Breed Profile: Schipperke

Did you know the schipperke was bred to live on riverboats? Learn more about these clever little dogs in our schipperke breed profile.

This “Little Captain” shows off his un-docked tail and playful nature.

My first experience with a schipperke was with a friend’s ancient dog, who, despite her 14 years, loved to dance around on her back feet and perform tricks.

Although I was a Cat Person at the time and still thought dogs were gross, this little girl stole my heart. Schipperkes will never replace Dachshunds as my absolute favorite breed, but they’re definitely in the top 10.

Have you considered adopting one of these adorable rascals? Perhaps this schipperke breed profile will help you make up your mind!

Breed

Schipperke, aka schip, Little Skipper, Little Captain

Group

Non-Sporting

Physical Description

Standing 10-13 inches at the shoulder and weighing about 12-18 pounds, schipperkes have long legs and cobby bodies, which means they’re short and square. Their triangular-shaped ears, set high and alert on their heads, give them a fox-like appearance.

Schipperkes have thick, rough double coats, usually black, that stand out from their bodies. On their torsos, their coats are medium-length, but the hair on their faces, ears and legs is short. The breed standard color is black, but schips can also have tan or fawn-colored hair.

Although some schipperkes are born without tails, traditionally their tails have been docked at birth, a controversial practice that is slowly being phased out in breed clubs around the world — except for the American Kennel Club.

Origin

The schipperke, first bred in Belgium, is the descendent of the Leauvenaar, a 40-pound black sheepdog that guarded livestock, hunted game and protected his home and family.

This new breed was given the name “schipperke,” which was derived from schip, the Flemish word for “boat,” because they were originally bred as companions for river travelers, namely tradespeople.

A chap named Renssens, who captained a canal boat in Flanders, is credited with creating the schipperke by breeding down Leauvenaars until they were a consistently small size and well-adapted for life on the water, not only as companions, but also as ratters and watchdogs. Their tendency to stand at the front of the boat, alertly scanning the horizon, as well as their usual position as the captain’s dog, earned them the nicknames “Little Captain” and “Little Skipper.”

By the late 1800s, schipperkes had become favored pets with Belgian families. After first appearing at a dog show in 1880, schipperkes became popular worldwide.

Purpose

Although there isn’t as much call these days for riverboat ratters, schipperkes have adjusted well to their modern lives as companion animals. Given their roots, they are still excellent boating dogs, who truly enjoy spending time on the water, but they’re also driven competitors in canine sports like agility, field trials and obedience.

Temperament

Smart, alert, curious, energetic and confident, schipperkes are joyful little pets that do exceptionally well in family environments. Schipperkes bond deeply with their owners, even very young children, whom they love and protect.

Most vermin-hunting dogs don’t do well with feline family members, whom they often perceive as prey, but schipperkes are surprisingly good with cats! Their history with guarding their boats has evolved into highly developed watchdog skills, making the schip one of the best alert dogs, and they are tenacious about guarding their homes and families.

Unfortunately, the schipperke can often have a Napoleon complex — the tendency to overcompensate for his small size by acting like a big jerk. Left untrained or unchecked, schips often decide they are the pack leaders, responsible for guarding the family from potential dangers (mail carrier, leaf blowing across the street), yelling at visitors and other dogs and generally bossing around the entire household.

In addition to their too-big personalities, schipperkes are known as persistent, obnoxious barkers, often howling at predators (mail carrier, leaf blowing across the street). They can also become aloof if they aren’t properly socialized and are often difficult to housetrain.

For these reasons, it’s essential to make sure schips are thoroughly trained in obedience and consistently reminded that they are subordinate to humans. Fortunately, they take well to training and seem to genuinely enjoy learning new things.

Exercise Needs

“Energetic” doesn’t begin to describe this active breed. Schipperkes require daily workouts, preferably long, brisk walks or runs, or they become neurotic and hyper. They love to run off-lead, so trips to the dog park work well to burn off their extra energy, as would intense play sessions with other dogs. Schips also love to play, especially fetch, and can spend endless hours chasing their toys.

Grooming Requirements

Because schipperkes were bred for a life on the water, their coats are dense and water-repellant, and therefore require little grooming other than a weekly brushing. Schips completely shed their undercoats two or three times a year, and it’s quite an event! Grooming them during this time can be a labor-intensive, time-consuming task, but you’ll only need to do it a couple of times a year.

Otherwise, schipperkes are low-maintenance with respect to grooming, requiring little more than regular nail-trimming.

Common Health Problems

Schipperkes tend to be incredibly active, healthy dogs, even as they age — and they can live to be 18 years old! All breeds have genetic health issues, but in the case of schipperkes, the most common health issues are relatively minor, such as:

  • Tracheal collapse: If you have a small dog, you’ve probably heard the coughing sound I call “hawking up a hairball”; some people refer to it as reverse sneezing. Whatever you call it, tracheal collapse isn’t serious.
  • Overbites and underbites: An uneven bite is a cosmetic issue that seldom affects the health of a dog.
  • Cryptorchidism: So what if your male dog has three testicles? The only impact this condition has on the dog’s health is that it renders him sterile.

More serious problems can include cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and other vision problems, epilepsy, heart murmur, diabetes and luxating patellas, all of which are problems common in many breeds.

Unfortunately, there is one health problem particular to schipperkes (and humans!): Mucopolysaccharidosis type IIIB (MPS IIIB). According to Dr. Matthew Ellinwood, who has been researching MPS IIIB:

“The disease MPS IIIB, also known as Sanfilippo syndrome type IIIB, is an inherited disease classified as a lysosomal storage disease (LSD). Lysosomes are “bags” within cells of the body, filled with special enzymes which disassemble molecules in an orderly manner. If one of the enzymes is missing, due to mutations in the gene for that enzyme, the disassembly stops, and undegraded molecules accumulate in lysosomes (hence the term LSD), and the cells become sick or die, which leads to disease.”

Translated into English, MPS IIIB is a lethal, progressive genetic disease that causes mental deterioration, including balance and cognition problems. Because there is currently no cure, euthanasia is usually the best option.

Is the Schipperke the Right Dog for You?

Schipperkes are that rare breed of dog that is good with kids, cats, adults and other dogs, so they are perfect with family life. As an owner, you will need to provide plenty of exercise for your schip or his barking and naughty behavior will drive you nuts. An outstanding solution would be adopting a second dog who loves to play, wrestle and chase.

Schipperkes are appropriate for almost any environment, including apartments. However, their barking and high activity level might make them unpopular with the neighbors. If you live in an apartment, crate training is the best way to keep your schip in line.

Regardless of your living situation, you need to be a firm, consistent owner committed to enforcing obedience and good manners with positive reinforcement training. If you’re not up to the task, consider a more biddable dog, like a pomeranian.

Photos: serk/Flickr

Tamar Love Grande

View posts by Tamar Love Grande
Tamar Love Grande, former associate editor, is a Crazy Dog Person who has fostered and found homes for more than 200 dachshunds in the past few years. Tamar lives in Los Angeles with her husband, her cat and far too many wiener dogs.

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