Schipperke: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Schipperke dog standing side profile

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The schipperke is a small dog breed developed in Belgium to be a barge watchdog. It's known for its simply adorable bright eyes, foxy-looking face with alert pricked ears, and square body. These mischievous little rascals are extra busy, always wanting to be part of the action. Schipperkes are full of energy and are lots of fun to be around.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Non-Sporting 

HEIGHT: 10 to 13 inches tall at the shoulder

WEIGHT: 10 to 16 pounds

COAT: Abundant, straight, and slightly harsh to the touch

COAT COLOR: Solid black coat; shades of cream, ivory, wheaten, gold, red, white, blue, and chocolate do occur rarely

LIFE SPAN: 12 to 14 years

TEMPERAMENT: Curious, faithful, playful, fearless, agile, independent, confident


ORIGIN: Belgium

Characteristics of the Schipperke

Schipperkes might get along with other family pets if raised with them, but some might not want to be friends with strange pets. Schipperkes are born to chase, so they are not safe around small pets like hamsters, rabbits, and birds, and some might bother the family cat. Excellent watchdogs, schipperkes are naturally suspicious of strangers and protective of their home territory.

Affection Level Medium
Friendliness Medium
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Trainability Medium
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark High
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Schipperke

The feisty and fun schipperke has been known in Belgium since medieval times. Though the schipperke is sometimes described as a spitz because of its appearance, it actually the descendant of the now-extinct black sheepdog, called the Leauvenaar (from which the Belgian sheepdog also descends).

The quintessential boat dog, schipperkes worked on and around ships and barges, keeping the rat populations down and acting as watchdogs. In fact, their name, “schipperke,” means “little captain” in Flemish. Today, schipperkes are still known for their love of boats and water. Although the proper pronunciation of the breed’s name is “SHEEP-er-ker,” you might more commonly hear it pronounced “SKIP-er-kee,” especially in the United States. 

The schipperke is one of the smallest members of the American Kennel Club Non-Sporting Group, a catchall group for many diverse breeds that don’t quite fit into the other six groups (Herding, Hound, Sporting, Terrier, Toy, and Working). Schipperkes first came to the U.S. in the late 1800s. The national club representing the breed in the United States, the Schipperke Club of America, was founded in 1929.

Schipperke Care

The curious, adventurous schipperke is a known escape artist, and should never be trusted off leash. A fenced yard is a must, and fences should be well kept with no small holes to escape through. 


Schipperkes have a lot of energy and are very playful. Luckily, the breed is small, so it’s not difficult to provide enough exercise to keep a schipperke happy. Two brisk walks a day totaling 30 minutes will typically suffice, although your schipperke might be up for more adventure.

A schipperke loves to swim since it was bred to be around water. Games of fetch in the yard or even in the house are also a great way to entertain and exercise the fun-loving schipperke. This breed also loves to play with toys. Small stuffed toys will likely lose their squeakers quickly, but the schipperke will have so much fun dispatching the “vermin.” 


The schipperke’s glossy black coat is easy to care for, requiring only weekly brushing to remove loose hair. The coat does not mat, but the schipperke does shed a fair amount. You might notice heavier shedding seasonally. During these times brushing more frequently will help cut down on the amount of hair you find in the house and on your clothes.

The breed's coat is shorter on the face and front of the legs, medium length on the body, and longer around the neck and back of the legs. The schipperke coat requires no trimming; just bathing with gentle moisturizing pet shampoo, then towel dry or blow dry the coat, and your schipperke will shine.

Brush your schipperke’s teeth daily with a soft toothbrush and pet-safe toothpaste. Never use human toothpaste for a dog. Pet toothpaste is designed to be swallowed and comes in dog-approved flavors like poultry and beef. Trim your schipperke’s nails every few weeks and look inside their ears, cleaning the ears as needed with a pet-safe ear cleaner and cotton balls or gauze squares. 


Schipperkes are smart, but they are also independent, and can be challenging to train. Keep training fun and positive, using lots of tasty treats. With the right motivation, schipperkes can learn not only basic obedience commands but also fun tricks, too. Like all puppies, schipperkes benefit from early and frequent training and socialization. Puppy kindergarten and basic obedience group classes will provide your schipperke with socialization opportunities while teaching you the basics of dog training

Common Health Problems

Schipperkes are generally quite healthy and long-lived. Responsible breeders test their adult schipperkes for genetic conditions before breeding them to avoid passing on these problems. When buying a schipperke puppy from a breeder, ask to see proof that the appropriate tests were performed on the puppy’s parents. 

Of course, like most purebred dogs, the schipperke certain hereditary health conditions are known to occur in the breed, including:

  • Luxating Patella: Smaller dogs are prone to this condition where the knee caps slip out of their grooves. This results in damage to the cartilage and ligament tears causing inflammation and pain.
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease: This congenital orthopedic disorder affects the blood supply to the hip joint, resulting in pain and lameness.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy: The condition causes the cells of the retina to deteriorate, which eventually causes blindness.
  • Mucopolysaccharidosis Type IIIB: This unique disorder found in schipperkes is an inherited, degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of affected dogs. It shows up in adult dogs (usually two to four years old) as tremors, mental dullness, and loss of balance. There is not a cure for the disease, but a genetic test for this condition gives the hope that it can be eliminated from the breed.

Diet and Nutrition

Feed your adult schipperke measured meals twice a day (puppies should eat three or four small meals per day). Always use a measuring cup or scale to ensure you are feeding the correct amounts. Not measuring meals or leaving food out all day (free feeding) can cause weight gain, which can contribute to health problems like diabetes.

Because schipperkes are small, they might benefit from eating a small breed diet formulated to meet the unique caloric needs of smaller breeds. Talk to your veterinarian or breeder if you’re not sure what kind of food to feed or how much to feed your schipperke.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Schipperke

Check your local animal shelter and rescue groups for schipperkes in need of homes. Always do your due diligence and research to find the very best quality breeder if you go that route. If you choose to work with a breeder, expect to pay between $1,000 up to $2,500 or more for a schipperke puppy. Several organizations can help you locate a rescue or reputable breeder, including:

Schipperke Overview

  • Energetic, adorable, and playful

  • Excellent watchdog

  • Athletic and agile

  • High prey instincts around small animals

  • Excessive, loud barker

  • Impulsive off leash

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

The schipperke is an engaging and loyal companion. If you like the schipperke, you might also like these breeds: 

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

  • Are schipperkes good apartment dogs?

    Due to their small size, schipperkes do great in small spaces like apartments or condos. Unfortunately, they tend to bark at every little sound, so excessive barking can be an issue, especially in an apartment.

  • Do schipperkes have tails?

    Though it was once known as a "tailless" breed, it's simply not true. Schipperkes have spitz-like tails—a beautiful full display that's turned up and curled over their backs. The tails of these dogs are docked right after birth. But the traditional and now very controversial practice of docking is illegal in many countries. Though opposed by animal advocates, docking is still done in the United States.

  • Are schipperkes rare?

    It may seem tough to find a schipperke, even through a breeder, but there's a reason for that. They are not considered a rare breed, but it is a tough dog to breed. That's because the puppies are super small when born and newborn litters require extensive care, all of which costs breeders a great deal of resources.