Schipperkes have black, long, and harsh coats that grow in several different lengths. There's a thick ruff around the breed's neck, and the hair stands off from the body. The outer coat is straight and abundant, while the undercoat is dense and softer. These dogs have pointed ears, wedge-shaped heads, and small, dark eyes. They do not have a tail. Schipperkes measure 10 to 13 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh 10 to 16 pounds.
They bond strongly with their loved ones and have a built-in protectiveness that makes them great little watchdogs.
Highly active dogs, Schipperkes love to be included in everything that is going on. They need regular exercise, but they do well in most living situations, including city apartments. The breed has a tendency to bark and is naturally curious, a trait that sometimes gets the dogs into trouble. Schipperkes don't require much grooming, but they do shed a good amount during certain seasons.
The story behind the Schipperke's lack of tail is an odd one. Legend has it that during the 17th century, a shoemaker became enraged when his neighbor's dog stole from him, and so he cut off his tail in anger. From that point on, the breed has been tailless.
Warm, friendly, and loving, Schipperkes are eager to please and get along very well with children and other pets. They bond strongly with their loved ones and have a built-in protectiveness that makes them great little watchdogs. They tend to be reserved with unfamiliar people, but will loosen up quickly once introductions are made.
Schipperkes do very well in apartments, and the breed can get most of its needed activity from indoor games and play. These dogs enjoy running and playing outside, however, and they should be given plenty of opportunities for outdoor exercise. Due to their natural curiosity and independent natures, Schipperkes have a tendency to wander off if left unsupervised. They should be kept on a leash at all times when in public or contained in a securely fenced yard.
Polite and pleasant, Schipperkes generally make good housedogs. They can become destructive when bored, however, so it's best to keep them mentally and physically stimulated. These dogs are happiest when they are kept busy.
A relatively healthy breed, Schipperkes are known to be affected by certain health problems that can interfere with length or quality of life. Common health concerns in the breed include congenital hip dysplasia, Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease, epilepsy, and hypothyroidism. The breed is also at increased risk for developing mucopolysaccharidosis Type IIIb.
Additionally, Schipperkes are more likely than some other dogs to suffer from certain eye conditions, including cataracts, entropion, and distichiasis. Progressive retinal atrophy is a more serious eye disease seen in the breed that leads to blindness.
With routine veterinary care, up-to-date vaccinations, a balanced diet, and daily exercise, Schipperkes generally live a full life of 13 to 15 years.
Early training is important for Schipperkes. Otherwise, these dogs have a tendency to run out of the house and around the neighborhood without permission, bark for no reason, and refuse commands. They may also be difficult to housetrain. Anyone caring for one of these dogs need a sense of humor and should plan to devote a lot of time to training.
Schipperkes are a feisty and independent breed, but they are also highly intelligent and easy to train, provided it is done early and correctly. Firmness, consistency, and patience are important when working with this breed and training sessions should be kept interesting and short to hold the Schipperke's attention. Positive reinforcement techniques, such as play, food, and praise rewards, work especially well with these dogs. Harsh criticism will always backfire.
Channeling the breed's energy and natural curiosity into dog sports and physical activities will help tremendously with negative behaviors. Early socialization is also important; puppy kindergarten, walks around town, and trips to local businesses will help the Schipperke mature into a confident, well-behaved, and tolerant adult.
Schipperkes have long and thick coats that require regular brushing, especially during shedding seasons. Weekly brushings will keep away tangles and mats, but it may take daily brushing to control loose hair and keep it off furniture and clothing. It's a good idea to keep a supply of lint brushes around during spring and fall. Trimming between the pads of the feet is beneficial.
These dogs only need bathing every few months unless they roll around in a harmful or sticky substance. To prevent ear infections, their ears should be thoroughly dried each time they become wet. Regular cleanings with a cotton ball soaked in a veterinarian-approved otic cleanser will also help prevent infection.
The nails need trimming every week or so to prevent snagging and breaking. Schipperkes generally dislike having their nails clipped, and a nail grinder may be easier to work with. It is also important to brush the teeth every day with a canine toothbrush and toothpaste to prevent tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath.
Bred by Belgian boat captains, Schipperkes were used to guard boats left unattended. They were also useful ratters and provided companionship at sea. Shopkeepers would also keep Schipperkes as ratters and guard dogs. The breed is old, and Belgian writings dating back to the 15th century mention small, black dogs matching the Schipperke's description. However, actual evidence can only date the breed back to 1690.
The breed became very popular in parts of Belgium and eventually became the national dog. In 1885, after Queen Marie Henriette took in a Schipperke she saw at a Belgian dog show, the breed became a popular companion to the upper class. Around this same time, exports to England started depleting the breed's numbers and Belgium's people began losing interest in the dogs in favor of more exotic breeds.
During the late 1880s, a group of fanciers in Belgium started a campaign to save the breed and restore its numbers. Soon thereafter, the first Schipperke made its way to America.
The Schipperke was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1904.