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The Keeshond (pronounced KAYZ-hond; plural: Keeshonden) is a medium-sized dog with a plush two-layer coat of silver and black fur with a 'ruff' and a curled tail, originating in Germany. Its closest relatives are the other German spitzes such as the Pomeranian. Originally called the German Spitz, more specifically the Wolfsspitz, the name was officially changed to Keeshond in England, where it had been known as the Dutch Barge Dog, in 1926.

A member of the spitz group of dogs, the Kees in AKC standard is 17 to 18 inches (about 45 cm) tall and 19.25 (46 cm) ± 2.4 inches (6 cm) in the FCI standard and weighs 35 to 45 pounds (about 16 to 18 kg). Sturdily built, they have a typical spitz appearance, neither coarse nor refined. They have a wedge shaped head, a medium-length muzzle with a definite stop, small pointed ears and an expressive face. The tail is tightly curled and, in profile, should be carried such that it is indistinguishable from the compact body of the dog.

Like all spitzes, the Kees have a profuse double coat, with a thick ruff around the neck. Typically, the males of this breed will have a thicker, more pronounced ruff than the females. The tail is well plumed, and feathering on the fore and hind legs adds to the soft look of the breed. The coat is shown naturally, and should not be wavy, silky, or long enough to form a natural part down the back.

The Keeshond is a color-specific spitz type; many of the names of the dog refer to the distinctive wolf color of the breed. The color is a mix of grey, black and cream. The top coat is tipped with black, while the undercoat is pale grey, white, or cream (never tawny). The color can range from very pale to very dark, but the Kees should neither be black nor white, and the ruff and "trousers" of the hind legs should be a distinctly lighter grey, white, or cream.

The plumed tail should be of a white or cream color with a black tip on the very end. The tail should be tightly curled over the back. The tail is an important part of the Keeshond's shape. The ears and muzzle are to be black, although some Kees tend to develop "milk mouth" or a white shading around the nose and front of the muzzle. In American shows, this white shading is acceptable, although not desired.

It is also important to note that the feet are to also be of the same cream, or lighter grey color as the legs. Feet that are totally black, or white are not desirable. However, light penciling is accepted.

The other important marking is the "spectacles," a delicate dark line running from the outer corner of each eye toward the lower corner of each ear, which, coupled with markings forming short eyebrows, is necessary for the distinct expressive look of the breed. All markings should be clear, not muddled or broken. Absence of the spectacles is considered a serious fault. The eyes should be dark brown, almond-shaped with black eye rims.

Ears should be small, triangular, and erect.

Keeshonden tend to be very playful, with quick reflexes and strong jumping ability. They are quick learners and eager to please. Because Keeshonden are quick learners, they also learn the things you didn't necessarily wish to teach them - very quickly. However, Keeshonden make excellent agility and obedience dogs. So amenable to proper training is this bright, sturdy dog that Keeshonden have been successfully trained to serve as guide dogs for the blind; only their lack of size has prevented them from being more widely used in this role.

They love children and are excellent family dogs, preferring to be close to their humans whenever possible. They generally get along with other dogs as well and will enjoy a good chase around the yard. Keeshonden are very intuitive and empathic and are often used as comfort dogs. Most notably, at least one Keeshond, Tikva, was at Ground Zero on 9/11 to help comfort the rescue workers. The breed has a tendency to become especially clingy towards their owners, even in comparison to other dogs. If their owner is out, or in another room behind a closed door, they may sit, waiting for their owner to reappear, even if there are other people nearby. Many have been referred to as their "owner's shadow," or "velcro dogs".

They are known by their loud distinctive bark. Throughout the centuries, the Keeshond has been a very popular as watch dog on manors in the Netherlands and middle Europe, this trait is evident to this day, and they are alert dogs that warn their owners of any new visitors. Despite being a loud and alert watch dog, Keeshonden are not aggressive towards visitors. They generally welcome visitors affectionately once their family has accepted them. Unfortunately, barking may become a problem if not properly handled. As with other watch dogs, Keeshonden have a distinct territory that they want to guard. Therefore, a happy Keeshond should have a yard to watch out for.

The Keeshond is a very bright dog as evidenced by its level of achievement in obedience work. This intelligence makes a Keeshond a good choice for the dog owner who is willing to help a dog learn the right lessons, but also entails added responsibility.

Many people purchase a Keeshond thinking that, since they are agreeable family dogs, they must also be easy to train. While affectionate, Keeshond may not be for the inexperienced trainer. Consistency and fairness are needed and, while most dogs need a structured environment, it's especially necessary with a Keeshond. Like most of the independent-minded spitz breeds, Keeshonden respond poorly to heavy-handed or forceful training methods.

Many behavioral problems with Keeshonden stem from these intelligent dogs inventing their own activities (often destructive ones, like digging and chewing) out of boredom. They need daily contact with their owners and lots of activity to remain happy. Therefore, it is not the right choice of breed for those who want a dog that lives happily alone in a kennel or backyard.

Keeshonden can also be timid dogs. It is important to train them to respect their owners and family, but not fear them. Keeshonden want to please their owners so harsh punishment is not necessary when the dog does not obey as quickly as desired. They like to be brushed a lot, carried if they are a puppy, played with and sat.


Other names: Dutch Barge Dog, smiling Dutchman, Chien Loup, German Spitz, Deutscher Wolfsspitz, Wolfsspitz
Nicknames: Kees
Country of origin: Netherlands, Germany

Keeshonden are prone to hip dysplasia, luxating patellas (trick knee), epilepsy, Cushing's disease, hyperparathyroidism, and hypothyroidism. Von Willebrand's disease has been known in Keeshonden but is not common. An accurate test for the gene causing hyperparathyroidism has recently been developed at Cornell University. Because they are in the category of a "deep chested" dog, that is, dogs with pronounced chests and thinner waists such as greyhounds or St. Bernards, Keeshonden are a prime risk for bloat. This condition usually occurs when a dog eats a large amount of (usually) dry food and then drinks a large amount of water, causing the stomach to twist. Surgery can save the animal, but the experience can still cause long-lasting health problems. As with any breed, it is important when buying a puppy to make sure that the parents have been tested and certified free from inherited problems. A healthy, well-bred Keeshond can be expected to live between 12 and 15 years on average. They can also get colds if not taken care of properly.

Due to their double coat, a thick undercoat and a long haired coat above that, Keeshonden need regular brushing once every two weeks to maintain the coat and ward off doggy odor normally associated with breeds that have hair. Proper grooming requires about an hour to an hour and a half to groom all the way to the skin. If the undercoat is not groomed out properly then eventually the undercoat will mat and die and the dog may acquire skin problems.

The Keeshond blows its coat twice a year. This entails shedding their undercoats completely during an intense shedding period that can last up to three weeks from start to finish. The hair comes out in large and small clumps and lots of vacuuming and brushing are in order. During the "blow," a Keeshond should be groomed once or twice a week to facilitate rapid removal of the dead undercoat. If the coat isn't combed out properly during the yearly sheds, hairs from that period may be shed for weeks or months after.

A bath once or twice a year may be all that is called for, as Keeshonden do not have oily coats and lack the strong doggy smell of other breeds. Loose dirt can be brushed out, though any dog that gets very dirty should be washed.

Keeshonden (or any spitz), unlike breeds such as poodles, should not be clipped or shaved. Doing so has many detrimental effects on the coat, which may grow back with a coarse texture, muddy coloration, a tendency to mat, or not at all. The long coat protects the Kees from excess sun. The coat is essential for protection against all the elements, and lacking the outer guard coat leaves the dog vulnerable to cold, rain, and insects like mosquitoes and fleas. The dirt-repellent effect of the coat may be lost, causing frequent bathing to be necessary. The coat also loses its distinct color as the black tipping on the hairs will be shorn off. If frequent brushing is too much effort, it is better to chose another breed rather than clip the Keeshond short.

The Keeshond was named after the 18th-century Dutch patriot, Cornelis (Kees) de Gyselaer, leader of the Dutch rebellion against the House of Orange. The dog became the rebels' symbol, and when the House of Orange was returned to power, this wonderful breed almost disappeared. The word 'keeshond' is a compound word: 'Kees' is a nickname for Cornelius (de Gyselaer), and 'hond' is a Dutch word for dog. In Holland, "keeshond" is the term for German Spitzes that encompass them all from the toy or dwarf (Pomeranian) to the Wolfsspitz (Keeshond). The sole difference between the German Spitzes is their coloring and size guidelines. Although many American references point to the Keeshond as we know it originated in the Netherlands, the breed is cited as being part of the German Spitz family and originating in Germany along with the Pomeranin (toy or dwarf German Spitz), American Eskimo dog (small or standard German Spitz) according to the FCI.

The first standard for "Wolfsspitze" was posted at the Dog Show of 1880 in Berlin. The Club for German Spitzes was founded in 1899. The German standard was revised in 1901 to specify the characteristic color that we know today, "silver grey tipped with black". In the late 1800s the "Overweight Pomeranian" a white German Spitz and most likely a Standard German Spitz, was shown in the BKC. The overweight Pomeranian was no longer recognized by the BKC in 1915. In the 1920s, Baroness van Hardenbroeck took an interest in the breed and began to build it up again. The Nederlandse Keeshond Club was formed in 1924. The Dutch Barge Dog Club of England was formed in 1925 by Mrs. Wingfield-Digby and accepted into the BKC in 1926, when the breed and the club were renamed to Keeshond.

Carl Hinderer is credited with bringing his Schloss Adelsburg Kennel, which he founded in 1922 in Germany, with him to America in 1923. His German Champion Wolfsspitz followed him two by two in 1926. As in England, Germany was not regarded fondly in America at the time and the Wolfsspitz/Keeshond was not recognized by the AKC. Despite this, Carl joined the Maryland KC and attended local shows. Due to the lack of AKC recognition Carl had to register each puppy with his club in Germany.

Carl regularly wrote to the AKC including the New York headquarters to promote the Wolfsspitz. While going through New York on his way to Germany in 1930 Carl visited the AKC offices and presented Wachter, his Germany champion, to AKC president, Dr. DeMond, who promptly agreed to start the recognition process, with some caveats including changing the name to Keeshond, and asked Carl to bring back all the relevant data from Germany. Carl also translated the German standard to English for the AKC. The Keeshond was accepted for AKC registration in 1930.

Despite intense lobbying the FCI would not accept the Keeshond as a separate breed since it viewed the Wolfsspitz and Keeshond as identical. In 1997 the German Spitz Club updated its standard so that the typically smaller Keeshond preferred in America and other English speaking countries could be included. This greatly expanded the gene pool and unified the standard internationally for the first time. Now bred for many generations as a companion dog, the Keeshond easily becomes a loving family member.

As a result of the breed's history and friendly disposition, Keeshonden are sometimes referred to as "The Smiling Dutchman".