Another Dog of Flanders
Although the breed portrayed in the Belgian-made movie version of Marie Louise de la Ramée’s 1872 tear-jerker “A Dog of Flanders” is a Bouvier, there is another Flanders breed that could just as well have been Patrasche.
Loyal, affectionate and protective of its family, a Schipperke might possibly have done as good as if not better job of looking out for the novel’s young protagonist, Nello. Although at 16 pounds, the Schip may not have been the best choice as a draft dog to haul the boy’s milk to his customers.
The Schipperke is an old breed, most likely dating from some time around the 15th Century. While no one really knows how or from what breeds the Schipperke may have developed, the generally accepted theory is that the breed began with the Leauvenaar, a now-extinct Belgian Shepherd. In the 14th Century, Belgium was ruled by France, which, in turn, was ruled by the House of Bourbon, the source of the rather lengthy line of Kings Louis of France. During the reign of the Bourbons, only the aristocracy could own large dogs. As a result, small shepherd dogs, one of which is the Schipperke, were developed to do everything the large dogs could do but were mainly kept by families as companions, to hunt vermin and also to tend flocks.
Blitzen (MBISS GCh CAN Ch AGCH PACH6 Willow’s Who Will Stop The Rain? RA FDC MXP18 MXPG2 PDSP MJP18 MJPG2 PJSP PAX6 MFPB2 TQXP T2BP8 BCAT RATO NATCH, V-NATCH AA-NATCH TL-1 UL-2) is currently Deb Bruner’s top Schipperke but she has six others, five of which are active in performance sports.
While this is a high-energy breed, with the right trainer they can successfully do multiple sports, says Deb Bruner.
“I love their look, their coat, their size, their easy care and their smarts. I also love their confidence and independence as well as their curiosity. They are fantastic pets and so entertaining,” says Bruner, whose current top Schipperke is Blitzen (MBISS GCh CAN Ch AGCH PACH6 Willow’s Who Will Stop The Rain? RA FDC MXP18 MXPG2 PDSP MJP18 MJPG2 PJSP PAX6 MFPB2 TQXP T2BP8 BCAT RATO NATCH, V-NATCH AA-NATCH TL-1 UL-2). “But my Schips are very well socialized, and good temperaments are something breeders these days breed and strive for.”
However, Bruner adds that “back in the old days,” she was told that was not always the case.
“I’ve found that using training methods that use a little luring and shaping work well for Schips. Show them a bit about what it is you want, and then see if they offer up the sort of behavior that will take them down the path you want,” suggests Bruner, who owns seven Schipperkes in all, with one retiree and the other six, some of which are rescues, doing performance sports. “As is the case with a lot of ‘independent’ breeds, letting them think that what you want them to do is all their idea makes for a happy, trainable Schip.”
Blitzen has been successful in a wide variety of sports, but agility is where his particular star has shown the brightest.
Justus Reichert adds that Schipperkes have a tenacious attitude, curious intelligence and a spitz-like personality.
“I started with Siberian Huskies, and I was looking for a breed that would complement them. When I found these mischievous little black dogs, I knew they were right for me,” she says. “They live to be with their people. This is a huge contributing factor to their versatility and success in many different sports. They are a breed that will try to help you no matter what you are doing.”
Solaris (Fundamental Fire Meek Imp CD BN RE DCAT RATI RATN CGCA TKA VHMA), Justus Reichert’s Schipperke luckily was imported from the Ukraine long before the Russian invasion.
Reichert admits that one of the biggest challenges she encountered working toward Solaris’ (Fundamental Fire Meek Imp CD BN RE DCAT RATI RATN CGCA TKA VHMA) obedience and rally titles was proofing him — increasing his ability to ignore distractions and remain focused on the task at hand.
“Schipperkes are naturally a watchful breed and aware of everything around them,” she reminds. “This can lead to a challenge when you ask them to pay attention solely to you and what you are asking them to do when there are a lot of other things going on around them.”
For Kathy Swan, multiple Schip ownership has proven to be challenging when finding the right sport for each dog. Her current Schipperkes are Missy (ALGRCH UACHX URO1 Olympic Crest Ain’t Misbehavin’ RN FDC ATT CGCA TKP JSA-E RSA-E GSA-E RATN C-SWE TL1 SD1 UL1 TE-N TE-NBO VSX TAM8 TMAG12 NATCH-7 VNATCH-6 AANATCH-3 NATCH-Platinum CATCH-6 TACH-4 Ch ST Ch JP Ch SN Ch CL Ch JU Ch FH Ch WC), Gracie (Olympic Crest Amazing Grace FDC ATT SEN SIN SBN SCN SWN ATT CGCA TKP RATI HP-1 SD1 LI1 UL1 TG1 VSX EC AHD EE EV MN), Glory (Sundance’s Olympic Crest Glory Star Puppy CA RN FDC ATT CGCA TKP FCAT2 RATS CZ8G CL1 CL2-S CL2-H CL2-F EJC TN-E TG-E GR-E BR-O OGC VER1 NAC NCC TL1 SD1 UL1 VSX TGI TBAD CA UFA USA RACES SPOT) and Jenny (Casablanca JJ Meek Imp DCAT CTC TKN ATT FDC RATO IAC HP-I ICC TG-N GR-N TN-O OJC TL1 SD1 UL1 VSA TGI TGITBAD RACEA).
Missy (ALGRCH UACHX URO1 Olympic Crest Ain’t Misbehavin’ RN FDC ATT CGCA TKP JSA-E RSA-E GSA-E RATN C-SWE TL1 SD1 UL1 TE-N TE-NBO VSX TAM8 TMAG12 NATCH-7 VNATCH-6 AANATCH-3 NATCH-Platinum CATCH-6 TACH-4 Ch ST Ch JP Ch SN Ch CL Ch JU Ch FH Ch WC), one of Kathy Swan’s Schipperkes, found trick work to be something she liked.
“The biggest challenge has been matching each dog with the sport that was right for him or her,” says Swan, who has owned between four and six Schips at a time for the past 14 years. “For example, Glory loved swimming with her toys and with me, but didn’t like dock diving. So we tried flyball, and she was accepted on a team, but that sport was too loud for me, so we kept looking. Finally, she ran FastCAT and was the fastest Schip that year. She still loves doing that sport along with several others.”
Another of Swan’s dogs, Missy, was four years old when she stopped enjoying barn hunt. Swan tried several things in practice and at trials to try and rekindle her interest. Finally, after nothing worked, she listened to Missy and stopped asking her to do barn hunt. “She’s still eager to find quarry boxes in NASDA, but that’s a very different hunt. There are so many sports available now, there is bound to be something for each dog,” Swan says. “You just have to find it. None of my dogs play all the sports with me, but everyone plays something.”
Gracie (Olympic Crest Amazing Grace FDC ATT SEN SIN SBN SCN SWN ATT CGCA TKP RATI HP-1 SD1 LI1 UL1 TG1 VSX EC AHD EE EV MN), another of Swan’s Schipperkes, even at age 14, has fun being silly now and then.
Every now and then dogs seem to take a sudden dislike to a sport that they previously loved. When that happens, it can be a challenge determining what has gone wrong, and whether it is a behavioral or a health issue.
That was the case for Bruner with two of her Schips, which had previously run well and loved agility. But suddenly they started running poorly and acting as if they didn’t like it.
“One of them had the double whammy of having a pair of abscessed teeth and we were learning a new agility handling method that, in hindsight, was putting too much pressure on both of us,” Bruner recalls. “Once I dropped that class and had the problem teeth pulled, he slowly came back to love the sport, but it took a while because he clearly believed that agility was the source of his pain. So, we had some counter-conditioning to do.”
The other Schip also had dental issues as a result of having had parvo as a puppy. Bruner was his second owner and he got the virus with his first. “Once we got his tooth problems fixed, he came roaring back in agility and thankfully his return to agility was minus any issues toward the sport,” Bruner says.
Swan’s Jenny (Casablanca JJ Meek Imp DCAT CTC TKN ATT FDC RATO IAC HP-I ICC TG-N GR-N TN-O OJC TL1 SD1 UL1 VSA TGI TGITBAD RACEA) likes to hunt rats and chase lures.
Since the breed has a reputation for being mischievous, it is important to keep a Schip stimulated both physically and mentally.
“One of the reasons I compete in dog sports is that it helps me understand my dogs better and strengthens our bond,” Reichert explains. “But I also find that training and competing in sports helps work Solaris’ mind and keeps him stimulated so he doesn’t have to seek out other enrichment, which may or may not be appropriate behavior.”
It’s also important to keep in mind that Schipperkes don’t particularly like to do the same task repeatedly without changing it up a bit or being rewarded for the work. Reichert made this mistake with Solaris in rally, and he started to get sour on the sport. “We got through this issue by taking a break for a couple of months and then making things more fun and lighthearted,” as well as switching courses and training routines to give him the variety that he wanted and needed.
Swan notes that Schipperkes are often overlooked by people looking for a performance dog because of their small size — and also because they’re in the Non-Sporting Group. “That’s not exactly the place most people would look for a dog to do a performance sport,” she reflects. “The challenge is to inform people of their ability to succeed in many different sports. Breeders and people doing dog sports with their Schipperkes need to be spreading the word.”
Glory (Sundance’s Olympic Crest Glory Star Puppy CA RN FDC ATT CGCA TKP FCAT2 RATS CZ8G CL1 CL2-S CL2-H CL2-F EJC TN-E TG-E GR-E BR-O OGC VER1 NAC NCC TL1 SD1 UL1 VSX TGI TBAD CA UFA USA RACES SPOT,) one more Swan Schipperke, has been successful in many different dog sports but truly loves lure coursing.
According to Bruner, one of the greatest health challenges facing the breed is mucopolysacchardidosis (MPSIIIB), a neurological disorder that emerges around two years old and usually results in death by age five. She notes that MPSIIIB is entirely preventable because there is now a genetic test available to identify carriers.
“There is a big debate in the Schipperke community, with some breeders breeding carriers of this disorder to non-carriers because they don’t want to throw out their lines entirely and start over, as it requires breeding two carriers for their offspring to be affected,” she explains. “This is a ‘hot potato’ issue for sure.”
On the plus side, Bruner continues, more and more breeders are testing for this disorder as well as all kinds of other health issues. Those tests results, as well as issues with lack of full dentition, epilepsy and cancer, are being shared with the members of the Schipperke Club of America.
Unfortunately, she notes, “backyard breeders” are likely not doing any testing and with the shortage of Schipperkes, many puppy buyers who want the breed are not aware of the MPSIIIB problem, so they buy puppies from parents that haven’t been tested. Then in turn, these folks may also breed their untested Schips because of the high demand.
In addition, Bruner notes that breeders are dealing with the trend toward breeding for fad colors other than black — again, because of demand, to supply the pet population. Any color other than “natural black” is a disqualification according to the AKC Schipperke standard.
“When you breed solely for coat color — cream, brown or now black and tan — you definitely overlook other important issues,” Bruner stresses. Exacerbating the problem of a shortage of tested dogs from reputable breeders, she says, “is the practice by long-time breeders limiting the sale of their dogs to an inner circle of people, which keeps these quality dogs out of the general public’s reach.”