Be prepared to be entertained with a Brussels Griffon because he is at his best as the center of attention. You might remember this breed in the sitcom, Spin City or the movie, As Good as It Gets starring Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. Some consider the dog to be the “Velcro” breed, a little companion that is rarely far from his owner, whether he is sitting on your lap, lying on your feet or waiting patiently while you go to the bathroom.
His personality reflects the many breeds that went into making this dog what he is today, affectionate, spunky, sensitive, sweet and cuddly, and comical. He possesses the self-confidence of a terrier and the loving nature of a spaniel.
He’s intelligent, active, and somewhat bossy, refusing to relinquish the spotlight even to a human child. This means that this breed might not be the best choice for families with small children. He could rule the roost if not properly trained and socialized, but there is rarely a dull moment if he is allowed to be by your side.
He acquired his good looks from the various breeds used to develop him in the 1800s. The first thing that most people notice is his “smushed in” face and large soulful eyes. There are two coat varieties, the smooth and wiry coat, each coming in a variety of colors.
All colors and coat textures are combined into one breed in the United States. The tail is usually docked to 1/3 the size in the US and the ears are either cropped or allowed to fold over naturally.
In other countries, there are three distinct breeds: Smooth (Petit Brabancon); the Rough Reds (Brussels Griffon) and all other colors with a rough coat (Belgian Griffon). Each is shown separately in dog shows and they are not interbred.
The history of the Griffon is relatively short, dating back to the 1800s, although there is some mention of forerunners of the breed as early as the 16th century in artwork by Van Dyck and later Renoir in his painting, “Bather With Griffon.”
The Griffon was established in Brussels, Belgium. In the early 1800s, small terrier type dogs were used to kill rats and other vermin in stables. In Belgium, a small terrier type dog, the Griffons d’Ecurie (known as a wire coated stable dog) was crossed and recrossed with an Affenpinscher, a black pug and an English Toy Spaniel. No records were kept at the time by the men working in the stables who began the mating program, so we do not know how much of each breed contributed to the modern day Brussels Griffon.
From the various crosses, two distinct coat types developed, the wiry coat from the terriers and Affenpinscher, and the smooth coats presumably from the pug. Smooth-coated Brussels Griffons were called "Brabancons" from the Belgium national anthem. What ended up was a short faced, large eyed, big doomed headed dog that appeared to have the expression of a frown. First living on the streets and in stables, they eventually became very popular as a companion dog. The present day Brussels Griffon was perfected in the 1870-1880s. They were first shown at the Brussels Exhibition of 1880.
AKC recognized the breed in 1910; they held the 84th ranking position in 2012 making them a relatively rare breed in the United States.
Every Brussels Griffon Dog is unique, so it’s hard to generalize about temperament, though most are happy, affectionate and very devoted to their people.
Some are more outgoing than others and some even border on being shy. They make good watch dogs, but can be reserved with strangers.
Energy-wise, they run the gamut from being very hyperactive to being very mellow, so learning as much about the puppy or adult you are considering is a must.
Brussels Griffons often develop a reputation for being mischievous, digging under the fence, jumping up on tables, overturning trash cans or finding anything left behind by a human that might be interesting to dissect.
Housebreaking is more difficult with this breed than others. They are very intelligent, if not a bit stubborn, but they respond to training as long as it is consistent, positive, and gentle. Rough handling or screaming will never work with this breed. They do want to please their people and will work towards this end.
Griffons, as they are affectionately named by fanciers are active, but can usually obtain most of their exercise requirements with a short walk, romp in the yard or dash around the house. They seem to love the opportunity just to run for the sake of running and will tear through the house at top speeds. They make excellent apartment dogs, but should always be on a leash when outdoors, if not contained in a fenced-in area.
Their amazing athletic ability is well-known and they do well with agility, obedience, rally and tracking. Being a brachycephalic breed, their exercise should be in moderation. They do not do well in extreme heat and must never be allowed to remain outdoors. Most Brussels Griffon dogs do well with other pets, even larger dogs but sometimes need to be reminded that they are still only a small dog.
This breed comes in two different coat types, the Rough or wiry and the Smooth Coat. Each has its unique needs.
The Smooth coat is the easiest to groom. They are soft and smooth and require a weekly brushing. This hair type sheds seasonally, so more brushing when shedding occurs is advised. To make the coat look glossy, you can use a hound glove over the entire body. Sometimes there are longer hairs that need to be trimmed just to keep them looking neat.
The rough coat can be clipped down or hand stripped to maintain its rough texture. This coat does not shed, but rather the hair grows out to approximately 3 inches and then dies. New hair grows in the same hair follicle.
Clipping the coat is easiest, and most pet owners opt for this, either doing it themselves or visiting a groomer about every 3 months. A hand stripping knife is used to maintain the harsh coat required for showing the dog. Their body is stripped short, and their legs and beard should remain long.
Beyond the coat care, nails need to be clipped on a regular basis and teeth brushed. Their ears will need an occasional cleaning with an ear cleaner and cotton ball and anal glands expressed if necessary.
Like any dog, the Brussels Griffon is susceptible to any type of contagious disease, internal and exterior parasites and poor lifestyle choices such as obesity.
Beyond that, they are a healthy breed, but some genetic diseases have been identified in the breed. There are screening tests that can identify potential issues in the parents and most reputable breeders will get their breeding stock tested. If you are considering the purchase of a puppy, ask your breeder for more information on these tests and which ones have been performed.
The following are known problems in the breed, but your dog may or may not ever get these diseases.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy