With their compact frame, pointy ears, and lively expression, the Schipperke is as adorable as it is intelligent. And its tenacity and energetic spirit mean it can keep up with even the most active of large breeds. But this dog can be independent and stubborn and may not be the right pint-sized gladiator for every family.
Keep reading to find out what makes this tiny sheepdog tick and to find out if the Schip would make a good addition to your family.
General Characteristics of the Schipperke
- Nicknames: Little boatman, little captain, little black fox
- Height: 10 to 13 inches
- Weight: 10 to 16 pounds
- Lifespan: 10 to 14 years
- Origin: Belgium
- Colors: Black most commonly, but also cream, red, and blue.
- Activity level: Medium to high
- Grooming needs: Low
- Best suited for: More experienced owners in small spaces or large
The History of the Schipperke
The English translation of Schipperke is usually given as “little boat dog” or “little captain,” but the more accurate interpretation might be “little shepherd” as herding was this little fox’s original function.
In the 17th century in Louvain, Belgium, a black shepherd known as the Leauvenaar was a common sight guarding sheep flocks and following carriages through the region. From this midsized “scheper,” or sheepdog, both the large Belgian Shepherd and the much smaller Schipperke were created.
Even in the diminutive form, the Schip retained much of the original herd guardian’s tenacity and an instinct to protect property and livestock. They also had a unique drive for catching vermin. These two qualities made the little Schip the perfect choice for boatmen who required a dog that could rid the ship of rats, protect the cargo, and wouldn’t take up much space.
But the Schipperke’s job wasn’t limited to working out at sea. Many Belgium shopkeepers of the time employed these small dogs to protect their merchandise, guard their cargo during transport and keep their shops free from vermin.
In 1885, Queen Marie Henriette developed a fondness for the little black fox dogs. This endorsement quickly grew the breed’s popularity throughout Europe, especially with the elite. The Schip was officially recognized as a formal breed around that same time with their breed standard being written in 1889.
While their original purpose may not have been rat-control on boats, the Schipperke definitely found a niche there. And one that would eventually bring them all over the world. “Dorie’s View of Seattle” by Bruce / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Their popularity eventually spread to America and the Schipperke Club of America was founded in 1929.
Today’s Schipperke isn’t used for sheep guarding or rat cleanup on ships. Instead, these dogs have found their way into our homes as trusted companions who bring a lot of energy in a very small package.
The Temperament of the Schipperke
When you talk about small dogs with big dog personalities, there is no better example than the Schipperke. These tiny devils were descended from fearless livestock herding and guarding dogs who doubled as carriage guards. And the personality of the Schip still reflects this lineage today.
While these dogs may not be able to take down, or even scare away, an intruder, they do have the spunk and propensity to make noise that will certainly bring attention to anyone sneaking around in the night. It’s this same instinct to alarm that can lead to these dogs being fairly noisy companions, especially if they are not well socialized and thus consider everything they see to be a threat.
Despite their barkier side, these dogs are well suited for apartment living, assuming they get enough exercise. They are often described as a “busy” breed constantly in search of something to do. While a long walk or run through the park might take the edge off, you should expect to have put some effort into exhausting these dogs mentally, as well.
Ever-watchful, the Schipperke is wary of strangers and will make a lot of noise if something seems off. They also have a high prey drive and may even show tendencies similar to herding breeds. “Rocky” by patrickkavanagh / CC BY 2.0
Schips who do not receive enough exercise or attention are likely to become destructive and loud, especially when left alone. Because they have spent the better part of their history as companion dogs, they do not take well to being left for long hours. They will do best in a house where someone is frequently home.
Unfortunately, that need to be around their people does not always translate to a need to please their people. In fact, these dogs are well known for being independent, stubborn, and preferring to pursue their own endeavors regardless of what you want.
For this reason, these may not be the best dogs for a novice owner unless they have a lot of time and commitment and access to expert help as needed.
Overall, the Schipperke is a spunky, energetic companion who can be reserved and protective with strangers but well-attached to their owners. They love to play and clown around and need an owner who will enjoy and nurture this side of their personality.
Health Issues Common to the Schipperke Breed
Overall, the Schip is a remarkably healthy breed, though they do suffer from a few rare and specific conditions that new owners should be aware of. Here are a few of the more common health problems seen in Schips.
One of the more unique health concerns that affect the Schip is MPSIIIB, a lysosomal storage disorder similar to Tay-Sachs disease in humans. This fatal disease has only been recorded in Schips over the last few decades but it is thought that around 15% of the population carries this gene.
Overall, the Schipperke is long-lived and healthy, but you must help them achieve their full potential by making sure to keep your Schip at a healthy weight and by feeding a high-quality commercial or home-prepared diet. “Lucy, Rocky, and Nokie” by patrickkavanagh / CC BY 2.0
Carriers of the condition are not affected and will live relatively normal lives. It is only when two carrier dogs are bred that the offspring are at risk of developing the disease.
Signs of the disease include symptoms like head tilt, balance issues, and trouble walking. These symptoms usually appear between the ages of two and four years. Issues with mobility will increase over time and most dogs are completely incapable of walking within a year or two and are typically put to sleep.
Luckily, there is a DNA test available to screen for this condition to assure that two carrier dogs are not bred together. This is just one reason why it is so important to choose your breeder carefully and make sure they are ethical and responsible and have the best intentions.
Do not purchase Schip puppies from a pet store or from online breeders that cannot provide health records and aren’t willing to let you view their operation. This is a red flag of a potential puppy mill where you are more likely to find MPSIIIB positive dogs being bred without regard for the health of the puppies.
If you would rather not purchase a puppy, it is possible to adopt Schips and Schip mixes from dedicated rescues around the world. Check with your local Schipperke club or rescue to find available dogs near you.
Check out the video above to learn more about this unique foxy breed.
Do Schipperkes Do Well With Children and Other Pets?
Like many smaller dogs, Schips have a tendency to be snappy and reactive when pushed. They are also less tolerant of pain and situations they find threatening than other breeds. For this reason, this is not the best breed choice for houses with small children and toddlers.
It is possible to socialize a puppy Schip well enough that they can be trusted around kids, but the unpredictability of children and dogs is not something you want to tempt, especially with a breed that is known for their spit-fire attitude.
Older children, on the other hand, can make great companions for Schips, assuming they are respectful and know how to handle a dog with kindness. Schips are natural clowns and enjoy playing and running around the yard. For this reason, an active older child makes a great playmate.
The same snippy attitude that gets Schips in trouble with toddlers can also make for difficult relationships with other dogs. They tend to be more aggressive and territorial with dogs they don’t know, especially larger breeds. While it is possible to have a multi dog household with a Schip, it will depend entirely on the Schip’s personality, how well they were socialized as a puppy, and the personality of the other dogs.
The Schipperke’s big personality can make them hard sells in a multidog household. While some Schips do well with other canines, many will only tolerate the right doggy brother or sister. “Baxter and Marky-Mark” by Troy Mckaskle / CC BY-SA 2.0
When considering bringing a Schip into a house with other small pets like cats and hamsters, it’s important to remember that this dog was bred to hunt and kill rats on ships and in shops. They have a high prey drive for their size and should not be trusted with small animals and birds. Schips may do well enough with cats, especially those that are about their size or larger, especially if they were raised together.
What to Consider Before Bringing Home a Schipperke
Think you have what it takes to provide a great home to Schipperke? Here are a few more things to consider before bringing one into your life.
These little busybodies need something to do. A good walk or some quality time spent playing chase in the yard is a good start, but finding a way to engage them mentally is a must. Treat and puzzle toys are a great idea, especially for times when they will be home alone. They are also great candidates for dog sports like agility and flyball. Some Schips even retain enough herding instinct to compete at sheepdog trials. Their history as vermin dogs also makes them a great choice for barn hunts.
Overall, their size makes them suitable for apartment living but they are by no means couch potatoes. You will need to spend some time every day working their body and mind.
These dogs are very intelligent and have proved themselves to be true problem solvers. To a Schip, a closed-door or a high counter is simply a problem to be figured out. This ability to think independently can make training them to do what you say pretty difficult. But, if you can appeal to their brains, usually with the use of tasty rewards and by presenting behaviors as puzzles to solve, you will find they are very quick to pick up on new commands.
But even the most well-trained Schip isn’t likely to choose to listen to you over chasing a squirrel, so it is important to keep these dogs on a leash or in a fenced area at all times.
The Schipperke is a surprisingly high-drive dog that excels at dog sports and enjoys a good game of chase or fetch in the yard. They aren’t the type of pup you can leave at home for long periods but they aren’t the best choice for bringing along with you to the office, either. “July 3-09 Happy Schipperke” by Sointula / CC BY-NC-ND
The Schip coat is composed of a thick, soft undercoat, and a sleek outer coat that is a moderate length on the neck and withers and shorter around the body. Weekly brushing should be enough to keep their coats healthy and shiny, though you may need to brush more frequently when they are blowing their coats up to a few times a year.
Like all dogs, they need their nails trimmed frequently.
These dogs will do well on any high-quality dog food. Their appetite can range from chow-hound to almost cat-like depending on the dog. For those with healthier appetites, it is important to watch their figure as any excess weight can quickly translate to health and joint problems. This is especially true for older dogs.
Despite being one of the less popular breeds, you can usually find purebred Schip pups for around $700, an average price for any purebred. For show quality lines you can expect to pay upwards of $4,000.
Overall, this is a healthy dog that doesn’t eat a ton or require a lot of investment. They can be long-lived, however, with many Schips living upwards of 17, so be prepared to care for these dogs for the long haul.
10 Fun Facts About the Schipperke
Now that you know what it takes to own a Schipperke, here are some fun facts about the breed.
- The AKC recognizes only black Schips as qualifiers for the breed standard. The UKC, on the other hand, accepts any solid coat color other than white.
- While some Schips are naturally bobbed, it is thought that the original breed was always docked, with natural bobbed tails popping up into the population more recently.
The Schip’s natural agility makes them a great choice for the outdoors enthusiast without a lot of room. And their thick double coat means they can tolerate a wider range of temperatures than many small breeds. “Ianto Spike Spock” by Britt-Marie Sohlström / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
- In countries where tail docking is illegal, you will find Schips with various kinds of tails from short and straight to the curved tail often seen in spitz breeds.
- While the Schip may resemble a spitz-type dog and was even referred to as “Spitzke” for a time, they are actually descended from shepherds, not spitz.
- The correct pronunciation of the breed name is “Sheep-er-kee,” which is a call back to the dog’s original purpose.
- Some Schips are born with long hair, similar to that of a fluffy-coated husky. This is considered a fault in the breed standard and many breeders test their lines for this gene before selecting breeding pairs.
- They are often referred to as the “little black devil” dogs.
- These dogs are known escape artists and should never be left outside while you are gone.
- If you often find yourself adrift at sea, there is no better breed to have by your side. These dogs are used to confined spaces and spent much of their history aboard boats.
- Schips were used by the Belgian Resistance in WWII to run messages between resistance fighters.
Before You Go
Not sure you have the right personality for this little black devil? Here are a few more breeds to consider.
Sara Seitz has spent most of her life in the pet industry and has a bachelors in animal behavior from Colorado State University. Sara started working with dogs and cats as a high schooler at a rural boarding kennel. There she learned a lot about the bad and the ugly of the pet service industry. But not even the toughest day at that job would dissuade Sara from following her dream of working with animals.
In college, Sara got a job at a dog daycare and boarding facility in Fort Collins, Colorado. Her new career provided even more opportunities for learning about dog behavior than her classes did. As general manager of the daycare, Sara helped the company launch a new in-home pet sitting branch and trained to become a certified dog trainer. Between shifts taking care of peoples pets in-home and supervising dogs during playtime at the daycare, Sara organized and taught obedience classes.
Sara has always been passionate about bettering the lives of our canine companions. She soon found that advocating for and educating owners in the power of positive reinforcement training was one of the best ways to help dogs and their owners live happier lives.