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Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography
Tetsu Yamakazi, Animal Photography
The Brussels Griffon is smart, alert, sensitive, and full of self-importance. He will keep you in stitches with his antics, prove an excellent watchdog, and rule your household with an iron paw. For such a little guy he’s highly active and a talented escape artist.
In the 1997 film “As Good as it Gets,” the part of Jack Nicholson’s dog, Verdell, was played by six Brussels Griffons. The breed also appeared in the films “First Wives Club” and “Gosford Park,” as well as on the sitcom “Spin City.”
The Brussels Griffon was created in Belgium some 200 years ago from a blend of English Toy Spaniel, Pug, and a type of small German terrier. He mixes intelligence with a comical nature and has a wonderful air of self-importance that never fails to amuse his people. He likes to think he runs the household -- and often he does -- but deep down he’s a softie and loves to have the constant attention of his family. Unless you have a strong sense of humor and the patience of Job, however, he can be a challenge to live with.
If you are a caregiver at heart, enjoy a dog that likes to get up close and personal, and can appreciate one with a wicked sense of humor, then this intelligent, curious and sensitive breed may deign to make you his own.
The Brussels Griffon comes in a range of temperaments, from outgoing and active to reserved verging on shy, with the rest somewhere in the middle. When he’s happy with life, he’s affectionate and adaptable, loves to play and is often found tearing around the house or running circles in the yard. He’s often referred to as a “Velcro dog” because of his strong desire to be with his favorite person at all times.
The Brussels Griffon has a reputation for naughtiness, probably a gift from his terrier ancestors. If he doesn’t think he’s getting the attention he deserves or has been left behind unnecessarily, he won’t hesitate to overturn trash cans, unroll toilet paper or break housetraining. And “finders, keepers” is the BG’s motto. If it’s on the floor, he claims it. It’s essential to crate a young Brussels Griffon when you can’t supervise him.
The Brussels Griffon can also be an escape artist. He needs to be contained within a fence that can’t be dug beneath or climbed over. Griffons are amazingly athletic for their size (usually 8 to 12 pounds) and are perfectly capable of climbing up and over things or achieving leaps worthy of Superman.
On the plus side, his athletic ability and intelligence make him a contender in dog sports such as agility, obedience, rally and tracking. You just have to persuade him that those activities are worth his time and effort. Keep training fun and use positive reinforcement techniques, never force.
Griffons usually get along well with other pets, but like most toy breeds, they will try to take on dogs many times their size. They’re completely unaware of their small size and must be protected from themselves.
Brussels Griffons come in a smooth or rough coat, neither of which sheds heavily. Smooths need only a twice weekly brushing. The coat of a rough Griffon must be brushed twice a week, as well as hand stripped every three to four months to retain the correct hard, wiry texture. Pet dogs with a rough coat can be kept in a Schnauzer clip, minus the eyebrows.
Exercise is good for every dog, so make sure the Griffon gets a walk or other activity daily. While it’s tempting to carry this little dog everywhere you go, resist the impulse and let him be a dog. He'll be happier and better-behaved for it.
It goes without saying that Griffons need to live in the house and never outdoors. With their flat faces, they are sensitive to high temperatures and can quickly succumb to heatstroke if not kept in air-conditioned surroundings.
Brussels Griffon puppies are adorable, and it’s one of the reasons they are so popular. Cute puppies sell, and that makes the Griffon a favorite of puppy mills and greedy, irresponsible breeders. Do your homework before buying one of these little dogs, and you’ll be well rewarded with a wonderfully funny dog.
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Created in Belgium about 200 years ago from a blend of English Toy Spaniel, Pug, and an Affenpinscher type of German stable ratter, the Brussels Griffon was popular in farm and peasant homes for his ratting abilities. He lived in stables and on the streets, a tough little Belgian urchin who survived by his wits. He was such a part of daily life that he was portrayed in artwork as early as the 16th century in paintings by Du Empoli and Van Dyck and later in Renoir’s “Bather With Griffon.”
Eventually the Griffon became popular as a companion dog.
A reputation for naughtiness precedes the Brussels Griffon. That naughty nature probably comes from the terrier influence in this relatively young toy breed’s background. Created in Belgium about 200 years ago from a blend of English toy spaniel, pug, and an Affenpinscher type of German stable ratter, the Brussels Griffon is an extremely intelligent dog with a sense of humor and a wonderful air of self-importance that is a constant source of amusement to his people. He tends toward bossiness and will run the household whenever possible, but deep down he’s a marshmallow who loves being with his family and is in constant need of their time and attention. This is a smart, alert and sensitive dog.
Because each breed used in his development contributed unique traits in temperament and personality, the Brussels Griffon can be found in a variety of temperaments, ranging from outgoing and active (that terrier background again) to reserved, verging on shy (a remnant of the English Toy Spaniel influence) with most in the middle of the spectrum.
Most often, the Griffon is a happy, affectionate, adaptable dog who always loves his caretaker best. The term “Velcro dog” is often applied to a Griffon. He loves to be with his person at all times. Without love and attention, no matter how well his other needs are met, a Griffon will pine away and may revert to misbehaving to get attention and let you know he’s not a happy camper. Like an elephant, he has a long memory for incidents he interprets as mistreatment, such as being left behind when his people go somewhere.
In response, he has been known to break housetraining, turn over wastebaskets, unroll toilet paper and walk on keyboards. A crate is not just a good idea, it’s a necessity when leaving a Griffon home alone.
When a Griffon is happy, though, he loves to romp and play and will amuse his family by tearing through the house or running in circles around the yard for the sheer joy of it. Griffons usually get along well with other pets, but like most other toy breeds, they’re completely unaware of their small size and need to be protected from themselves. They will often try to dominate dogs many times their size and seem unaware that they could be in danger.
The Griffon is not the best choice for families with children. He prefers to be the center of attention and generally doesn’t enjoy the company of children or sharing the spotlight with them. And often young children force their attention on the dog, not understanding that the cute little Griffon might not want love and kisses. His small size also means that he can be easily injured if a small child drops him, falls on him or steps on him.
You may be surprised to learn that it’s essential to provide a Griffon with a securely fenced yard -- fencing that can’t be dug underneath or climbed over. Some can climb like monkeys or make leaps worthy of Superman and are fully capable of escaping from a fenced yard. For their size, they are amazingly athletic.
His intelligence and athleticism make the Griffon a contender in dog sports such as agility and obedience and even tracking, as long as he can be persuaded that such activities are worthwhile. Keep training fun. Positive reinforcement is the only way to get cooperation from a Griffon. He can be very stubborn and won’t give in once he has decided to do -- or not do -- something. You can’t force him to do anything, but you can make him believe it’s his idea.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Griffon, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
In Brussels Griffons, health problems that can be a concern are hip dysplasia, a knee problem called luxating patellas, an eye disease called progressive retinal atrophy, cataracts, and a neurological condition called syringomyelia.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The American Brussels Griffon Association participates in the Canine Health Information Center, a health database. Before individual Brussels Griffons can be issued a CHIC number, breeders must submit a knee evaluation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). Optional CHIC test results that can be submitted are OFA hip and thyroid evaluations, an ERG test for PRA, and an MRI for syringomyelia.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been "vet checked," then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Brussels Griffon at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
Owners of this breed can choose between the smooth or rough coat, neither of which sheds heavily. The rough coat is wiry and dense and should never feel woolly or silky. The smooth coat is straight, short and shiny.
Smooths are easier to groom, needing only a weekly brushing to keep their coats clean and shiny. Rough coats require hand stripping every three to four months to maintain the correct hard, wiry texture. The down side is that hand stripping can be time consuming if you do it yourself and expensive if you have a professional groomer do it. Pet dogs can be kept in a schnauzer clip, minus the eyebrows, but the trademark rough texture will disappear if the coat is clipped.
There’s no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog, but some people who are allergic to dogs react less strongly to a Brussels Griffon with a rough coat. In those cases, it’s worthwhile to learn to strip the coat or to pay to have it done.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every few weeks. Small dogs are prone to periodontal disease so brush the teeth frequently for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as is possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than in making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Griffon and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the American Brussels Griffon Association. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the ABGA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to obtain recommended health clearances on dogs before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical and should be reported to the ABGA and the American Kennel Club. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Many reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Griffon might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Brussels Griffon in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Brussels Griffons available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Brussels Griffon. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Brussels Griffons love all Brussels Griffons. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The American Brussels Griffon Club’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Brussels Griffon rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Brussels Griffon home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Griffon, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Griffon to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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