To understand the controversial history of the schipperke, it is important to understand the country of Belgium where they originated.  Belgium was a country at war for many decades and it is doubtful that much written history of the breed was preserved in the earlier years.

“Le Brave Belge!"
from the book 'My Year of the War'
by Frederic Palmer
A peasant woman came out of the house beside the battlefield with her children around her ; a flat-chested, thin woman, prematurely old with toil. "Les Anglais !" she cried at sight of us. Seeing that we had some lances in the car, she rushed into her house and brought out half a dozen more. If the English wanted lances they should have them. She knew only a few words of French, not enough to express the question which she made understood by gestures. Her eyes were burning with appeal to us and flashing with hate as she shook her fist toward the Germans.
When were the English coming ? All her trust was in the English, the invincible English, to save her country. Probably the average European would have passed her by as an excited peasant woman. But pitiful she was to me, more pitiful than the raging officer and his dog battery, or the infantry awkwardly intrenching back of Louvain, or flag-bedecked Brussels believing in victory : one of the Belgians with the true schipperke spirit. She was shaking her fist at a dam which was about to burst in a flood.
The army I chose was not about to enter Brussels. It was that of " mine own people " on the side of the schipperke dog machine-gun battery which I had seen in the streets of Haelen, and the peasant woman who shook her fist at the invader, and all who had the schipperke spirit.

While much of the schipperke history is unknown, we do know that the  Schipperke originated in the Duchy of Brabant (now the provinces of Antwerp and Brabant), more specifically the towns of Brussels and Louvain.   At that time, he was called "Spitzke"( Spitz is a common name in Europe for all small dogs with pointed ears and noses.) The respectable antiquity of this dog is provided by the result of the researches Mr. Van der Snickt and Mr. Van Buggenhoudt made in the archives of Flemish towns, which contained records of the breed going back in pure type over 100 years.  In the early 1800 there were 3 varieties of schipperkes described.  The varieties were the Antwerp, Louvain and Brussels types, and it was the Antwerp type that the schipperke standard was eventually based on.

In any case, it can truly be said that Belgium is located at the crossroads of Latin and Germanic Europe.  The northern part of the country, referrred to as Flanders, has a Dutch-speaking population, and the southern region, known as Wallonia, is French-speaking.  German is the offical language in the so-called Eastern Cantons, and Brussels is bilingual.   As to the history of the country, Belgium, which became independent from the Netherlands in 1830,  it is often described as "the battle field of Europe".  Indeed, Belgium or it's territroy has continuously been "under the rule", dominated or occupied by a whole series of more powerful countries, such as Spain, Austria, France, the Netherlands and Germany. 

1883 Classification

Jean-Marie Vanbutsele
Translated by Pascale Vanbutsele

In the group of terriers, the program holds a heading with the "terriers smooth-haired, pitch black, with upright ears, without tail, of Flemish breed, Schipperkes ".  You notice that the desire of the schipperkesmen not to see their dog of predilection classified among the toy dogs is a longstanding one: since the start of exhibitions let’s say, he is almost classified among the working dogs.
As of the first year, the leaders of the time created the "Saint-Hubert Studbook" (L.O.S.H.) whose first edition appeared in 1883, containing 172 inscriptions of dogs. In particular two terriers smooth-haired, with upright ears, without tail, of Flemish breed, Schipperke. This studbook has continuously been published ever since.

Also in 1882 (on 5 November), the first edition in a long series (until 1970) of the review "Chasse et Pêche " was published. Louis Van der Snickt (1837-1911) became its chief editor. He was the former manager of the zoological gardens of Ghent and Dusseldorf. He had ample experience in breeding and was an excellent observer. The articles he published and illustrated in "Chasse et Pêche" are very instructive and pleasant to read. Several volumes would not be enough wrote Louis Huyghebaert later, to enumerate the services rendered to breeding by this untiring and alert spirit.
If the literal translation of "schipper" is "boatman", the true meaning of the word "Schipperke" has a very different origin. The sheepdogs in the Flemish areas were called "Schapershonden ". According to the area, one pronounced it as "schaper, scheper or schieper ". This is still the case today. The final "ke " always indicates the diminutive. That is why today the "Schipperke " is rightly classified in the group of the sheepdogs.

Shepherd or Boat Dog?

In the Flemish magazine "Cultura" (1925/26) Louis Hyughbaert, a Belgium breed authority wrote:

" Shepherd dog is used in the Netherlands, sheepdog in Belgium. I give the preference to sheepdog, firstly because the sound is better, secondly because the word is used by people language. In our Flemish country, people said usually " een schone scheper"(= a beautiful sheepdog)".

He also explains that the Belgium breed "Schipperke" (little black dog without tail) the diminutive is of the Flemish word "scheper". Effectively, if the literal translation of "schipper" is "boatman", the true meaning of the word "Schipperke" has a very different origin.  According to the area, one pronounced it as "schaper, scheper or schieper ". This is still the case today. The final "ke " always indicates the diminutive. "Schipperke" is a little sheepdog and comes not from the Flemish word "schipper" (= boatman). That is why today the "Schipperke " is rightly classified in the group of the sheepdogs.. The "Schipperke Club" was the first canine Club on the European continent founded in Brussels on the 10th of March 1888.

The Schipperke originated from the heart of Belgium, the city of Brussels being the capitol.  The "Leuvenaar", a breed that is now extinct, followed the wagons between Brussels and Louvain.  He weighed between 22 and 26 pounds and was considered the missing link between the Schipperke and his cousin, the Groenendael.  In Belgium, the Schipperke is still is in the Herding Group with the other Belgium Shepherds. 

The origin of the name has been described as “Schaap” = sheep; “Schaper” = shepherd; “Scheper” = same, dialect form; “Scheperke” - same, diminutive (indicating small size)  form; “Schieperke or Schipperke” = same, variations …therefore,  Little Shepherd dog.  Yet most romantically it has been associated with barges or boats “Schip” and boatman = “Schipers” unfortunately. 

Mr. Reusens was a very influential Schipperke breeder from the start until 1910.  He ran a freight boat line between Brussels and Antwerp.  He is sometimes called the “father of the Schipperke” because of his promotion and enthusiasm of the breed and the breed was renamed the Schipperke in honor of him at their first official meeting of the schipperke club in Brussels.  Breeders felt the name needed to be changed so the breed wouldn't be confused with the German Spitz which came in a variety of colors.  As you can see by the picture below, the 2 breeds certainly resemble one another.

The 14th Century...the French Influence

Source:  Wally Horman  Belgium

Forefathers of the Schipperke lived in the 14th century as farmers’ dogs existing in small-, medium- and normal sizes. They have retained the character of their big brothers, the Belgian sheep dogs. In those times, dogs were selected for particular purposes and their capabilities. Purebred breeding programs, as we understand them today simply did not exist.
Schipperke registries began in 1883. Before then, purebred registries did not exist. This was further complicated by the fact that Italians, Germans, Austrians, French, Dutch and Spanish occupied this part of Europe through the centuries.
There are some historical facts, however.  A 1356-dated document and a woodcarving kept in Leuven show a shepherd dog with a remarkable resemblance of a Schipperke or a Leuvenaar.  In the 14th century it was forbidden for “common” people to have large dogs.  That privilege was reserved for the ruling French aristocrats.  The “golden spurs battle” of 1302, where the French army was beaten by the Flemish weavers and butchers guilds, might help explain why.  To respond to the French regulations and still protect the flocks, farmers started to breed smaller dogs, especially in regions were the French army could operate.  The Schipperke and Leuvenaar resulted. The Leuvenaar was the same dog as a Schipperke, only taller.  The Schipperke got his name in the Flemish villages in Brabant.  Schipperke means little shepherd in Flemish. The Leuvenaar got his name from the town Leuven, about 25 miles from Brussels. 

The Waning of the French Influence...the 15th Century

During the  15th century, the Spanish occupied Flanders and all the French regulations were abolished so there was no legal reason to keep the smaller Schipperke.  In more crowded areas, Schipperkes became the house-alarm system, rat and mice catcher, and driver for geese and goat flocks. 

Later in the 15th century the monk Wenceslas chronicled the small tailless black Flemish Schipperke as the impersonation of the Devil – an image that playfully persists to this day. 

In 1609, the chronicle of the Saint Crispijn guild tells of shoemakers parading with their black docked tail dogs on the big market of Brussels.  It was about this time that these guilds began to organize Sunday beauty contests for dogs and their beautifully decorated copper collars.  The collar, as Mr. Hormans writes, “with the most elaborate lock, designed not to damage the Schipperkes’ elegant mane, got first prize.”  

19th Century – Schipperkes As We Know Them Today Begin to Emerge
The Belgian cynologist Charles Huge, an authority on shepherd dogs around the end of the 19th century, wrote articles about black, wolf-like shepherd dogs of different heights that were widespread in the province of Brabant. (The Brabant is the old Belgian Province that covered much of Belgium and Holland and had a, as its capital, the city of Brussels.) The biggest were sheepdogs and the smallest were mouse and rat catchers or poultry guards. Mr. Huge described them as ancestors to today’s Groenendaels and Schipperkes. (Groenendael is about 16 miles from Leuven.)

19th Century

It is during the 19th century that Schipperkes begin to emerge as "canal" dogs.

During this century they are commonly referred to by the "new name" schipperke.   Much written documentation comes to light as the country is no longer at war, and an interest in the breed has developed due to the Royal Belgium Schipperke club and the dedication of schipperke breeders.  Many are being exported to England and the United States.  However, there is plenty written documentation during the 19th century that supports the sheepdog theory.

by Lee Weston

Schipperkes were owned by shopkeepers, tradesmen, farmers, hunters, and as family pets. These dogs were popular with people who lived in the country, as well as in the city. It was/is used as a companion dog, watch dog, an eradicator of vermin, a hunting dog (they are terrific trackers), and a herding dog (goats, sheep, and geese). Some members of this breed have retained the herding instinct, but not all. These dogs are the smallest of Belgian shepherd dogs.
. It is generally thought that since the Schipperke is a Belgian shepherd dog, he should follow the standard of the shepherds. So the Schipperke should possess a tail, and it must be low carried like the other Belgian shepherds.


Translated by Dirk Vandelannoote from The new illustrated dog encyclopedia, MCMXC.

The schipperke, with its intelligent fox-like head, its smart twinkling eyes and pointed ears is a Belgian race. The origins of this small, black and always active and watchful dog are rather obscure. Even its name has given rise to many misunderstandings. People used to think it referred to the word schipper and that the dog was mainly known as a companion to Dutch and Belgian canal boat captains. It was believed to have had a well defined job aboard these ships, mainly as a guard dog and to eradicate vermin. Nowadays, this theory is regarded as myth. The story seems to have originated in the rich fantasy of British breeders. During the 19th century they were so charmed by this race that they invented a nice history about it. Thus the smallest of Belgian shepherds, because that's what it really is, became known as a Dutch "schipper"-dog.
The expression didn't come out of nowhere though. The English had in fact seen dogs aboard Dutch canalboats, but they were actually "Keeshonden" (an equally small Dutch race) and not really schipperkes. The confusion was understandable in that a schipperke with its full coat of fur and its large manelike "collar" could easily be mistaken for a Keeshond.
But that doesn't answer the real origin of its name. Modern cynological insights make it very likely that this is a very old race which has existed for centuries around the Flemish city of Leuven (home of the world's second oldest university. -d.v.) It was first mentioned in a 15th century chronicle by the monk Wenceslas, who regarded this small tailless black Flemish dog as the impersonation of the Devil! This seems to be an unmistakable portrait of what came to be known as the schipperke.
Its history begins to be better defined during the 17th and 18th centuries. The well known Belgian cynologist Charles Huge, who was an authority on Belgian shepherd dogs around the end of the 19th century, thought that the schipperke descended from dogs who were very widespread in the province of Brabant (in which Leuven is situated) during the 17th century. These wolflike shepherd dogs were also black and were usually owned by simple folk who put them to uses that fitted their limited height. Gradually, descendants were selected for a variety of uses and the race diversified into different directions. The biggest were shepherd dogs from which the four modern varieties of Belgian shepherds are descended (the Groenendael, the Mechelaar, the Tervueren and the Laeken). The smallest were used to keep the mouse and rat populations in check and to guard the farm's poultry. These specifically became the ancestors of today's schipperkes.
The name is actually derived from the word "scheper" (pronounced "shaper" / cfr. "sheep" in english -d.v.) which is Flemish for shepherd. Thus, schipperke simply means small shepherd dog. They were also lovingly called "spitzke" because of their pointed noses, or "moorke" (cfr. "moorish" : black -d.v.) because of their colour.

All references are from The Official Book Of The Schipperke, Sponsored by The Schipperke Club of America, Edited by Vella M. Root. Published 1965, Howell Book House, Inc.

(underling done by webmaster)

Page 16, 2nd paragraph: "One of the foremost subjects discussed by the founders of the Schipperkes Club was the origin of the Schipperke.  The name, Schipperke, did not come from the people of Brussels who called him Spitz (or Spitzke), but was introduced and used by the boatmen who plied their boats between Brussels and Antwerp. These two names gave rise to controversies on the origin of the breed. In fact, the breed was known colloquially as Spitz long after the official name was adopted. Even today, he is commonly called Spitz by the laymen in Belgium.
According to these Antwerp boatmen, the word Schipperke came from the Flemish word for boat, "schip," and meant little boatman (or, as more commonly known in America, little captain). It has been thought likely that it was the boatmen who were responsible for the elimination of the Schipperke tail as a dog minus this appendage was obviously less likely to upset goods upon their narrow boat decks.
However, there was no proof that the boatmen created the breed nor possessed the largest number of them
. On the contrary, this little black dog was found more widely distributed throughout the various towns of central Belgium in the homes of the middle class businessmen and among the members of the tradesmen guilds. These people thought of the Schipperke as a diminutive shepherd and believed that the word Schipperke was derived through a corruption of the word for shepherd, "scheper," and thus meant little shepherd."

The native sheepdog from which the Schipperke is believed to be a direct descendant is not the Belgian Sheepdog we know in the show ring of today, although it is an accepted theory that the two have developed from a common stem.

Page 18, 4th paragraph: "The colloquial name of Spitz, by which the Schipperke has been known in Belgium and from which the Spitz derivation theory has arisen in some quarters, actually does not shed any light on the true origin of the breed. In Belgium, the breeds which are also called Spitz in Germany and America are called Loulou and, thus, no relationship to these breeds is inferred by this Belgian call name. It was partly because of this possible confusion with the German breed, often noted for its unreliable temperament, that our breed was officially renamed Schipperke.
After due consideration, the Schipperkes Club founding fathers accepted, as the most logical explanation, the belief of the Belgian laymen that the Schipperke is in reality a diminutive shepherd and that he was derived from the small native black Belgian sheepdog. Belgian canine authorities have consistently repeated this origin down through the years."

Page 19, 3rd paragraph: "Another interesting point of comparison, which may also shed some light on tracing the ancestry of the Schipperke, is its natural tail carriage. Although it has often been written in America that the undocked tail of a Schip is carried over the back like a Spitz, early authorities are in disagreement with this.

Belgians "New Shepherd Theory"

As we can see from the research done here, there are many early references to the schipperke being a belgian shepherd.  The relationship to the  belgian shepherd  is not a new theory recently decided upon by Belgium.

At no time has the country of Belgium said that the schipperke is a bred down Belgium Sheepdog....only that they share a common ancestor with the Leuvenaar and are a member of the Belgium Shepherd family along with the 3 varieties of Belgium Sheepdogs as we know them today.

Please visit our Schipperke History Page for more information on the history of the schipperke, including the "alternate" theories on the schipperke being a boat dog and a spitz.

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