The Schipperke, Belgium’s “little captain,” is the traditional barge dog of the Low Countries. Curious, lively, and intense but mischievous, this little black dog is a robust, long-lived companion for whom there is never a dull moment. Standing no higher than 13 inches, Schipperkes are small dogs built for hard work. Schips were created as ratters and watchdogs. Their powerful jaws, necks, and forequarters’ coupled with a stealthy, catlike hunting style’ make them ideal rat-catching machines. The black coat is profuse around the neck, shoulders, and legs, giving the breed a silhouette that accentuates a thick, substantial body. The foxy face completes the unique look of a unique breed. If you can’t tell a Schipperke from an ordinary dog, you simply haven’t been paying attention.
Late medieval Belgium was the birthplace of the Schipperke (correctly pronounced “SHEEP-er-ker,” though many American owners say “SKIP-er-kee”). 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.”
Temperament: alert / curious / confident
Height: 10-13 inches
Weight: 10-16 pounds
Life Expectancy: 12-14 years
Schipperkes are generally healthy dogs, and reputable breeders screen their breeding stock for health concerns such as luxating patellas (slipping kneecaps), Legg-Calve-Perthes disease (hip problems), eye problems, and thyroid problems. Breeders can also test for MPS IIIB, a newly recognized and fatal disease that usually shows up by 2-4 years of age as balance problems, and avoid producing the disease by identifying carriers and breeding them appropriately. Regular visits to the vet for checkups and parasite control help to ensure the dog has a long, healthy life.
Recommended Health Tests From the National Breed Club:
- Patella Evaluation
- Ophthalmologist Evaluation
- Thyroid Evaluation
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. As with all breeds, the nails should be trimmed regularly, as overly long nails can cause the dog discomfort.
Schipperkes are very active, energetic, and busy little dogs. A brisk daily walk or a romp in a fenced yard will provide needed exercise. They love playing and exploring, and they thrive in households that have the time and patience to properly train them and appreciate their playful personalities. Schips can also let off steam racing around the house or apartment.
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. Some also do quite well at herding.
The Schipperke should be fed a high-quality dog food appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior) and activity level. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. 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.