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Lee Feldstein, Animal Photography
The “little black devil” is quite mischievous and wants to be in charge, and he will be in charge if you don’t take the lead. Highly energetic, he has brains, speed, and athletic ability that make him a great sports competitor. He’s also a terrific watchdog.
Legend has it that the Schipperke’s taillessness arose in the 17th century when a shoemaker became angry that his neighbor’s dog kept stealing from him and cut off the tail.
The Schipperke is often referred to as a little black devil. The small, black, prick-eared dog with the fox-like face and big smile looks like a member of the Spitz or Northern breeds of dogs, but he is thought to be a miniaturized version of a 19th-century Belgian sheepherding breed
This sturdy little dog weighs 10 to 16 pounds. He has a distinctive outline and a double coat that forms a ruff around his neck and extends partway down his back, as if he’s wearing a cape. The Schipperke has many excellent qualities, but he’s not the right breed for everyone. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering acquiring a Schipperke.
He’s not the right breed for you if you are someone who is easily trampled on by others. The Schipperke is a take-charge kind of dog. He is highly intelligent and has a mind of his own. You had better be smarter than he is if you don’t want him telling you what to do.
Mischievous and energetic, he is busy, busy, busy. Always on the alert, he is an excellent watchdog, but he can be a barker. You must teach him when it’s okay to bark and when to stop. The fun-loving Schipperke can be a good choice for families with older children who can handle him appropriately.
At a minimum, the Schipperke needs a 20 to 30-minute walk on leash, but you might be surprised to know that (health permitting) he can make a good jogging companion. If you’re really smart, though, you’ll take advantage of his brains, speed, and athletic ability and train him for dog sports such as agility, flyball, obedience, and rally. Those are all excellent ways to meet his needs for mental and physical stimulation. Expect him to dig holes or act in other destructive ways if you don’t.
Confine the Schipperke to a securely fenced yard. Besides being a digger, he is highly curious and will go off in search of an interesting scent without a second thought. He’s also fond of chasing small furry animals such as squirrels and will hunt moles, mice, rats, and other vermin with enthusiasm. Don’t count on an underground electronic fence to keep him contained. He’s much too interested in having his own way for that to be a deterrent.
Train the smart but independent Schipperke with firmness, patience, and consistency. Keep training sessions short and fun, and don’t be surprised if he puts his own spin on commands or outthinks you in other ways. For best results, use positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, play, and food rewards.
Although the Schipperke’s coat looks like a lot of work, it can be maintained with brushing once a week — more often when he’s shedding, which occurs once or twice a year. In addition, trim the nails as needed, brush the teeth, and keep the ears clean and dry.
The Schipperke should live indoors. He’s a companion dog and will loudly express his unhappiness if relegated to the backyard with little or no human companionship.
With his small size and offstanding coat, you might think of the Schipperke as a toy-type spitz breed related to the Pomeranian, but this member of the Non-Sporting Group is a miniature variety of black sheepdog called the Leauvenaar, which was known in Belgium. If you look closely, you can see the Schip’s relationship to another black sheepdog: the Belgian Sheepdog (Groenendael).
The Leauvenaar, which weighed about 40 pounds, was downsized to become the Schipperke: an “excellent and faithful” little watchdog. The name Schipperke comes from the Flemish language and means “little captain.” The dogs are best known for being watchdogs on canal boats, but they were also popular with shoemakers and other craftspeople.
Schipperkes were first brought to the United States in 1888, and the American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1904. A breed club was formed in 1905 but went by the wayside during World War I. The current Schipperke club was established in 1929. The Schipperke ranks 102nd among the breeds registered by the AKC.
The curious and alert Schipperke has been a watchdog for centuries and he still excels at that task today. He is interested in everything around him, always prepared to protect his family and property. When introduced to them as puppies and supervised properly, they are great with kids, including toddlers. They are reserved toward strangers, so don’t get a Schipperke if you want a dog who will love everyone on sight.
Schipperkes love their family, but they are confident, independent dogs with a mind of their own. Don’t be surprised when they display a tendency to dash out the door without permission, bark too much or are difficult to housetrain. They like to do things their own way, and unless you can establish yourself as their leader, they don’t see any reason to do what you say. A happy Schipperke owner is someone who is firm and consistent but not harsh. A sense of humor helps, too. Channel your Schipperke’s intelligence and energy into activities such as agility, herding, rally, and obedience, or plan to do lots of trick training, jogging and other activities to keep him occupied.
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. Never wait until he is six 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. Invite people to your home as well so he becomes accustomed to visitors. These experiences as a young dog will help him grow into a sensible, calm adult dog.
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 Schipperke, 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.
Schipperkes have some health conditions that can be a concern. They include eye problems such as cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy, hip dysplasia, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, hypothyroidism, and mucopolysaccharidosis Type IIIb.
The Schipperke Club of America, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For a Schipperke to achieve CHIC certification, he must have patella (knee) and thyroid clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation. Optional tests are OFA clearances for hips and Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, and a DNA test for mucopolysaccharidosis type IIIB. Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. You can check CHIC’s website to see if a breeder’s dogs have these certifications.
The SCA, in conjunction with CHIC, is also tracking anecdotal data on some other conditions sometimes seen in Schipperkes: epilepsy, autoimmune skin problems, Cushing’s disease, diabetes mellitus, and atopy.
Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs vet checked is not a substitute for genetic health 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.
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 Schipperke 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.
The Schipperke’s abundant double coat is straight and slightly harsh to the touch, with a soft, dense undercoat. The coat should never be silky or excessively long or short.
Although the Schipperke’s coat looks like a lot of work, it can be maintained with brushing once a week — more often when he’s shedding, which occurs once or twice a year. Bathe him only when he’s dirty or every three or four months.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, but Schipperkes are not fond of having their nails trimmed, so consider using a nail grinder instead.
Keep the ears clean and dry. Check them weekly for redness or a bad odor that might indicate infection. If the ears look dirty, wipe them out with a cotton ball moistened with a mild pH-balanced cleanser recommended by your veterinarian. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
It is important to begin grooming the Schipperke when he is very young. An early introduction teaches the independent Schipperke that grooming is a normal part of his life and to patiently accept the handling and fuss of the grooming process.
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 a great way to find 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 possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks. Be wary of breeders who only tell you the good things about the breed or who promote the dogs as being “good with kids” without any context as to what that means or how it comes about.
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 Schipperke and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Schipperke Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the SCA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to screen dogs for health problems before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who seem interested only in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. 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.
The cost of a Schipperke puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Schipperke 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 Schipperke 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 Schipperkes 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 Schipperke. 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
Most people who love Schipperkes love all Schipperkes. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Schipperke Club of America can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Schipperke 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 Schipperke 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 dog. 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 Schipperke, 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 Schipperke 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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