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schipperke portrait
Meet the Schipperke: a small-sized powerhouse of personality and charm! Often referred to as the "little black devil," this mischievous Belgian breed is known for its fox-like face, perky ears, and uncanny ability to steal hearts.

Join us in this comprehensive guide as we explore everything you need to know about this breed, including their appearance, temperament, ideal environment, grooming, exercise requirements, training tips, dietary needs, health concerns, history, and more.

Best For

The Schipperke is an ideal choice for individuals and families who are seeking a small, energetic, and intelligent canine companion. These dogs thrive in households where they can be involved in daily activities and receive plenty of mental stimulation.


OTHER NAMESLittle Black Devil, Little Captain, Belgian Barge Dog
BREED GROUPNon-Sporting Group
HEIGHT10-13 inches
WEIGHT12-18 lbs
LIFESPAN12-16 years
schipperke standing in a park
Photo: madcorona/Getty Images


The Schipperke is a small, compact, and sturdy canine with a unique and eye-catching appearance. These dogs typically stand between 10 to 13 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh anywhere from 12 to 18 pounds, making them a convenient size for various living situations.

One of the most prominent features of the Schipperke is their body, which has a slightly sloping topline that gives them a distinctive cobby silhouette. This breed is well-muscled and well-balanced, with a strong, straight back, broad chest, and well-sprung ribs. The Schipperke’s hindquarters are powerful, allowing them to move with agility and grace.

The tail of the Schipperke is another unique characteristic. In some countries, their tails are traditionally docked, resulting in a short, erect appearance. However, undocked Schipperkes can have a variety of tail types, including curved, straight, or even curled over the back.

Schipperkes have wedge-shaped heads with a moderately broad, flat skull, and a well-defined stop. Their muzzles are pointed and proportional to the rest of their head, giving them a fox-like expression. One of the breed’s most endearing features is their small, triangular ears that stand erect and are set high on the head, adding to their alert and curious appearance.

The eyes of the Schipperke are another captivating feature. They are medium-sized, almond-shaped, and dark brown in color, giving these dogs an intelligent and lively expression. The breed’s eyes convey a sense of curiosity and attentiveness, reflecting their keen awareness of their surroundings.

The Schipperke’s coat is one of its most striking characteristics. They boast a thick, double coat with a soft, dense undercoat and a harsher, straight outer coat. The fur is typically black, although there are some variations such as cream, blue, or chocolate.

The coat is also characterized by a distinctive ruff of longer hair around the neck, which is more pronounced in males. This ruff, along with the longer fur on the back of their thighs and rear, creates an appealing, mane-like appearance.

Overall, the Schipperke’s appearance is a delightful blend of unique features, including their compact size, distinctive body shape, expressive eyes, and captivating coat. These charming physical traits, coupled with their spirited personality, make the Schipperke an enchanting and memorable breed.

schipperke sitting among tall grass
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The Schipperke is a lively and spirited canine companion with a personality as fascinating as a mischievous magician. This little rascal possesses a heart full of curiosity, always ready to explore the world with boundless energy.

With a spirit as indomitable as the wind and a twinkle in their eye, the Schipperke is a breed that enchants with their captivating charm and leaves everyone spellbound with their unique quirks.

Adventure is the Schipperke’s middle name; they are fearless explorers, ever-ready to take on any challenge that comes their way. Just like a wanderer of uncharted territories, they seek new thrills and excitement, as if life itself were an exhilarating journey.

But beneath their adventurous spirit lies their unwavering loyalty, akin to a loyal knight fiercely devoted to their loved ones. This guardian of the realm stands watch to protect and serve, their loyalty unwavering even in the face of adversity.

Intelligence and wit are their weapons; the Schipperke is like a cunning strategist, always planning their next move and outsmarting any obstacle that comes their way. Cleverness is their forte, and they always seem to have a trick up their sleeve, much like a master tactician.

Socialites of the dog world, the Schipperke effortlessly wins hearts wherever they go. With their charming personality and friendly nature, they become the life of the party, capturing attention and drawing laughter and joy to every gathering.

Despite their small size, the Schipperke is a bold and fearless creature, akin to a brave hero who never backs down from a challenge. Their presence inspires courage and the determination to face fears, just like that steadfast friend who is always there to lend a helping hand.

Independence runs deep within the Schipperke’s soul, much like a free-spirited artist cherishing moments of solitude. They relish their own company, embracing the beauty of individuality and self-expression.

schipperke in the park on a summer day
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Ideal Environment

Physical Environment

The ideal environment for a Schipperke is one that caters to their energetic, curious, and intelligent nature. These dogs are highly adaptable and can thrive in various living situations, including apartments, houses with yards, or even farms, as long as they receive adequate exercise and mental stimulation.

Climate Adaptability

When it comes to climate adaptability, Schipperkes can handle a range of temperatures due to their thick, double coat.

They are generally well-equipped to tolerate cold weather, as their dense undercoat provides insulation against chilly temperatures. However, it is essential to monitor them during extreme cold, provide a warm shelter, and be mindful of icy surfaces that could harm their paws.

In hot climates, Schipperkes may require some extra care to ensure their comfort. Their black coat can absorb heat, making them more susceptible to overheating. It is crucial to provide plenty of shade, fresh water, and avoid exercising them during the hottest parts of the day. Regular grooming to remove excess undercoat can also help them stay cooler in warm weather.

Ideal Owner

Schipperkes are well-suited for active individuals or families who enjoy spending time outdoors and engaging their pets in activities such as walks, hikes, and play sessions. They also appreciate mental challenges like puzzle toys, agility courses, or obedience training.

The ideal pet parent for a Schipperke is someone who understands the importance of consistent training, boundaries, and socialization to help them become well-rounded and well-behaved companions.

Other Pets

In terms of co-existing with other pets, Schipperkes can get along with other dogs, particularly when raised together. However, their strong prey drive and assertive nature may require careful introductions and supervision around smaller animals such as cats, rabbits, or rodents. Early socialization and training are crucial to help them coexist peacefully with other household pets.

schipperke standing near a tree
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The Schipperke, with its distinctive double coat and unique appearance, requires a moderate level of grooming to keep them looking their best and maintain their overall health. Regular grooming sessions not only help maintain their coat but also provide an opportunity to bond with your pet and monitor their health.

Coat Care

The most critical aspect of grooming a Schipperke is tending to their coat. Their thick, double coat consists of a soft, dense undercoat and a harsher, straight outer coat.

Weekly brushing is necessary to remove loose hair, prevent matting, and distribute natural oils throughout the coat, which helps maintain its health and luster. However, during seasonal shedding periods, which typically occur twice a year, you may need to increase the frequency of brushing to daily or every other day to manage the increased shedding.

To groom your Schipperke’s coat effectively, you’ll need a few essential tools. A slicker brush is ideal for removing loose hair and tackling any tangles or mats. A metal comb with both wide and narrow teeth can be used to ensure thorough brushing, especially around the ruff of fur around their neck and the longer hair on their rear.

A de-shedding tool or rake can also be helpful during shedding seasons to remove the loose undercoat more efficiently.

Bathing your Schipperke should be done on an as-needed basis, approximately every two to three months, or when they become dirty or develop an unpleasant odor. Be sure to use a gentle, dog-specific shampoo to avoid stripping their coat of natural oils. Frequent bathing is not necessary, as it can cause dryness and irritation to their skin.

Dental Care

In addition to coat care, dental hygiene is an essential aspect of grooming for Schipperkes. Regular teeth brushing, ideally daily or at least several times a week, using a dog-specific toothpaste and toothbrush, helps prevent plaque buildup, tartar, and bad breath.

Dental chews and toys designed for dental health can also be beneficial in maintaining good oral hygiene. Regular dental check-ups with your veterinarian are crucial to monitor your dog’s dental health and address any issues promptly.

Nail Trimming

Nail care is another essential grooming task for Schipperkes. Their nails should be trimmed every three to four weeks, depending on their growth rate and activity level, which can affect the natural wear of their nails. Overgrown nails can cause discomfort, pain, and even lead to more severe issues if not addressed.

You can use a guillotine-style or scissor-style nail clipper to trim your dog’s nails, taking care not to cut too close to the quick, which can cause bleeding and discomfort. If you’re unsure about trimming your dog’s nails, consult your veterinarian or a professional groomer for guidance.

Ear Care

Lastly, it’s essential to regularly check and clean your Schipperke’s ears to prevent infections and debris buildup. Use a soft, damp cloth or a cotton ball with a dog-specific ear cleaner to gently clean the outer part of their ears, avoiding inserting anything deep into the ear canal.

schipperke walking on a leash
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The Schipperke is an energetic and spirited canine that requires regular exercise to maintain their physical health and mental well-being. As an active and intelligent breed, Schipperkes thrive on engaging activities that challenge them both physically and mentally.

Exercise Amount & Types

Daily exercise is essential for a Schipperke, and you should expect to provide at least 30 to 45 minutes of physical activity per day. This can be divided into multiple sessions, including walks, playtime, or other forms of exercise.

Regular daily walks are an excellent way to keep your Schipperke engaged and help them burn off energy. You can also incorporate more vigorous activities such as jogging, hiking, or playing fetch to provide additional physical stimulation.

In addition to structured exercise, providing opportunities for free play and exploration in a securely fenced yard or dog park can be beneficial for your Schipperke’s overall well-being. However, it is essential to supervise them closely, as their curiosity and strong prey drive may lead them to chase after small animals or attempt to escape from the enclosure.

Mental Stimulation

Interactive toys and puzzle games can also contribute to meeting your Schipperke’s exercise needs by offering mental stimulation and encouraging problem-solving skills. These activities can be particularly helpful on days when outdoor exercise may be limited due to weather or other factors.

Dog Sports

Schipperkes are agile and quick learners, making them well-suited for dog sports and competitions such as agility, obedience, rally, or even herding trials. Participating in these activities not only provides physical exercise but also offers mental stimulation and strengthens the bond between you and your dog. Training for these events can be a fun and rewarding experience for both you and your Schipperke.

schipperke walking in a fenced yard
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Training a Schipperke can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience, but it may also present some challenges due to their spirited and independent nature. These dogs are intelligent and quick learners, which means that with patience, consistency, and the right approach, they can excel in various training disciplines.


Schipperkes are known for their curiosity and strong-willed temperament, which can sometimes make them stubborn or resistant to training. Therefore, it is essential to establish yourself as the leader early on and maintain consistent rules and boundaries.

Positive Reinforcement

Using positive reinforcement techniques, such as praise, treats, and play, will help keep your Schipperke engaged and motivated during training sessions. Avoid harsh punishment or negative training methods, as these can damage the trust between you and your dog and potentially lead to behavioral issues.


Early socialization is a crucial aspect of training for Schipperkes. Exposing them to a variety of people, animals, environments, and experiences from a young age will help them develop into well-rounded, confident dogs. Puppy training classes or obedience courses can provide structured opportunities for socialization and introduce your Schipperke to basic commands and good manners.

Advanced Training

Schipperkes can excel in dog sports and competitions, such as agility, obedience, or rally, thanks to their intelligence and agility. These activities not only provide physical exercise but also offer mental stimulation and strengthen the bond between you and your dog.

Training for these events requires dedication and consistency but can be a fun and engaging way to channel your Schipperke’s energy and intelligence.

Preventing Boredom

Keep training sessions short and engaging to maintain your Schipperke’s interest and prevent boredom. Incorporating play and variety into training can help keep them motivated and eager to learn. Patience and persistence are key when working with this breed, as they may occasionally test boundaries or display stubbornness.

schipperke running in the forest
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Diet & Nutrition 

A balanced and nutritious diet is essential for the overall health and well-being of your Schipperke. Providing appropriate food and portion sizes according to their age, size, activity level, and any specific health concerns will ensure they receive the necessary nutrients to thrive.

What to Feed & How Much

When selecting food for your Schipperke, it’s crucial to choose high-quality dry, wet, or raw food that meets the guidelines set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). These guidelines ensure that the food contains a complete and balanced nutrient profile to support your dog’s health.

Look for products with high-quality protein sources, such as chicken, beef, or fish, as the primary ingredient, along with healthy fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.

The amount of food you should feed your Schipperke will depend on their age, weight, and activity level. As a general guideline:

  • Puppies between 8 weeks to 6 months old should be fed three to four meals per day, gradually transitioning to two meals per day as they approach adulthood.
  • Adult Schipperkes typically require two meals per day, with the total daily portion divided between the two meals.
  • Senior Schipperkes may have reduced caloric needs due to lower activity levels, so adjustments to their portion sizes may be necessary to maintain a healthy weight.

Always consult your veterinarian for personalized recommendations on portion sizes and feeding frequency, as individual dogs may have unique requirements based on their specific needs.


Treats can be an excellent tool for training and rewarding your Schipperke but should be given in moderation to avoid excessive calorie intake and potential weight gain. Opt for healthy, low-calorie treats, or even small pieces of fresh fruits and vegetables, such as apples, carrots, or green beans, as occasional snacks.


Fresh water should always be readily available to your Schipperke, ensuring they stay properly hydrated throughout the day. Be sure to clean and refill their water bowl daily to maintain cleanliness and encourage adequate water intake.

schipperke looking up
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The Schipperke is generally a healthy and robust breed with a life expectancy of 12 to 16 years. However, like all dog breeds, they are prone to certain health issues, some of which may be hereditary. Routine veterinary care, proper nutrition, regular exercise, and responsible breeding practices can help minimize the risk of these health problems and ensure a long, healthy life for your Schipperke.

Here are common health issues associated with the Schipperke:

Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease: This is a degenerative hip joint condition that affects small dog breeds, including Schipperkes. It occurs when the blood supply to the femoral head is reduced, leading to bone degeneration and arthritis. Symptoms include limping, pain, and difficulty moving the affected leg. Treatment options may include anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, or surgery, depending on the severity of the condition.

Patellar Luxation: This is a common orthopedic issue in small dog breeds, where the kneecap (patella) slips out of its normal position, causing discomfort and hind leg lameness. Patellar luxation can range from mild to severe, and treatment options may include weight management, physical therapy, or surgical intervention, depending on the severity and impact on the dog’s quality of life.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): PRA is an inherited eye disorder that causes gradual deterioration of the retina, eventually leading to blindness. Regular eye exams by a veterinary ophthalmologist can help identify the early stages of PRA and monitor the progression of the disease. While there is currently no cure for PRA, antioxidant supplements and low-vision aids may help manage the condition.

Mucopolysaccharidosis Type IIIA (MPS IIIA): This is a rare inherited metabolic disorder that affects the breakdown of complex sugar molecules in the body, leading to a buildup of harmful substances in various tissues. Symptoms may include developmental delays, loss of motor skills, and neurological issues. There is currently no cure for MPS IIIA, and management focuses on supportive care and addressing specific symptoms.

Hypothyroidism: This is an endocrine disorder caused by insufficient production of thyroid hormones, which can lead to various symptoms such as weight gain, lethargy, hair loss, and skin issues. Hypothyroidism can be diagnosed through blood tests, and treatment typically involves daily hormone replacement medication, which usually needs to be continued for life.

schipperke playing on a beach
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The Schipperke has a rich and fascinating history that dates back to the early 16th century. Originating in Belgium, the breed was primarily developed in the Flemish region, where it was bred to be both a companion and working dog.

The name “Schipperke” is derived from the Flemish word “schipper,” which translates to “skipper” or “boatman.” This name reflects the breed’s historical role as a versatile working dog aboard canal barges and riverboats in their native country.

Schipperkes were prized for their ability to catch vermin, such as mice and rats, thus protecting the cargo and preventing the spread of disease. They also served as loyal and vigilant watchdogs, alerting their owners to any potential threats or intruders.

In addition to their work on boats, Schipperkes were also employed as ratters and watchdogs by shopkeepers, cobblers, and other tradespeople. They were particularly popular among Belgian cobbler guilds, who organized the first recorded Schipperke dog show in 1690.

It is believed that the breed’s distinctive appearance, with its unique ruff of fur around the neck and the absence of a tail, was developed by these tradespeople as a means of distinguishing their dogs from other similar breeds.

The Schipperke’s popularity began to spread beyond Belgium in the late 19th century, with the breed making its way to England and the United States.

The first Schipperke was imported to the United States in 1888, and the breed was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1904. The Schipperke Club of America was founded in 1929, with the aim of promoting and preserving the breed’s unique qualities and working heritage.

Today, the Schipperke remains a relatively rare breed outside of Belgium, but their unique qualities continue to attract a devoted fan base. Those who appreciate the Schipperke’s spirited personality, compact size, and distinctive appearance will find them to be engaging and affectionate companions.

Parent Club

The official parent club for the Schipperke in the United States is the Schipperke Club of America (SCA). Founded in 1929, the SCA is dedicated to promoting and preserving the unique qualities and working heritage of the Schipperke breed.

The club serves as a valuable resource for breed information, education, and events, striving to support the interests of Schipperke enthusiasts across the country. Visit their official website to learn more about the Schipperke Club of America.

Breed Standard

A breed standard is a set of guidelines established by breed clubs or kennel organizations, defining the ideal appearance, temperament, and physical traits of a specific breed. 

It serves as a reference for breeders, judges, and enthusiasts to evaluate and maintain a breed’s unique qualities. Covering aspects like size, appearance, and temperament, breed standards are used in dog shows and competitions to assess individual dogs against the ideal representation of their breed.

Check out the Schipperke’s breed standard as set by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

schipperke puppy sitting on a chair
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Looking to add a Schipperke to your family? Start by preparing a cozy bed, high-quality food, engaging toys, grooming tools for their dense coat, and finding a trusted vet.

If you’re considering buying, it’s important to choose a reputable breeder to ensure a healthy, energetic pup. But have you thought about rescue? There are many Schipperkes in shelters waiting to bring joy to a new home. The American Kennel Club and the Schipperke Club of America can guide you through this heartwarming process.

Whether you adopt or buy, you’re gaining more than a pet. You’re welcoming an alert, curious companion into your life. With a Schipperke, every day is a journey filled with exploration, devotion, and endless fun! This little black devil will surely light up your life with its spirited antics and unwavering loyalty.


Are Schipperkes aggressive?

Schipperkes are not typically aggressive; however, they can be territorial and protective of their family and property. Early socialization and proper training can help prevent any potential aggression issues and ensure a well-rounded and well-behaved dog.

Are Schipperkes good family dogs?

Yes, Schipperkes can make excellent family pets. They are loyal, affectionate, and energetic, which makes them great companions for active families. However, due to their strong prey drive, it is essential to supervise interactions with young children and smaller pets.

Do Schipperkes like to cuddle?

Schipperkes can be affectionate with their family members and may enjoy cuddling. However, individual preferences vary, and some Schipperkes may be more independent or less inclined to cuddle than others.

Are Schipperkes hypoallergenic?

No, Schipperkes are not considered hypoallergenic. They have a thick double coat that sheds moderately throughout the year, which can trigger allergies in sensitive individuals. Regular grooming can help minimize shedding and reduce allergens.

How much exercise do Schipperkes need?

Schipperkes are an energetic breed and require at least 30 to 45 minutes of exercise daily. This can include walks, playtime, or other forms of physical activity. Engaging in dog sports or competitions can also provide additional mental and physical stimulation.

Can Schipperkes be left alone for long periods?

While Schipperkes are relatively independent, they can become bored and potentially destructive if left alone for extended periods. It is essential to provide adequate mental and physical stimulation, such as interactive toys or puzzle games, to keep your Schipperke engaged during your absence.

Are Schipperkes easy to train?

Schipperkes are intelligent and quick learners, but their independent nature can make them stubborn or resistant to training at times. Consistency, patience, and positive reinforcement techniques are essential for successful training with this breed. Early socialization and proper training can help develop a well-behaved and obedient Schipperke.

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