The Breed History
The Schipperke originates in Belgium, and is derived from Belgian Sheepdogs rather than Pomeranian or Spitz stock as some report, though it is possible some outcrosses occurred. These are close relatives to the Groenendael. Records of the breed extend back into the 1600s, though until 1888 they were known as Spits. About the same time, the first breed specimens arrived in America. AKC recognition occurred in1904. The word Schipperke derives from the Flemish word for "Little Captain, or Little Bargeman". Pronunciation of the breed name varies significantly; regional pronunciations include: Skip-er-kay, Skip-er-key, Ship-er-kee, Sheep-er-kay, and Sheep-er-ker.
Breeding for Function
Originally derived from Belgian sheep herding dogs, the Schipperke dogs were selected for small size and for watchdog qualities. They were also considered excellent for vermin control. They were popular with boat captains and tradesmen. Later in America, they were reported as being hunting dogs in the Midwest, successfully used for rabbits, raccoons and opossums.
Height at Withers: female 10-12" (25.5-30.5 cm), male 11-13" (28-33 cm).
Weight: 7-16 lb (3-7.5 kg).
Coat: The thick black outer coat is straight and stands off, with a prominent ruff, jabot, coulotte and cape. These distinct coat features must be well developed in order to meet the breed standard. The undercoat is short, dense and may be lighter than the black outer coat.
Longevity: 13-16 years
Points of Conformation: Compact square, cobby, heavy set conformation, a profuse dense black coat, taillessness and foxy appearance all characterize this breed. They are also noted for their sharp, peppy personalities. Ears are high set, triangular, small and pricked. The eyes are oval, brown and close set, the face and head are fox-like in structure and the stop is defined. Nose is black and small. The neck is short and muscular and head carriage is high. The topline is level to slightly sloping towards the rear, but the coat makes the dog appear higher in the withers than it really is. Thorax is broad and the ribs are well sprung. Though some are born tailless, those born with tails are usually docked to within 1" of the body wall. Dewclaws are usually removed on forelegs and are removed from the hind limbs. Limbs are straight boned, feet are compact and small. Nails are black. The gait is smooth, low and fast.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reported breed characteristics include: Good with children but a plucky guardian of family and home (or boat). Known for his curiosity, high intelligence, stubborn streak and aloofness with strangers, the Schipperke has low grooming needs, and dogs typically shed twice a year. This type of dog needs close human companionship. These dogs are also known for their high activity levels, and they need mental stimulation or they will develop boredom vices such as chewing, barking or digging. They should be off leash only in a fenced enclosure. Schipperkes may see small pets as prey and should be socialized early to other pets, especially dogs, and to the children of the household. They have a high barking tendency and may snap if irritated.
Normal Physiologic Variations
In a UK study 27.7% of litters were born via Cesarean section.
Hip Dysplasia and Legg-Calve-Perthes: Polygenically inherited traits causing degenerative hip joint disease and arthritis. OFA reports 5.5% affected with hip dysplasia, and 2.0% affected with Legg-Calve-Perthes disease.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. OFA reports 5.0% affected.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 1.8% affected.
Mucopolysaccharidosis IIIB (MPS IIIb): Autosomal recessive metabolic storage disease causing cerebellar ataxia, mildly dystrophic corneas and small peripheral foci of retinal degeneration. Onset between 2-4 years of age. The disease is progressive and there is no effective treatment. A genetic test is available.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 10.0% positive for thyroid autoantibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%).
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 5.06% of Schipperkes CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Collapsing Trachea: Caused by diminished integrity of the cartilage rings in the trachea. Can produce increased coughing, stridor, and respiratory distress. Dorn reports a 5.21x odds ratio versus other breeds.
Cataracts: Anterior cortex punctate cataracts predominate in the breed. Identified in 4.49% of Schipperkes CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Schipperke with a cataract.
Distichiasis: Abnormally placed eyelashes that irritate the cornea and conjunctiva. Can cause secondary corneal ulceration. Identified in 3.37% of Schipperkes CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Demodicosis: Dorn reports a 1.93x odds ratio of developing demodectic mange versus other breeds. This disorder has an underlying immunodeficiency in its pathogenesis.
Vitreous Degeneration: A liquefaction of the vitreous gel which may predispose to retinal detachment resulting in blindness. Identified in 1.40% of Schipperkes CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Retinal Dysplasia: Retinal folds, geographic, and detachment are recognized in the breed. Can progress to blindness. Identified in 1.12% of Schipperkes CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Idiopathic Epilepsy: Inherited seizures can be generalized or partial seizures. Control with anticonvulsant medication. Reported as a problem in the breed on the SCA website. 1.98% of Schipperkes presenting for the first time to veterinary school hospitals are diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy.
Pemphigus Foliaceus: There is a significantly higher risk of developing pemphigus foliaceus versus other breeds. Typical lesions include dorsal muzzle and head symmetric scaling, crusting, and alopecia with peripheral collarettes, characteristic footpad lesions, with erythematous swelling at the pad margins, cracking, and villous hypertrophy. Average age of onset is 4.2 years. Treatment with corticosteroid and cytotoxic medications. One-year survival rate of 53%. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Diabetes Mellitus: Sugar diabetes is caused by a lack of insulin production by the pancreas. Controlled by insulin injections, diet, and glucose monitoring. The Schipperke is reported as a breed predisposed to developing DM between 4-14 years of age.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): Inherited degeneration of the retina, causing blindness. Form, age of onset, and mode of inheritance are not defined. CERF does not recommend breeding any Schipperke with PRA.
Black Hair Follicular Dysplasia: Rare condition causing loss of black hairs beginning around 4 weeks of age. Total loss of all black hair by 6-9 months of age. No treatment. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Color Dilution Alopecia, Pancreatitis, and Prognathism are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Spinal Arachnoid Cyst: Two Schipperkes were diagnosed with dorsal midline spinal arachnoid cysts localized either at the second to third caudal vertebrae or between the eighth and tenth thoracic vertebrae. Surgical removal was curative.
Nemaline Rod Myopathy (NM): An 11 year old Schipperke presented with exercise intolerance. Findings included abnormal electromyography, and the presence of nemaline rods in fresh, frozen, and glutaraldehyde-fixed biopsies from proximal appendicular limb muscles.
Congenital Pulmonary Emphysema: A 4-month-old, intact female Schipperke was presented for evaluation and treatment of subcutaneous (SC) emphysema. Radiographs revealed pneumomediastinum and SC emphysema. Exploratory thoracotomy revealed an emphysematous right middle lung lobe. Lobectomy of the right middle lung lobe resolved both the pneumomediastinum and SC emphysema.
Tests of Genotype: Direct test for MPS IIIB is available from PennGen. Direct test for black, chocolate/brown, and fawn/cream coat colors are available from VetGen. Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Required testing includes thyroid profile including autoantibodies, patella evaluation, and CERF eye examination. Optional recommended tests include genetic test for MPS IIIB, congenital cardiac disease evaluation, and hip radiographs. Recommend elbow radiographs.
- Breed name synonyms: Skip, Little Skipper, Spits (historical)
- Registries: AKC, UKC, CKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club)
- AKC rank (year 2008): 91 (639 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: The Schipperke Club of America Inc.: www.schipperkeclub-usa.org
Schipperke Club of Canada: www.schipperkecanada.net
The Schipperke Club (UK): www.schipperkeclub.co.uk
Schipperke Health Foundation: www.schipperkefoundation.org
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