Despite his current popularity as a companion dog, the Brussels Griffon started off as a type of working-class dog. This is not to say that he was a guard dog or worked on a farm or ranch. Rather, the Brussels Griffon was a city dog, being bred primarily in Brussels, Belgium to work within the city limits. While he did gain popularity with royalty later on, the Brussels Griffon needed to be imported to England and America in order to become the dog he is today.
In Brussels in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the streets were overrun with carriages and street vendors. Shop keepers also peddled their wares from their street-side shops. But these people needed some way to control a menace that was plaguing their businesses: the rodent. Enter the Brussels Griffon: a tiny dog with a terrier's heart and enthusiasm for chasing things, and an intelligence that rivals that of many larger dog breeds.
The Brussels Griffon as he was in this time was actually a slightly different dog. He was called Griffon d'Ecurie, and his sole purpose was not to keep people company, but to hunt and kill the vermin in shops and stables. He was also used as a companion animal for the carriage horses, and eventually became a popular shop dog, as well as one who accompanied his street vendor master on his busy days in the streets of Belgium.
The Griffon d'Ecurie was eventually bred with other dogs to create the Brussels Griffon variants that we identify as the three main types of Brussels Griffon: the long-haired, fringe-faced Belgian Griffon (or Griffon Belge), the longer-haired Brussels Griffon (or Griffon Bruxellois) with his wiry coat, and the short-haired Petit Barbancon. The dogs commonly thought to have been bred with the Griffon d'Ecurie were King Charles Spaniels, English Toy Spaniels, Pugs, and Affenpinschers. With all of these variants and different bloodlines, it is difficult to determine the definite ancestry of the Brussels Griffon breed standard.
Sometime during the decade of the 1880s, the Brussels Griffon was noticed by the Belgian royal family. Queen Marie Henriette of Belgium fell in love with the cute Brussels Griffon and decided to take him into her home as a companion dog. Her influence led the dog to be imported to England in the 1890s. The dogs gained in popularity in England and also in America until the beginning of World War I, when breeding all but dissolved completely until the end of World War II.
After World War I and World War II, the Brussels Griffon lost its popularity in Belgium. In fact, the dog, as rare as he is to find in England and in America, is even rarer in Belgium despite his origination there. England has been responsible for keeping pure breeding of the Brussels Griffon alive after the lapse in interest in the breed in Belgium.