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With their adorable, smooshy faces and signature scruffy bearded look, Brussels Griffons are a unique dog breed. They hail from Belgium’s capital city of Brussels, hence their name, and are categorized as a “toy” breed. Basically, this means that they are quite small as far as dogs go.
Physically, they weigh no more than 12 pounds, but their spirited personality will keep you on your toes. These pups will become easily attached to those they like, earning them the name “velcro dogs.” This makes them very likely to obey their owners and, therefore, very easy to train.
Brussels Griffon dogs are confident, wiry-haired balls of energy with a curious nature, sometimes described as being similar to terriers. They’ve also been compared to Ewoks — a small, teddy bear-like species from the Star Wars movie franchise.
Curious about this intelligent and active breed? Keep reading to find out if a Brussels Griffon is right for you.
- History & Origin of Brussels Griffons
- Physical Attributes of Brussels Griffons
- Behavioral Characteristics of Brussels Griffons
- Brussels Griffon Health Risks
- Caring For a Brussels Griffon
- Final Notes
History & Origin of Brussels Griffons
Brussels Griffons were a common theme in Flemish art in Belgium for centuries. The first depiction of a similar-looking dog can be seen in the famous Arnolfini Portrait, which was painted by Belgian-Dutch painter Jan van Eyck in 1434.
However, since Brussels Griffon dogs weren’t an established breed in Europe until the late 1800s, historians agree that the dog in this painting is likely an ancestor of the Brussels Griffon — the Smous. These dogs had a more pronounced muzzle and were slightly bigger. Breeders took many of their features and incorporated them into the modern-day Brussels Griffon.¹
In the early 1800s, the coach drivers of Brussels used Griffons to keep the rat population under control in stables. These dogs were known then as “griffons d’ecurie” or “wire-coated stable dogs”. Some coachmen experimented with cross-breeding to improve the dogs’ rat extermination abilities.¹
A combination of DNA testing and breeding records from the Belgian Kennel Club confirm that today’s Brussels Griffon was developed through three different crosses to Pugs and eight crosses to English Toy Spaniels. Only a small number of dog breeds can trace their roots back to one or a few specific dogs from centuries ago.¹
Once Belgian Griffons appeared on the scene in the late 19th century, Henriette Maria, Queen of the Belgians, took an instant liking to them. Naturally, any dog breed with royal approval would skyrocket in popularity, as was the case for Belgian Griffons. They became especially popular among members of the queen’s court. Kennel breeders then began to slowly fine-tune certain characteristics of the breed. The result was a dog with a smaller body and a more human-like face.¹
By the late 1800s, Brussels Griffons were being exported from Belgium to the United States and England. They were officially listed in the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Stud Book in 1899. They were also a new and popular breed at the Westminster Dog Show, where they received high praise. The AKC officially recognized Brussels Griffons in 1910.
Unfortunately, the population of these dogs declined significantly during World War II but managed to bounce back thanks to some enthusiastic British and American breeders.
Physical Attributes of Brussels Griffons
As a toy breed of dog, Brussels Griffons are tiny but still possess a number of unique physical characteristics. They weigh in at a maximum of 12 pounds but often range between 8 and 10 pounds with a life expectancy of 10-15 years.
Despite their small size (only about 10 inches at the shoulder), these dogs have a sturdy, muscular frame with square proportions, a slightly dome-shaped head, and a short nose (only a couple of inches long). Many also have a significant underbite. Their large, round eyes and small, human-like faces add to their appeal.
Brussels Griffons come in three main coat colors: black, beige, and red, with hints of brown. Their tail is set high on their bodies and doesn’t curl. There is both a rough-coated and smooth-coated variety, but the latter has been the most popular throughout the years. They can also have mask-like markings around the eyes.
Behavioral Characteristics of Brussels Griffons
Every dog is different, so specific personality traits will vary depending on each dog. But as far as the Brussels Griffon temperament, they are generally considered confident, lively, and intelligent dogs. While they are sometimes prone to aggression towards other dogs, they are also surprisingly emotionally sensitive. Breeders and owners should be aware of this and make sure to socialize Brussels Griffon puppies properly from a young age.³
Although not very patient, you’ll always have an eager playmate around with the Brussels Griffons. These pups love to play and enjoy exploring their surroundings. Puzzle feeders, games, and lots of outdoor time are all great ways to bond with your Griffon.
They usually bond well with one human specifically and are also very good with small children, as long as they aren’t provoked too much. Due to their small size, supervision is recommended when your Griffon is around kids, to ensure that they don’t get hurt. Having other animals around isn’t a problem for them, but often they don’t understand how small they are relative to some other dogs, so they may act bigger than their size.³
Even though they have feisty personalities, Brussels Griffons don’t like being alone for too long. Griffons are loving and affectionate with people they know but tend to be wary around strangers or unfamiliar environments. However, give them enough time and space to warm up to you, and you might have a canine pal for life. They possess a natural charisma that’s sure to charm everyone around them. They’re also a relatively vocal breed and are likely to bark every time someone is at the door.⁴
Brussels Griffon Health Risks
Veterinarians agree that Brussels Griffons are a healthy breed overall. However, Chiari-like malformation, a disorder that causes cysts on the spinal cord, is prevalent in this breed.4
Responsible breeders will screen their dogs for any health conditions, like cataracts, hip dysplasia, and heart problems. Griffons are a flat-faced breed, similar to Pugs and French Bulldogs. This comes with certain pre-existing health problems — mainly in terms of breathing.⁵
They may struggle to breathe in particularly hot, sunny, or humid weather, and most also snore. Like all dogs, Brussels Griffons should be checked regularly for ear infections and have their teeth brushed using dog-friendly toothpaste.⁵
Caring For a Brussels Griffon
As mentioned earlier, this breed comes in both a rough and smooth-coated variety. Griffons with smooth coats should be brushed daily during shedding season (1-2 weeks in the spring and fall). Bathing them every so often will help get rid of any excess dirt or debris in their fur.⁵
On the other hand, rough-coated Griffons don’t shed and, therefore, don’t need any particular grooming or brushing. A popular style for this variety is to keep their hair short, except for the beard-like hair on their chins. But no matter the variety, their nails should be trimmed regularly. Nails that are too long can become painful for the dog and may even cause movement problems.⁵
Griffs are considered a high-energy breed, so they require a decent amount of exercise and mental stimulation. However, owners should consider their exceptionally small size. Going for walks 2-3 times per day in addition to outdoor activities is plenty for these pups. Without enough exercise and stimulation, they will likely engage in destructive behavior.⁵
What breeds make up a Brussels Griffon?
The Brussels Griffons we know today were a result of crossbreeding in the 1800s. Both the red and black varieties were crossed with English Toy Spaniels. Griffons were bred with Pugs during the mid-19th century.
Is a Brussels Griffon dog a good pet?
Griffons are fiercely loyal to their owners and show a lot of affection to people they know. They also do great with other household pets but tend to show aggressive behavior towards strange dogs.
Are Brussels Griffons vocal?
Brussels Griffons are a vocal breed and generally bark often. However, every dog is different, so this won’t be the same for every Griffon.
Brussels Griffons are relatively new in the world of dog breeds, having only been around for the last two centuries. They’re small but affectionate, with a curious and lively personality. They show lots of love towards their humans but may be hostile towards other dogs. Luckily, their loyal nature makes them easy to train.
As far as families go, they’re well-suited to multi-pet households, as well as couples with children. They’ll be your best pal and happy to come along to do your grocery shopping. Quality time spent together is what counts for this energetic breed.At Dutch, we know all about various dog breeds and their specific health conditions. Whether you need help treating allergies or separation anxiety in dogs, Dutch is here to help. Try our telemedicine vet services to help your Brussels Griffon be the healthiest pup they can be. Our licensed vets are always happy to answer your questions or concerns.
AKC Staff. “Brussels Griffon History: From Scruffy Ratter to Beloved House Pet.” American Kennel Club, 16 Nov. 2021, www.akc.org/expert-advice/dog-breeds/brussels-griffon-history-scruffy-ratter-beloved-house-pet/.
“Brussels Griffon - Appearance & Grooming.” PetWave, 28 May 2016, web.archive.org/web/20180615191624/https://www.petwave.com/Dogs/Breeds/Brussels-Griffon/Appearance.aspx.
- AKC Staff. The New Complete Dog Book. Ballantine Books, 2006.
Freeman, A. C., et al. "Chiari‐like malformation and syringomyelia in American Brussels griffon dogs." Journal of veterinary internal medicine 28.5 (2014): 1551-1559.
AKC Staff. “Brussels Griffon Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, 6 Nov. 2017, www.akc.org/dog-breeds/brussels-griffon/.