Brussels Griffon

As they had done with sheepdogs, the Belgians, in the mid-to late 1800s, were breeding new varieties of toy dogs. Besides the Brussels Griffon (French: Griffon Bruxellois), these included the Belgian Griffon (Griffon Belge), and the Petit Brabançon.

All three of these toy dogs are thought to descend from the same ancestor, a dog called a Smousje. Smousje was a rough-coated, small terrier-like dog kept in stables to eliminate rodents. Later on, both the Pug and two varieties of the English Toy Spaniel are thought to have been crossed with the Brussels Griffon. Today, the primary distinction among all the Belgian toy rodent-hunting dogs is their coat texture — they are referred to as either a wire-coated or a smooth-coated Brussels Griffon.

Brussels Griffon image

Among the significant breed registries, the AKC recognizes only the Brussels Griffon; European groups recognize all three earlier Griffons with breed standards differing mostly in coat texture and color.

Fun fact: The Brussels Griffon is connected to the Star Wars movie franchise. For Return of the Jedi (1983), the visual effects director used an image of a Griffon Bruxellois, the same species of dog George Lucas owned, to design the general look of the furry Ewok characters. The makeup artist took it from there, and the denizens of the Forest Moon of Endor were born.



History

By 1870, the Brussels Griffon had raised himself from a chaser of barn rats to a favorite among royalty. Belgian Queen Henrietta Maria so enjoyed them that they became sought after by both members of the nobility and working-class people in Brussels. The present-day Brussels Griffon is a spirited little dog who appeals to people of all social classes on both sides of the Atlantic.

As happened to so many breeds during the two World Wars, the Brussels Griffon nearly became extinct during the 40-year period during which the wars were fought. A dedicated group of admirers in the U.K. and elsewhere restored the breed, but it remains relatively uncommon, especially in the U.S.


Size

For a dog weighing just 8 to 10 pounds, the Brussels Griffon is a sturdy little guy. He tends to stand about 10 inches at the shoulder.

As mentioned, there are rough-coated and smooth-coated versions. Coat colors can include red, red-brown and black, black and tan or solid black.


Personality

“Happy and scrappy” might be a good way to described this breed. They are big-hearted and love to cuddle with their person. They also love a good round of play, so they’ll get along fine with children who can be appropriately gentle and respect the dog’s tiny stature. Families with Griffons report their dogs like to entertain and enjoy being the center of attention.

Although friendly with the entire family, Griffons usually share a special bond with one person in the household. They also usually get along with cats and smaller pets. Care needs to be taken when a Griffon is in the presence of a larger dog, as the Griffon has no concept of his own disadvantage in size.

Training this breed requires some patience. They can be difficult to housebreak, and it is sometimes suggested that new owners enlist the breeder to housebreak the dog. Barking is another potential problem that underscores the need for a well-trained dog. They can learn when to be quiet on command. The Griffon can be a great apartment dog, but left untrained, he will be drawing the ire of your neighbors.

Finally, the Brussels Griffon can be emotionally sensitive and is especially prone to separation anxiety. He is not a good choice for those who work long hours, unless the work can be performed at home.


Health

The Brussels Griffon can live 10 to 15 years. Puppies should be checked as early as possible for Syringomyelia (SM), a chronic, progressive disorder of the spinal cord, and Chiari-like malformation (CM), which can cause Syringomyelia and other disorders. Griffons and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels both seem to develop these diseases in unusually large numbers.

Brussels Griffons have a greater than average time giving birth. Conception itself can be difficult, and once ready to deliver, female Griffons often require Caesarian section delivery. Small litters (sometimes just one pup) are common, and the mortality rate for pups in the first few weeks of life is around 60 percent. A puppy born with a cleft palate can easily starve without intervention.

Griffons can also be prone to to refractory corneal ulceration, cataracts, hip dysplasia and patellar luxation.


Care

The smooth-coated Brussels Griffon requires very little in the way of grooming — a weekly brushing and occasional bath will take care of him. The rough-coated version needs to be brushed weekly and combed afterward with a metal comb, but he’ll also need to be hand-stripped twice annually, a process that involves removing dead hair by hand to encourage new coat growth. Ask your groomer for help if this process scares or intimidates you. It’s tempting to simply clip the dog to avoid the stripping process, but clipping is forbidden in the show ring and also causes the dog to shed more hair, more frequently.


Rescue

The smooth-coated Brussels Griffon requires very little in the way of grooming — a weekly brushing and occasional bath will take care of him. The rough-coated version needs to be brushed weekly and combed afterward with a metal comb, but he’ll also need to be hand-stripped twice annually, a process that involves removing dead hair by hand to encourage new coat growth. Ask your groomer for help if this process scares or intimidates you. It’s tempting to simply clip the dog to avoid the stripping process, but clipping is forbidden in the show ring and also causes the dog to shed more hair, more frequently.


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