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The Keeshond has been bred for centuries as the ideal family companion and watchdog. Their magnificent appearance and sense of loyalty have made them an appealing breed around the world. Their natural tendencies are such that no special training is usually needed for a Keeshond to act as a watchdog for his home, keeping it safe from intruders.
The Kees descended from the same arctic strains that produced the Samoyed, Spitz and the Norwegian Elkhound .
The correct pronunciation of the breed name is caze-hawnd, but the Americanized keys-hawnd is also acceptable. Most Kees fanciers will cringe, however, if you mistakenly pronounce, or spell, the last syllable as “hound”. The plural of Keeshond is Keeshonden, the “en” ending signifies plural in Dutch.
A Keeshond is happiest around people, and will willingly accept any stranger that its owners accept.
The Keeshond is recognized among the following kennel clubs: AKC, UKC, KCGB, CKC, and ANKC.
The official AKC Standard for the Keeshond was approved by the AKC on July 12, 1949. It is not included here due to copyright concerns, but you may write to the national breed club or the AKC for a copy.
The Keeshond is a very old breed and there is little doubt that the fact it was never intended to hunt, kill animals or attack criminals accounts for its gentleness and devotion. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Keeshonden were used as watchdogs, good-luck companions, and vermin controllers on riverboats, farms, and barges.
They were known as Wolfspitz (Germany), Chiens Loup (France), Lupini (Italy), and Keeshonden (Holland). During the 1700s, in Holland, Cornelius “Kees” de Gyzelaar, a leader in the Dutch Patriot revolt against the reigning House of Orange, kept one of these dogs as his constant companion.
The Keeshond became the symbol of the Patriot Party. This is the basis for the breed name as “Kees’ dog”, which in Dutch would be “Kees hund”. The Patriots’ were defeated, however, and many Keeshonden were destroyed to disavow any connection with the failed rebel party.
The only Kees that remained were a few on barges and farms. The breed was not revived until nearly a century later through Baroness van Hardenbroek and Miss J. D. Van der Blom. Throughout the late 1800’s, Keeshonden had appeared in England under the names of “fox-dogs,” “overweight Pomeranians” and “Dutch Barge Dogs.”
This British dog was the progeny of the German Wolfspitz crossed with a percentage of Dutch imports. After the turn of the 20th century, Mrs. Wingfield Digby and Mrs. Alice Gatacre aroused great interest in England and in 1926 an English breed club was formed with “Keeshond” as the official name.
With rare exceptions, the Kees in the United States are derived from British breeding.
The first American litter was bred in 1929 by Carl Hinderer of Baltimore, MD. The first Keeshond was registered with the American Kennel Club in 1930 in the Non-Sporting Group. The Keeshond Club of America, as it was later named, was organized in 1935.
Mrs. Virginia Ruttkay pioneered Keeshond breeding in the Eastern US, founding her kennel in 1946. Mr. and Mrs. Porter Washington of California purchased their first Keeshond in 1932, providing foundation stock for many successful Western US kennels.
Characteristics and Temperament
Coat and Grooming
The Keeshond is a double coated breed. This coat consists of a woolly undercoat and longer guard hairs. Twice a year, Keeshonden “blow” their undercoats, that is, they shed their undercoats completely. It is a very intense shedding period that can last up to three weeks from start to finish.
The good news is that this only happens twice a year. The remainder of the time, Keeshonden are relatively shed free (unlike smooth coated breeds). The bad news is that the shedding period can be rather messy. The hair comes out in large and small clumps. Lots of vacuuming and brushing are in order.
The Keeshond is a very clean and relatively odor free dog. It tends to clean itself like a cat. Even when a Keeshond becomes covered in mud, it will clean itself. Bathing needs are minimal; thorough brushings and/or “dry baths” using a mixture of cornstarch and baby powder often suffices.
A full bath may not be necessary more than once per year or when the dog is obviously dirty. Whitening shampoos will bring out the “brightness” of the coat.
Other than during coat-blowing season, the Keeshond needs relatively little grooming. Daily brushing is ideal, but two or three times a week is sufficient; the brushing should be thorough to penetrate the outer coat and remove any loose undercoat. A long pin brush, a slicker brush and possibly a rake are essential grooming tools.
Trimming needs are minimal, and if done should be done so that it looks natural and uncut. The body coat should never be clipped or trimmed except for medical reasons. Their nails should be checked and clipped periodically.
NEVER clip a Keeshond for the summer. After the undercoat has been “blown out,” the outer coat provides insulation from the heat and protection from the sun. Exposed skin will be very sensitive to the sun, and will sunburn very easily; this can lead to skin cancer.
Regular grooming and constant access to cool water are particularly important in the summer, especially in warmer climates.
The typical Keeshond has an outgoing personality. It is outwardly affectionate with its family and will accept strangers readily once the owner has shown no concern for the stranger’s presence. The Keeshond makes an excellent watchdog, that is, will bark a stern warning any time a stranger approaches the household or one of its members.
The Keeshond rarely bites, however, and therefore does not make a good guard dog. The Keeshond is a very trainable breed but has a mischievous streak that often results in embarrassment for the owner.
Some Kees have done very well in obedience competitions, but most trainers will tell you about the “jokes” their dogs have pulled on them in the ring.
Keeshonden are friendly by nature to both people and other dogs. Their demand for affection is moderate to high. The pack-oriented nature of the Keeshond means that they do better when included in the family (pack, from their point of view) than when left outside by themselves.
As befits their Northern ancestry, they may enjoy spending periods outside – particularly during cold weather – but their “place” should be inside with the rest of the pack.
The Keeshond is known as the “Smiling Dutchman”, which is often displayed as a curled lip or submissive grin. Certain breeds have a propensity for this behavior, the Keeshond is one of them. The grin is a sign of submission and often used as a greeting for people the dog is particularly fond of.
Barking, Talking, and Howling
Keeshonden both bark and talk, though they generally do not howl. The alert tone of a Keeshond bark “on watch” will warn all that a stranger is near. Some Keeshonden are more frequent barkers and should be corrected with a “quiet” command. Rarely is a Keeshond a nuisance barker.
The Keeshond may also “talk” with a soft “aroo” or “woo-woo” sound similar to the Malamute and Samoyed.
Care and Training
When you pick up your puppy, your breeder should tell you what the puppy has been eating, as well as a recommendation as to the best food and feeding frequency in the future. You should try and follow the puppy’s diet at the time you collect him from the breeder as best you can until the puppy is settled into its new environment.
Then you can gradually change the diet to suit your preferences. Sudden changes in diet can severely disrupt the puppy’s digestive system and cause gastric distress.
As for the type and “brand” of dog food, basically, any reputable dog food manufacturer provides a dog food that is sufficient to keep a dog healthy. However, the premium brands of dog food have the advantage that one can feed the dog less and still get very good nourishment.
In addition, stool size and the amount is generally less with the premium dog foods. Be sure and pick a frequency of feeding, brand, and type of food to suit your dog’s needs. For show or active Kees, something equivalent to a Science Diet Performance or Eukanuba is in order. For Kees that go for walks and hikes, a Maintenance formula is usually best. Consult your breeder and veterinarian for advice.
Keeshonden are happiest when they can share in family activities. The best arrangement is one in which the dog can come in and out of the house of its own free-will, through a dog door. If a dog door is not possible, then training the dog to go to an outside door to be let out is also very easy to do. Outside, the dog should have a large, fenced yard.
The fence should be strong and at least 4 feet tall. Keeshonden do not generally attempt to escape the confines of their yard, but, if left alone for long periods of time or abandoned to the back yard, they can and will perform some amazing feats of escape. They are prone to dig shallow “wallows” in hot weather; they will typically just turn over a layer of dirt to get to the cooler earth just below the surface.
The Keeshond can remain outside in very cold weather. However, you should provide shelter from the elements in the form of a good sturdy house. A well-insulated house with nice straw bedding is perfect for Keeshonden that spend most of their time outside.
Heating the dog house is usually not necessary. It should be stressed that leaving a Keeshond outside all the time is definitely inferior accommodations to being inside with the family. Again, problems may develop as the dog becomes bored.
Training Keeshonden, as any Northern breed, can be a challenge. Unlike other Northern breeds, however, the Keeshond is not nearly as stubborn as it is clever. When training a Kees, it will usually attempt to “make up” things as it goes along to make obedience more interesting.
While the dog is usually very pleased with its efforts, the owner can be completely at wit’s end. Training Keeshonden requires a sense of humor first and foremost.
Special Medical Problems
The Keeshond, as a breed, is relatively free of particular breed-related medical problems. The following conditions listed occur infrequently in Keeshonden obtained from a reputable breeder, but occasionally are present in the breed.
This is a genetic disorder that affects some Keeshonden: the proportion of ‘pet shop’ or ‘backyard bred’ Kees with this condition is significantly greater than Kees obtained from a reputable breeder. Simply put, hip dysplasia is a deformation in the hip joint. The head of the femur does not sit solidly in the acetabulum.
The joint lacks tightness, and the condition results in a painful and often debilitating life for the dog. Hip dysplasia is considered to be a moderately inheritable condition. Reputable breeders will have breeding pairs OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) certified prior to breeding.
OFA certification can be given only after a dog is over 24 months old. Responsible breeding by Keeshond breeders has led to a tremendous decrease in the incidence of hip dysplasia in the breed.
Subluxation of the Patella
“Slipped stifles” simply means that slipping of the kneecap on the rear legs. This condition, whether hereditary or caused by trauma, can be identified by a veterinarian during an examination. Patellar subluxation is correctable by surgery but because it is hereditary (unless caused by injury) it is not recommended that dogs with this condition be bred.
von Willebrand’s Disease
A hereditary disorder appearing in some Keeshonden is Von Willebrand’s disease (essentially hemophilia), a platelet disorder resulting in mild to moderately severe bleeding and prolonged bleeding time. Careful pedigree analysis and blood testing have reduced the incidence of this disease by reputable breeders.
Keeshonden are subject to hypothyroidism and allergic skin diseases, both of which can often be treated. Sometimes skin diseases are a result of thyroid dysfunction. Current research indicates maternal antibodies as a major cause of hypothyroiditis.
An untested mother, if affected by the disease and not demonstrating visible symptoms, will have circulating antibodies to the disease. When the fetus begins developing its own thyroid tissue, the antibodies attack brain tissue. In humans, it causes mental retardation but in dogs, it is believed to cause behavior problems.
Once the fetus begins nursing, additional antibodies are passed to the newborn in the colostrum, eventually damaging the thyroid gland of the recipient. Studies indicate a euthyroid (normal on medication) mother is no longer circulating antibodies, thereby producing normal offspring.
If each female is tested BEFORE breeding, in 5-10 generations, lymphocytic hypothyroiditis could greatly diminish. A complete thyroid panel, including T3, T4, free T3, free T4 and an antibody test are important. A subclinical bitch may not be showing visible symptoms, therefore, only a blood test could determine an affected bitch.
Keeshonden are not as prone to epilepsy, a neurological seizure disorder, as they once were. Unfortunately, there is no test for this. Ask the breeder if there are any known epilepsy problems with dogs in your Keeshond’s pedigree. Ethical breeders will be more than happy to discuss this with you.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do Keeshonden handle the summer heat?
Like any dog, to cope with summer heat the Keeshond needs a constant supply of water to drink and shade from the sun. If the dog is allowed inside then it will find its own cool spot (probably on the kitchen or bathroom floor if it is tiled or linoleum floor). Outdoors, the dog will probably dig a shallow hole by turning over a layer of soil to get to the cooler earth just beneath the surface.
Some dogs like having ice added to their water to help keep it cool. Some also enjoy a children’s wading pool filled with water in the summertime. The Keeshond sheds a lot of coat before summer, as soon as the weather starts to warm up, which also allows them to keep cool. Heavy exercise should be avoided in excessive heat.
Curtail exercise times to be early morning or just after sunset. Once the dog is acclimated to his environment, he is usually fine. NEVER clip a Keeshond for the summer. Exposed skin is very prone to sunburn, which can lead to skin cancer.
Also, the coat acts as an insulating blanket from the heat as well as the cold. Keeshonden are remarkably adaptable animals. However, one should never try and push a dog beyond his capability to cope with the heat. To do so can be disastrous. One must keep in mind the type of climate the dog is acclimated for and not look for signs of heat stress.
Do not ever lock any dog in a car in direct sunlight, or in the shade for a great deal of time, even with the windows down a little for ventilation the heat generated by the dog is still enough to cause heat stress in summer.
What are they like with children?
Due to their gentle temperament, the Keeshond is a very good family dog. The Keeshond was bred to be a family companion, after all. They enjoy the company of children, though common sense must be used when introducing any dog to young children.
Keeshonden are generally patient by nature and will tolerate young children fawning over them, but this should be strictly supervised for the sake of the dog as well as the child. With these caveats in mind, since Keeshonden love attention, well-behaved children get along wonderfully with well mannered and socialized Keeshonden.
What are they like inside a house?
Keeshonden, aside from the occasional invasion of masses of fur when they are shedding coat, are excellent house dogs. They are extremely clean dogs. They are very sure-footed and in no way clumsy around furniture.
They will often pick out a favorite sleeping spot and stay there for hours. Favorite spots seem to be tiled and linoleum floors in warm weather, soft pillows or beds at other times. The dog may seek out drafty areas and possibly lie in front of doors with cold drafts during the winter.
How much exercise do they need, and what kind?
The Keeshond does not require a great deal of exercise, which makes the breed an excellent companion for apartment dwellers. A daily walk would suffice for most Keeshonden, although if you are “up” for a game of Frisbee or ball, the Keeshond will gladly oblige.
Keeshonden have participated in many dog sports such as sledding, Agility, Flyball, Scent Hurdle Racing, Frisbee and have recently been recognized as a breed eligible to compete for Herding titles. The level of activity of your Kees really depends upon how much you wish to do with the dog.
Do they shed a lot?
Keeshonden blow their undercoats twice per year. They do not typically shed year round like many dog breeds. When they do blow their coat, they lose lots of hair (several grocery sacks full per week).