.
Character: friend and guardian
If physically and mentally stimulated, these intelligent animals make wonderful family dogs that become loving friends, partners and companions. Schipperkes show their affectionate and patient side towards children in particular. They are devoted to their family and like to be involved in all family activities. Despite their independence and self-confidence, they enjoy learning new things and are eager to participate in different activities.
Nickname: little black devil
The nickname “LBD” (little black devil) reveals that these are sly old dogs. Without appropriate training, their pronounced love of barking, still present hunting instinct and mistrust of strangers can lead to problems. Schipperkes need good training and socialisation to learn their limits.
Is a Schipperke suitable for beginners?
Despite these (to some extent not entirely problematic) characteristics, these self-confident Belgian dogs are regularly considered dogs for first-time owners. However, unexperienced dog owners should definitely not underestimate the commitment involved with training. If owners are well-informed and devote plenty of time to their new dog, they will bring more fun than problems.
Schipperkes stand out despite their small size, which isn't just down to their loud barking and curious nature. The penetrative gaze, triangular fox face and typically bushy ruff give these little dogs an original, slightly bizarre appearance.
With males ranging from 28 to 33cm in height and females 25 to 30cm, Schipperkes are a small dog breed. However, they are not sweet little lapdogs. They have a powerful physique, muscular throat and broad chest. Their fox face with sharp pointed ears and attentive gaze reinforce the image of a highly alert guard dog.
Dogs with a ruff and skirt
The unmistakeable appearance of this pedigree breed is due to its highly individual coat. Thick black fur sticks out around the throat at both sides and forms an eye-catching ruff. The fur is longer on the upper part of the throat and on the shoulders, forming a mane. The ruff and mane are enhanced by a skirt or ruffle on their chest. On the rest of their well-proportioned body, the hard, shiny top hair is short to medium-length and lies flat.
The thick white undercoat offers outstanding protection against wind and cold weather. In contrast to the black top coat, the undercoat can be dark grey and covered by darker top hair.
The Schipperke has the black colouring of the Leuvenaar, a small, primeval and equally black shepherd dog from the 17th century that is considered the forefather of both the Schipperke and the Belgian Sheepdog. People at that time primarily valued these quick and agile dogs as reliable hunters of rats, mice and other pests.
The step-up to fashion dog and finally recognised pedigree dog status was achieved thanks to the Belgian Queen Marie-Henriette, who acquired the original dog at an exhibition in Brussels in 1885, making it well-known beyond the Belgian and Dutch borders. In 1887, the first dogs of this type were imported to the US and Britain. In 1888, Belgium's first pedigree club established the first standard for the breed and unified it with the hitherto different subtypes Anvers, Louvain and Bruxelles.
Schipperke breeding nowadays
Although the Schipperke had become the most popular pet dog in Belgium at the end of the 19th century, many breeders had to stop breeding during the course of the Second World War. After the war ended, breeders in Belgium had difficulty selling their dogs due to the onset of the “Poodle boom”. Thankfully, Schipperke lovers in Britain and the US helped the breed achieve a deserved renaissance. Nowadays, Schipperke breeders can be found in many countries all over the world. However, the chance of encountering a pedigree Schipperke in a local dog park is still very low.
Purchasing a pedigree dog
The advantage of the population still being rather low is that the Schipperke has never been overbred. Health problems or the behavioural disorders faced by many fashion dogs are very rare with this breed. Nevertheless, you should choose your breeder with caution when buying a puppy. You don't buy a dog in the same way you would a pair of shoes that you can swap if they aren't right for you. If you're convinced that the Schipperke is the right dog for you and are prepared to actively spend time together for the next 15 years or more, you should obtain a list of recognised certified breeders from the official pedigree club in the country where you live.
Before buying a puppy, meet the potential breeder at least once, ideally twice, and have them show you the breeding site and animals. As with many negotiations, personal impressions are crucial when purchasing a dog: is the breeder nice to you? Are they open, honest and willing to show you their breed? Do they share their knowledge of this special breed with you, giving you important tips on living with and keeping a Schipperke? Ideally, your breeder will remain in contact with you after the purchase for any questions regarding training, diet or care.
What's the situation regarding health?
“Marry in haste, repent at leisure...” - this quote from Friedrich Schiller applies to a certain extent to buying a Schipperke puppy too. After all, this breed has an above-average life expectancy of 15 years of age in comparison to other dogs. Some Schipperkes even live to their 20th birthday. The reason for this is their robust health and the fact that there are hardly any breed-specific diseases to contend with. If there are any at all, only the hereditary disease with the difficult name mucopolysaccharidosis should be mentioned when it comes to this breed. It can lead to cellular metabolism disorders and occurs somewhat frequently amongst Schipperke dogs.
Nutrition and excess weight for Schipperkes
However, your Schipperke can encounter health problems due to being overweight, because they like to eat in abundance. Due to their small size, their appetite can unfortunately become an issue very quickly. Don't be drawn in by their begging gaze from almond-shaped black eyes and ideally hide treats and other tasty snacks like biscuits in cupboards that are high up. Two meals per day consisting of around 60% meat, 30% vegetables and 10% rice is just right for an adult Schipperke. The composition of the food has a bigger impact on your dog's healthy development than the quantity. What vitamins and nutrients your dog needs depends on different individual factors, such as age, weight, size, activity level and state of health. It's best to take advice from your vet in order to find the ideal food for your Schipperke.
Is the Schipperke the right dog for me?
Along with their small size and intelligent, alert nature, robust health and incredibly low-maintenance fur make these dogs ideal pets. However, future owners shouldn't underestimate the energy and temperament of these little dogs. The Schipperke is definitely not a dog for couch potatoes, but if you prefer spending your time in the great outdoors or practising dog sport, it will make an ambitious sporting partner for you.
Housing and training
In contrast to its sporting ambitions, the Schipperke is undemanding in terms of housing requirements. As former guard dogs and hunters of mice and rats on barges, they feel at ease in the smallest of spaces. Hence, the dainty and adaptable “Little Skipper”, as the Schipperke is known as in relation to its past, is extremely well-suited to living in an apartment. However, the prerequisite is that it has lots of opportunities for outdoor access away from the four walls of the home. As well, you should have tolerant neighbours, because not everyone can put up with the Schipperke's shrill barking.
Is it possible to break the habit of barking?
In order to curb your dog's need to make itself heard, you should teach it as early as possible that not every neighbour or jogger passing by is a danger. With positive reinforcement you can show it that you welcome the moments when it manages to stay quiet. Your dog will restrain itself more and more often in order to gain your praise or a treat as a reward for staying quiet.
Is the Schipperke difficult to train?
The earlier you show your dog what you want from it and where its boundaries lie, the quicker you will see success. If you initially practise incorrect behaviour, this can only be unlearnt with a great deal of patience and perseverance. Ideally, start training your dog when it is still a puppy. It's important that you're clear about your training goals beforehand, because this is the only way you will be able to stick to them and show your dog that it can trust you. Attending a dog school can be very helpful and instructive for unexperienced owners in particular.
Jester and guard dog for all the family
Thankfully, Schipperke dogs are grateful students that are very willing to follow the leader of their pack thanks to their quick comprehension and people-focused nature. With time, patience, consistency and not least a good dose of humour, you can train the Schipperke to be a highly loyal and easy-going companion dog that brings its family abundant joy and a great deal of security – because the fun stops for intruders when the otherwise very well-humoured Schipperke is around.