Is the Brussels Griffon the right dog for you?

Modified from ABGA website

Is the Brussels Griffon the dog for you? Welcome to the wonderful world of the Brussels Griffon! This may help answer 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 if hand stripped, but smother/softer if clipped and they do not shed if properly groomed. The smooth coat is short, tight and glossy, similar to that of a Boston Terrier, and do shed. 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, puppies with either coat types may appear in the same litter.

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 Brabencon in Europe, named for the Belgian anthem “La Brabenconne”. 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, upswept 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.

What is it like to live with a Brussels Griffon?

The Griffon is a true “velcro dog” – he/she loves to be with you at all times. He/she 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. A well socialized Griffon though will not try to dominate dogs, so be sure to properly socialize your little one. 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, or on 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. Their crate should be their safe haven and not used for punishment. We start crate training before they leave, so that your job is easier.

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 8-12 weeks of age – Griffons can sometimes exhibit a stubborn streak when they first encounter a leash. You can try starting them out with a harness instead of a collar.
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. This is why we start outdoor housetraining from the time they are able to walk. That way when you get your pup, all you need to do is continue to take it outside regularly. 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 housetraining will go much more smoothly. If possible, please do not revert to using a puppy pad, as this will break them of wanting to go outside to do their business.

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 puppyhood, Griffons are not subject to many serious diseases that plague some other 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. Common conditions include luxating patella, hip dysplasia, cataracts and syringomyelia.
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.
Regular health checks, vaccinations, and heartworm prevention are important components in maintaining your Griffon’s optimal health.

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. If your groomer is not familiar with Griffons, then just ask for a Schnauzer clip. 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. This removes all dead hair, and when properly handstripped, Griffon will not shed at all. But it is a lost art and it is difficult to find a groomer that is talented and offers hand stripping. 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. The grooming process, when done gently and frequently can be an important bonding ritual between owner and dog.

Is this breed for someone with allergies?

There are exceptions, but the Brussels Griffon does not make a good pet for those suffering from allergies. If a member of the family has allergies, it is important to consult an allergist about the purchase of a dog, and follow his/her advice. A lot depends on the sensitivity that causes the allergy. Some are sensitive to dog fur, some to dog dander, some to saliva. Dogs like the Yorkshire Terrier, the Poodle or Bichon Frise are easier to tolerate because they do not shed, and they have skin and hair that take frequent bathing. This is not the Brussels Griffon. Although there are dog products that may reduce dander and are advertised to help control allergic reactions, sensitivity usually grows with exposure. Some doctors prescribe shots and/or pills to reduce allergies, but it’s up to your doctor to tell you if this will be effective with a dog in the house.