Breed Group: Non-Sporting
The Schipperke (SKIP-er-key) is one of many breeds that can be described as a “big dog in a little dog’s body.” Almost terrier-like, they have a confident and independent personality that reflects their breeding as a watchdog and vermin hunter. They are intense, impulsive, alert, high-spirited, and high-energy both inside and out. Add to that a tremendous curiosity and a mischievous streak and you have a sense of the breed. They need attention, supervision, and mental stimulation to keep them out of trouble. They do as well with children, dogs, and other pets (including cats) as most breeds, with a slight preference for spending time with any of these over the rest of the family, especially when socialized with them early in life. Bred as a watchdog, a Schipperke has little or no trust of strangers. Fast and agile, they will chase anything that moves and must be kept on a leash or in a secure yard. To be happy, they need opportunities to run and play. A vigilant watchdog, the Schipperke is both territorial and protective of its family. In fact, this small dog can be so fearless and aggressive with a foe that outclasses him by such a wide margin he may need rescued by his owner. They like to bark and howl.
The Schipperke is a small, thickset dog with a double black coat. It has a foxlike head with erect ears and a small mane called a ruff. If born with a tail, it is docked. Schipperkes reach a height of 10-13 inches and weigh 12-18 pounds. Their medium-length coat sheds no more than the average dog and needs less than an average grooming effort to maintain in good condition. They do best in moderate weather with a preference for cool rather than warm temperatures.
A focus on socialization is imperative if a Schipperke is to be mild mannered and get along well with others. They are exceptionally intelligent and would rather make their own decisions instead of learning how you want them to do things. This, combined with a healthy dose of willful stubbornness results in a dog that is not the easiest to train. Keep training sessions short, varied, and interesting. Trainers need to be firm and consistent, focusing on positive methods, which are most effective with this proud and sensitive breed. Some are difficult to housebreak. With such a high level of socialization being crucial for the development of a well-mannered dog and their resistance to training, Schipperkes are best in the hands of an experienced dog owner.
The Schipperke is the only breed affected by a relatively recently discovered genetic disorder called Mucopolysaccharidosis Type IIIB. Dogs with the disease develop tremors and display problems with their balance when they are between 2 and 4 years of age. The disease is progressive and always fatal. Other genetic predispositions include Luxating Patellas which affect about 7% of all dogs, hip dysplasia, and elbow dysplasia which affect about 5% and 2½% of all dogs respectively. Other minor concerns include Legg-Perthes, Thyroiditis, and Cardiomyopathy. The average life expectancy of a Schipperke is 12-15 years although they can live to 18 years of age or older. Lack of exercise and overfeeding are a particular problem with this breed which can lead to joint and skeleton problems and heart, lung or digestive conditions.
The Schipperke ranks 85th in popularity among the breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club with about 850 dogs registered per year.
It is most commonly believed the Schipperke originated in Belgium where it was bred to kill rats and as riverboat watchdog. It was there the breed became a favorite choice to guard canal barges. Schipperke in the Flemish language means “Little Skipper” or “Little Captain.” Another theory holds they were dogs of middle class households and trade guilds that wanted a small watchdog and ratter. This theory traces the breed’s parentage to the miniature Belgian Sheep Dog and claims the breed name Schipperke is derived from the word “scheper” meaning shepherd. Whatever the case, today they are primarily companion animals. But Schipperkes do make excellent boat dogs. They frequently accompany their owners on boating and fishing trips, happy to guard the boat when it is tied up at the dock.
Lucille Ball, star of “I Love Lucy” is perhaps the best known Schipperke owner. The National (US) Breed Club is the Schipperke Club of America.