The Schipperke is often described as a big dog trapped in a little dog's body. They are very lively and may be difficult to train. This breed has a history of ratting and guarding and still takes these tasks seriously.


The Belgian name of this breed is pronounced "skeep-er-ker". It first acquired this title in 1888, before which it had been known simply as the Spitske. In English, it was at first called the Belgian Barge Dog, the Canal-boat Dog or simply the Barge Dog, before its Flemish name was adopted. There are two interpretations of the meaning of this name. According to one, Schipperke is the diminutive of "schipper", meaning "skipper", which makes it "the little skipper". According to the other, it is the diminutive of "schip" meaning "boat", which makes it "the little boatman". In England it is known to its friends as the Skip, in America as the Schip. It is a compact little dog that has been employed on the Flemish canal systems since at least the 15th century.

This breed has the unique claim to have been the world’s very first show dog. As early as the 17th century, Flemish craftsmen were holding what they called "Sunday Beauty Contests " with their dogs. One of these competitions was held in the Grand Palace of Brussels in 1690, when the competing dogs were displayed wearing intricate, hammered-brass chokers.

Despite their early popularity with craftsmen, the main duty of these little black dogs was to act as sentries and ratters on board the many barges that transported goods through the local canals. It was essentially a working-man’s dog until, in 1885, the Belgian queen, Marie Henriette, acquired one as a pet and immediately raised its social status. By the end of the 19th century it had already become the most popular household dog in Belgium. The first Schipperke to be seen in England appeared in 1887 and the Schipperke Club of England was formed in 1890. It arrived in America in 1888 and the Schipperke Club of America was founded in 1929.

According to local legend, the breed lost its tail in a strange way. In 1609 a shoemaker became so angered over the thieving behaviour of a neighbour’s dog that he cut off its tail. The result of his assault looked so attractive that it was decided to perform this operation on all members of the breed. Today it is said that a small proportion of Schipperke puppies are born naturally tailless. Others have their tails amputated close to their bodies, leaving less than 1 in (2.5 cm), to give the dog its characteristic silhouette.

There are three theories concerning the origin of this breed:

1. The first sees it as a small edition of a spitz dog. Supporting this view is the breed’s alert expression, its pricked ears, pointed muzzle and stocky body with a distinctive ruff.

2. The second insists that it is a reduced sheepdog. A now extinct, black Belgian sheepdog called the Leauvenaar is believed to have split into two modern breeds, growing bigger to become the modern Groenendael Sheepdog and shrinking down to become the little Schipperke.

3. The third claims that it is a cross between the Pomeranian and some kind of terrier. This last idea seems unlikely, but it is difficult to choose between the other two theories. Eventually DNA studies will be able to settle the matter.


In colour, the classic Schipperke is jet black, although in some countries other solid colours are also permitted, even though these offend the purists. It is smaller than its Dutch barge counterpart, the Keeshond, being only 9—13 in (22—33 cm).

Height: 30 cm at the shoulder

Weight: 5-8 kg


In personality, this small dog has at various times been described as mischievous, frisky, agile, energetic, resilient, lively, curious, bustling and vigilant. Because of its watchdog role, it is always suspicious of strangers. Critics have called it petulant, stubborn and a little street-fighter. Back in the 15th century it was even dubbed "the incarnation of the Devil".

Coat and Grooming

The medium length coat usually comes in black, but other solid colours such as cream and blue are sometimes seen. The coat normally needs grooming once a week except when shedding. At these times, daily brushing is required.


MPS 111B is a disease that affects small numbers of the breed.

Expected lifespan is 12-15 years.

Environment and Exercise

This dog is suited to indoor living but would still appreciate access to a small well-fenced in yard. They do not tolerate the heat well. Exercise the mind and body every day by going out for walks, playing games, and being involved in agility and obedience classes.

Compatibility with Kids and other Pets

The Schipperke is a good match for primary school aged children. This breed generally gets along fine with other dogs and cats, but some maybe aggressive with strange dogs or cats. Rodents and rabbits are viewed as prey.

Gallery of Schipperke