The Brussels Griffon: Is this the breed for you?
Welcome to the wonderful world of the Brussels Griffon! This brochure answers some frequently asked questions to assist you with deciding if this breed is right for you.
“Wow! What kind of dog is that?”
A Brussels Griffon attracts instant attention with its’ large lustrous eyes, delightful pout, and almost human expression. They are a small, sturdy toy dog and are often referred to as a “big dog in a small package”.
The Griffon is extremely alert and takes note of all activities in the household. This intelligence, coupled with their loving personalities, make the Brussels Griffon an excellent house pet. Their wonderful air of “self importance” is a constant source of amusement to anyone lucky enough to be owned by one.
There are four coat colors: red, black, black and tan, and belge (which is red and black mixed, giving the coat a shaded look). In addition, there are two coat types, rough and smooth. The wiry haired rough coat is dense and somewhat harsh to the touch. The rough coat is hand stripped short on the body and left somewhat longer on the leg furnishings and the face to form a beard. The smooth coat is short, tight and glossy, similar to that of a Boston Terrier. The smooth-coated Griffon will not have a beard and furnishings. The two coat types give the Griffon a different look, but the dog underneath is the same. In fact, the two coats appear interchangeably, as both coat types are often born in the same litter of puppies.
Griffons can range in size from as little as 6 lbs. up to 12, or even 14 lbs.
“The Brussels Griffon has such a unique look. How was the breed developed?”
The Brussels Griffon, like many dog breeds in existence today, was developed by combining other breeds to select for certain traits that long-ago breeders found desirable. There are several theories of breed development proposed by students of the breed, but most agree that the wire coated Belgian stable dog, known as Griffon d’Ecurie, was crossed and re-crossed with the black Pug, Affenpinscher, and Ruby Toy Spaniel sometime in the mid 1800’s. The Belgian stablemen that initiated these breedings apparently kept no records, but the present day Brussels Griffon was known in its’ present form sometime between 1870 and 1880.
Each of the breeds used in the development of the Brussels Griffon provided unique traits that make the breed the delightful little companion he is today. The wire coated Affenpinscher and Griffon d’Ecurie provided the harsh coat seen in the rough coat of today, while the Pug, a favorite in Victorian England during the mid 1800’s contributed the black color and smooth coat. The smooth Brussels Griffon is also known as the Brabancon in Europe, named for the Belgian anthem “La Brabanconne”. The King Charles (black and tan) and Ruby Toy Spaniels legacy can be seen in the occasional kink tailed, web footed or tailless Griffon that sometime appears – these dogs often have the most extreme, desirable head type. The crossbreeding of the Pug, Toy Spaniels, and Affenpinscher all contributed to the domed head, large expressive eyes, up-swept jaw and flat face of our current day Griffon. The Brussels Griffon has evolved from the scruffy stable ratter into the delightful little companion we know today.
“How can I find a Brussels Griffon for a pet?”
Brussels Griffons are not a common breed, and obtaining one will take some diligence on your part. The best source of information on Brussels Griffon breeders that can assist you with finding a pet is the American Brussels Griffon Association (ABGA) web site (www.brussels-griffon.info). This site will also link to several other educational sites about the breed, including the American Kennel Club site (www.akc.org). You will need to be very proactive in your search because breeders do not always have puppies available. Since Brussels Griffons are toy dogs, they often have small litters and are difficult to breed. As a result, the number of Griffons available is exceeded by the demand, and many breeders will maintain a waiting list. By being patient and establishing a sincere dialogue with the breeder, the resourceful seeker can be successful in obtaining a Brussels Griffon.
As the dialogue between a potential pet owner and breeder proceeds, be prepared to answer questions that pry into your personal life and motivation for obtaining a dog. You may have to travel a long distance to find a breeder, who will be evaluating you as a candidate for one of their beloved pets. If the person selling you a dog does not ask these questions, doesn’t go in depth about the care feeding, and health issues of the dog, is not knowledgeable about the breed, or their primary motivation is money, please walk away from such an individual. The responsibility for the puppy bought from such a person ends when the puppy is sold.
Conversely, a dedicated hobby breeder carefully selects dogs for their breeding program that exhibit the correct characteristics and temperament to produce quality offspring. Such a breeder will take responsibility for all dogs they have produced for their lifetimes. These animals will undergo careful medical screening. When such a breeder plans a litter of puppies, they are working to improve upon the parents and produce puppies that are as close to the breed standard as possible. The time, expense, dedication, and love that dedicated hobby breeders put into their breeding programs will bring you a happy, healthy, well adjusted pet that will be your companion for many years to come.
“Should my dog come with registration papers and a pedigree?”
Your Brussels Griffon should have an AKC (American Kennel Club) registration certificate that will be provided to you at the time of sale. Ethical breeders will sell you the dog already spayed or neutered; some breeders may also use the limited registration option, where the AKC registration form states the puppy or dog can be shown in AKC performance events (obedience, agility, lure coursing, etc) only. The registration form can be sent in to AKC to register your dog, and a pedigree can then be ordered showing either 3 or 4 generations of your dog’s ancestors. The breeder should be open to all your questions on health, (no dog breeds are free from health problems, the breeder should openly discuss these issues with you), provide you the registration numbers of the sire and dam for your puppy upon request, provide you an immunization record for your puppy, and be available to you after the sale for questions and advice on raising your dog and helping it adapt to its’ new environment.
“If a puppy is not available from a breeder, should I get one from a pet store?”
Everyone at some time has passed a pet store window and may be tempted to take home a cute puppy. What is not commonly known is how pet stores obtain their puppies. They are most often or most likely purchased from dog brokers or puppy mills where they have not had the proper care and attention that will give you a happy, healthy, well socialized puppy. These dogs are often bred under conditions that are heartbreaking, with no screening done for existing or potential health problems. You may even be told that they buy their dogs from wonderful breeders with championship backgrounds. While some of these dogs may have a champion or two in their pedigree, it does not mean the offspring are of breeding quality, and ethical breeders do not sell puppies to pet stores or puppymills. These profit motivated individuals do not have the best interests of the dogs (or you) at heart – they are in business to make money. The dedicated Griffon breeder works very hard to raise healthy, well adjusted puppies and is lucky to break even with their expenses. They seek the best homes for their puppies and work hard to find an appropriate match between owner and dog.
When a Griffon breeder has determined you would be a good match for one of their dogs, they may ask if you would consider an older dog. Older dogs will require less training and housebreaking and will bond to you as quickly as a puppy will. Many breeders are also very active in rescue, and may be aware of a wonderful rescue dog in need of assistance. There is nothing more satisfying than the grateful look of adoration from a dog whose life you have changed by adopting him.
Attending dog shows and meeting the breeders in person will give you an opportunity to see some dogs and ask questions about the breed. Get a catalog so you can see which exhibitors are showing dogs that day. Always ask if it is a good time to talk, as the breeder may be busy preparing to take their dogs into the ring to be judged. Reputable breeders will be more than happy to talk to you after judging is done – approaching them at this time allows them to devote the time to your questions, and they should be open to queries from interested newcomers.
“What about purchasing a Griffon over the Internet?”
There are many sellers of different breeds over the Internet, and sellers that “market” the Brussels Griffon are no different. As with puppymill breeders and pet stores, many of these individuals sell puppies with profit as their primary motive, even though they will never disclose this to you, the buyer. A trend showing up on the internet is to advertise dogs that are “rare” colors, which in the Brussels Griffon means the dilute colors of blue, chocolate and blue and tan. These colors are dilutes of the accepted colors listed above and frequently carry with them health problems that should not be passed on to the next generation. These puppies, when they occur, should be spayed or neutered and placed in homes as cherished pets.
“What is it like to live with a Brussels Griffon?”
The Griffon is a true “velcro dog” – he loves to be with you at all times. He will jump on your lap when you sit down, follow you into the bathroom, and even sit on your foot as you stand at the sink doing dishes! Because of their attachment to their family, Brussels Griffons are strictly house dogs. If relegated to a garage or kennel, the Griffon will pine away without love and personal attention, no matter how well their other needs are met. They should always have the opportunity to socialize with their people, otherwise they will become unhappy and withdraw into their shell. Griffons are happiest when they can sleep in your bed, follow you throughout your daily activities, and be an integral part of the family.
Griffons get along well with other pets, and enjoy the companionship of their human and animal family members. A word of caution – due to their innate sense of self importance, they are not aware of their small stature. As a result, they will often try to dominate dogs many times their size and could be hurt by a larger pet. Griffons love to romp and play, and will often amuse you by tearing through the house and running in circles for the sheer joy of it. When playtime is through, they will curl up next to you for a nap, again showing that they are true velcro dogs.
“Are Brussels Griffons easy to train? “
Brussels Griffons have a high degree of intelligence coupled with a sensitive nature. As a result, force does not work well with them in training; when forced they will decide they want no part of the training session. They will, however, respond well to guidance given with kindness, consistency and love. For example, catching a Griffon to crate them before leaving for work can result in a game of “catch me if you can” that can lead to frustration on the part of the owner. Enticing the Griffon into his crate with a treat elicits the desired behavior for you and a reward for the dog – a training win-win strategy that should be utilized consistently.
Griffons will bond easily to their trainer when gentle training methods are used. Their intelligence and desire to please makes them wonderful participants in obedience, agility, conformation and tracking events. Leash training should begin by 6-8 weeks of age – Griffons can sometimes exhibit a stubborn streak when they first encounter a leash. Because of the Griffon’s small size and sensitive nature, they are not recommended as pets for small children that might be unwittingly rough or even tease the dog. They do make excellent pets for families with older children, singles, empty nesters or grandparents, in fact anyone with the commitment to the health and well being of their Griffon.
The innate wish for the Griffon to please you should be employed when housetraining your pet. Toy breeds can be difficult to housetrain – and the Brussels Griffon is no exception. If you would be heartbroken by a puddle on your oriental carpets, you may wish to consider another breed. Housetraining can be accomplished – however, it will not be as easy as with other breeds. Remember, consistency and kindness should always be employed, as well as keeping the Griffon on a regular schedule of “bathroom breaks”. By keeping your Griffon on a regular schedule, and taking him outside immediately after waking up and after eating, your chances for successful housetraining will be improved.
“Do Brussels Griffons have any specific health issues?”
Brussels Griffons are relatively long lived, with an age span of 12-15 years being the norm. Although difficult to breed, once they are past young puppy hood, Griffons are not subject to many serious diseases that plague some breeds. There are, however, some genetically based diseases that do occur in the breed, and the ABGA is currently conducting a comprehensive health survey to identify these conditions. This survey is being done so that we may identify and not breed dogs with serious health conditions that should not be passed on to future generations.
Griffons are not overly prone to eye or skin ailments, but being a flat faced (bracycephalic) breed, must be protected from overheating in hot weather. Some Griffons will snore – this is usually more amusing than it is annoying.
Dedicated reputable breeders, in conjunction with your veterinarian, are the best sources of information on health care and feeding your Griffon. Regular health checks, vaccinations, and heartworm prevention are important components in maintaining your Griffon’s optimal health.
Another important point to consider when purchasing your Griffon is the health screening performed by your breeder to ensure healthy, long lived dogs. Puppymills, who sell puppies to pet stores, will probably not do the proper health screenings to remove dogs with health issues from their breeding stock. Dedicated breeders will provide a health guarantee on the dogs they sell, and then live up to that guarantee. A “discount” puppy from other sources can often have heartbreaking medical conditions costing many thousands of dollars in vet bills, the untimely death of a pet, or both.
Griffons are born with ears that stand up and then fold over – the ears may also be cropped to form a small prick ear. They will also have their tails docked – this is done when the puppies are just a few days old. Your puppy may come with either natural or cropped ears – if they are natural you may choose to have them cropped. If you do wish to have your dog’s ears cropped, be sure to choose a veterinarian that has lots of experience with this procedure, preferably with this breed.
“How do I groom my Brussels Griffon?”
Grooming is very different for the two coat types. Beginning with the smooth coat, regular brushing and occasional bathing should suffice. Nails must be trimmed short, and ears should be cleaned occasionally with a cotton ball and ear cleaner. Even on a smooth dog, the hair can sometimes grow long around the neck, rump and tail. Ears should also be trimmed to maintain a neat appearance.
The rough coat can be maintained in two ways. Most pet owners will opt to have their Griffon taken to a groomer, where the coat on the head, ears, back and sides will be clipped very short. The furnishings on the legs are left slightly longer, and the beard is trimmed to maintain a neat appearance. An alternate method is to hand-strip the coat – this is the grooming method used by breeders to maintain a show coat. This is done by pulling out the long dead hairs with a stripping knife or with fingers a few hairs at a time. Maintaining the coat in this fashion will keep the Griffon’s coat at the proper harsh texture and deep color so he looks his best. Your breeder can give you instruction on grooming using either method. By shaving your Griffon with clippers, some of the depth of color and wiry texture is lost, but the grooming process is much easier to learn. If you are truly ambitious and want to maintain the stripped coat, your breeder will be able to give you lessons in hand stripping the coat. The process is not difficult to learn, but does require dedication and attention to detail. Whether the dog is clippered or hand stripped, the important thing to remember is to keep your Griffon well groomed and neat. The grooming process, when done gently and frequently can be an important bonding ritual between owner and dog.
“Are there additional resources available for learning more about my Brussels Griffon?”
There are a number of Brussels Griffon books available from your local bookstore. These are good for understanding the basic attributes of the breed and caring for your dog. Additional breed information, including an online store, can be located at the ABGA website listed above. The web addresses of breeders and club members offering breed information are available. Please be willing to wait a few days for a response, in case a member is out of town or away for the weekend at a show. There is also a website for our sister club, the National Brussels Griffon Club (www.brussels-griffon.net). Some of the available information is printed material and can be ordered, including the Brussels Griffon Primer, and a Grooming Guide which shows how to put your rough Griffon in a show coat. Membership in the clubs entitles members to the quarterly magazine full of information on the breed.
You may also have fun searching for Brussels Griffon items online. You might try the “Google” search engine, check e-Bay, or Amazon. The items available are varied and change constantly. You may also wish to expand your search beyond the U.S. – there are Brussels Griffon clubs in many countries – where the breed is known as the Griffon Bruxellois, Griffon Belge, and Petit Brabancon in Europe, depending on coat color and type.