How to Train a Brussels Griffon

Tipping the scales at no more than 12 pounds, this humanlike toy of complex character has enough personality for 10 ordinary dogs. A sensitive companion for discerning grownups, the Brussels Griffon is smart, devoted, and comically self-important.

With this breed, you get a big personality in a 5-to-15-pound package. One look into his big, human-like eyes, and you’ll be smitten. Griffs come in four colors red, black-and-reddish-brown (called belge), black and tan, and black and in smooth coats (like a Pug) or rough coats (like a Schnauzer). Their black muzzle and whiskers earned them the nickname ‘bearded dogs’ in old folk songs. The Griff’s big black eyes described as ‘almost human’ coupled with a fringed beard and mustache covering his short muzzle, gives him the air of a worldly, French-speaking philosopher. Griffs come in four colors: red, black-and-reddish-brown (called belge), black and tan, and black and in smooth coats or rough coats. The Griff’s body is thickset and sturdy, and he moves with the purposeful trot of a fellow who knows what he wants.  Griffs are alert, sociable, and easily trained. Although playful and energetic, their small size and sensitive nature make them a poor choice as roughhousing playmates for kids. They have a low threshold for loneliness and will stick close to their special human, providing years of love and laughter.


Griffon-type dogs were well known in Europe for centuries. In Van Eyck’s celebrated 1434 portrait of the “Arnolfini Couple,” we glimpse a distant ancestor of the Griff. It’s a small, griffon-type dog with a longer muzzle than today’s flatter-faced, pouty-lipped version.

The Griff’s story, however, properly begins in Brussels, Belgium’s capital city, in the early 1800s. It was then that the Griff began his rise from rough-and-tumble rat dog to sophisticated laptop companion.

The coachmen of Brussels commonly kept small terrier-type dogs to keep down the rat population in their stables. These were typically Affenpinscher-like dogs known as “griffons d’ecurie,” or “wire-coated stable dogs.” The hack drivers experimented with various crosses to improve their dogs.

No written records of these breedings survive, but dog people have surmised that the Pug, English Toy Spaniels, an old Belgian breed called the Brabancon, and perhaps even Yorkshire Terrier, were all part of the genetic mix that produced the Brussels Griffon.

The turning point of Griff history came in the 1870s, when the dog-loving Henrietta Maria, Queen of the Belgians, took a liking to the breed. With royal patronage, the Griff’s future was assured. They became all the rage among the queen’s courtiers, and kennel keepers of the upper classes further refined the breed, making the body smaller and the face more humanlike.

The royal boost received by the breed led to international interest, and Griffs were exported to England and America. The AKC registered its first Griff in 1910. As is the case with so many European breeds, the two world wars decimated the Griff population. If not for the dedication of U.S. and British enthusiasts, the breed might not have survived.

The Brussels Griffon won millions of new fans in 1997, when a spicy Griff named Jill upstaged Jack Nicholson in the hit movie “As Good As It Gets.”


Griffs are generally healthy dogs, and responsible breeders screen their stock for health conditions such as heart problems, eye defects such as cataracts, and orthopedic problems such as patella luxation and hip dysplasia. Like all flat-faced breeds, Brussels Griffons can experience breathing problems in sunny, hot, or humid weather, and usually snore. As with all breeds, a Griffon’s ears should be checked regularly for signs of infection, and the teeth should be brushed often, using a toothpaste designed for dogs.


Recommended Health Tests From the National Breed Club:
  • Patella Evaluation
  • Hip Evaluation
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation


There are two types of Brussels Griffon, with two types of coats: smooth and rough. With the smooth-coated Griffon, weekly brushing’ daily during shedding season, which is usually a week or two in the spring, and then again in the fall’¿and the occasional bath will help to remove dirt and loose hair and keep the dog looking his best. Rough-coated Griffons do not shed. Many have their hair’ except for the distinctive beard’ clipped short, either by their owner or a professional groomer. As with all breeds, the nails should be trimmed regularly, as overly long nails can be painful to the dog and cause problems walking and running.


Griffons need at least a half-hour of moderate exercise a day to stay healthy and happy. They love to romp and play, and are happiest when doing activities together with their people. A game of chasing the ball is fun for both dog and owner. Their intelligence and trainability mean that many Brussels Griffons excel in canine events such as obedience, agility, and tracking.


Early socialization and puppy training classes are recommended for all dogs and help to ensure that the Griffon grows into a well-adjusted, well-mannered companion. Griffs have a high degree of intelligence and bond strongly with their owners, which makes them easy to train. As with many toy breeds, though, housebreaking may take some extra time and effort. Griffons have a very sensitive nature, and they don’t respond well to harsh corrections or training methods. A Griffon wants to be with his family, often following his person from room to room, and undesirable behaviors can result if he is regularly left alone for long periods of time.


The Brussels Griffon should do well on a high-quality dog food, whether commercially manufactured or home-prepared with your veterinarian’s supervision and approval. Any diet should be appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior). Some dogs are prone to getting overweight, so watch your dog’s calorie consumption and weight level. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times.

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