Schipperke Dog Breed Guide: Facts, Health and Care

Schipperke Dog Breed Guide: Facts, Health and Care

Introducing The Schipperke Dog Breed

Alert, active, curious, and vigilant, the Schipperke dog breed makes for great watchdogs despite their small size. Their energetic nature demands lots of exercise and mental stimulation from their owners, but in return they are highly affectionate and protective, getting along with both children and adults alike.

Breed Group Non-sporting Group
Temperament Agile, curious, faithful, confident, independent, fearless,
Life Span 13–15 years
Weight 10 – 16 pounds
Height 11 to 13 inches (male), 10 to 12 inches (female)
Colors Black is the only accepted breed standard color, although coats can also be present in apricot, black and tan, chocolate, and blue.

Schipperke History

Dating back to the seventeenth century, Schipperke’s history seems to start from a Belgian black, 40-pound shepherd dog called the Leuvenaar. Leuvenaars seem to be the origin of both the Schipperke and its larger -also Belgian- cousin, the Groenendael.

In English-speaking regions, it was initially thought that the name “Schipperke” meant “little boatman”, as the breed earned its fame as shipboard rat exterminators of the boats that crossed the canals of the Low Lands. Even if the name is indeed related to boats, “Schipperke” is Flemish for “little captain”.

Before the name was officially accepted, the breed was also known as “Spitz” or “Spitzke”, a colloquial description for a small dog with pointy ears.

Schipperkes were first recognized and registered as a formal breed in the 1880s, and the breed standards were described by 1889. Still to this day, though, there is a debate over whether this dog is a spitz or, as Belgium claims, a small sheepdog.

Schipperke dog breed guide: facts, health and care

Schipperke Dog Breed Appearance

Double-coated and with a distinctive long ruff around the neck and longer fur in the hindlegs, the overall appearance of the Schipperke is that of a small, thick, black dog with a unique substantial silhouette.

The most distinctive feature of the breed, however, is its fox-like facial features. The Schipperke has a medium-width skull that narrows toward the muzzle and round eyes placed forward on the head. Ears are small, pointy, and always very erect.

Schipperkes have an alert, mischievous face with a curious expression. It is typically not aggressive or wild.


Schipperke males are 11-13 inches tall at the highest point of the withers and females are about 10 to 12 inches tall. The average weight of the breed is 10 to 16 pounds.

Schipperke dog breed guide: facts, health and care

Coat and Color

The Schipperke’s coat is very characteristic and includes a specific length and pattern on different areas of the body.  It is short on the face, ears, front of forelegs, and hocks, medium on the body, and longer on the cape, ruff, chest, and culottes. The distinctive ruff extends from the back of the ears and completely surrounds the neck.

A uniform coat length is heavily penalized by breed judges, as different coat lengths are one of the most essential breed characteristics.

According to the breed standard, colors other than black are reasoning enough for disqualification. The Schipperke coat can, however, naturally come in chocolate, tan, blue, and even blonde.

Grooming and Maintenance

Except for one to two heavy shedding seasons a year which require almost daily grooming, Schipperkes shed moderately most of the time and hence, requires only weekly brushing. There is no need for trimming or fluffing.

The best tool is a brush that can keep their coat healthy by reaching the thick undercoat to help remove loose hair.

Baths are usually not needed as the breed tends to be odorless, however during the heavy shedding seasons a warm bath may help loosen and remove dead hair. Nails should be trimmed regularly to avoid discomfort.

Other grooming needs include oral and ear hygiene. Regularly checking both the teeth and the ears will help spot potential infections before they become a serious condition. Even if pointy ears get more ventilation than folded ears and hence tend to infect less, the breed’s love for swimming may require precautionary ear-checking.

Schipperke dog breed guide: facts, health and care

Schipperke Dog Breed Temperament and Personality

Schipperkes are very smart and extremely curious, tending to be interested in everything that goes on in their surroundings. They are independent, confident with a strong personality that has helped the breed earn the popular nickname of “little black devil”. Loyal and protective, they like to be involved in family activities and tend to be reserved with strangers.

Training Your Schipperke

Because of their watchdog nature, Schipperkes have a tendency to develop excessive barking behavior if not taught otherwise. Their independent nature, territoriality, and strong-willed personality can be challenging to tame, hence proper training and socialization must start as soon as possible.

Patient and persistent training from an early age often results in highly-obedient and docile dogs, as Schipperkes are good learners that would do anything to please their owners. However, they are not a breed for first-time pet parents.  

Highly curious, stubborn, and independent, if bored they will turn to their exploring nature and can develop escaping behavior. Properly trained, Schipperkes excel at obedience and agility competitions.

Schipperke Exercise Requirements and Energy Level

This highly energetic breed requires ample exercise and stimulation. They are best exercised in a fenced area, or by going on walks properly secured with a leash. Walking off-leash is not recommended, not only for their tendency of being aggressive toward unfamiliar dogs but also for their high prey drive that can lead them to run away chasing a potential prey.

Poor exercise can turn this otherwise docile dog into a heavy barker, and even develop aggressive behavior, as exercise is the way in which this breed steams off their excess energy.

Common Schipperke Health Issues

Schipperkes are a generally healthy breed with a lifespan of about 13 to 15 years. The most recurring orthopedic problems in Schipperkes are patellar luxation (when the kneecap moves out of its normal location) and Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease, a condition with a yet-unknown cause in which blood supply to the femoral head in the hip joint gets interrupted causing the bone to die.

This condition is gradual and can evolve from a subtle limp to a point in which the dog would not place any weight on the affected limb.

Other recurring disorders include thyroid problems and MPS III or Sanfilippo Syndrome, a potentially fatal genetic mutation that happens only in a few breeds (being Schipperkes the most recurring one), The syndrome has mostly neurologic signs, being an affected balance the most characteristic one. Unfortunately, there is no known treatment for this condition. It can, however, be screened by testing so breeders can identify dog carriers and keep them out of their breeding stock.

Health Concerns

Recommended Health Tests from the National Breed Club

Read the full Official Breed Club Health Statement here.

Diet and Nutritional Needs: Feeding Your Schipperke

Schipperkes like to eat and can easily become overweight, especially if overfed and/or not properly exercised. The daily amount of food must be determined by a veterinarian according to the dog’s age and exercise levels.

Either commercial or homemade (always supervised and approved by a certified expert), high-quality foods ensure better nutrition and hence, a longer, healthier life. Never feed human food to a dog unless cleared by a veterinarian. When choosing treats, try to go for natural, low-calorie, healthy dog cookies. Make sure fresh, clean water is to be available at all times.

Tips for Adopting & Raising a Schipperke

When looking for a breeder, try to find a reputable, AKC-registered one that provides proper documentation and health clearances. Also, prioritize breeders that screen their dogs for MPS III and other genetic disorders or predispositions.

Given their affectionate, playful, and protective nature, the Schipperke dog breed can be great companions to children and/or energetic, active adults. They love to run around and play with dog toys. Schipperkes do well with cats and other dogs if they are raised with them. Their territorial nature can be tamed with proper socialization from an early age.

If consistent obedience training is provided from the moment the dog becomes a part of the household, Schipperkes can become great pets. They are eager to please and give their exceptional intelligence they can learn all sorts of tricks.

The key to a happy Schipperke is the right amount of exercise and stimulation. Without those, they can develop behavioral problems like escaping habits, zoomies, aggression, or excessive barking.

Schipperke dog breed guide: facts, health and care

Schipperke FAQs

Q: Do Schipperke dogs bark a lot?
A: Because of their watchdog nature, Schipperkes can have a tendency to excessive barking if not taught otherwise. Proper training from an early age can deter this behavior.

Q: Are Schipperkes good family dogs?
A: Yes. This dog is active and affectionate and loves to be around children if they provide constant attention. As with all dogs, however, contact with children should be supervised. Even if small-sized, they are highly protective of their family and their household.

Q: How much does a Schipperke cost?
A: Schipperkes can start at around $700. Individuals from top breed lines, however, can cost around $1,200, and those with exceptional pedigree are known to reach the $4,300 price tag.

Q: How big is a Schipperke?
A: On average, a male Schipperke will be up to 13 inches on their highest point, while a female is usually an inch shorter. They have a sturdy body, though, and they are quite strong in spite of their small size.

Schipperke dog breed guide: facts, health and care

Official Resources: Breed Clubs, Rescues and Helpful Links

Schipperke dog breed guide: facts, health and care

Similar Dog Breeds

Related Groups and Characteristics

  • Smallest Dog Breeds
  • Non-Sporting Group