ALL DOG BREED PROFILES

Brussels Griffon

Brussels Griffon dog breed
John Walton
Written by John Walton

This toy dog breed got its name from its place of origin: Brussels, Belgium. The Brussels Griffon or Griffon Bruxellois was originally bred for hunting vermin in countryside homes and ranches, but its funny and dignified personality quickly made this dog very popular as a companion dog.

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
TrainabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessAbove Average
Exercise NeedsHigh

Dog Breed Group:Companion Dogs
Height:7 inches to 8 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight:7 to 12 pounds
Life Span:12 to 15 years

The breed has three variations: the Belgian Griffon, Brussels Griffon and the Petit Brabançon, all descending from the same small, vermin hunting dog. This was their original purpose, but they quickly became very popular as companion dogs, because of their curious and cheerful personalities. They were even popular among the nobility of the 19th century.

These dogs are usually nicknamed «monkey face» because of the similarity between their face and the human appearance. Their faces are quite expressive mainly due to their big, round eyes, so they may become really spoiled if you don’t display proper leadership.

They are usually friendly and tolerant of other dogs, and would even get along pretty well with cats. Children won’t be tolerated very well, especially when they start carrying the dog around, hugging or kissing him. Older children would be somewhat fine, but make sure you never leave your kids alone with a Brussels Griffon.

They are perfect dogs for the right owners: they demand a lot of time and attention, but also a firm leader, who is able to set clear rules. These affectionate dogs would keep acting like children for a long time and also live quite long, so only consider this breed if you can commit to a long-time relationship.

Main Highlights
  • Griffons have difficult personalities: they are quite stubborn and may be difficult to housetrain. Training  in general is a bit hard, but if you are firm and consistent, training would still be efficient;
  • Never handle a Griffon roughly. They may begin biting out of fear, and it’s difficult to curb this behavior;
  • They are not fond of children, especially of those who carry them around and give unwanted kisses or hugs. A house with children of any age won’t be a suitable home  for a Griffon;
  • They are enthusiastic and would bark at any sound or strange movement. This makes them excellent watchdogs, but annoying housemates. This is why one of the first commands your Griffon should learn is «quiet!»;
  • These dogs should only be kept indoors, as they are prone to heat stroke because of their short muzzles. Also, due to their short coat, they won’t tolerate cold weather as well;
  • Breeding Brussels Griffons is quite hard; females usually have a hard time whelping and many of them need to have a caesarian. Also, puppy mortality is really high and, because of such small litters, very few puppies survive.
Breed History

There were originally three breed variations descending from a very old breed, called Smousje: the  Belgian Griffon (Griffon Belge), the Petit Brabançon and the Brussels Griffon (Griffon Bruxellois). Their ancestor was a small, terrier type dog, usually kept for hunting rodents in stables. One of the first depictions of an early Griffon is considered to be the little dog with a wiry coat in the foreground of «The Arnolfini Marriage» (1434) by Jan van Eyck. These alert dogs were widely popular among Belgian coachmen, which used to call them «Griffons d’Ecurie» (stable dogs with wiry coat).

In the 19th century, Griffons began being bred with other imported toy breeds, like the King  Charles Spaniel, Affenpinscher and Pug, thus resulting in the Griffon look we know of today. This also led to the Petit Brabançon coat variation (in very dark shades), which was seen as a fault at the beginning. Also, the Griffon Belge and Griffon Bruxellois got their modern black and red and tan coat coloration of the King Charles Spaniel.

The first standard for the breed was written in 1883 by Belgian breeders, who also began displaying the in dog shows. This helped boost their popularity among commoners and noblemen as well. Queen Marie Henriette of Belgium fell in love with these dogs and began breeding and promoting them all around Europe and across the ocean.

Brussels Griffons clubs soon emerged around the world, beginning with the Club du Griffon Bruxellois in Belgium in 1889. In 1897, the first Griffon Bruxellois clubs appeared in England. The breed was officially recognized by the AKC in 1900, and the first U.S. Griffon clubs emerged in 1945.

The breed became scarce during the two World Wars, but breeders became more aware of the breed faults and only began breeding healthy dogs. The breed managed to survive mostly thanks to dedicated U.K. breeders, as by the end of World War II, Belgium had lost almost all of its Brussels Griffons.

These dogs gained popularity for a brief period during the late 1950’s, but on the long run, it remained a fairly unpopular breed in modern times. Nowadays, the breed gained a bit of popularity because of a Griffon Bruxellois that appeared in the movie «As Good as It Gets», as well as the increased interest in toy dog breeds.

Size

The Brussels Griffon is a small dog breed, with most dogs measuring about 7 — 8 inches tall at the shoulder, and usually weighing between 7 — 12 pounds. Some of them may reach up to 20 lbs, because of a gene inherited from this breed’s ancestors.

Personality and Character

Brussels Griffons are very affectionate companions and get along well with mostly everyone. They are charming and very alert, and make excellent watch dogs, especially because of their barking at any sound or weird movement. They are not the kind of dog that can be kept outdoors in a kennel, so they must always be allowed indoors with their family. A Griffon that is left alone for a long time is likely to develop separation anxiety.

They have a terrier-like way of thinking, so they can be really stubborn and have a mind of their own. It’s easy to leave them on their own and treat them like little humans because of their cute, human-like face, but be very careful not to let them take over the home. Also, being so small and cute, these dogs may develop the Small Dog Syndrome if living with a meek owner. They do have a tendency of telling others what to do, so you must display very firm leadership and teach them that humans are the pack leaders.

  • Small Dog Syndrome: this set of behavioral issues usually appears in small dog breeds, as many owners ignore or mistake domination behavior as «displays of affection»: at first, your little buddy learns that it’s all right to jump on your lap or next to you on the couch, but in his mind, the pack leader always places himself above others.
    Next, he would guard his toys, chair, blanket or any other things in the house and begin barking and growling at anyone approaching those objects. He now sees them as belonging to his territory, while people may think it’s a cute attitude. These are the main features of  the syndrome, and it’s easy to see why it only happens to small dogs: you won’t allow a large dog like a Cane Corso jump on you for obvious reasons!

Brussels Griffons are not the easiest dogs to train, as they are not very willing to please. They re quite intelligent, though, so with a lot  of consistency and positive reinforcement, you should be able to teach them what you want them to do. Keep training sessions fun and interesting.

Socialize these dogs well from an early age to avoid them becoming reserved or shy with new situations or people.

Health and Potential Problems

Most Brussels Griffons are very healthy towards their entire life, but you must make sure your puppy’s parents and better yet, grandparents, had already been tested for any genetic disease they may have. A responsible breeder should always have screening test results available for you to check out and will never breed any dog just to make some profit of him.

This is what you should be careful about when choosing a dog of this breed:

  • Cataracts: are usually noticed as the eyes get a cloudy appearance. This is an opacity on the lens of the eye, which makes it difficult for the dog to see. This condition usually appears in old dogs, but sometimes it can be removed surgically to improve his vision;
  • Lacerations: usually appear in big-eyed breeds, so it is very common in Brussels Griffons. Their eyes are left exposed to foreign bodies, and these lacerations may lead to blindness if left untreated;
  • Glaucoma: is characterized by an abnormal pressure on the eye, which causes an improper drainage of the eye fluids. Your dog may blink too much, have a dilated or unresponsive pupil, or you may see the eyeball receding back into the eyeholes. Also, the blood vessels in the whites of the eyes may become excessively red. Left untreated, this condition may lead to blindness because of damaged optic nerve. Many dogs do become blind in about a year, regardless of the treatment they get;
  • Cleft Palate: is only found in puppies during the first days of life, as this causes eating difficulties, eventually resulting in death from starvation. Some of  the puppies do survive, and may undergo a surgical intervention to close the hole;
  • Patellar Luxation (slipped stifles): this is a common problem affecting small breed dogs. This is usually a congenital disorder meaning that the femur, knee cap and tibia are not properly lined up. This may also occur later in life. You may notice that your dog is lame, or skipping and hopping his leg while walking. Mild cases may be aligned manually, but more severe ones may require surgical intervention;
  • Hip Dysplasia: usually affecting larger breeds, hip dysplasia may also appear in smaller ones. This is a hereditary condition, but it may worsen over time by a series of environmental factors, like rapid growth, jumping or falling from higher places. This condition may not be very obvious, so X-ray screening may be necessary to track it. Arthritis may develop as a dog with this condition ages, so keep a close eye on his joints, especially if you know his parents were also affected;
  • Skin allergies: these dogs are usually prone to allergies. Have your Brussels Griffon checked by a vet whenever you see him licking his paws a lot or scratching constantly;
  • Syringomyelia: this condition mainly affects the spinal cord, forming cavities filled with fluid. Eventually, the brain may also be affected. The cerebrospinal fluid may be obstructed, leading even to partial paralysis. Other clinical signs include severe pain or mild discomfort, but not all affected dogs show signs of the disease. It seems that the appearance of signs is usually due to the damage of  the spinal cord dorsal horn and the width of the syrinx;
  • Heat stroke: because of their short muzzles, these dogs cannot breathe properly, so be very careful during hot summer days, and provide  them with a cool place to get away from the heat. Also, try walking your Brussels Griffon early in the morning or during the evening, when temperatures go down. Always suspend any training or play session when you see your dog is having difficulty breathing;
  • Giving birth: being so small, females often have difficulty whelping, although some succeed on their own. Most of them need caesarian sections, especially if the litter is big (3-6 puppies) and many puppies die during their first days of life.
Care Features

These energetic little dogs have high exercise demands, so make sure you take them out for at least 30 minutes of intense play daily. They adapt well to apartment life if given enough exercise, but the best home for them would be a house with at least a small yard.

Being so affectionate, they are definitely indoor dogs that need to stay with their families. They like to have people around, otherwise they may develop separation anxiety and destructive behaviors.

Be very careful with extreme temperatures: because of their short muzzles, Brussels Griffons are prone to heat stroke, so take them to a cool and quiet place whenever you see them breathing heavily. Also, provide them with plenty of fresh and cool water and avoid taking them out at midday. Because of  their short hair, these dogs are very sensitive to low temperatures as well, so bee very careful while taking them out, and make sure they are comfortable all the time.

Feeding Schedule

You can save a lot of money by feeding your dog high quality food that suits his particular needs. Energetic dogs like Brussels Griffons may need a high-calorie diet, to help them keep up  with their activities. Feeding an adequate diet will prevent the from developing food-related health issues like obesity, allergies, hot spots, etc.

If you want to feed your dog dry kibble, about 1/4 to 1/2 cups per day should be enough. Always adjust the food amount according to your dog’s age, metabolism and physical activity. Also, he might need a high calorie meal during winter time, to provide more energy, and a lighter meal for summer. This also goes for us humans, too. Carefully read the feeding instructions on the food  package when getting a new brand.

Females that are pregnant in late stages or breastfeeding should be given as much food as they want, to allow for proper development of the puppies and to make sure they have enough milk. Puppy kibble is best for them during this time, as it holds more nutrients than regular adult food.

Coat, Color and Grooming

There are two types of coats in a Griffon Bruxellois: rough and smooth. Smooth coated Griffons’ hair comes close to the body and is short, straight and glossy. They have absolutely no wiry hair. Rough-coated ones have a dense, wiry coat all over their bodies, with longer hair around the chin, cheeks and eyes.

They may display one of these colorations:

  • black;
  • black and tan (black body with reddish brown markings on the legs, around the vent, under the chin, above each eye and around the ear edges);
  • belge (a mix of reddish brown and black, usually with black whiskers and mask);
  • red (reddish coloration, sometimes with a little black on the chin and at the whiskers).

Some adults may display a grey muzzle, but no white hairs are otherwise visible on Brussels Griffons.

Rough-coated Griffons’ coat should be brushed weekly with a gentle natural bristle brush to remove dust and dead hair; then combed with a metal comb to make it look neat and tidy. Twice a year, it should be stripped by a professional to help the new coat grow normally. This reduces shedding and scratching, so these dogs are somewhat suitable for allergic people. Kept in a short, Schnauzer clip would save you the time and expenses of professional grooming, but would also soften the dog’s wiry coat and make it shed more than it normally would.

Smooth coated Griffon’s coats require a lot less grooming like stripping or combing. Usually, a weekly brushing is enough, and you should only bathe them occasionally. Only bathe them weekly if you know they play outside a lot and then come inside to laze on your bed or sofa.

Teeth should be brushed at least two or three times a week to prevent bacteria and tartar from accumulating and to avoid gum disease. Trim his nails as needed, usually once or twice per month if your dog doesn’t wear them down naturally. Usually, you can guess the time to trim them when you hear them clicking on the floor as your dog walks by the house.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

Brussels Griffons are not very patient and usually don’t tolerate rough play or unwanted hugging and kissing; they may growl or even bite noisy and rambunctious children. This is why you shouldn’t consider bringing such a dog home if you have very young children.

Always supervise children while playing with the dog to avoid pulling their tails, paws and ears and get bitten, especially by very young dogs. Teach them never to touch a dog while sleeping or eating, and especially to not try to take away his food, no matter how good friends they usually are. Food is food and dogs never bargain about it!

These dogs are usually very friendly with other family pets, and would even tolerate cats very well. Just make sure everyone gets its share of the home and your attention, otherwise they may begin acting territorial.

These tiny and energetic dogs would do great in a family that knows how to treat them. They are proud and sensitive, but also very dominant, so if you are a novice dog owner you should consider another breed. The same goes for homes with small children, as Griffons Bruxellois are not very patient and tolerant of kids, so play may end up in biting and crying.

Very important, only consider  adopting such a dog if you can take a long time commitment, as they easily live up to 15 years old or  even above!

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

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