Historical information on the Schipperke

In my search for historical information on the Schipperke I have come across the ultimate in information on the breed! Isabel Ormiston had the biggest initial impact on the breed because of the importation of the best specimens she could get from Belgium and her interest in their history.

I present below the verbatim text from a rare original article I was able to acquire. It was published in 1927 in the CKC 'Kennel and Bench' magazine.

I have often wished I could go back in time and ask Isabel some questions. This article is almost as good!


Kristen Henry
Bonchien Schipperkes

Kennel and Bench Magazine, 1927, Canadian Kennel Club
Regarding The Schipperke
"The Little Skipper"
By Isabel Ormiston

So many new breeds of dogs are imported annually from Europe, that at times one is prone to wonder if up to date foreign fanciers do not create them for the American trade? Yet until recently a breed 400 years old at least, the national dog of Belgium, the Schipperke, has received very little attention in the United States and even less in Canada. The fact is, true type specimens have been rarely shown, and while a good Schipperke is a decidedly attractive dog, poor representatives of the breed are not. The Schipperke is the ideal dog for those who do not like toy dogs and want a dog that is full of "dog" and yet have not room for a big dog. Hardy enough to sleep out in cold weather if you want him to, the "skip" as he is called in England, makes a desirable house dog. His hair never seems to shed heavily, and being black, it does not cover furniture and clothing; he is clean in his habits, and quickly trained. He has the companionable qualities which owners of the Collie and the Shepherd claim for their dogs. He is in fact in character a miniature Shepherd, with all of a large dog's brain capacity, and as a watch dog he is 100 percent efficient. In his own country and in England he is deservedly popular, and here I have observed that where one Schipperke goes more are soon wanted. He is in fact a dog who needs only to be given a chance to make his own place and keep it. Those who have owned a "skip" are never again satisfied with any other breed.

The Dutch have at times attempted to claim the Schipperke as a native of their country, but in the two summers (1924-1925) I spent abroad looking for good Schipperkes, and looking up their history, I was fully convinced that the dog is Belgian and that Holland has no claim to originating any but the brown Schipperkes which are not admitted to registry in any other country. I never saw a really fine specimen in Holland.

Schipperke shows were held by some of the Guilds in Brussels as early as 1690 --- collars of finely hammered brass were designed for these dogs at about that time. Some of these collars survive as museum pieces. Our dog in his early days was a poor man's dog, the workman's companion, perhaps for no better reason than that he combined efficiency with a very modest appetite. In 1885, Queen Marie Henriette, wife of Leopold 2nd, made the Schipperke fashionable when she took a fancy to one called "Black" at the Brussels show and having bought him, being seen frequently driving and walking accompanied by the erstwhile unfashionable dog, Brussels ladies imitated her and they have retained a fancy for the Schipperke to this day.

The breed was originally called Spits or Spitske (little Spits) and the country people still use this name. Schipperke, little Captain, was an invention of the Schipperkes Club when it was founded. It was thought the name Spits would cause confusion with the unrelated German Spitz, and it was thought the new name sounded well for importation into England, as English fanciers began to breed the dog about this time. The word Schipperke is always mispronounced by the way, except in Belgium. It is Flemish and should be pronounced skeeper-ker --- dogs books give the pronunciation variously, but I have learned to pronounce it from educated Flemish people until I was able to say it to their satisfaction, and skeeper-ker is right.

During my two trips to Belgium, I visited Schipperke kennels and met the President and Secretary of the Schipperkes Club from whom I acquired what is known about the breed. I saw some of the dogs in England and Holland, but Belgium has, to my mind, much the more attractive type of Schipperke. England's quarantine law rather interferes with importations from the Continent --- not everyone wants to leave a dog six months in quarantine. The consequence is that the English Schipperke is of a type more or less abandoned in Belgium at present. There used to be two distinct types --- the Antwerp and the Louvain types. The Antwerp type was the better looking dog, and the revision of the Standard in 1904 and again in 1919 decidedly favored the Antwerp type. The Louvain had a very short coat, and was rather deficient in ruff and fringe, had tall narrow ears and inclined to a narrower head than the Antwerp, whose ears the Standard calls for as "triangular". The American-bred Schipperke seems to be a degenerate for of the Louvain type; with the addition of prominent "pug" eyes and a tendency to legginess --- and to a less degree the English favor the dog of forty years ago.

Before going abroad I looked for a good Schipperke in the United States, and I found none to please me. As a matter of fact, I have yet to see the American-bred that could win a prize abroad. I hope we may breed one some day at the Kelso Kennels, but we have been trying for so short a time that our best is yet to be. The first dog I bought, Flore de Veeweyde, is certainly a beautiful type. She is also a fine producer, and when the pups she has now by Max de Veeweyde, a dog I bought in 1925 (first prize winner in stiff competition in Brussels that year, and known as the best son of Belgian Champion Poilu, one of the most famous of Schipperkes) are grown, they should be able to show what the Schipperke should be.

Before the war, the Schipperke was used a a guardian of the Belgian canal boats (whence his name), but now true types are seldom seen on the boats. Food was so scarce during the German occupation that the ordinary small dog died out --- fanciers, of course, kept their pedigreed stock, when they could. Vigilant, devoted to children, the Schipperke usually choose one member of the family for his especial devotion. So careful is he of his master's possessions that he sometimes overdoes it --- a puppy I sold, left by his mistress to guard her car while she was in a shop, when she sent her married daughter, who was know to the dog but did not live in the same house to the car to fetch her coat, the dog refused to allow the car door to be opened, as he had been told "Watch it!".

Schipperkes can reason in an emergency, as the following anecdote proves: My imported Flore de Veeweyde was raising some pups in a room adjoining another room below whose windows was the entrance for coal into the cellar. One day a coal wagon drove up and began noisily filling the bins. Flore was disturbed and alarmed for her pups. She stood by the door between the two rooms a moment, apparently reflecting, then reared and with repeated effort, shoving with all her eleven pounds weight, closed the door until the lock caught, shutting out the noise and danger (as she supposed).

Brown Schipperkes are bred only in Holland. Occasionally a brown pup appears in American stock --- that is a sign of a cross somewhere back with the Dutch variety. Like all solid color dogs, occasionally a pup is born with white hairs, or even a spot of white. This is undesirable, but not a sign of cross-breeding.

Some of the dogs I bought abroad I found had not the typical Schipperke disposition. It is essential that the dog be lively, alert, intelligent, always on the go, and very jealous of the attentions of his master to other dogs. The dogs that did not come up to the Standard for the breed I sold, as I wanted to breed only from the best obtainable.

As there is no specialty club for Schipperkes in the United States or Canada, and as the specialty clubs fix the Standard, there is , strictly speaking, no Standard. The British Standard is derived from that of St. Hubert, the Belgian Kennel Club, and is identical except that it attempts to fix a definite weight of 12 pounds for dogs and 11 for bitches. In Belgium, 3 sizes of Schipperkes are recognized, though not separate breeds, as are the Shetland Sheep Dog and the Collie. Schipperkes, large and small, are bred from the same stock by the selection of individuals and sometimes large and small are produced in the same litter. It seems a mistake to limit the dog to an invariable 12 pounds (in the United States the dogs are inclined to be very much larger for some reason) as it depends on the purpose for which the dog is wanted what size he should be. In the United States, no classes are made at shows for the various sizes as is done in Belgium, as there are not enough Schipperkes to warrant it. A small dog is sometimes at a disadvantage in this way

The Belgian Standard prepared by the Schipperke Club and accepted by the Belgian Kennel club (St. Hubert), revised in 1919 (slightly abridged):

General appearance and characteristics:
A good faithful little watch dog, wary of strangers; active, indefatigable; keen about things which are given him to guard; kind with children; always curious to see what is going on behind any closed door; betraying his impressions by his sharp voice and upstanding ruff; a great hunters of moles, rats and other vermin; can be used as a hunting dog.

Color - Solid black.

Head - Fox-like, fairly wide, narrowing at the eyes, not too much stop, muzzle not too long or very blunt.

Nose - Small and black.

Eyes - Dark brown, small, more oval than round, neither sunken or prominent, expression keen and sharp.

Ears - Erect small, triangular, should not spread and if lowered should be lowered in line with the body only.

Teeth - Even, sharp.

Neck - Strong, well set.

Shoulders - Muscular and sloping.

Chest - Large forward and behind the shoulders.

Back - Straight, horizontal, appearing higher in front because of the ruff.

Legs - Straight under the body, small boned.

Feet - Small, round, strong short nails (cat's feet).

Thighs - Large, well muscled.

Body - Short and thick set.

Coat - Abundant, short on the ears and on the head and front of legs, fairly short on the body, but longer around the neck beginning at the back of the ears, forming a ruff and "jabot" down to the front of the legs on the chest, long on the thighs where it forms a fringe turning inward.

Weight - Toys, under 6 pounds; medium size, from 6 to 12 pounds, and large, 12 to 18 pounds.

Faults - Light eyes, too long ears, narrow head, scanty coat, lack of ruff and fringe, too long hair, teeth uneven, white hairs.

Disqualifications - Ears not erect.

We very seldom see in the United States the correct "squirrel eye" with its alert expression. These dogs are very keen of scent, and for this reason are often preferred to hunting dogs in Belgium. All Skips are the natural foes of rats and mice, and the larger ones can dispose of woodchucks and larger vermin. The larger dogs are naturally the ones for hunting and this sort of work. The toy is all right in his place, and the ten-pound dog is better for a lady's pet, and for that reason I think the Belgian variation as to size should be allowed.

There is a legend that the dogs were once born tailless yet I have found nothing to substantiate this. An occasional pup is born without a tail, but this is a "sport" and not a return to type --- dogs of any breed are occasionally born without tails. Some American breeders (no Belgians attempted to deceive me) tell their customers that all their pups are born tailless --- (they seem to be under the impression that it makes their dogs appear superior). Of course the fact can be established in a moment by a veterinarian, as the scar is unmistakable. Abroad the tails are cut out when the pup is a few days old by a V operation laying bare the spinal cord. Risky for the pup, and as bad as ear cropping, The American Kennel Club is against these practices, and I do not think any American breeders do more than cut the tails off short, close to the body. The dogs look rather better with some finish, and I do not think any judge is warranted in disqualifying a dog unless it has over two inches of tail.

The Skip does not need to be trained by harsh methods, as he is very sensitive to criticism, especially if unjustly punished. Once two dogs which I had imported together (we came over in the "Zeeland" in 1925) became jealous of each other once installed at Kelso Kennels. Max de Veeweyde, the younger dog, started a fight, and I seized a switch and threatened them both (I never beat a dog, so I only threatened). Black de Veeweyde, the older dog, walked off and neither looked at me or touched food for several days. He knew that he was not to blame and had been scolded for Max's fault. These two dogs I kept in my cabin all the way from Antwerp to New York, eleven days, so by the time we reached Bernardsville, New Jersey, the dogs were decidedly my dogs.

In 1924, I came home by the Canadian Pacific and had to send my Belgian dogs direct from Antwerp to New York, as of course, dogs from the Continent are not permitted to land in Canada.

Skips often live to an advanced age. Sixteen is not unheard of. Occasionally one of these very old dogs turn quite gray, which accounts for the mythical gray Schipperkes I have heard American breeders speak of as though it were a variety, like the brown.

A Belgian writer refers to the Schipperke as "our little National Devil", and indeed the legend tells us that the original tailless Schipperke lost his tail while stealing a roast chicken from a shoemaker who retaliated by cutting off the dog's tail, which so improved its appearance that the fashion of removing the caudal appendage became universal.

Another story is that on the narrow decks of the canal boats the tails were so frequently cut off by doors closing upon them that the tails were cut off pups to save future trouble.

First and last, the dog is Belgian, and indeed they seem in courage, loyalty, jealousy concerning those whom they love, and that determination which will not accept defeat, to share the racial traits of their masters, those of whom Caesar said "and bravest of these were the Belgians!"