Written by Doris Donnerman (last updated August 17, 2009)
In the United States, the name Brussels Griffon is used generally to cover three varieties of toy dogs. These are the Brussels Griffon, which is distinguishable from the Belgian Griffon (Griffon Belge) by color, and the Brabancon (Petite Brabancon), which is smooth coated.
The true Brussels Griffon is a sturdy, reddish brown dog, with cropped ears and a dense, wiry coat. His whiskers and expression give him a strange, almost human expression. There are two weight classes. The smaller dogs should not exceed seven pounds. In the larger size, females are permitted to weigh 12 pounds, but males only 11 pounds.
The Belgian Griffon differs from the Brussels only in color. He can be black and reddish brown; all black; or black with reddish brown markings. The Brabancon or smooth-coated dog is either reddish brown, or black with reddish brown markings.
The term griffon means thickly haired. It thus hardly applies to the Brabancon, or smooth-coated dog. This inconsistency was noted in Belgium itself. The smooth-coated dog appeared in litters born of a cross between Griffons and the Pug. At first, these pups were destroyed. Later they were allowed to live, and the name Petite Brabancon was given to them.
There are half a dozen theories as to the origin of the Brussels Griffon. An opinion held by many of the early Belgian breeders was that the breed developed from crossing small Terriers with the Pug, and perhaps the Toy Spaniels. Others have felt that the Barbet and the Hollandsche Smoushound have had a share in the ancestry of the breed. It would appear probable that, whatever crosses were used, the Toy-dog-sized Griffon (minus the snub nose) is an ancient Belgian arch-type of dog.
One reason for this statement is Jan Van Eyck's painting of Arnolfini and his Wife. Van Eyck painted this picture in 1434. In the clearest possible fashion, he shows a Griffon, with its rough, wiry coat, sharp eyes, and pricked, cropped ears. Even the size of the dog would correspond to that of modern Brussels Griffons.
In the period following 1870, the breed became immensely popular in Belgium, partly because it was the favorite dog of Queen Henrietta Maria. Later, Queen Astrid continued the royal patronage. By 1880, the breed had reached its present peak of perfection.
A dog which had been best in show at Brussels in 1880 was then imported to England where it founded the English strain. The dog, however, was not named. Most other British writers speak guardedly on the subject, saying that to the best of their knowledge the first Brussels Griffons were imported about 1894, though there are traditions of imports twenty years earlier.
Importations to the United States began about 1900 and have continued fairly steady ever since. In Canada, the Brabancons appear to have gotten a start somewhat ahead of the wire-coated dogs.
From the earliest times, writers have noted with surprise the intelligence and ease of training the Brussels Griffon. While not seen so often in American obedience contests, they have competed sensationally well in European events, where their precision has given them top records, even against such dogs as German Shepherds. He is known for his alertness and intelligence.
The general appearance of the Brussels Griffon is sturdy, with a thick-set short body, a smart carriage and set-up, attracting attention by an almost human expression. The coat is usually a reddish brown but should be wiry and dense. The weight for both the male and female dog should be no more than 7 pounds.
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