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Shipperkes have always been kept as watchdogs on the Flemish canal barges, and that no doubt is the origin of the name, which is Flemish for “Little Skipper,” the syllable “ke” forming the diminutive of “schipper”; the “sch” is pronounced as in school. The respectable antiquity of this dog is proved by the result of the researches of eminent Belgian authorities made in the archives of Flemish towns, which contain records of the breed going back in pure type over a hundred years.
The Schipperke is not, however, as some suppose, a naturally tailless variety. The reason for the docking is somewhat interesting and is as follows: Round the top edge of the canal boat there runs a ledge, probably a foot wide, with a back to it. It is the custom of the boatmen to keep one or two Schipperkes, which are trained to run around this ledge and to keep a sort of sentinel. It occurred to one of their class, at what date is not on record, that the Schipperke would the better fulfill his duty if his tail were off, as it appeared to be somewhat in the way, and often precipitated the dog into the water. It was, therefore, ordained that the tails of Schipperkes used as “Bargees” should be docked, and in due course the docking of the breed became the general custom. As in the case of the Old English sheepdog, the systematic docking of the tail for so many years exercised such an influence on the breed that bitches often give birth to some puppies that are already tailless and to others that have merely a stump.
The Shipperke disposition is most affectionate, tinged with a good deal of jealousy. Even when made one of the household he generally attaches himself more particularly to one person, whom he “owns,” and whose protection he deems his special duty. They make very sharp little watchdogs, and are always on the move and anxious to know the ins and outs of what comes in their way, very excitable and lively in temperament, and when properly entered cannot be surpassed as “ratters.”
The main features required in the breed are a foxy head, small erect ears, short compact body, tapering toward the quarters, but with well-sprung ribs, clean shoulders, and straight forelegs showing quality of bone. The coat should be crisp to the touch, yet lustrous, and profuse round the neck and at the breeching, and danse but close in other parts of the body, the legs being otherwise free from feathering. The colour should be jet-black.
The Griffon Bruxellois, which, interpreted into English, means Brussels Griffon, is, as its name implies, the product of the Belgian capital. On good authority it is stated that all the breeds employed in its manufacture are English, viz., the Yorkshire Terrier, Ruby Spaniel, and Irish Terrier. Away back in the ’seventies, numbers of miners in Yorkshire and the Midlands are said to have possessed little wiry-coated and wiry-dispositioned red dogs, which accompanied their owners to work, being stowed away in pickets until the dinner hour, when they were brought to share their masters’ meals, perchance chasing a casual rat in between times. Old men of today who remember these little “red tarriers,” declare they were the originals of the present-day Brussels Griffons.
There are really two varieties, the rough-coated Griffon (which word means rough) and the smooth-coated, to which the word Griffon is, of source, a misnomer. There is a quaintness about the little Belgian and a dignity altogether disproportionate to his diminutiveness, for the dog is a toy terrier really, although for exhibition specimens as large as 10 lb. weight are permissible. The short retroussq nose denotes his toy spaniel blood, his coat and colour that of the Irish Terrier, and his lighter coloured top-knot his Yorkshire Terrier cross.
No matter what his original ancestry, the type of the breed is not fairly fixed, and he breeds as true a most other breeds. The chief features are extreme shortness of face—the more noseless the dog is the more valuable he—good turn-up of under aw, large dark eyes, neat ears, wiry coat, short black, general cobbiness, and symmetry. Colour is important, the colour and texture of the Irish Terrier being the most approved.
Excerpted from Dog World magazine, June 1916, Vol. 1, No. 6. For back issues of Dog World, click here.