Schipperkes are small dogs built for hard work. Curious, lively, and intense but mischievous, this little black dog is a robust, long-lived companion for whom there is never a dull moment.
Schips were created as ratters and watchdogs in late medieval Belgium. The breed earned its fame as shipboard exterminators on the canals that crisscrossed the Low Countries. The little black avenger of the Belgian dockyards was also a fearless watchdog on barges and in city shops. It was among the sailors and shopkeepers of Brussels and Antwerp that these quick, agile dogs earned the nickname “schipperke,” Flemish for “little captain.”
Schipperkes are 10 to 13 inches tall and weigh 10 to 16 pounds. The double coat, which comes only in basic black, is short on the face, ears, and front of the legs and of medium length on the body, with longer hair behind the ears, where the longer hair forms a ruff around the neck. Extending beyond the ruff, an additional layer creates what’s called the cape. The longer hair across the chest and down between the front of the legs is known as the jabot. The coat on the backs of the thighs forms culottes, which are as long as the ruff. A short, dense undercoat protects the Schipperke from temperature extremes.
The Schipperke’s coat needs only weekly brushing, though they do go through a shedding season once or twice a year. During these periods, more frequent brushing will help to keep the amount of shed hair under control.
The Schipperkes life expectancy is 12 to 14 years. The Schipperke is the proverbial “big dog in a little dog’s body.” He’s active, confident, and curious. A closed door is simply a challenge to overcome. They are used for such diverse jobs as hearing dogs, search and rescue, and sniffing out drugs and bombs. They need daily playtime and walks to help burn off their energy.
They love their people and want to please them, but they also likes to have their own way. If they are allowed to, the Schipperke will run the household. Protective, fearless, and naturally suspicious of strangers, they make an excellent watchdog and will take on anyone who seems to have evil intent. He wants to be involved in all family activities and loves children of all ages, playing pattycake and smiling all the while. Schipperkes are selective in offering their friendship, generally limiting it to family members, with whom they create strong bonds. They are protective of and devoted to their people and can be aloof toward strangers until he decides they’re okay. When it comes to training, they’re mischievous and can be stubborn, but with positive reinforcement they learn quickly.
Like every dog, Schipperkes need early socialization, exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences, when they’re young. Socialization helps ensure that your Schipperke puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog. They retain their puppy like qualities, including the troublesome ones, until they are 4 or 5 years old.
Caring for a Schipperke
Next, we’ll go into how you should care for a Schipperke.
The Schipperke should be fed a high-quality dog food appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior) and activity level. Fresh fruits and vegetables can also be included in the diet; learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. To avoid an overweight Schipperke, calorie consumption and weight level needs to be monitored. Although helpful in aiding training, giving too many treats will cause obesity. Check with your vet or the dog’s breeder if you have any questions or concerns about your dog’s weight or diet. Clean, fresh water should always be available.
Schipperkes are very active, energetic, and busy little dogs. Schipperkes need at least half an hour of exercise daily, and more is better. Their people are usually tired before they are. They are always running and playing and will use your house as a racetrack when the mood strikes. Walk them on leash to prevent a sudden dash toward an interesting animal or object.
Count on two daily walks to keep your Schipperke’s desire for action satisfied. He’ll also enjoy riding in a basket on a bicycle or cruising the aisles of the pet supply store in a grocery cart.
Due to their watchdog tendencies, Schipperkes can turn into barkers if not taught otherwise. Equally happy in an apartment or a home with a large yard, they should be kept on leash when not in a fenced area and should be taken to obedience classes. Schips absolutely need to be trained to come when called as early as possible, due to their instinctive urge to go exploring. They have an independent nature and can be a challenge to train. With persistent and patient owners, they can learn almost anything and can excel in sports such as obedience and agility.
Schipperkes are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they can be subject to certain health conditions. Not all Schipperkes will get any or all of these diseases.
- Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease: Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease is a disease that affects the hip joint and results in deformity of the hip joint ball.
- Autoimmune Thyroiditis: This is the most common cause of primary hypothyroidism in dogs. This is a disorder of the thyroid gland. It’s thought to be responsible for conditions such as epilepsy, alopecia (hair loss), obesity, lethargy, hyperpigmentation, pyoderma, and other skin conditions. It is treated with medication and diet.
- Epilepsy: This is a disorder that causes seizures. Epilepsy can be managed with medication, but it cannot be cured. A dog can live a full and healthy life with the proper management of this disorder.
- Patellar Luxation: Also known as “slipped stifles,” this is a common problem in small dogs. It is caused when the patella, which has three parts — the femur (thigh bone), patella (knee cap), and tibia (calf) — is not properly lined up.
- Mucopolysaccharidosis Type IIIB (MPSIIIB): Also known as Sanfilippo syndrome type IIIB, MPS IIIB is a disease that is caused by a mutation in a gene.