The keeshond (pronounced "kayz-hawnd," plural "keeshonden") is a medium-sized companion breed that historically served as watch dogs on barges in Holland. Keeshonden are well-tempered dogs who get along well in family situations and are easily trained. The breed has a thick gray, cream, and black double coat with distinctive spectacle markings around the eyes. Keeshonden will require regular grooming to maintain their appearance and regular exercise to match their active temperament. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the keeshond ranks 95 out of 197 in terms of breed popularity. Nowadays, less keeshond litters are born annually, so it is more difficult to find them from a reputable source.
The keeshond is a striking medium-sized dog with upright ears and a thick double coat in gray, black, and cream. "They should have a full coat that is harsh on the outer hairs and softer on the undercoat," keeshond breeder and AKC breeder of merit Kristen Dowd says. Their double coat is thick like a lion's mane around the neck, closer fitting around the body, and shorter at the head, legs, and feet. They have richly plumed tails that curl flat against their bodies. Their full coats will require regular maintenance.
Keeshonden typically have dark brown eyes and distinctive spectacles—dark line markings slanting from the outer corner of each eye that make it look as if they're wearing glasses. These features give them an alert and intelligent expression. Some have also called their expressions fox-like because of their head shape, almond eye shape, and oblique eye placement.
A full-grown keeshond is between 8–17 inches tall and will weigh 5–35 pounds.
Keeshonden are well-tempered dogs with lots of personality. "They are silly, inquisitive, and very affectionate and attached to their people," Dowd says.
As a watchdog historically trained to alarm their owners in case of a hazard, barking comes naturally to a keeshond. However, "if you put the effort into training them and correcting the barking behavior as a puppy, they will not bark incessantly," Dowd says.
Keeshonden are extremely active and highly intelligent, so they will be fast learners during training.
Keeshonden do best in a home with people around; they are not kennel dogs. "They thrive in an environment where they can get and give attention and love," Dowd says. "They do not do well in isolation." Keeshonden fit into families with other dogs and children easily, and they will welcome strangers in with open arms—especially if they bring treats. According to Dowd, a quiet home with no action is not the best place for a keeshond.
They can tolerate apartment life, but keeshonden enjoy getting out and exercising daily. They can also withstand cold weather, and they even like to take advantage of snow days when they come along.
Dowd recommends keeshond owners brush and comb their dogs weekly at minimum. Keeshonden require less frequent bathing than other breeds because their coats are self-cleaning and produce minimal odor. A keeshond should be bathed monthly, but they can go longer between baths if they are brushed to the skin at least monthly. Ideally they would see a groomer at least every three or four months for maintenance grooming. "A good coat texture will provide the dog and owner with a pleasant experience come grooming time and will require less maintenance than an incorrect coat texture," Dowd says.
Keeshonden shed twice a year, when they "blow" or shed their entire undercoat all at once. This seasonal shedding can be intense and last up to three weeks.
Keeshonden are an active breed. Plan for regular walks with your Keeshond if she doesn't have access to a fenced-in yard to run around in. "Keeshonden have a moderate exercise requirement and can usually get by with one to two walks per day," says Alicen Tracey, DVM at Den Herder Veterinary Hospital in Waterloo, Iowa, and a member of the Daily Paws Advisory Board.
"A keeshond is a fast learner, and they are very food motivated," Dowd says. They will thrive with positive reinforcement training.
The typical lifespan of a keeshond is between 12 and 15 years old. "There are some health issues in the breed, so always seek out a reputable breeder that does pre-breeding health screenings and can provide you with the documentation of normal results," Dowd says. Don't be afraid to ask questions of the breeder.
According to Tracey, the keeshond breed is particularly prone to hyperparathyroidism, ventricular septal defect, and Alopecia X.
"Hyperparathyroidism is a disease that keeshonden can be prone to inherit due to an autosomal dominant trait that typically involves a type of cancer associated with their parathyroid gland," Tracey says. Prognosis is typically excellent after a keeshond undergoes surgery. "Common clinical signs of this disease include increased urination and thirst, straining or difficulty urinating, inappetence, lethargy, or vomiting," she says.
Ventricular septal defect is a "congenital defect of the heart" that can be hereditary in keeshonden and is characterized by "communication between the right and left ventricle of the heart," Tracey says. Puppies with this defect may have a loud heart murmur and other symptoms including weakness, lethargy, coughing, or even fainting.
Alopecia X is a mainly cosmetic condition causing symmetrical hair loss on a dog's back end.
Regular vet checkups and care will help your keeshond stay in good health.
The keeshond is an old breed of Arctic or Subarctic origin. They are believed to be in the Spitz family of dogs along with breeds like the Alaskan malamute, Akita, chow chow, and Pomeranian. Keeshonden appeared in the works of great artists and stood by the side of English royalty like George I, George IV, and Victoria I.
According to the Keeshond Club of America, the keeshond was popular in Holland where they served as a barge dog. They were kept as watch dogs and companions on Dutch vessels sailing the man-made waterways. Cornelius "Kees" de Gyselaar, leader of the 18th century Dutch Patriot Party, had a keeshond as his constant companion, so the breed became the symbol of the Patriot Party. When the party was defeated in the 1770s, the political significance made owning a keeshond dangerous.
Over a century passed before the keeshond came back into the public eye. The breed was known as the Dutch keeshond. In 1910, several keeshonden were brought to England.