- The Brussels Griffon comes in a rough or smooth coat that can be red, belge (a mixture of black and reddish brown), black and tan, or black.
- This breed has a wide range of sizes. In the same litter of Brussels Griffons, one puppy can grow to only six pounds, while another reaches 20 pounds.
- Like many toy breeds, Brussels Griffons can be difficult to housetrain and may never be completely reliable.
AKC group: Toy Group
UKC group: Terrier
Average lifespan: 10 -15 years
Average size: 8 – 10 pounds
Coat appearance: Either smooth or rough
Coloration: Tan, tan and black, black, red
Other identifiers: Short muzzle; short black nose; straight-boned legs; overbite with over-sized tongue; black eyes with long eyelashes; high-set ears and erect tail.
Created in Belgium about 200 years ago
from a blend of English Toy Spaniel
, and an Affenpinscher type of German stable ratter, the Brussels Griffon was popular in farm and peasant homes for his ratting abilities
. He lived in stables and on the streets, a tough little Belgian urchin who survived by his wits. He was such a part of daily life that he was portrayed in artwork as early as the 16th century in paintings by Du Empoli and Van Dyck and later in Renoir’s “Bather With Griffon.”
Eventually the Griffon became popular as a companion dog.
The Brussels Griffon is a toy breed that developed in the streets of Brussels where they hunted rats. Small, with highly expressive faces, the Brussels Griffon looks like a fragile little “purse dog,” but even though they fit nicely in a hand bag, they are sturdy and fearless, boasting the ability to climb like a cat. They enjoy being the center of attention and are often described by owners as hams and clowns. They get along fine with kids and other household pets, as long as they are raised together.
Griffons love attention and affection and dislike being left alone. They tend to thrive in the homes of empty-nesters or the elderly because these families have the time to devote solely to these attention-hungry dogs.
The Brussels Griffon has a relatively long life expectancy, with ten to fifteen years being usual. However, it has developed significant reproductive problems. Bitches in this breed often do not conceive, and when they do they tend to have difficulty giving birth. Caesarean deliveries are common, litters are unusually small and newborn puppies are often delicate. Often there is only one puppy, with an average mortality rate of 60 percent in the first few weeks. They also may have a breed predisposition to refractory corneal ulceration, cataracts, hip dysplasia and patellar luxation.
Without a doubt, Griffons are housedogs. But so long as they’re inside with the family, their small size makes them suited to any household, from city highrises to country estates. In either place they can impress you with their inborn rat-hunting skill.
They have a lot of energy and need regular exercise to stay in shape, but they’ll do okay without a yard so long as they get walks or some other exercise every day. Because they’re short-nosed dogs, they can’t cool the air they breathe in, and can overheat on hot, humid days. Heat stroke is dangerous, so keep your Griffon someplace cool on a hot day. If you do take him out in the sun, watch for the signs of heat exhaustion — deep, rapid panting and sluggishness. More serious signs include vomiting or diarrhea and seizures. Don’t let him play hard on a hot day, and be sure he has access to plenty of fresh, cool water.
His intelligence and athletic ability make the Griffon a contender in dog sports such as agility, obedience, and even tracking, as long as you persuade him that it’s worthwhile. Training must be fun, and positive reinforcement — rewarding your dog for getting it right, rather than punishing him for mistakes — is the only way to get cooperation from a Griffon. You can’t force a Griffon to do anything, but you can make him believe it’s his idea.
Like so many small breeds, Brussels Griffons can be hard to housetrain. Use crate training and be consistent and persistent, and your dog may eventually be reliable in the house. Or not.
Griffons are good dogs for apartment life and will do okay without a yard.
Training a Griffon can be challenging. They are stubborn and like to do
thing on their own time. Putting a leash on a Griffon can be exasperating, they have been known to leap and flip around, trying to remove themselves from the tether. Patience and an even, confident tone are needed when training this breed.
Though the initial training stages can be challenging, once leadership is established and a reward system put in place, Griffons excel in advanced obedience and agility training. Competitive activists are great for this breed because they love the attention and the opportunity to perform for a crowd.
Another great reason why the Brussels Griffon breed is good for seniors is that it doesn’t require a lot of exercise. If you live in an apartment or a small home, this breed can get enough exercise indoors, no matter how small the space.
If you’re feeling up to it, the Brussels Griffon likes to run obstacle courses, which highlights its natural ability as ratters.
Owners of this breed can choose between the smooth or rough coat, neither of which sheds heavily. The rough coat is wiry and dense and should never feel woolly or silky. The smooth coat is straight, short and shiny.
Smooths are easier to groom, needing only a weekly brushing to keep their coats clean and shiny. Rough coats require hand stripping every three to four months to maintain the correct hard, wiry texture. The down side is that hand stripping can be time consuming if you do it yourself and expensive if you have a professional groomer do it. Pet dogs can be kept in a schnauzer clip, minus the eyebrows, but the trademark rough texture will disappear if the coat is clipped.
There’s no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog, but some people who are allergic to dogs react less strongly to a Brussels Griffon with a rough coat. In those cases, it’s worthwhile to learn to strip the coat or to pay to have it done.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every few weeks. Small dogs are prone to periodontal disease so brush the teeth frequently for good overall health and fresh breath.
Griffons don’t enjoy hitting, unwanted hugs, being chased, or being forced to sit in someone’s lap. If they’re cornered or can’t escape someone’s grasp, they’ll growl or snap. For these reasons, they’re not a good match for homes with young children, who often don’t understand that a cute little Griffon might not want their “love and kisses.”
It’s fine to let your Griffon be around young kids — in fact, it’s important to get him used to children, especially during puppyhood, when his temperament is still taking shape. But always supervise your Griffon when children are around, and never let young kids pick him up; instead, make the child sit on the floor with the dog in his lap. Pay attention to the dog’s body language, and put him safely in his crate if he looks unhappy or uncomfortable with the child’s attention.
Griffons usually get along well with other pets, but like most small breeds they’re completely unaware of their size and will take on dogs much bigger than themselves. Be prepared to protect them from themselves.
Is this breed right for you?
If you’re looking for a breed that doesn’t shed and requires little grooming, the Brussels Griffon is right for you. A comedic dog, he’s sure to entertain any member of the family. Due to his knack for climbing, he’ll need a properly fenced-in yard to avoid attempting escape. Requiring both mental and physical stimulation, he’ll need to be with a family that can provide him both daily activity and time to engage in play. Best for children older than 5, the Brussels Griffon believes himself to be the baby of the family.
Did You Know?
In the 1997 film “As Good as it Gets,” the part of Jack Nicholson’s dog, Verdell, was played by six Brussels Griffons. The breed also appeared in the films “First Wives Club” and “Gosford Park,” as well as on the sitcom “Spin City.”
Griffon Bruxellois in popular culture
- The American impressionist painter Mary Cassatt kept Brussels Griffons and frequently portrayed them in her paintings.
- In the film As Good as It Gets (1997), as Verdell, played by six Brussels Griffons, named Timer, Sprout, Debbie, Billy, Parfait, and Jill the star.
- In the film Gosford Park, as Rolf Liechti’s dog Kiki.
- In the film Sweet November, as Sara’s dog Ernie.
- In the sitcom Spin City, as Carter’s suicidal dog Rags, played by a smooth-coated Petit Brabançon named Wesley.
- In the film Teaching Mrs. Tingle, as Mrs. Tingle’s dog.
- Monkey, owned by record label owner and deejay Sarah Lewitinn and named “Best Dog Owned by a Club Personality” by The Village Voice.
- Tazzie owned by Stanley Dangerfield, appearing on the television show The Good Companions.
- In the film First Wives Club owned by Diane Keaton’s character.
- In the sitcom “Mike and Molly” Mikes mom’s dog, Jim is a Brussels Griffon mixed with a Chihuahua.
- The Southern California craft brewery “The Bruery” brewed a sour brown ale called Griffon Bruxellois.
- The makeup for the Ewok characters in the film Return of the Jedi (1983) in the Star Wars universe was developed by make-up artist Stuart Freeborn, who built them from designs by visual effects director Joe Johnston using the image of the Griffon Bruxellois, a dog breed which George Lucas owned.
A dream day in the life of a Brussels Griffon
A dog truly meant for the indoors due to health and mental reasons, the Brussels Griffon loves to wake up on the bed of his master. After taking a quick stroll around the neighborhood, he’ll need a well-balanced meal of dog chow. Once he plays a nice game of catch, he’ll be completely content with sniffing out his home turf and ending his day with cuddles.