While many people would never have clapped eyes on a Griffon Bruxellois until its star turn in the 1990s movie, As Good as It Gets, this is a breed that has been around for over 200 years and enjoyed a long period of popularity in its native Belgium.
Its monkey-like face is its most striking physical feature. It manages to simultaneously convey the mischievousness and self-importance of this entertaining little dog. The Griffon Bruxellois is a contradictory character; self-assured yet clingy, cantankerous but cuddly, and although it will enrich a devoted owner’s life, it is not necessarily the breed for everyone.
Its high opinion of itself means it does not tolerate inconvenience or irritation and is probably too quick to growl and bite to be suitable for young families. Although it is generally friendly to other pets, it has a toy dog’s lack of awareness of its size and can easily land itself in trouble by sparking arguments with larger dogs.
While the Kennel Club recognises just one Griffon breed from Brussels, other international bodies divide the smooth and wiry-haired varieties into two, or even three, distinct breeds. However, these have little to distinguish them other than their coats and share similar behavioural and other characteristics. Like any breed, the Griffon Bruxellois has its share of medical issues.
Those looking to buy one of these unusual dogs would do well to research the parents’ medical histories and meet at least one of the parents to assess their temperament and sociability. The breed has a life expectancy that commonly stretches to 14 or 15 years, meaning that the decision to take on a Griffon Bruxellois is a long-term commitment.
About & History
The breed was originally derived from the Smousje type. It’s a small ratter popular with farmers and carriage owners in the Netherlands and Belgium for several hundred years. In the early 1800s, Belgian coachmen began to cross-breed their stable dogs with various foreign toy breeds to miniaturise their offspring, giving them greater scope in the range of nooks and crannies into which they could squeeze in pursuit of vermin. The breeds used included King Charles Spaniel, Pug, and Affenpinscher, the Griffon Bruxellois being most closely related to the latter, sharing its monkey-like appearance. Throughout the nineteenth century, its popularity soared, aided by Marie Henriette, Queen of Belgium, who developed an interest in the breed and began breeding these little dogs herself. Perhaps she saw something of herself in the sometimes prickly personality of the Griffon, for she was a notoriously difficult character in her personal life.
This royal patronage raised the breed’s profile abroad. Many of these dogs were exported to the United Kingdom and the United States in the 1890s. Breed associations were quickly established in both. This emigration proved to be the Griffon Bruxellois’ salvation, for it was almost eradicated in its homeland throughout the two World Wars. The UK population, in particular, was instrumental in re-establishing a breeding population in continental Europe. Apart from brief spikes in popularity, this has always been a niche breed. It remains something of a rarity, especially outside of Belgium, with around two to three thousand individuals currently registered with the Kennel Club.
The Griffon Bruxellois is a toy breed, small in stature, but with a square build and a solid, surprisingly heavy frame. It holds itself upright and proud and has an alert demeanour enhanced by its humanoid facial appearance. The head is large in relation to the body, with a broad, rounded forehead and a pronounced stop. The nose tilts backwards, while the chin juts forwards, meaning a straight line can be drawn through the forehead, nose, and chin, and the muzzle is extremely short. Although the jaw is markedly undershot, neither the tongue nor teeth are usually visible, unlike in some other brachycephalic breeds. The large, round eyes are a very dark brown and are set wide apart. They should not bulge but be in their sockets, with no white being visible. The ears are small and set high and are usually semi-erect and falling forward.
The short, upright neck merges with a square torso, giving the Griffon Bruxellois a stocky, strong appearance. Its compact back is well-muscled, and the chest is let down halfway to the ground. The sternum protrudes slightly, making the breed look as though it is constantly standing with its chest proudly puffed out, and the belly is just slightly tucked up. The tail is set and carried high and curls forward, though not reaching the back. Both fore and hindlimbs are strong and generally sound, showing a good degree of angulation in their joints. They allow a brisk gait that exhibits a good drive from the hindlimbs.
As alluded to above, the coat type varies dramatically between individuals, with some having a longer, wiry, and harsh coat with great furnishings around the face. In contrast, others (known in Belgium as Petit Brabancons) have a short, smooth coat. The hair colour should be one of the following:
Although the breed standard allows some leeway on the breed’s ideal height, most Griffon Bruxellois are around 18 to 20 cm (7 to 8 in) tall at the withers, and the perfect weight range is 3.6 to 4.5 kg (8 to 10 lb).
Character & Temperament
This is a very affectionate dog – one that becomes devoted to one owner in particular. It loves physical contact and is happiest when snuggled into the lap of its chosen human. Despite being unashamedly needy, it is also a bold and supremely self-assured character in the company. While it does not always want the attention its unusual appearance brings, it should never shy away from the advances of strangers, being confident enough in its ability to look after itself that it knows it has nothing to fear.
However, when left alone, this little dog quickly falls apart and is one of the breeds most susceptible to separation anxiety. Most Griffon Bruxellois get along very well with other pets, although their confident attitude and demeanour mean they can end up in very mismatched disagreements with larger dogs. It is generally not considered a suitable breed for children. It likes to be in control of social interactions and is easily pestered into giving a grumpy snap.
The Griffon Bruxellois can be stubborn and generally finds the idea of training insulting. Many individuals will refuse to engage with their owner if they feel they are expected to learn something from the session, so short training efforts disguised as play are most likely to yield results.
The breed is also known for being slow to house-train, and providing an indoor cage for crate-training can be very useful in this regard. As an alert and confident breed, the Griffon makes a good watchdog, but it can take its barking to extremes, and an attempt at teaching a “quiet” command should be made when the dog is young to manage this potential nuisance behaviour.
There are several genetic health problems to look out for in the breed:
There is a high incidence of cataract development in young adult Griffon Bruxellois, and it is suspected that this is an inherited problem. For this reason, adult dogs should be screened by a certified veterinary ophthalmologist to remove affected individuals from breeding programmes.
The cleft palate is the failure of the upper jaw’s two halves to fuse normally, leaving a defect in the upper lip or hard palate in newborn pups. This event can result in milk entering the nasal chambers and airways, usually requiring surgical correction at a very early stage.
An indolent ulcer is one of the breeds that can exhibit very slow healing of eye injuries, specifically corneal ulceration, where a scratch on the eye’s surface leaves a defect. Although most minor ulcers will heal within a week in other breeds, they may stubbornly refuse to do so in the Griffon Bruxellois, meaning medical or surgical intervention may be necessary.
Legg–Calvé Perthes Disease
This disease is a cause of severe hip pain in young dogs. It occurs because the femoral head’s bone outgrows its blood supply, leaving it soft and easily damaged. Surgery is required to alleviate pain and allow normal function.
Any individual with a bowed hindlimb configuration is at risk of having the kneecap slide out of position, causing them to hop on three legs intermittently. If this is a cause of pain or stiffness, then it may need to be surgically corrected.
Anatomic abnormality in which the socket of the shoulder joint and the supporting musculature is not sufficient to hold the humeral head in position, allowing instability around the joint. This can cause significant pain and may require a technically challenging surgical repair.
Exercise and Activity Levels
Being a toy breed with short legs to match, the Griffon Bruxellois has very light exercise requirements and can probably get most of the activity it needs while playing indoors. However, lead walking is a good activity to build the bond between dog and owner and allow social interactions with other people and dogs, so one should always aim to go for at least one short walk every day. As a vermin hunter, the breed enjoys getting outside to exercise its nose and penchant for digging, so access to a garden would be ideal.
The Griffon’s need for grooming varies depending on which type of coat it wears, with the short, smooth coat requiring only weekly brushing, with baths as needed – which isn’t very often, perhaps every two months. On the other hand, the wiry coat needs to be combed twice a week to prevent mats from forming and should be hand-stripped by a professional groomer twice a year to maintain its condition. As this is a light dog that does not wear its nails rapidly, nail clipping will need to be performed, possibly as often as once a month.
Famous Griffons Bruxellois
The breed’s success on the big screen goes to show that having a unique look and the personality of a diva go a long way in Hollywood, as it has appeared in:
- As Good as It Gets
- Gosford Park
- Sweet November
- Teaching Mrs Tingle
- First Wives Club
The Griffon Bruxellois has made a significant contribution to the pool of designer dog breeds that we see today:
- Affengriffon – Cross between a Griffon Bruxellois and an Affenpinscher
- Beagriffon – Cross between a Griffon Bruxellois and a Beagle
- Broodlegriffon – Cross between a Griffon Bruxellois and a Poodle
- Brug – Cross between a Griffon Bruxellois and a Pug
- Brussalier – Cross between a Griffon Bruxellois and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Brusston – Cross between a Griffon Bruxellois and a Boston Terrier
- Cocker Griffon – Cross between a Griffon Bruxellois and a Cocker Spaniel
- Grifficairn – Cross between a Griffon Bruxellois and a Cairn Terrier
- Griffonese – Cross between a Griffon Bruxellois and a Pekingese
- Griffonshire – Cross between a Griffon Bruxellois and a Yorkshire Terrier
- Lhaffon – Cross between a Griffon Bruxellois and a Lhasa Apso
- Papigriffon – Cross between a Griffon Bruxellois and a Papillon
- Shiffon – Cross between a Griffon Bruxellois and a Shih Tzu