Late medieval Belgium was the birthplace of the Schipperke (correctly pronounced “SHEEP-er-ker,” though many American owners say “SKIP-er-kee”). The breed earned its fame as shipboard exterminators on the canals that crisscrossed the Low Countries. The little black avenger of the Belgian dockyards was also a fearless watchdog on barges and in city shops. It was among the sailors and shopkeepers of Brussels and Antwerp that these quick, agile dogs earned the nickname “schipperke,” Flemish for “little captain.”
The Schipperke is not derived from the Spitz or Pomeranian but is really a diminutive of the black sheepdog commonly called the Leauvenaar, which used to follow the wagons along the old highways in the provinces of Belgium. In the mid-19th century some of these 40-pound sheepdogs were still herding sheep in the neighborhood of Louvain, and from these both the Schipperke and the Groenendael have descended. The Schipperke was bred down to become that “excellent and faithful” little watchdog that we know.
In 1690, a show for Schipperkes of the Guild workmen was held in the Grand Palace of Brussels. The breed was called Spits or Spitske then; the name Schipperke was given it only after the forming of the specialty club in 1888. The name is Flemish for “little captain”. Though called a canal boat dog, the Schipperke was as popular with shoemakers and other workmen as it was on the canals. The legend of the Schipperke relates that the custom of cutting the tails arose in 1609. It tells the story of a shoemaker who, angered by the repeated thieving of his neighbor’s dog, cut off its tail-thereby showing the improved appearance soon copied by others and continued to this day. There is no evidence that the breed was ever born tailless; in fact, it seems that more dogs are born without tails now than earlier in their history.
The first dog in America was imported in 1888. A specialty club was founded here about 1905, but died out during World War I. There was little interest until, after several years of effort by a few fanciers, the present Schipperke Club of America was founded in 1929.