What's is a Keeshonden?
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 . 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". 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.
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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 visit the
for a copy.
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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 river boats,
farms and barges. They were known as Wolfspitz (Germany), Chiens Loup
(France), Lupini (Italy), and Keeshonden (Holland). During the 1700's, 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
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.
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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
The typical Keeshond has an outgoing personality. It is outwardly
affectionate with its family and will accept strangers readily once the owner
has showed no concern for the strangers presence. The Keeshond makes an
excellent watch dog, 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
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.
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When you pick up your puppy, your breeder should tell you what the puppy
has been eating, as well as 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 in to 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
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 dogs 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 Keeshond can remain outside in very cold weather. However, you should
provided shelter from the elements in the form of a good sturdy house. A good
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.
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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
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 a prolonged bleeding time. Careful pedigree
analysis and blood testing have reduced the incidence of this disease by
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 colostrums,
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 sub-clinical 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.
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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 summer time. The Keeshond sheds a lot of coat
before summer, as soon as the whether 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, Fly ball, 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).
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