During the early 1800s, coachmen in Belgium kept small, wire-haired terrier-type dogs to manage the rodent population in their carriage stables. They were then known as “griffons d’ecurie”, which translates to “wire-coated stable dogs.” It is thought that the Pug (a Victorian favorite in Britain) was crossed with these humble native Belgian terriers in the mid-1800s, producing a smooth-coated dog called the “Brabancon, after the Belgian national anthem. Around the same time, the King Charles and Ruby varieties of the English Toy Spaniel were also added to the mix, creating two distinct coat types: a harsh, heavily-whiskered rough coat and a smooth coat, both in a rich red color. Together, the native Belgian griffons and the English Toy Terriers, with their big heads, prominent dark eyes and short faces, forever changed the previously rough-and-tumble barn ratter into a beloved companion dog.
In the 1870s, this breed became a favorite of the Belgian queen, Henrietta Maria, which gave them royal patronage and elevated their social status. Brussels Griffons were the darlings of the Belgian elite, and efforts were undertaken to breed them to become even more exaggerated in appearance, with flatter faces and smaller stature. It is unclear which breeds were crossed to accomplish these breed changes, but it is thought that the Affenpinscher, Pug, Yorkshire Terrier, King Charles Spaniel and Dutch Smoushond may have contributed. Regardless of the crosses, the result was the modern Brussels Griffon, which has a shorter and flatter face than its ancestors and is an immensely appealing little dog that retains is favored status as a companion despite the fact that it is no longer needed to hunt vermin or entertain royalty.
The American Brussels Griffon Association was founded in 1945. The breed standard was approved by the AKC in 1960, after it went through several revisions. The parent club was accepted for AKC membership in 1982.
The American Kennel Club is the only large all breed registry that recognizes only the Brussels Griffon; in Europe, there are three small Belgian terriers which are virtually identical in history but differ in coat type and color: the Brussels Griffon (rough red), the Petit Brabancon (smooth of any color), and the Griffon Belge (rough of any color but red).
The Brussels Griffon has a relatively long life expectancy, with ten to fifteen years being usual. However, it has developed significant reproductive problems. Bitches in this breed often do not conceive, and when they do they tend to have difficulty giving birth. Caesarean deliveries are common, litters are unusually small and newborn puppies are often delicate. Often there is only one puppy, with an average mortality rate of 60 percent in the first few weeks. They also may have a breed predisposition to refractory corneal ulceration, cataracts, hip dysplasia and patellar luxation.