A member of the Spitz family of dog breeds, the Keeshond (pronounced KAYZ-hond) asserts an ancient past originating in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions of our planet. The Keeshond possesses a long lineage that ties it to the unique breed types developed from the native dogs living in these northern areas during prehistoric times. Spitz breeds are some of the oldest known types of dogs, with archaeological evidence suggesting their existence and migration into the modern day European continent as having occurred approximately 3000 years ago. Therefore, being a member of the Spitz type, the Keeshond has a lengthy and noble history.
The Keeshond breed is descended from comparable ancient strains of dogs that produced many other modern Spitz breeds including the Samoyed, the Husky breeds, the Chow Chow, the Finnish Spitz, the Pomeranian, the German Spitz breeds, the Norwegian Elkhound, and others. The genesis of the Keeshond breed and its development is thought to have occurred in Holland, as the breed can be found in records there dating as far back as the 1700’s. Additionally the Keeshond is depicted in paintings and other art forms coming out of Holland during that century.
It was not however; until the end of the 1700’s that the breed would make an impact. Known at the time as the Wolfspitz in Germany, the Chien Loup in France, and the Lupini in Italy, it would be many years later before the Keeshond would be called by its modern name. Although known as a member of the German Spitz family, it would be in Holland not Germany where the Keeshond would become a unique and specific breed type.
In the 1780’s, Holland was divided politically; the reigning power being the monarchical House of Orange and the other being the group known as the Patriots. The leader of the Patriot group was a man called Cornelius de Gyzelaar, or “Kees” for short. A fancier of the Keeshond breed, he had as his companion, a dog of this type who was constantly at his side. It is for him that the breed was later named the Keeshond, Kees for Gyzelaar and “hond” meaning dog in Dutch. De Gyzelaar, feeling that the spirit and strength of the Keeshond powerfully embodied the sentiment of the Patriot party, made the Keeshond the party’s official mascot. The Patriots would initiate a rebellion against the House of Orange, to which the group was unsuccessful.
After quelling the uprising of the Patriots, the House of Orange, in a display of power, dominance, and authority; attempted to destroy all associations to the Patriot party. This would include an attempt to eliminate the party’s mascot, the Keeshond. Many keeshonden owners and breeders would abandon or destroy their dogs so as not to be further associated with the failed rebellion. Only the most loyal owners would continue to maintain the Keeshond breed. Many of these breeders and owners were peasants, and the Keeshond would flourish in the farm areas and villages of Holland. Keeshonden could also be found living amongst the men working on the boats and barges used for transporting coal and timber between the Dutch provinces and the Rhineland in Germany.
This was the fate of the Keeshond breed in Holland, but the type could also be found at this time, living in other European countries like Italy, France, and Germany. The breed would continue to be so identified with Holland however, that it would become known as the Dutch Keeshond. Although the Keeshond, as we know it today, originated in the Netherlands, the breed is considered to be part of the German Spitz family of dogs. Because Keeshonden traveled from Holland into Germany by way of the Rhine, it is believed that they mated with the local German Spitz stock. This interbreeding produced the close genetic relationship between the Keeshond breed and other German Spitz lines.
By the late 1800’s, the Keeshond type could be found in England as well, but there it was called a Fox Dog, an Overweight Pomeranian, or a Dutch Barge Dog. Around this time, a Mrs. Wingfield-Digby of Sherbourne Castle, Dorset, would take an interest in the breed. Together with Mrs. Alice Gatacre, a Dutch breed authority who was residing in Devon, England, she would attempt to promote an interest in the Keeshond. The first Wolfspitz to be shown in the dog show circuit would occur in 1880. Shortly after that, in 1899, the Club for German Spitzes was founded. The German breed standard was revised in 1901 to specify the silver/grey with black tips coloring found in the modern Keeshond lines. It was not however, until after World War I that interest in the Keeshond breed would grow. At this time, the breed would be registered as the “Dutch Barge Dog”.
In the 1920’s, Baroness von Hardenbroeck took an interest in the Keeshond breed. She began to search for information on what remained of the old breed stock since the war. While much of the breed had passed from public attention, surprising interest in the breed had remained among riverboat captains and farmers. Many specimens of the Keeshond breed were kept in their original breed form, with many owners maintaining their own unofficial stud books. Although a relatively obscure and unknown breed at this time, the Baroness began her own breeding program of the Keeshond. She would promote interest in the breed throughout Europe. Within ten years, the Keeshond breed would no longer be an obscure breed.
In 1923, dog show entries for the Keeshond began to be seen from Wingfield-Digby’s stock; and in 1925, she founded the Dutch Barge Dog Club. In 1926, the Keeshond was accepted into the British Kennel Club as a unique and specific breed. At this time, the breed became officially known as the Keeshond and the club’s name was changed to reflect this.
The Keeshond, though known in Europe for several centuries prior to this, would finally make its way across the pond, to America in 1923, when Carl Hinderer immigrated to America, taking with him his Schloss Adelsburg Kennel. Being that his immigration happened just after the end of World War I, the sentiment about the war and Germany remained negative in England and America, thus the American Kennel Club (AKC) would not recognize the Wolfspitz/Keeshond as a specific breed at this time. Because of this, Hinderer had to register his Keeshond puppies with the German breed club. Despite the lack of American interest in his breed at the time, Hinderer joined the Maryland Kennel Club and attended their local dog shows.
Hinderer would not give up on reaching registered status for the Keeshond breed; however, and he would regularly write to the AKC promoting the Keeshond breed. While traveling back to Germany, Hinderer stopped at the AKC headquarters in a continued effort to promote the Keeshond. He presented his German champion Keeshond, Wachter, to AKC president Dr. Demond. So impressed was Demond with Wachter, that he requested all relevant breed information from Germany to be brought back by Hinderer, and agreed to begin the breed recognition process immediately. Demond also encouraged Hinderer to call the American breed “Keeshond”, as opposed to Wolfspitz. In 1930, the Keeshond was accepted for full registration with the AKC.
As of 2010 the Keeshond ranked 87th out of 167 dog breeds in terms of AKC registrations, up from 102nd place the previous year. The Keeshond was originally bred to be a companion dog, and for a breed with such a turbulent history, the modern line of Keeshonden is known to be among the gentlest of dog breeds. Being bred neither as a hunting dog, nor for any specialized working purpose, the Keeshond was thus developed to be a loving and gentle companion breed. This is reflected in the breeds friendly disposition and an intense devotion to its loved ones, traits that makes it truly unique amongst the many differing modern dog breeds.
Of the Spitz breed type, the Keeshond possesses the well known physical characteristics common among all types in the Spitz family; small erect prick-style ears, a luxurious and dense double-coat, and a bushy tail that curls over the dog’s back. The Keeshond is a compact dog of medium size, AKC standards call for members of this breed to stand between 17 and 19 inches at tall at withers and weigh 35-45 lbs; Males would be toward the upper end of the standard and females toward the lower end. Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) standards allow for a slightly taller dog at 19.25 inches tall (48.9 cm) ± 2.4 inches (6.1 cm).
When viewed from above, the head and skull should be shaped like a wedge, and be proportionate to the rest of the Keeshond’s body. It should not display a dome shape or any apple-head type characteristics. The medium sized eyes are almond shaped and forward facing; spaced appropriately apart and dark brown in color with black rims. The muzzle is moderately long with a well defined stop. Tight, black lips enclose strong white teeth that meet in a scissor bite. The ears should be erect and set high on the dog’s head, they are triangular or ivy-leafed in shape, small in size, and dark in color.
The slightly arched neck of the Keeshond is moderately long and well set on sloping shoulders, leading into straight and well-boned front legs. The Keeshond’s chest is compact; it is short in the loin with a moderately tucked belly. The chest is barrel shaped with ribs that are well sprung. The faintly angled hindquarters are muscular and solid. The feet on both the front and back legs are compact, well-rounded in shape, with arched toes. The high set tail is covered in profuse hair, is moderately long, and curls tightly over the dog’s back, helping to create an eloquent look to the Keeshond’s silhouette.
The Keeshond’s coat is typical of the Spitz type; a thick double-coat of abundant and luxurious hair. The outer coat is straight and coarse, covering a thick and velvety undercoat. The head, muzzle, and ears should be covered with straight, short, soft hair. The neck is profusely covered in long flowing hair that creates a ruff around the dog’s shoulders. The hind legs are covered in thick hair called “trousers” and the hair on the tail should form a long and rich plume. The markings on the Keeshond’s coat are dramatic and unique. Ranging from light to dark, the Keeshond’s coat is a mixture of gray, black, and cream colorations. The coat is described as being shaded, meaning that the thick undercoat is gray or cream colored, with the longer outer coat being black at the tips. The Keeshond’s legs and feet are cream colored; with the ruff, shoulders, trousers, and tail being lighter in color than the body. The muzzle and ears should be dark, almost black in color, with the facial markings distinct and characteristic to the Keeshond breed.
Overall, the appearance of the Keeshond is striking; the breed displays an eye-catching “dress show” look. Its profuse and lavish coat is beautifully colored and displays unique “spectacle” markings around the eyes giving it the appearance of wearing glasses. Despite its often “feminine” description, the Keeshond exudes a serious and masculine expression, with thickening fur around the neck and chest area, which is more pronounced for males, easily making it one of the most elegant looking breeds in the dog world today. Despite its “show dog” looks, the wolf ancestry of the Keeshond is always evident in its stature although it resembles more of a fox with its long neck, erect ears, pointed muzzle, curled tail and a fox-like expression, due to its curious smile and markings around the eyes.
The Keeshond is one of the few dog breeds that have never been bred to hunt or attack; for centuries the Keeshond has been bred specifically for companionship. That being the case, Keeshonden are extremely affectionate; they truly appreciate human companionship. The Keeshond is an affable and good-natured companion, especially playful and affectionate towards children, and lovingly committed to its family. The Keeshond bonds strongly to its loved ones, wanting and needing to be included in family activities. Keeshonden prefer to be near to their human companions as often as is possible. Because of this strong attachment to their family, Keeshonden have been referred to as their “owner’s shadow” and “Velcro dogs”. This breed is a dog that will be devoted to the entire family, all the members of it; as a Keeshond will not bond more closely with a single family member more than with the others.
Compared to other breeds in the Spitz family the Keeshond is quieter, more sensitive and less dominant, with a tendency to become “clingy” towards their human companion. Even if other people are nearby, if a Keeshond’s owner is out, even if just in another room, the dog may sit waiting for their owner to reappear. Keeshonden are extremely intuitive and are often used as comfort dogs. A Keeshond called “Tikva” was even present to comfort rescue workers at Ground Zero after 9/11. Keeshonden are so insightful and bright that they have been successfully trained to serve as guide dogs for the blind; however, their lack of size has prevented them from being used more widely in this role. They also excel at agility and obedience training.
Throughout its history, in the Netherlands and in Europe, the Keeshond has been very popular as a watch dog due to its loud, distinguishing bark. This trait remains with them today and they are alert little dogs; quick to warn their owners of any new visitors and strange activity. Keeshonden are watchful and noisy; however they are not aggressive towards visitors and generally greet them affectionately. While vigilant watchdogs, a Keeshond’s incessant barking may be a problem if not handled properly. Keeshonden that are denied human contact or kept alone in yard often become nuisance barkers. With proper training though, this difficulty is easy to overcome.
In his book, The Intelligence of Dogs, Stanley Coren lists the Keeshond breed as being an “Excellent Working Dog” meaning the breed is capable of understanding new commands within just 5 to 15 repetitions, and will obey a first command 85% of the time or better. Many people think that because the Keeshond is affectionate and smart, they make and ideal family dog and are easy to train. While they do make an excellent family dog, the Keeshond may not be for the inexperienced owner as helping the dog learn the right lesson, using the right process involves added responsibility. While most dogs need a structured environment, like most independent-minded Spitz breeds, the Keeshond responds very poorly to unforgiving and forceful training methods. This is a sensitive breed that is more reactive to loud noises than some other breeds and don’t do well in an environment with tension or shouting.
Keeshonden are quick to learn if their owners are firm, consistent, gentle, and calm. The Keeshond needs the owner to be a “pack leader” and to give them structure in their life. Dogs crave and instinctually need this type of order and Keeshonden are no exception. Keeshonden are quick learners, which mean they learn things you do not want them to do as quickly as the things you do want them to do. Trying to readjust unwanted behaviors through harsh methods can negatively affect the breed’s overall personality; creating a nervous, timid or shy dog. They should be trained gently and patiently without a lot of jerking and never should hitting be part of the discipline given to a Keeshond.
Keeshonden with behavior problems often exhibit signs by excessive and nuisance barking, chewing, digging, and chasing their tails. Many behavioral problems with Keeshonden stem from abuse, lack of human contact and/or boredom. When a Keeshond does not develop into a well-adjusted adult, these intelligent little dogs frequently invent their own activities to entertain themselves with, and often these activities are destructive ones. It is important to train Keeshonden to respect, not fear their human companions. Keeshonden generally want to please their family, so when the dog does not obey as quickly as desired, patience should be shown as harsh punishment is not recommended in any circumstance for this breed. Additionally, this is not the right choice of breed for those who want a dog that lives happily outside in a kennel or backyard. They need daily contact with their owners and lots of activity to remain happy.
As with all breeds, the Keeshond should be socialized early and often. Exposure to new people, new situations, and being around other animals is important to a Keeshond’s development and growth. While the Keeshond does extremely well with children and other animals, socialization with the Keeshond is not to prevent aggression as much as it is meant to prevent shyness and timidity. Socializing your Keeshond early and often provides the structure that is so desired by this breed as to what is acceptable behavior. Unlike many other breeds that lean towards aggression, the Keeshond is excessively loving and needs to learn when enough is enough, even when it comes to affection.
The Keeshond is a playful dog that needs daily exercise and long, daily walks with the entire family are recommended for the breed. Keeshonden are recommended for active owners and families that will include them in all group activities. Whether it is to go for a walk, a hike, or even just a car ride; Keeshonden crave affection and want to go and do whatever their owners do. This dog is ideal for agility and obedience training and both are highly recommended as it will mentally and physically stimulate the dog. This breed will take all the exercise you can give it and activities that physically and mentally drain excess energy help the Keeshond avoid excitability and behavioral problems.
The Keeshond can live and thrive anywhere, from apartment to farm, as long as they are with people. They do however; do best in cooler climates as opposed to hot and humid weather. If they get lonely, they get destructive. They are intelligent, easy to train using the right methods and quick to housetrain. They bond strongly with their families and a Keeshond’s owner must be committed to an active lifestyle for themselves and their dog. Keeshonden love life and make it their job to love you and remain playful and affectionate into old age. Known as the “Smiling Dutchman” because of their tendency to curl their lip and bare their teeth, this is not a snarl, but a happy and submissive grin. In the case of the Keeshond, if they are smiling, they are truly happy.
The Keeshond, like most Spitz-breed dogs has a luxurious double coat, but grooming is not as bothersome as one might expect. A daily brushing to remove excess hair will keep the dog comfortable and attractive. Excess and shedding hair should come out easily and reduce the amount of dog hair in left by the Keeshond around the home. The breed is a moderate shedder throughout the year and the undercoat sheds heavily twice a year, during the spring and fall and during this time it is important to keep up with brushing.
The coat acts as insulation and protects the dog from insects and sunburn so shaving and clipping is not recommended for the Keeshond. The Keeshond’s coat sheds dirt when dry and the breed is not prone to doggy odor so frequent bathing is unnecessary; bathe or dry shampoo your Keeshond only when necessary, roughly two to three times a year. Fleas can be a problem for the Keeshond but regular upkeep and proper grooming can prevent an infestation.
The Keeshond is a hearty and healthy breed that on average lives to between 12 to 14 years. The Keeshond breed is prone to becoming overweight, therefore proper nutrition and regular exercise is important to maintain the health and well-being of the dog. Although congenital health issues are not common, issues which have been known to occur in Keeshonden are: