The Schapendoes is a breed of long-coated herding dog native to the Netherlands, specifically the provinces of Drent and Geldersland. The Schapendoes is best known for its charming appearance and lively and energetic personality. Although the Schapendoes was bred exclusively as a working dog until the 1950’s, the modern breed is primarily a companion animal. The Schapendoes remains a very rare breed outside of continental Europe but is growing in popularity. The Schapendoes is also known as the Dutch Sheepdog, Drent Sheepdog, Dutch Sheep Poodle, and the Nederlandse Schapendoes. Despite having similar names, the Dutch Shepherd Dog and the Schapendoes are not the same breed and are actually very different dogs.
Very little is known with certainty about the origin of the Schapendoes, and almost anything which is claimed is little more than pure speculation. Much of this mystery has to do with the fact that the Schapendoes was kept almost exclusively as a working sheepdog by Dutch farmers, most of whom were illiterate until the 19th Century and therefore unable to write about their dogs. All that is clear is that the Schapendoes has been kept since time immemorial in the Northeastern parts of the Netherlands. The breed was most popular throughout the province of Drent and in the Veluwe, a portion of the province of Geldersland known for its forests and wetlands. It is frequently claimed that the Schapendoes is closely related to a number of other long-coated European herding breeds such as the Old English Sheepdog, Polish Lowland Sheepdog, and the nearly-extinct German Sheep Poodle, but the exact relationship between these breeds is unclear.
Although the origins of the Schapendoes will probably never be known, a few hypotheses can be developed. Although the homeland of the Schapendoes was never directly ruled by Rome, it is very close to the Roman province of Gaul, which was comprised of modern-day France and Belgium. Some have theorized that the Romans brought their sheep herding dogs to Belgium, from where they spread to the Netherlands. Others believe that the Germanic tribes possessed a long-coated sheepdog very similar to the Sheep Poodle, which would explain the distribution of such dogs across lands which were settled at one time or another by German-speakers. Still others believe that these dogs may have been introduced much more recently by Dutch wool traders who may have acquired English dogs while doing business in London. Until more evidence is discovered, the full truth will never be known, but in all likelihood, the Schapendoes is probably the result of extensively crossing a variety of herding breeds from across Europe.
However the Schapendoes was first developed, the breed became an indispensable part of a shepherd’s life in the Netherlands. The Schapendoes was primarily used to herd sheep. The breed drove herds of sheep wherever the shepherd’s needed them to go, whether that was to a pasture, into a pen or barn, or even to market. Dutch breeders only bred those dogs which most suited their needs. The thick coat of the Schapendoes protected the breed from the elements. The breed became highly intelligent, very responsive, and extremely trainable. The Schapendoes also developed into a highly energetic, athletically capable, and very driven dog. Because the Netherlands has been one of the most highly developed parts of Europe for many centuries, large predators such as wolves (as well as human bandits and rustlers) were much less of a concern there than was the case in other countries. For this reason, the Schapendoes lost much of the protective temperament found in most other Continental Sheepdogs such as the German Shepherd Dog and Beauceron. Without the need for a dog large and powerful enough to fight wolves, Dutch shepherds preferred smaller dogs. Smaller dogs meant that shepherds could afford to keep more dogs and in turn manage larger herds of sheep.
Until the middle of the 20th Century, the Schapendoes was bred exclusively for working ability. The farmers who kept these dogs had little to no use for dog shows or appearance conformation. This meant that until the 1940’s, the Schapendoes was not a breed in the modern sense but rather a group of closely-related purpose-bred landraces. The dog was quite variable in appearance, although most were generally similar. There was no movement to have these dogs registered with any major kennel clubs, and the breed remained unpedigreed. The Schapendoes was probably the most popular sheepherding dog in Northern and Eastern regions of the Netherlands until the early 20th Century. During the early 1900’s, the newly standardized Border Collie began to be imported from the United Kingdom. As was the case across most of the world, the Border Collie proved to be so successful at herding sheep in the Netherlands that it largely replaced the Schapendoes and other native breeds. However, the Schapendoes remained relatively popular, and a sizable number of Dutch farmers preferred to use their traditional breed right up until World War II.
World War II greatly impacted the future of the Schapendoes. Despite its attempt to maintain neutrality, the Netherlands was occupied by Nazi forces. German occupation placed a substantial hardship on the Dutch people and their dogs. Some Schapendoes died in the blitzkrieg or the resistance movement that slowly grew afterwards. Many farmers were forced to abandon their dogs when they could no longer afford to care for them. Breeding almost entirely ceased. By the end of the War, the Schapendoes was nearly extinct. However, World War II also had at least one positive impact on the breed. The Dutch resistance movement sought out symbols of Dutch uniqueness and nationalism in order to more clearly define the Dutch people from the very similar German-occupiers. The Dutch Kennel Club (Raad Van Beheer) began to promote and register native Dutch breeds, even those which had never previously been recognized.
Two years after the Netherlands was liberated by Allied Forces in 1945, a group of Schapendoes fanciers formed the first breed club. In 1952, the Raad Van Beheer granted full recognition to the breed although the first formal written standard was not accepted until 1954. In 1971, the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) also granted full recognition to the Schapendoes. Since the end of World War II, Schapendoes breeders have worked tirelessly to increase breed numbers steadily but responsibly. These breeders have focused on developing the Schapendoes as a companion animal and show dog, rather than a working sheepdog, and the breed is now known more for those traits. The appealing physical appearance and charming temperament of the Schapendoes have earned the breed a sizable number of fanciers across Europe. There are currently active Schapendoes clubs and breeders in Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland in addition to the original club in the Netherlands. Although the breed is not quite as popular outside of its home country as within it, breed numbers continue to increase.
In recent years, the Schapendoes has also been imported to North America. Although the Schapendoes remains quite rare in the United States and Canada, the breed is becoming increasingly popular in both countries. The Schapendoes Club of America (SCA) was founded to protect and promote the breed in the United States. The Club’s primary goals were to achieve full recognition for the breed with the American Kennel Club (AKC). In 2005, the SCA achieved the first step of its goal when the Schapendoes was entered into the Foundation Stock Service (AKC-FSS). If the Schapendoes breed and the SCA meet certain benchmarks, the breed will eventually be moved into the Miscellaneous Class and then achieve full recognition, most likely as a member of the herding group. In 2006, the United Kennel Club (UKC) granted full recognition to the Schapendoes as a member of the Herding Dog group. The breed has also achieved full recognition with the Canadian Kennel Club, although that organization uses the name Dutch Sheepdog.
Like most modern breeds, the Schapendoes rarely performs its original task anymore. Although there are still a few breed members herding sheep in the Netherlands, this number is very small and consistently shrinking. Those Dutch shepherds that still extensively use dogs almost all prefer to use either the Border Collie or the Dutch Shepherd Dog. The modern Schapendoes is primarily kept as a companion animal and show dog, which is where the breed’s future almost certainly lies. However, this breed remains a capable worker and some individuals have found employment as therapy dogs, dog sports competitors, and in the entertainment industry. Although the Schapendoes remains a rare breed throughout much of the world, its population is increasing and its future appears quite secure.
The Schapendoes is very similar in appearance to a number of other long-coated European herding breeds, and in many ways could be said to resemble a very small, dark-colored Old English Sheepdog. The Schapendoes is a small to medium sized breed. Most males stand between 17 and 20 inches tall at the shoulder, and most females stand between 16 and 18 inches. Although weight is heavily influenced by gender, height, build, and condition, most breed members weigh between 25 and 55 pounds. The Schapendoes is a well-proportioned breed, but most breed members are slightly longer from chest to rump than they are tall from floor to shoulder. Most of the Schapendoes’s body is heavily obscured by its long, dense coat, but underneath is a very muscular and athletically fit dog. The Schapendoes is quite fine-boned and elastic. The tail of the Schapendoes is quite long and its unique carriage is a breed characteristic. The tail should be carried low when the dog is at rest, somewhat up and swinging when the breed is trotting, level from the back and straight when the dog is running, and high but not stiffly over the back when the dog is jumping.
Like the breed’s body, most of the Schapendoes’s facial features are obscured by its coat. The Schapendoes’s skull is quite flat. The breed’s skull is quite short for a herding dog, and is actually broader than it is long. The Schapendoes’s muzzle is also quite short, usually noticeably shorter than its skull. The muzzle is both deep and broad, and remains so with very little tapering towards the end. The nose of the Schapendoes is located slightly lower than the line of the skull and colored according to the color of the dog’s coat. The ears of the Schapendoes are medium in size, quite mobile, and hang freely although not close to the head. The eyes of the Schapendoes are large, round, forward-set, and brown in color. The overall expression of most breed members is honest, open, and lively.
The Schapendoes has a double coat, which means that it has a longer, coarser outer coat and a shorter, softer, and denser, undercoat. The outer coat is quite long, although its length is variable over different portions of the body. The hair should never be tightly curled or frizzy, but is usually very wavy and/or slightly curly. Tufts of hair often stand out from any part of the body, and there is a pronounced topknot, mustache, and beard. There is also significant feathering on the backs of the legs and tail.
Schapendoes breeders initially cared little for their dog’s coloration, so any color or pattern is perfectly acceptable on the breed. There is some preference given to dogs with blue-grey to black markings, although the extent of this preference varies significantly from country to country. Most breed members are white with blue-grey, black, or brown markings, although other colors are frequently seen as well such as solid black or solid brown.
Although the modern day Schapendoes is bred primarily for companionship, until recently this dog was a highly driven worker and possesses characteristics common both to companion animals and working sheepdogs. The Schapendoes is known to be very attached to its family, to whom it is very devoted. This breed is usually very affectionate, and many are fawningly so. When properly trained and socialized, most breed members do very well with children, and many are very fond of them. However, children must be taught to not pull on the dog’s long coat. Some breed members may attempt to herd small children by nipping at their heels, but this behavior is correctable with careful training.
Unlike most Continental herding breeds, the Schapendoes has never been responsible for protection or defense of its flocks. As a result, it is one of the least protective and aggressive of all Continental sheepdogs, although some lines do demonstrate a degree of shyness. When properly trained and socialized, most breed members are quite friendly and affectionate with strangers. This breed has a tendency to become an inappropriate greeter, jumping up on visitors and licking them in the face, meaning that training may be necessary. Some breed members make effective watchdogs that will alert their owners to the approach of a stranger, but this breed makes a very poor guard dog as it lacks both the size and the aggression.
Dutch farmers deliberately bred only those Schapendoes which were the most intelligent and trainable, traits which have continued in the breed to this day. With the possible exceptions of advanced scent trailing and those tasks which require immense power and/or aggression, the Schapendoes is probably capable of learning anything that any breed can. This breed is becoming an increasingly popular competitor in dog sports and has competed at the highest levels of a number of canine competitions such as agility, competitive obedience, fly ball, and Frisbee. The Schapendoes is regarded as easy to train, but some breed members may prove somewhat challenging. The average Schapendoes is probably not quite as eager to please as a breed such as a Border Collie or Labrador Retriever, and will require somewhat more time and effort to train.
The Schapendoes was bred to work countless hours in the field without stopping and this breed is certainly no couch potato. A couple of short walks a day will certainly not satisfy a Schapendoes, and this breed should receive an absolute minimum of between 45 minutes and an hour of vigorous physical activity every day (and preferably more). A Schapendoes that does not receive a proper outlet for its energy will almost certainly develop behavioral problems such as destructiveness, hyperactivity, over excitability, inappropriate greeting, excessive barking, emotional distress, and various manias. This breed makes an excellent jogging companion, but truly craves an opportunity to run freely in a safely enclosed area. The Schapendoes is happiest when provided activities that engage its intelligent mind as well as its body, and this breed does best when involved in an activity such as agility or sheep herding. All that being said, the Schapendoes is considerably less driven and energetic than many other members of the herding group and usually adapts much better to life as a companion animal. This breed would make a good choice for an active family that wants a dog that will accompany them on any physical activity, no matter how extreme, but does not want to deal with the constant demands of a breed such as a Border Collie.
The Schapendoes has substantial grooming requirements, but not to the extent of many similarly-coated breeds. The Schapendoes generally does not require professional grooming, although many owners choose to have their dogs professionally trimmed in the summer months. Owners will have to spend a significant amount of time brushing their Schapendoes, at least 15 to 20 minutes every two or three days. During these grooming sessions, owners must carefully and thoroughly brush out any tangles or potential mats before they become serious. There do not seem to be many reports as to the Schapendoes’s shedding, although it is fair to assume that this breed is a moderate to average shedder.
It does not appear that any health studies have been completed for the Schapendoes, although a number of European breed clubs are in the process of conducting one. As a result, it is impossible to make any definitive statements as to the breed’s health. This breed has a reputation for being in average health. Most common genetic health defects found in purebred dogs have been identified in the Schapendoes, although none are known to occur at unusually high rates. The small population of the Schapendoes has had two different and opposite impacts on the breed’s health. On the one hand, this dog has neither been overbred nor subjected to poor breeding practices. On the other hand, the Schapendoes has a very small gene pool and could be at high risk of several inherited genetic diseases. The one major health problem which Schapendoes fanciers are most concerned about is Progressive Retinal Atrophy, also known as PRA. Progressive Retinal Atrophy is a degenerative eye disease that almost inevitably leads to total blindness. Progressive Retinal Atrophy is known to occur in the Schapendoes, but it is not yet clear at what rate.
Although skeletal and visual problems are not thought to be major problems in this breed, it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring. It is highly advisable to request that breeders show any OFA and CERF documentation that they have on a puppy or its parents, which essentially all reputable breeders will have.
Although health studies have not yet been completed for the Schapendoes, they have been for a number of closely related and similar breeds. Based on what those studies have concluded, the Schapendoes may be at risk for the following conditions: