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 pups 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.
Though a beautiful and happy dog, the keeshond is relatively rare in the United States.
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," says Kristen Dowd, keeshond breeder and AKC breeder of merit. This 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 eyes, and oblique eye placement.
A full-grown keeshond is between 17–18 inches tall and will weigh 35–45 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 dog 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.
A keeshond is an extremely active and highly intelligent dog, so he will be a fast learner during training. The Keeshond Club of America recommends enrolling your keeshond puppy into training classes to teach him the basics of being polite and socialize him to new people and other pups.
A keeshond does best in a home with people around; he is not a kennel dog. "They thrive in an environment where they can get and give attention and love," Dowd says. "They do not do well in isolation." Because they're so smart and need to keep their brains busy, keeshonden need ample mental stimulation—even puzzles or other interactive toys will go a long way. Dowd says a quiet home with no action is not the best place for a keeshond.
Keeshonden fit into families with other dogs and children easily, and they will welcome strangers in with open arms—especially if they bring treats.
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All that floof takes some work to maintain. Dowd recommends keeshond owners brush and comb their dogs weekly—at minimum. But keeshonden do 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, you should take your keeshond to 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 are an active breed. Plan for regular walks with your keeshond, especially if he 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.
The typical lifespan of a keeshond is between 12–15 years. "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 even 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. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1930.
- According to the AKC, keeshonden are known as "Smiling Dutchman" because of their tendency to curl their lip and bare their teeth in a grimace. It's not a snarl, but a happy and submissive grin.
- A keeshond will dig a hole in the ground to lie in where it is cooler during the summer and warmer during the winter.
- Keeshonden make excellent therapy dogs and nursing home visitors, according to the breed club.