Breed facts: Toy group
In association with the Kennel Club, Nick Mays provides all you need to know about the Griffon Bruxellois. Find out if one of these perky little dogs could be your new best friend.
Loving, feisty and full of life is how the Griffon Bruxellois may be adequately summed up. On the one hand you have the archetypal toy dog, bred for companionship and easily portable, while on the other hand you have an intelligent, energetic and tough canine – the typical ‘big dog in a small body’ that’s into everything and lets you know it! The Griffon’s flat face, prominent chin, and large wideset eyes that give him an almost human expression are part of their appeal. Some people even say that Griffons resemble little monkeys.
Like so many breeds, the exact origin of the modern Griffon Bruxellois is shrouded in mystery and contradictions. Some breed authorities say that the Griffon’s ancestors go back as far as the 15th century when they were developed as lapdogs for gentlewomen. Indeed, a painting by Dutch artist Jan Van Eyck The Arnolfini Portrait, painted in 1434, shows a small dog with a reddish coat, very similar to a Griffon.
Meanwhile, a more modern painting by Renoir, dated 1870, depicts a small black and tan Griffon by name; La Baigneuse Au Griffon, a breed developed in Belgium ostensibly for ratting by crossing the King Charles Spaniel, the Pug and the Affenpincher, with possible crosses to the Yorkshire Terrier. As with many breeds developed for working, no records were kept and the exact origins remain unclear. In the late 19th century, working Griffons were often kept in the hansom cab stables of Brussels to kill rats. Some cab men even used to have these feisty little dogs ride with them in their cabs. Griffons were also employed on the docks for their ratting skills.
Inevitably, well-heeled dog enthusiasts began to take note of these pert little dogs and acquired them for breeding along fancy lines. The first breed standard was drawn up in the early 1880s and breed classes were first scheduled in Belgium in 1883. Royal patronage also helped to cement the breed’s popularity, first by Queen Marie Henriette and then later by Queen Astrid. At that time there were three colour variations of the breed developed from the stable dogs: the Griffon Bruxellois, typically a red, rough-coated dog with a darker shade on the face mask and ears; the Griffon Belge, a rough-coated dog other than red, typically black or black and tan; and the Petit Brabançon, a smoothcoated dog in the same range of colours.
The breed was exported to the UK and quickly taken up by British dog fanciers. The English Kennel Club (KC) recognised it in 1896, and the following year the first breed club, the Griffon Bruxellois Club, was established and remains the oldest active club for the breed in the world.
Griffons appeared in America soon after and became equally popular, and were duly recognised by the American Kennel Club. After enjoying a great deal of popularity in the late 19th and early 20th century, the Griffon fell in popularity, especially in its native country. This trend continued until the end of World War Two, when the breed was almost extinct in Belgium, but thanks to a handful of dedicated breeders around the world, notably in England, the breed began to recover in numbers and popularity. Although nowadays not particularly great in numbers – 224 were registered with the KC in 2008 – the Griffon Bruxellois is certainly growing in favour both as a show dog and as a family pet. Griffons have a worldwide army of supporters who enjoy the companionship of these tough but friendly little dogs.
Temperament & training
Unlike many toy breeds, Griffons are very active and have a great deal of stamina. They are also very affectionate dogs, tending to fixate on one person in their human ‘pack’ and show extreme loyalty and affection to their master or mistress. That said, they will happily play and be petted by other members of the family. Griffons are also confident and display an air of selfimportance and awareness.
Maria Oliver, secretary of the Griffon Bruxellois Club (GBC), comments on their character: “They may be initially a little cautious of other dogs and people, but will readily accept them once they realise they pose no threat. Indeed, they can sometimes be quite dominating, so need to be carefully trained to accept their place in the pecking order.” Griffons can be quite vocal at times but will soon learn to keep this under control with patient training. They are alert, inquisitive dogs and like to keep mentally as well as physically active. Due to their strong emotional link with their owners, they do not like being left on their own for long periods of time and will require plenty of toys to distract them from becoming bored. Maria Oliver adds: “Griffons respond well to patient, consistent reward-based training and soon learn what is required of them, although they do have a tendency to be quite stubborn, so perseverance with training is a must.”
As far as exercise goes, they will be happy to accompany their owner on long or short walks. They enjoy running around a garden, so are ideally suited for a home with a garden or easy access to the great outdoors. Where to get a puppy It’s always best to contact a breed club to enquire whether any members have puppies in your area. If you go to a breeder recommended by a club, you can meet the puppies with their mother – which is always recommended – and ask advice on selecting the ideal one for you by experts within the breed. These breeders will also abide by their breed club’s code of ethics. It’s also useful to join a breed club, even if you don’t want to show your Griffon, as you will maintain contact with other owners and there will always be experienced people on hand to ask for help if you encounter any problems with your dog, such as feeding, training and general care.
The Griffon Bruxellois Club Mrs Maria Oliver (honorary secretary), tel. 020 8660 0969.
The Griffon Bruxellois Breeders’ Association Mrs Carol Ritchie (secretary), tel. 01256 762204.
The Griffon Bruxellois Club of Scotland Mary Trotter (secretary/ treasurer), tel. 01290 553109.
The Northern Griffon Bruxellois Club Mrs Margaret Cook (secretary), tel: 01347 810514.
Griffon Bruxellois rescue
It’s a sad fact that there are Griffons in this country who are in need of help. The reasons are varied but one thing that they all have in common is that they need a loving home. The Griffon Bruxellois Club Rescue and Welfare Scheme is dedicated to caring for and finding good homes for unwanted Griffons. If you think you could provide a loving home for a Griffon who has fallen on hard times then please contact: Miss Betty Gorringe, tel: 01202 891820 (Dorset).
5 Griffon facts
Height & weight Height: the desirable height is 7-8ins. Weight: 3.2-5kg (7-11lbs); most desirable weight is 3.6-4.5kg (8- 10lbs).
Griffons have broad tastes, from natural diets such as meat and fish to goodquality commercial dog food. Most owners tend to feed them twice a day. They’re quite happy to overeat, so watch their diet and weight.
Griffons require their wiry coats to be stripped out at least twice a year when they moult. For regular maintenance, groom at least once a week. In order to keep them clean and tidy a thorough brushing with a slicker brush or hard bristle brush will keep their coat in good order. Most owners recommend that the Griffon’s beard is groomed daily with a comb to keep it free from excess food and anything else that might get stuck there!
Overall, Griffons are fairly healthy little dogs. Some general points to consider are slipping patella and juvenile eye cataracts which can sometimes be hereditary problems. More recently, syringomyelia has occurred in some toy breeds including the Griffon. Breeders and breed clubs are participating in MRI scans along with veterinary surgeons to assist in diagnosis. The ultimate outcome is a screening plan to be agreed by the British Veterinary Association to eradicate the condition.
The average lifespan is between 12 and 15 years.
Thanks! Thanks to Maria Oliver and the Griffon Bruxellois Club for help and advice with this feature.
About the author
Nick Mays is a journalist specialising in animal media. He lives in Yorkshire with his family and four dogs. Nick is also the author of several books on animal care.