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"To err is human, to forgive, canine."

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A Schipperke (pronounced skipper-kee) is a small Belgian breed of dog that originated in the early 16th century. There has been a long debate over whether this type of dog is a terrier, spitz or miniature sheepdog.

Schipperkes are most commonly all black, which is the only accepted color for conformation showing in the United States and members of the Fédération Cynologique Internationale. However, other colors such as cream, white, and gray are accepted in some countries. Their small, pointed ears sit atop the head. Schipperkes are double coated with a soft, fluffy undercoat that is covered by a harsher-feeling outer coat. One of the breed characteristics is a long ruff that surrounds the neck and then trails down towards the rear of the dog.

Dogs of this breed usually weigh between 3 and 9 kg (7 to 20 lb). Schipperkes are born with tails. In Canada and the United States, they are usually docked shortly after birth. In other countries that have docking bans, undocked Schipperkes display their natural tails, which curve over the back of the dog in a spitz-like fashion.

A Schipperke is an all-around dog: it has strong herding, hunting, and watching instincts. They are fearless and independent, smart and willful. They are a high-energy dog with an intense curiosity about everything and therefore require a great deal of attention and stimulation. This is why Schipperkes are suited best with another K-9 companion. Schipperkes, like many small breeds, seem not to realize that they are small dogs and behave as if they are much larger than they actually are. They are often quoted as being a "90-pound dog in a 9-pound body." They also have the nickname little nurse and can be a quiet bedside companion to a sick family member. If socialized as a young dog, it also is very friendly to others. Another nickname for them is Townhouse German Shepherd. According to S. Coren, author of "The Intelligence of Dogs," the Schipperke is a "good working dog", rated in the top 15 of breeds. They are able to understand new commands in 5-15 repetitions, and respond to commands the first time 85% of the time. They love to please their owner and are good for obedience and agility training.

The Schipperke has no particular health problems, and individuals often reach the old age of 17 or 18 years. Nonetheless, inactivity, lack of exercise and over-feeding are very harmful, and can lead to joint and skeletal problems and heart, lung or digestive conditions.

The one minor caveat to the Schipperke's good health is MPS IIIB, a genetic mutation that occurs in at most 15% of the total breed population. The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine has developed a test for the disease and began accepting samples in April 2003. If you seek to acquire a Schipperke be sure to ask the breeder if they have tested for the condition. A large effort is underway by many responsible breeders to eliminate this fatal and debilitating disease from the population.


Other names: Spitzke, Spits, Spitske (all until 1888)
Country of origin: Belgium

The Schipperke does not need expensive or excessive grooming. This breed is a moderate shedder, however. A brush that can reach the undercoat is the best. Regular weekly brushing is usually enough to keep the coat in good condition. There is no need for cutting or trimming and the mane fluffs up naturally.

Schipperkes were first formed as a breed in the 1880s, their standard being written in 1889. Much of what is known of their origins and early history comes from Chasse et Pêche (French for "Hunting and Fishing") magazine, articles of which were translated into English and published by the English magazine The Stockkeeper.

The breed name of "Schipperke," officially taken in 1888, is traditionally thought to mean "little captain". Beginning in the 1920s, however, it became popular in Belgium to believe that the name was actually a corruption of the Dutch word "Shapocke" or "Scheperke", meaning "little shepherd". It has been suggested that the idea of "little captain" was an invention of the English, who mistook the Schipperke for a Dutch barge dog.

Before the name "Schipperke" was officially taken, the breed was also known colloquially as "Spitzke". It is thought that the name change was to distinguish it from the German Spitz.

Correctly or not, Schipperkes are widely known as "Belgian barge dogs." Some reports say they were found frequently as working dogs aboard barges in the canals of Belgium, with three jobs onboard: security (barking vigorously when anyone approached the barge), keeping the barges free of vermin, and nipping at the towing horses' heels to get them moving to tow the barge. To this day, Schipperkes are known as excellent boat dogs and are often found cruising the world aboard sailing yachts and powerboats. They are not prone to seasickness.

It is often said that Schipperkes lived up to their name in World War Two. The Belgian Resistance used the dogs to run messages between various resistance hideouts and cells, and the Nazis never caught on.