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Get to Know the Schipperke: The Little Captain!

A popular theory about the origin of the Schipperke is that he was a ship dog, traveling between Brussels and Antwerp. What a cutie!

Caroline Coile  |  Dec 21st 2015


He looks like a little Tasmanian devil, but this devil is more of an angel. This is an energetic and fun-loving companion who deserves to be in more people’s homes.

Schipperke by Shutterstock.

Schipperke by Shutterstock.

More interesting things about the Schipperke

  • The Schipperke may be confused with the Pomeranian, but the Schipperke comes only in black, usually has no tail, and has a longer head and body. The coat is somewhat shorter, and the tail is usually docked, or if not, held fairly straight rather than curled over the back. He is also larger, usually ranging from 10 to 16 pounds.
  • The Schipperke originated in Belgium in the 1600s. Small, black, tailless dogs are mentioned in Belgium in the 1400s and 1500s, but not until 1690 is definite evidence of the breed found.
  • There are two theories about the origin of the Schipperke. The more popular is that he was a boat dog, traveling between Brussels and Antwerp, and that the breed’s name comes from the Flemish word for boat, schip. This suggests that the name means “little boatman.” The other is that he was a watchdog and ratter who came from the Belgian Shepherd, and that the name comes from the word for shepherd, scheper. Thus, “little shepherd.” In fact, a dog intermediate in size between the Schipperke and the Belgian Shepherd was once known in the region.
  • There’s also dispute as to whether the dog is a little spitz or a little Belgian Shepherd.
  • By the 19th century, the dog was so popular that it was virtually the only house dog in central Belgium, and was declared the national dog.
  • Belgian shoemakers organized competitions in which they adorned their Schips with specially made ornate brass collars.
  • The dog was initially of the working class, but in 1885 Queen Marie Henriette of Austria acquired a Schipperke she saw at a dog show. When other high-society people saw the queen with her Schip, they wanted one, too, and the dog became a status symbol.
  • The breed became so popular abroad, especially in England, that its numbers in Belgium were depleted by exports. In the 1880s, a group of fanciers banded together to replenish the breed, setting forth a standard of desirable points at the same time.
Schipperke by Shutterstock.

Schipperke by Shutterstock.

  • Schipperkes were used during World War II by the Belgian Resistance to deliver messages between resistance hideouts.
  • The first Schipperkes came to America in the late 1800s.
  • The breed became AKC recognized in 1904.
  • It is a member of the AKC Non-Sporting group.
  • The tail is traditionally docked in America, but is now usually left long in European countries.
  • The Schipperke has competed at the Westminster dog show since 1887, but has yet to win Best in Show, or even first in the Non-Sporting group.

Schipperke by Shutterstock.

  • The breed is the 105th most popular AKC breed, down from 93rd five years ago.
  • Nicknames include “Little Captain” and “Tasmanian Black Devil.”
  • The dog is not a media favorite, but the Schip appears in the 2004 movie Two Brothers.
  • Owners include Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Robert Dole, Bo Derek, Arte Johnson, Tommy Lasorda, and John Basedow.

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier