Typically long lived, usually healthy, very spunky, rather independent, and sometimes flat out stubborn – though now classified as a “Companion” breed, the Schipperke requires a certain sort of person to share their home, farm, or boat with.
One of several breeds of Belgium dogs breed out from an earlier breed (the Leauvenaar) Schipperkes share this ancestor with their larger cousin, the Belgium Groenendael. The modern breed may be mistaken for a relative of the Spitz or Pomeranian family due to their small sized, wedged shape head, perk ears,and bushy coat but their origins are as working shepherds who also guarded their masters on the way to and from market. Though now pint sized, the Schipperke retains: a willingness to protect their home and family; a suspicion of strangers; and a very large dog’s attitude.
Some bloodlines are more prone to small prey drive than others but there is also a breed tendency to be good with animals they are raised with, very tolerant of children, and devoted to their own family.
It’s now believed the Schipperke is named for their shepherding origin; in the area of Belgium they are from their name translated as “little shepherd”. Because they are such adaptable little dogs, willing to hunt rodents as well as guard property, they became popular as barge dogs, many people thus thinking their name was based on a translation of “little boatman.”
Barge owners, however, were not the only trades or crafts people to keep this dog and there is a legend that the first time a Schipperke’s tail was cropped it was done by an angry shop owner who was tired of his neighbor’s dog stealing things from him – so he chopped the dog’s tail off. Of course, in Europe it is no longer allowed to crop dogs’ tails and selective breeding does now result in some Schipperke being born tailless or with short tails.
Wikipedia, Schipperkes circa 1897
Personally, I don’t think the nickname or reputation of “little black devil” is deserved. These are feisty dogs but also very devoted to their people. Yes, they can be mischievous and stubborn but obviously I don’t consider these devilish traits (I admittedly do live with a Bull Terrier and think the Schipperke would be easier for many people to live with).
The Schipperke I’ve met have been spirited but manageable, an active breed that will grace the right family with many years of devoted companionship. Due to their small size, a brisk walk of 20 – 30 minutes and some play time inside meet the average Schipp’s exercise needs; their compact size suits them to living in a range of environments.