The Schipperke is a small, sturdy dog, square-proportioned, appearing to slope from shoulders to hindquarters. This appearance is helped by their double coat. Their fox-like face can appear questioning and mischievous, even impudent. Their trot is smooth and graceful. This is an agile and active dog.
The origin of the Schipperke is controversial. One plausible theory is that they originated as a dog of the boatmen who traveled between Brussels and Antwerp. The Flemish word for boat is schip, and Schipperke is thus thought to mean little boatman. The breed was less commonly called Schipperke by Belgian townspeople, however, who more often referred to them as spitz.
The other plausible theory of origin is that they were a dog of tradesmen guilds and middle-class households, who wanted a small dog to protect their home from rodents. The breed resembles a miniature Belgian Sheepdog, and it is possible that Schipperke derives from the word for shepherd, scheper. In fact, a breed of dog intermediate in size was one known in the region.
Although small black tailless dogs are mentioned in Belgian writings of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, definite evidence of Schipperkes is not found until 1690. A group of Brussels shoemakers organized regular Schipperke competitions, taking special pride in adorning their companions with ornate brass collars. By the nineteenth century this breed was so popular in central Belgium that they were virtually the only house dog found there, and they were acknowledged as the national dog.
In 1885 Queen Marie Henriette acquired a Schipperke she saw at a dog show. After people saw the little dog with her, it sparked great interest in the breed from people of all classes, and the workman’s companion thus became companion to the elite. At the same time, the breed’s numbers were depleted by exports to England, where they had become extremely fashionable. Most people in Belgium considered the breed common and preferred more exotic breeds. In the late 1880s, a group of Belgian Schipperke fans grouped to try to save this breed, setting forth the breed’s desirable points. Soon after, the first Schipperke came to America. They aroused little interest at first, but they have since amassed a modest but loyal following.
The Schipperke can be a bold companion, even though they can sometimes be independent and headstrong. This little dynamo is happiest when busy, poking his nose into every cranny and ever on the lookout for adventure. They are often reserved with strangers and an alert watchdog in the home, detecting strangers or visitors and barking in response. They can make an amiable and pleasant member of the household but needs daily exercise.
The active nature of this breed makes exercise—both mental and physical— imperative. Their small stature makes getting that exercise fairly easy, however. Either a vigorous game in the yard or a moderate walk on leash will usually suffice to meets their needs. Their double coat needs weekly brushing, more when shedding.