Breed At A Glance


Energetic, high-spirited, and loyal

Life Expectancy
15+ years

Average Height
9-13 inches

Average Weight
10-18 lbs

Coat Color
Black (sometimes tan and fawn)

Coat Length/Texture
Dense, lustrous, medium-length double-coat

Shedding Propensity
Seasonally very heavy, up to three times per year

Also known as Spitzke, Spits, Spitske

General Temperament

The self-confident and energetic Schipperke makes an excellent companion pet, particularly for boaters. They are extremely devoted and protective of their territory and family. They are sometimes described as “hot tempered” but this should not be confused with unprovoked aggression: Schipperkes are extremely loyal, loving and trainable. Although they are naturally spirited and enthusiastic, they are also intuitively compassionate, capable of being calm bedside companions for ailing members of it’s family.

The Schipperke loves children and, with appropriate socialization, will get along well with other family pets, including cats and other dogs. This breed was developed as a watch dog and vermin-hunter on farms and barges, and these instincts are still quite strong with the breed today. They are naturally aloof with strangers and will usually bark vigorously as a protective measure, even taking a protective stance if necessary, but are rarely physically aggressive towards humans.

Possessed with significant intelligence and willingness to please, the agile Schipperke is highly trainable. In fact, they often excel in agility trials and obedience competitions. Some individuals can be difficult to housebreak, but patience and perseverance are well worth it.

As mentioned above, the Schipperke is a natural match for owners who want a dog to take on their boat or yacht. They can be happy in an apartment, as they are active indoors, but they also love a chance to run and tend to bark a lot. A house with at least a medium-sized fenced yard is best for the active Schipperke.

Breed History

Although it may appear to be a member of the Spitz family of dogs, the Schipperke in fact evolved as a smaller version of a Belgian sheepdog called the Leauvenaar (from which the Groenendael was also derived). The diminutive Schipperke was bred smaller and smaller until it became a different breed entirely, leading to the formation of it’s first specialty club in 1888. This versatile breed was used for everything from guarding canal barges to herding livestock to hunting small game. Primarily, the Schipperke is a ratter, and served this purpose regardless of whether it was on a boat or farm.

The first Schipperkes were imported into the United States at the end of the 19th century.

Body Structure and Composition

The most distinct feature of the Schipperke is it’s coat, which distinguishes itself from that of other breeds by growing in several distinct lengths in specific areas of the dog’s body, including short hair on the face and ears, a thick and long ruff around the neck, and medium-length fur on the body. The Schipperke face has a fox-like expression, with ears that stand erect high on the head and a muzzle that tapers to slightly less than the length of the skull. Although the topline of this dog is level, it appears to slope from the shoulders to the hindquarters as a result of the Schipperke’s characteristic coat pattern. The front legs and shoulders appear to be more substantial than the hindquarters, but again, this is just a visual consequence of the coat pattern. The chest is deep and broad. This is one of the few breeds that naturally has no discernible tail.

Medical Information

The Schipperke is a generally healthy breed, although they are not completely free of inherited diseases. They have been known to suffer from Hypothyroidism, a disease which causes an underactivity of the thyroid gland leading to decreased appetite or weight gain, hair loss, recurring skin infections, and lethargy. Patellar Luxation can also be a problem for this breed, as it is for many smaller breed dogs. Also known as “slipped stifle” or “trick knee,” this condition occurs when the kneecap slips out of place, often requiring surgery to correct. Diseases that cause degeneration of the hip, including Hip Dysplasia and Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, have also been known to occur in some Schipperke lines. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) provides certification of breeding stock to help prevent the spread of all of these diseases, among others.

A newly-discovered disease called Mucopolysaccharidosis type IIIB (or “MPS IIIB”) has been shown to be present in a significant number of Schipperkes. MPS IIIB describes a lack of one or more of the enzymes inside the lysosomes in cells, which disassemble molecules in an orderly manner. When these enzymes are missing or incomplete, undegraded molecules build up inside the lysosomes, leading to disease or death. Symptoms are usually related to brain disorders and include tremors or difficulty balancing, walking, or negotiating stairs or other obstacles. MPS IIIB is progressive and there is no current cure, and as such, most owners choose to have infected individuals euthanized within 1-2 years after being diagnosed. But luckily, there is a DNA test available from the University of Pennsylvania which identifies the enzyme mutation in breeding stock, and responsible Schipperke breeders should be able to provide this information to potential puppy buyers upon request. (It is important to note that this is an autosomal recessive disorder, meaning that both parents would have to be either affected or carriers of the disease in order to pass it to a pup.)

A moderate amount of activity and a good diet are essential for this breed, as Schipperkes have a tendency to become overweight, which can ultimately lead to various medical issues. To keep the coat in top condition, it is best to brush this dog a few times per week. They shed little on a regular basis, but are very heavy seasonal shedders, blowing their undercoat up to three times per year. During those times, you can expect a massive amount of soft, downy fur to be dropped. (In warmer climates, they may shed more on a regular basis.)

Anecdotal Information

During World War II, the Belgian Resistance used Schipperkes to run messages between various resistance hideouts and cells.

The name “Schipperke” in Flemish means “little captain,” a name that the breed earned given it’s excellence as a barge dog, both as a watch dog and vermin-killer.

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