What to Know About Brussels Griffon

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on April 20, 2022
6 min read

Don't underestimate the Brussels griffon. This small dog breed stereotypically has a big, lovable personality. These petite dogs truly embody the term companion. They typically love to be around their owners and don't like to be left alone for too long. 

Due to their small size, moderate energy levels, and lack of drooling, they can make great apartment-dwelling dogs.

The average Brussels griffon dog is between seven and ten inches high. Their average weight is between eight and ten pounds. However, they can range anywhere between five and 15 pounds.

These furry friends come in four colors:

  • Belge (black with reddish-brown)
  • Black and tan
  • Red
  • Black

They may have smooth or wiry coats. Their most characteristic feature is their face, which earned them the name "bearded dog" in historical Belgian folk songs. Their beard and mustache cover their mouth giving them an almost human appearance.

The typical Brussels griffon lifespan is between 12 and 15 years.

Brussels griffon temperament & personality. These dogs, affectionately called "griffs" for short, are usually happy dogs who can adapt to new situations, as long as their owner is nearby. They may also be shy with new people, but as long as their "person" is with them, they will warm up.

Brussels griffons do best in families where they can participate in all activities. They love sleeping in bed with you and accompanying you anywhere whenever possible. They will never be more than a few feet away from you while you are at home. Some people call them "velcro" dogs for this reason. 

Make sure you give your Brussels griffon plenty of opportunities to be a part of the family. If they are left on their own too often, they may become depressed. In the short term, Brussels griffons may become mischievous when left alone. To avoid damage to your home, experts recommend putting them in a crate when you leave them at home.

Griffs are somewhat sensitive. Because of this, they don't do well with small children who might be rough with them. They also aren't usually aware of their small size, so they may try to assert their dominance with larger dogs. Careful introduction with larger household pets is necessary to avoid potential harm.

Brussels Griffons generally have a moderate energy level.

Grooming. How you groom your Brussels griffon will depend on which type of coat they have. Smooth-coated griffs need weekly brushing during the spring and fall shedding season. Griffons with wiry coats do not shed. For either type of dog, an occasional bath is necessary to keep them clean and smelling great.

As with most breeds, clip your dog's nails on a regular basis to prevent walking issues.

Brussels griffon diet. This breed may be prone to overfeeding and becoming overweight. Treats are a useful aid in training but should make up no more than 10% of their caloric intake each day.

Exercise. Griffs need about 30 minutes of exercise per day. Like everything else, they would love to do it with you. Playing fetch or going for a walk will keep your dog happy.  They can be quite playful.

Living indoors. This breed is definitely an indoor breed. Even though they are hearty, they are happiest when they are around people. They would not enjoy living outside separately from you.

Additionally, because of their flat face structure, they may have breathing difficulty if they get too hot, so access to shade and plenty of water is essential in hot temperatures. 

Health. In general, this is a healthy breed, especially when you get your dog from a responsible breeder. However, there are some genetic health issues that may come up. All breeding dogs should be evaluated for the following conditions before being allowed to reproduce:

  • Heart problems
  • Cataracts
  • Patellar luxation (kneecap dislocation)
  • Hip dysplasia

Cataracts. This breed may be prone to cataracts, which occur when the lens of one or both eyes becomes cloudy. Dogs with cataracts can not see as well as they used to. Cataracts are often genetic but can also be caused by diabetes or simply old age.

The main treatment for cataracts in dogs is surgery to replace the lens and restore the dog's vision. The main form of prevention includes screening dogs for cataracts before breeding them.

Patellar luxation. This is another name for a dislocated kneecap. It is a common injury in smaller dogs like the Brussels Griffon. It can sometimes be caused by an accident or fall, but in many cases, it is genetic.

Experts believe genetic factors lead to skeletal misalignments, such as hip dysplasia or malformed bones of the leg, which then causes the dog to be more prone to kneecap dislocation.

Hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is more common in large dogs. The Brussels griffon is one of the few smaller breeds that are also at risk. It happens when the ball and socket joint of the hip do not fit together properly. Over time, the joint grinds together, causing the dog pain and a lower range of motion.

If your dog has difficulty jumping or running, or noticeably limps, take them to the vet. They may have hip dysplasia.

Treatment often includes anti-inflammatory pain medications, physical therapy, and exercise restrictions. In more severe cases, surgery may be the best option.

Syringomyelia. This is a rare condition found in only a few breeds, including the Brussels griffon. Dogs with syringomyelia develop cavities in their spine that become filled with fluid. It is caused by a Chiari-like malformation (CLM). CLM occurs when the dog's brain is too large for its skull. The spinal fluid becomes blocked, leading to pain and unusual sensations.

Dogs with this condition may scratch at their face, head, and neck constantly. They may yelp when jumping, running, or defecating, as doing these activities can raise the pressure inside the skull, leading to more pain. They may react poorly when you try to touch their head or neck. In general, the dog may seem to be in pain or simply uncomfortable, especially at night.

Vets typically diagnose CLM with an MRI. It does not usually show up on an X-ray.

Treatment usually includes pain medication and lifestyle management. For example, you can remove their collar while at home to make their neck more comfortable. You can also raise their food and water dishes up so they don't have to strain their neck to reach down for them. There is a surgery available for this condition however, it has a high rate of failure. Some dogs can live a fulfilling life for years with syringomyelia, while others may decline in a few months.

Brussels griffons are great family dogs but do best in homes with children older than five years, and without any larger animals.

This breed is more hypoallergenic than some others, as long as you get one with a wiry coat instead of a smooth one. Dogs with wiry coats do not shed at all. This dog breed does not drool or have much dander, contributing further to their hypoallergenic qualities.

The Brussels griffon is not a big barker. The dog will bark when someone approaches the door, but not much more often than that.

They are happy to lounge around for most of the day as long as they get enough exercise. As long as they are by your side, your griff will be a trusted and happy companion.

A famous painting from 1434 by Jan van Eyck, called The Arnolfini Portrait, features a dog that is likely the precursor to the Brussels griffon: a smous. This breed was slightly larger, perhaps around 20 pounds, but had many of the same qualities.

As the name would suggest, the Brussels griffon first originated in Brussels. It was common for coachmen, the people who operated horse-drawn vehicles, to keep a small, wire-haired dog around to catch and kill rats. These dogs were known as griffons d'ecurie—French for wire coated stable dog.

In the early 1800s, coachmen mixed these dogs with pugs and English toy spaniels to get the cute and faithful companion we know as the Brussels griffon today. 

But how did they go from rat-catching mutts to pampered lap dogs? In the 1870s, Belgian Queen, Henrietta Maria, noticed the breed and got one herself. So, the breed became all the rage and everyone who was anyone in the royal court wanted one.

Now, the breed is well-loved the world over. It has also found a modern spotlight. In 1997, a Brussels griffon named Jill had a starring role in the Jack Nicholson movie As Good As It Gets.