The Keeshond

Pert and smiley with a stubborn streak


In the 1770s, when Europe faced turmoil similar to that confronted in this country on the eve of our own Revolution, Dutch Patriots challenged the House of Orange in the low countries and enjoyed a brief triumph over the royalists. The Patriots, a political party of the common people, had as their mascot a medium-sized, furry, spitz-like gray dog that was the constant escort of party leader Cornelis de Gyselaer. The breed had been known in Holland for centuries as a barge guard and a household companion, but its identification as a dog of the people gave it new status and a new breed name.

De Gyselaer's dog was called Kees (pronounced Kaze), a diminutive of Cornelis, and it became a symbol of commoners' attempts to overthrow the aristocracy. The breed became known as Keeshond, pronounced "Kazehawnd," a combination of "Kees" and "hond," the Dutch word for dog. Unfortunately for the Keeshond, the aristocracy eventually prevailed, and the breed sank into obscurity when owners no longer wished to be associated with the symbol of a politically incorrect philosophy.

The Keeshond (plural Keeshonden) is a member of the spitz group of dogs that developed in northern climates and is related to the Samoyed, the Norwegian Elkhound, the Chow Chow, the Finnish Spitz, and its closest relative, the Pomeranian. For perhaps hundreds of years, the Kees served as a watchdog and rat killer on small boats that plied the Rhine River in its native Holland and as watchdogs and companions on farms and vineyards. Following the political debacle and the increasing use of larger boats that accommodated larger dogs, the Kees fell from favor for nearly 100 years.

The breed was revived by Baroness van Hardenbroek, who found several fine individuals still kept by farmers, boat captains, and truckers. The Baroness successfully fought an attempt to rename the breed the German Spitz, even though it was considered from the earliest times to be the same breed.

The Keeshond was exhibited in England in 1870 as the "Overweight Pomeranian" and later as the "Dutch Barge Dog." The name was officially changed to Keeshond in 1925, and the breed was recognized in the US by the American Kennel Club in 1930. The Kees ranked 39th in number of dogs registered in 1992 out of the 135 breeds recognized by AKC.

Breed appearance and temperament

The Kees is a northern dog with the typical spitz pointed muzzle, upright ears, plush, two-layered coat, and curled tail. He has a short, cobby body, moderately long neck, is well-balanced, and moves with a quick, clean gait. His coat is shaded gray with black-tipped overcoat determining the extent of the shading and the undercoat colored pale gray or cream. His spectacled face gives him a curious, intelligent expression, and his foxlike smile, complete with curled lips, shows his friendly attitude. The spectacles appear to be carefully penciled in place and are an important breed characteristic. The Kees is 17-18 inches tall at the top of the shoulders, with dogs a bit larger than bitches, and weighs 35-40 pounds. His harsh coat stands out from his body; he has a profuse ruff around his neck and "Dutchman's breeches" or pantaloons on his thighs and a luxuriant tail.

Kees puppies are predominantly black with short, smooth coats. They may have a bit of white on their feet and chest. As the pups grow, the coat lightens, until, at eight weeks, the coat is profuse with pale gray or cream undercoat and the typical black-tipped guard hairs. White on the feet has probably disappeared, but a bit of white may remain on the chest.

Although clearly recognizable as a spitz, the Kees has a somewhat different temperament than many of his cousins. He is less independent than the Norwegian Elkhound and Alaskan Malamute, more outgoing than the Chow or Siberian Husky, and quieter, gentler, more sensible and less dominant than most of his relatives. He is a good watchdog but not a guardian, likes children, and is sociable. He is an active dog and likes to be included in family activities. Although relatively easy to teach, he is sensitive to discipline and needs guidance rather than punishment in training.

Health and care

The Kees is a moderate dog, needing a moderate amount of care. He is somewhat active indoors, needs daily exercise outdoors, and requires at least weekly grooming when not shedding. However, his thick undercoat blows out twice each year, and dust bunnies give way to dust elephants during this time as tufts of hair drift about the house and scamper under furniture. A shedding northern dog, even a small one, is not for the faint of heart; if you get the vapors at the thought of chasing dog hair for six-to-eight weeks each year, the Kees is not for you.

The coat should be brushed to the skin so that mats and hot spots do not form. If the puppy is accustomed to grooming from an early age, the experience will be a pleasurable one for both dog and owner, for this is a time for mutual bonding. Spray the coat lightly with water to prevent static electricity and use a pin brush to brush the hair from the skin outward all over the dog's body. Complete the grooming by using a wide-toothed comb to separate loose hairs from the coat. Don't comb too harshly or you'll break hairs and damage the coat. Be sure to carefully comb through the soft hair behind the puppy's ears to prevent formation of tangles and mats.

The heavy Keeshond coat can be a bother to the dog in hot, humid weather. Dogs do not sweat under normal circumstances, but they lose a tremendous amount of moisture by panting. Owners must provide a supply of fresh water at all times to replenish that lost moisture to prevent dangerous dehydration.

Usually an "easy keeper," the Kees does well on a well-balanced premium dog food. Some owners add a supplement during the winter to protect the coat and skin from the drying influences of furnace heat. The puppy should become accustomed to eating at regular times of the day; the food should be picked up if he doesn't eat within 15 minutes and offered again at the next meal time.

The Kees often live 12-14 years. Although it suffers somewhat from hip dysplasia and is susceptible to some heart problems, von Willibrand's disease, and epilepsy, the Kees is a generally healthy breed. Flea allergy can also be a problem, but a good flea control program and proper grooming will prevent this problem. Buyers should be aware of these potential difficulties and select a breeder who tests breeding stock for hip dysplasia and other potential complications for which tests exist.

Selecting a breeder

Selection of a breeder is easier than in some other breeds, for the Keeshond Club of America has a detailed code of ethics that provides guidelines for making a choice. See the sidebar for the complete text of the code. Those searching for a Kees puppy should visit breeders and see their dogs before making arrangements to buy a puppy. As with all other breeds, buyers of a Kees puppy should tell the breeder whether they want a pet, an obedience competitor, or a conformation show dog and whether or not they intend to breed. They should assess the temperament of the breeder's adult dogs, find out where the puppies will be whelped and raised, and ask about socialization. Although the Kees is not a dominant breed, puppies still must be socialized to assure optimum development of their wonderful temperament. Unsocialized Kees puppies may be extremely shy or nervous.

Keeshond Club of America Code of Ethics

The Keeshond Club of America requires breeders to follow this code of ethics in their breeding practices. The code also serves as a guideline for prospective Kees buyers; if the breeder you visit does not abide by the provisions of the code, you can look somewhere else for a puppy and inform the club of any violations.

A guide for breeders and owners of Keeshonden

An ethical breeder conducts his activities as follows:






[More on finding a dog]

Norma Bennett Woolf

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