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Nicole Cosgrove


The Schipperke is a small purebred from Belgium regarded by some as a Spitz type dog and by others as a miniature sheepdog. It is well known for its role on barges on the canals where it would act as a guard dog. However it was also used as a sheepdog and by tradespeople as ratters. It is a small version of another Belgian sheepdog, the Leauvenaar. Its nickname the little black devil comes from its clever and curious nature that often gets it into trouble. .

The Schipperke at A Glance
Name Schipperke
Other names Spitzke, Spits and Spitske
Nicknames Little Black Devil (LBD)
Origin Belgium
Average size Small
Average weight 10 to 16 pounds
Average height 10 to 13 inches
Life span 13 to 15 years
Coat type Dense, Long, Silky, Thick, Medium
Hypoallergenic No
Color Fawn, Black, Tan, Brown, Cream
Popularity Somewhat popular – ranked 112th by the AKC
Intelligence Excellent – understands new commands in 5 to 15 repetitions
Tolerance to heat Moderate – does not do very well in even overly warm weather
Tolerance to cold Good – can handle some cold weather but nothing too cold
Shedding Moderate – will be some hair left around the home
Drooling Low – not a breed prone to slobber or drool
Obesity Fairly high – likes its food! Measure what it gets, track the treats and make sure it gets regular exercise
Grooming/brushing Average maintenance, regular brushing required
Barking Frequent – will need training to control
Exercise needs Fairly active – needs regular activity to stay healthy and happy
Trainability Moderately hard – experience needed
Friendliness Good with socialization – not the most friendly of breeds
Good first dog Good but best with experienced owner
Good family pet Very good with socialization
Good with children Excellent with socialization
Good with other dogs Moderate – not that great with other dogs, socialization is essential as is supervision
Good with other pets Moderate to good – strong prey drive
Good with strangers Moderate – socialization and supervision essential
Good apartment dog Very good due to size but barking might be an issue
Handles alone time well Good – can be left alone for short periods without problems
Health issues Somewhat healthy – some issues can include Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease, Autoimmune Thyroiditis, Epilepsy, patellar luxation, MPSIIIB
Medical expenses $435 a year for basic health care and pet insurance
Food expenses $75 a year for treats and a good quality dry dog food
Miscellaneous expenses $465 a year for grooming, license, basic training, toys and miscellaneous items
Average annual expenses $975 as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $800
Rescue organizations Several including the Schipperke Club of America and the Schipperke Rescue.Net, Inc
Biting Statistics None reported

The Schipperke’s Beginnings

The Schipperke is an old Belgium dog dating back at least to the 1400s where it was first mentioned by a monk. It is possible it is older even than that. Its name was thought to mean little captain or skipper referring to its time spent on barges but in fact it means little shepherd, as that was its original role. It was also used to hunt with, as a guard dog and as a favored companion. It was bred from the Leauvenaar but developed into a much smaller dog until it was a completely different breed. Before it was called the Schipperke it was known as the Spitske, or Spits. In 1690 it was one of the first breeds to appear in a specialty dog show put on by guild workers to display the dogs wearing collars made of hammered brass, common to the times.

When Queen Marie Henriette saw and admired one at a dog show in Brussels in 1885 its popularity grew as a companion dog too. In the 1888 it received its current name in 1888 when its breed club in Belgium was formed. It was especially popular with canal barge owners where it acted as a ratter and a companion to the captain. It was after its appearance in its first dog show that it started to spread to the rest of the world. Boat owners especially have appreciated how well it does on boating trips and fishing trips. During the second world war the Belgians in the resistance used Schipperke to carry messages between cells under the noses of the occupying Nazi forces very successfully.

New Lease on Life

In the late 1800s the breed was imported to the US by Walter J Comstock and a formal standard was drawn in 1889. The AKC recognized the breed in 1904 and for a long time has been referred to as Belgian Ship Dogs or Belgian Barge Dogs. In 1929 the Schipperke Club of America was formed. Today it is ranked 112th in popularity by the AKC.

The Dog You See Today

This is a small sized dog weighing 10 to 16 pounds and standing 10 to 13 inches tall. It has a deep chest and its back is level or slopes down to the base of the tail. Some however are not born with tails, and those that are can have them cropped in places where that is still allowed. When left natural Schipperke can actually have tails of varying lengths. It has small feet and will reach its physical full size around 6 to 8 months but matures later around 1 to 2 years. It has a fox like appearance with a squared body and its dewclaws are often removed. Its coat is medium in length, double with a thick and soft under coat and a harsher and longer outer coat. Around its chest, shoulders, neck the hair is longer and on its ears, front of its front legs and face the hair is shorter. Commonly the coat is black and that is the only color some clubs accept for show standards, however it can also be blonde, fawn and tan.

The Schipperke has a fox like head with upright small, triangular pointed ears on top of it. When looking at the dog from the side it appears somewhat rounded and that then narrows towards the muzzle. The muzzle’s length is a little shorter than the skulls and at the end is a black small nose. Its eyes are oval shaped, small and forward facing.

The Inner Schipperke


This breed is alert and makes a very good watchdog as it will alert you to any intruder by barking. It does have some protective instincts so may also try to act in your defense. That barking though can be high pitched and frequent so will need training to control it. It is an energetic and active dog, intelligent too and can be independent which means it can be stubborn. It can be owned by people with little experience but is best with owners who have owned dogs before. It is a very sensitive breed so does not do well in tense environments where there is a lot of shouting. It also prefers not to be left alone for long periods. It is fearless, inquisitive and likes to explore but still wants to be a part of family activity and with its owners. Their curiosity and intelligence means they need plenty of stimulation as well as exercise.

Around strangers the Schipperke can be reserved until it is sure of them so socialization is needed to make sure that does not become snappy and suspicious. It is very devoted to its owners, will bond closely sometimes in particular to one owner and is certainly the epitome of a big personality in a small dog. It was once described as a little black devil back in the 19th century in its homeland, and that still is a good description today! Owners should have a good sense of humor as this dog will certainly get up to mischief. It also tends to retain its puppyness until the age of 4 or 5 years so be prepared!

Living with a Schipperke

What will training look like?

Training a Schipperke is going to be a challenge if you are not experienced, and will still be a gradual process even if you have it. It can be eager to please and it is intelligent but is independent so can be willful. Owners need to be firm and clear about being the leader. Set rules and make they are followed at all times. Be confident and be consistent, patient and positive. It is very mischievous and is inclined to take advantage of it senses you caving in. It does not like being scolded or handled harshly, offer it treats, praise and encouragement to motivate it and make the sessions short and interesting. Make sure it has things to do and is well trained and it will be a well behaved pet, let it rule and leave it unoccupied and it will be difficult to live with.

Housebreaking the Schipperke can also be a tricky process and you can expect it take between 4 to 6 months even with crate training. Make sure too that you socialize well and extensively and that you start this early too. Expose it to different people, places, situations, noises, animals and so on so that it adjust to them and becomes a more confident dog. This also prevents its wariness around strangers from turning into suspicion and aggression.

How active is the Schipperke?

This is a fairly active small dog so while it needs lots of activity, mental stimulation and jobs to do, for most this is manageable. This is not the right breed to consider though if you are inactive and just looking for a lap dog. It will need regular outdoors time to adjust to apartment living, and it will also need training to control its vocalization. As well as going for a good couple of walks a day so that it gets 30 minutes or more in total, you can also expect to have to take it somewhere where it can run safely off leash. Dog parks are one possibility and they are also a place you can play games with it. If there is a yard make sure it is well fenced, this is a quick and agile breed, for the same reason also walk it on a leash. It will enjoy sniffing around and playing in even a small yard but it does like to dig.

Make sure it has plenty of toys to rotate through and that some of those are puzzles or something to keep it mentally occupied. It is an active dog indoors as well as out. It was bred to be a working dog not just a companion and still today can be used in various roles, its traditional ones or others such as a hearing dog, search and rescue, bomb and drug detection work even.

Caring for the Schipperke

Grooming needs

There will be a moderate amount of grooming and care involved in owning this dog. Brush it regularly as it does shed a moderate amount so there will hair left around the home and frequent vacuuming needed. A couple of times a year they shed a heavier amount during their seasonal blow outs. Some owners opt to have a groomer force this process to get it over with as otherwise it can take up to a month to finish, it does mean having a naked and unattractive dog for a couple of months though! Females will have more blow outs than males when they are in heat. When brushing use a firm bristled brush and only bathe as needed so that you do not dry out its skin.

Its ears should be checked for infection signs once a week, just look for redness, sensitivity and irritation, wax build up or even a discharge. Take it to a vet to have it taken care of if needed. Also once a week its ears should be cleaned, just the outer parts you can get to never put anything in the ear. Use a damp warm cloth, or cotton balls with a dog ear cleanser. Its teeth need to be cleaned regualrly to have good oral health. At least two to three times a week brush with a proper dog toothpaste and toothbrush, daily if possible. Its nails need checking too as you do not want them to become too long. Some dogs wear their nails down with their activity, but if yours does not you can get proper dog nail cutting tools and do it yourself, or have a vet or groomer do it. If you are not familiar, make sure you do some homework first. Should you cut too far down you will cut into the nerves and blood vessels that run through the lower part of the nail and that will hurt the dog and cause bleeding.

Feeding Time

A small dog like this will likely need about ½ to 1 cup of a good quality dry dog food a day, that is split into two meals for it. It may eat a little more, the exact amount can vary from one Schipperke to another depending on its size, health, age, level of activity and rate of metabolism. Make sure that it has access to water and that this is freshened often. This dog does like to eat, and can become obese easily if overfed.

How is the Schipperke with children and other animals?

Schipperke are good with children especially with early socialization and if raised alongside them. It is an energetic and playful dog which makes a great playmate for children and they are also affectionate towards them too. While it can get along well even with younger children, it does not like being startled or teased and may snap should a child do that to them. Make sure children are taught how to approach it, touch it and play with it appropriately. With other pets like cats, and other dogs in its family it is usually accepting of them when raised with them. However it does have a strong prey drive which means strange cats or rabbits or birds are something it will want to chase. Some Schipperke will have prey instincts that drive it to also chase other small pets in the home. This is a territorial dog so it will be defensive with other strange dogs and if not fixed can be aggressive with them.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

The life span of this dog is about 13 to 15 years. It is a fairly healthy breed, but there are some issues they can be prone to, such as epilepsy, hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, eye problems, Legg-Calves-Perthes disease, patellar luxation, Mucopolysaccharidosis and obesity.

Biting Statistics

When looking at reports of dog attacks against people over the last 35 years causing bodily harm in Canada and the US, there is no mention of the Schipperke. It is not a breed prone to aggression especially not towards other people. However that does not mean it has not ever attacked or snapped at someone or that it would never do so. All dogs, no matter their size or breed have a potential to have an off day, become aggressive. While it is true some are more likely than others, and some are more powerful then others so can do more damage, there is no breed that would never ever do so. Early socialization, training, enough attention and exercise can help.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

Schipperke puppies will cost about $800 depending on where you are and what breeder you use. It is best to use one that has a good reputation so do some homework. If you are looking for a top breeder of show quality dogs this price will go up. Choosing to use less reputable breeders or options is not always a lot cheaper, but you do have a problem with how healthy your dog will be, what background it has and how trustworthy those breeders are. Some are neglectful and just ignorant, but some are actually cruel and this is not something most people want to help fund. Be wary of puppy mill type places, pet stores and backyard breeders. There is also the option of looking into shelters to find a rescue to adopt. While you are not likely to get a purebred, if all you want is a great companion there are certainly dogs worthy of your love and who will adore you in return. Adoption can be about $50 to $400 plus initial medical concerns are dealt with too!

If they are not already dealt with as mentioned there are some initial medical needs to be dealt with so a vet visit is needed as soon as possible once you have your new puppy home. It will need micro chipping and spaying or neutering when old enough, it also needs a physical exam, blood tests, deworming and shots. These will cost about $260. You also need to get some items for your dog for your home, a crate, carrier, bowls, collar and leash for example. These initial item costs will come to about $120.

There are also ongoing costs to owning any dog or pet. To ensure it gets basic health care like flea and tick prevention, shots, check ups along with pet insurance you can expect to pay around $435 a year. For grooming, license, toys, miscellaneous items and basic training the yearly cost will start around $465. Then feeding your dog a good quality dry dog food and dog treats will cost about $75 a year. This gives an annual cost of $975 or more.


Looking for a Schipperke Puppy Name? Let select one from our list!

The Schipperke has some amazing qualities, intelligent, amusing, cute, devoted and affectionate for example. But it also takes work to train it and it needs firm handling. Make sure you are committed to having a dog for up to 15 years and that you are prepared for some work. It is small, and will be happy to snuggle with you on your lap – but that is after having a full day of activity and stimulation. Be ready for that seasonal heavy shedding too and its frequent barking.

Popular Schipperke Mixes

Schipperke and Poodle Mix
General Information
Size Small to medium
Height 8 to 15 inches
Weight 20 to 40 pounds
Life span 12 to 15 years
Touchiness Quite sensitive
Barking Rare
Activity Slightly active
Breed Traits



Can be

Schipperke, Shih Tzu Mix
General Information
Size Small sized
Height Small
Weight 10 to 15 pounds
Life span 15 to 18 years
Touchiness Fairly sensitive
Barking Rare
Activity Slightly active
Breed Traits

Dedicated and Hyper
Easy to train
Great companion
Family dog



Featured Image Credit: Al_Er, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.