The Schipperke (pronounced "sheep-er-ker") originated in Flanders, Belgium in the early 16th century. This breed descended from the now-extinct Leauvenaar, a black sheepdog that was also the foundation breed for the Belgian Sheepdog, or Groendendael. While the Belgian Sheepdog followed in the Leauvenaar's footsteps as a shepherd, the Schipperke took on its own role as a watchdog. Schipperkes eventually found their way to the shipyards of the canals between Brussels and Antwerp where they were tasked with guarding the ships and catching vermin that has made it aboard.
Schipperkes were one of the first breeds to have their own "specialty show". In addition to being popular with sailors, these dogs were also popular with workmen as they made excellent shop guards. In 1690, members of the Shoemakers' Guild hosted a show where they displayed their Schipperkes at the Grand Palace of Brussels. They even dressed their dogs up in custom-made hammered brass collars.
Origin of the Name
There is some debate as to what exactly the name "Schipperke" means. There are two Flemish words, "scheper", meaning "shepherd", and "schip", meaning "boat", that may have contributed to the breed's name. While their job as ship guards may make "schip" a more likely candidate, they were bred down from the Leauvenaar which was a sheepdog. Regardless, the affix "-ke" at the end of the name makes it diminutive, translating to "little". The breed has also learned the nicknames "Little Captain", "Little Skipper", "Little Shepherd", and "Little Boatman".
Schipperkes are small, all-black dogs with a mischievous expression. They are double coated with a soft undercoat and a rough outer coat. A unique breed characteristic is the long ruff around their neck that makes it appear much thicker. A strip of this long hair runs down their back (referred to as a "cape"), tapering off towards their rear. The back of their hind legs are also covered in longer fur, which is referred to as "culottes". These areas of long fur create a unique and distinctive silhouette, where the dogs appear to have an extremely sloped back. Schipperkes have a pointed, fox-like face with pointed ears to match.
Puppies are born with tails of varied lengths, including naturally bobbed or full length. In the United States and Canada, tails are docked the day after birth. According to the American Kennel Club's breed standard, all Schipperkes should be tailless. In countries where tail docking is illegal, Schipperkes display a variety of tail lengths.
Females range from 10-12 inches tall at the withers and males range from 11-13 inches at the withers. Both males and females weigh between 10-16 lbs.
Schipperkes live to be about 12-14 years old.
These dogs are known to be moderate shedders, requiring weekly brushings to keep their coat in order. Schipperkes "blow" their undercoat a few times a year (females more often than males), which can last a few days or weeks and take a few months to grow back. Caretakers of this breed recommend baths to remove hair during this time to avoid massive amounts of hair around the house.
Schipperkes are known to be "big dogs in little bodies" with a bold, fearless, and protective personality. They are sometimes referred to as "little black devils", perhaps due to their looks and tendency to be mischievous and headstrong. Schipperkes are extremely loving and affectionate with their family members and form very strong bonds. Caretakers of this breed have reported that as long as puppies are socialized to children, they will get along great with them. They are less inclined to show any affection towards other people and other dogs. When at home, Schipperkes want to spend time with their caretakers and are known to try to "help" around the house.
While Schipperkes are stubborn and may not listen to you if they don't see a good reason to, consistent, firm, and positive-reinforcement-based training can make them a delightful companion. They are known to try to dominate the household and may need to be kindly taught that they don't run the place. As watchdogs, they are naturally suspicious of strangers and will let their caretakers know (by barking) if anything unusual is occurring. Schipperkes are extremely smart, alert, and curious with ample energy to expend. This is certainly a breed with a sense of humor, so it's important that their caretaker has one too!
Schipperkes may be a challenge to train due to their stubborn and independent nature. Generally, they aren't recommended for first time dog owners. This breed responds best to positive reinforcement training. They will require obedience training, and if that is not something a caretaker wants to do at home, they may consider enrolling their Schipperke in an obedience class. According to the Schipperke Club of America, it's important to teach the "come" command as early as possible due to their tendency to wander. Early socialization is essential for all dogs and the Schipperke is no exception. The more people, places, dogs, noises, etc. you expose them to early, the better they will be prepared for life later.