Bred throughout history to be loving and cuddly companion dogs, this spitz breed has had centuries to develop their keen sense of empathy and their velcro-like dependence. But their use as watchdogs means these pups aren’t always quiet companions.
Keep reading to find out if the smiling Dutchman is the right breed of dog for you.
General Characteristics of the Keeshond
- Other names: Wolfspitz, Dutch Barge Dog
- Height: 17 to 18 inches
- Weight: 35 to 45 pounds
- Lifespan: 12 to 15 years
- Origin: Germany, Netherlands
- Colors: Mixtures of grey, white, and light cream with sable guard hairs
- Activity level: Moderate
- Grooming needs: High
- Best suited for: Attentive individuals and families
The ever-smiling expression and deeply-emotional stare of the Keeshond are just some of the reasons the breed is adored by dog enthusiasts everywhere. This happy-go-lucky breed is also highly adaptable, playful, and gentle.
The History of the Keeshond
The origins of the Kees is rooted in the first Spitz-type dogs of Germany. All of these German breeds, including the Pomeranian, American Eskimo, and German Spitz descended from a similar ancestor and have comparable features but come in various sizes.
The Wolfspitz, as they are known in Germany, is a medium-sized dog with a grey coat that has been used for centuries as a watchdog and a companion animal.
The amicable nature of this fluffy hound made them popular throughout Europe. One country where their numbers truly took off was in the Netherlands.
Here, barge operators, who spent significant time navigating the manmade waterways of the low lands, used the spitz dogs as both companions and as watchdogs who would readily alert anytime someone approached the vessel.
While these dogs have never been known for their aggressive or intimidating nature, their bark has always been shrill and consistent enough to draw attention to any intruder or would-be thief.
In the early days, the Wolfspitz was a common sight among the lower class Dutchmen and was often referred to as the “people’s dog.” This symbology grew during the 18th century in the years leading up to the Dutch rebellion against the House of Orange.
While almost indistinguishable today and regarded by many breed clubs as one and the same, the Wolfspitz in Germany and the Dutch Barge Dog in the Netherlands were two separate breeds for some time. In fact, it wasn’t until 1997 that the German Spitz club updated its breed standard to include the smaller Keeshond within the Wolfspitz breed.
Cornelis (Kees) de Gijselaar, the leader of the rebellion, owned a small Wolfspitz that would follow him everywhere. He, along with his dog, became the face of the Patriot Faction within the Netherlands. From that point forward, the Wolfspitzs’ within the country were referred to as Keeshonden.
Not long after, the House of Orange retook control of the country and the friendly breed that represented the people intentionally had their numbers cut to almost nothing. Luckily, the Wolfspitz was quite popular throughout Germany and Europe and English breed enthusiasts were able to reestablish the Keeshond breed by importing Dutch dogs as well as German representations.
The breed, thanks in large part to the efforts of two English women, was recognized by the British Kennel Club in 1926 under the name Keeshond.
It was the work of Carl Hinderer, a German who immigrated to America, that brought the Keeshond west. And in 1930, the breed finally gained AKC recognition.
The outgoing and friendly Kees has not changed much in terms of temperament throughout history and today’s Kees enjoy their role as a family companion in households throughout the world.
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Learn more about the Kees in this episode of Dogs101.
The Temperament of the Keeshond
As one of the few larger dog breeds that was bred and kept for their role as a companion more than any other purpose, Kees have one of the most loving and docile temperaments in the canine kingdom.
These dogs really enjoy being with their owners. They are often referred to as “velcro dogs” because of their desire to stay by their peoples’ sides. For this reason, these dogs are not a great choice for anyone who works long hours or travels frequently.
While that special connection is often reserved for those in their family, Kees are typically amicable with strangers. They will often welcome visitors with a rousing chorus of barks but almost never any type of aggression. Their love of people and their fluffy, downy coat make them great candidates for therapy work in hospitals and schools.
But don’t think that a Kees will be satisfied following you around and sitting by your feet all day. These dogs also need plenty of exercise and excitement. They enjoy walks and are quite agile when romping around the back yard or the park.
In addition to needing a little physical activity, these dogs also require plenty of mental enrichment. The Keeshond ranked 16th on Stanley Coren’s list of the 138 smartest dogs. While that intelligence can help make things like obedience and behavioral work easy, it can also have a downside.
The Kees is an active hound with an adaptable and easy-going personality. They do very well with children and other pets and make a great addition to any family who can dedicate enough time and energy to their needs.
Any understimulated Kees is likely to find ways to entertain themselves. Behaviors like digging, excessive barking, and other destructive pastimes are a sure sign your dog needs a little more activity in their lives.
In addition to therapy work, these dogs make great candidates for agility, rally, and other high energy, high-obedience dog sports. Getting your puppy started out in one of these activities early is a great way to help them through the difficult adolescent phase that most dogs experience.
As long as a Kees has their mental and physical activity needs met, they can be happy just about anywhere and are known for being very adaptable dogs. They enjoy playing outside and many have found fulfilling lives on large farms and ranches. But just as many are equally happy to call an apartment in the city home. This adaptability is likely one reason these dogs did so well living in the confined spaces on barges and shipping vessels in the Netherlands.
Overall, this is a happy, friendly breed that gets along great with humans and animals big and small. They need a decent amount of exercise, plenty of mental stimulation, and all the attention you can muster, but are more than willing to make all that work worth your while with their loyalty and affection.
Health Issues Common to the Keeshond Breed
The Kees is a generally robust breed with no common health problems. However, like all breeds, there are issues known to pop up from time to time. Here are the health issues you are more likely to see in the Keeshond.
- Eye issues
- Primary hyperparathyroidism
- Cushing’s disease
- Von Willebrand’s disease
- Heart disease
- Hip dysplasia
- Luxating patella
While the Kees may not be prone to many health conditions, they are known to suffer from a few behavioral issues, most notably, separation anxiety. Taking steps to establish a healthy relationship during your dog’s puppyhood and working to make sure they feel safe and confident in your absence are both steps you can take to help prevent problems in the future.
Responsible breeding measures have gone a long way to almost eliminate many of these issues from the Keeshond. But there are still some breeders out there, especially large-scale breeding facilities, whose primary focus is on making a profit, not on creating healthy, happy dogs.
For this reason, it is especially important that you do your homework before choosing a breeder if your goal is to get a purebred Kees puppy.
Signs of a reputable breeder are those that are unwilling to ship young puppies, those who will allow you to see where the puppies will be whelped and meet the mother or parents, and those who can provide a detailed history on the line.
Additionally, for the Kees, in particular, reputable breeders should be able to provide proof that their breeding dogs have been tested for hip, patella, and elbow soundness and eye health. Recently, a test has been developed to detect genes for primary hyperparathyroidism. Make sure to see the results of this test as well as any other relevant paperwork before you commit to a breeder.
If you would prefer to adopt a Kees, there are many rescues that specialize in the breed around the world. Contact your local rescue to find out if there are any Keeshonds or Kees mixes available in your area.
Do Keeshonden Do Well With Children and Other Pets?
It should come as no surprise that the affable and loving Kees is a great match for children, young and old. They tend to be tolerant and gentle but also playful and silly, the perfect combination for a child’s best friend. And that super-soft, snuggly coat doesn’t hurt either.
Of course, all dogs are a product of their environment as well as their genes, so caution should always be taken when introducing a dog to children or a new baby for the first time. Socializing your Kees puppy with kids of all ages is a great way to help assure that they will adapt well to
family life in the future.
The Kees’ friendly nature often extends to other dogs and animals. They can be sensitive at times, however, so choosing the right playmate for their particular personality is a good idea.
These dogs don’t just reserve their social nature for humans, though, and most get along very well with other friendly, playful dogs. They are great candidates for trips to the dog park and for doggy daycare.
As with children, a good foundation of positive social experiences with other canines early on will go a long way in building a well-rounded adult dog.
Because they were never used to hunt, herd, or otherwise pester other animals, Kees are one of the best breed choices for families that include other furry, feathered, and scaled members. They don’t typically have any prey drive to speak of and are happy to befriend just about anything that doesn’t scare them.
What to Consider Before Bringing Home a Keeshond
Think that a good-natured, cuddly smiling dutchman is the right breed for you? Here are a few more things to consider before you bring one of these puffballs home.
While the Kees doesn’t require a ton of space or a large backyard to be happy, these aren’t exactly low-energy dogs. They enjoy getting out and stretching their legs and need at least one good walk a day. If you live in an apartment, the need to get your dog out is even more important since they have a tendency to bark when they are bored.
Luckily, because this dog is so good-natured, they are great candidates for taking along with you while running errands or even going to work. This type of stimulation will also help tire them out mentally since they will have the opportunity to meet new people and experience different environments.
A walk through the park or a hike is a great way to stimulate your Kees’ mind while tiring them out physically. Using a long line or training your dog to walk off-leash and respond to your recall will allow them to explore more easily and engage in more natural doggy behaviors.
As one of the smartest dog breeds and one of the few at the top of the list that was bred specifically for their companionship, the Kees is generally very easy to train. That being said, anyone who uses a heavy hand in training or strays from positive techniques is likely to struggle. This is because the Kees is a very sensitive, empathetic dog that is easily stressed by punishment or when they sense their owner is unhappy.
If there is one thing holding the Kees back from being one of the more popular breeds in the world, it is likely their beautiful, albeit, maintenance-heavy coat. This gorgeous fluff is made up of two layers. The bottom layer is comprised of thin, soft hairs in ample amount while the outer layer is made up of coarse guard hairs.
To keep the coat looking its best, you will need to brush your dog daily, a task that can take some time considering how much fur there is. Luckily, these dogs don’t tend to shed frequently, but they will blow their coat on occasion, during which time they will require even more brushing. Males tend to blow their coat once a year while females usually do it in spring and fall.
Kees don’t typically have the same doggy smell of most canines and will only require a few baths a year.
The Keeshond will do well on any high-quality commercial food or home-prepared raw diet. While some individuals tend to be more cat-like in their eating tendencies, others have a healthy appetite and are more at risk for weight gain. Because of their thick coat, it can be difficult to tell if your Kees has gained too much weight. For this reason, it is important to always be checking their body condition and to pay attention to their portion sizes and treat intake.
Before you bring your Keeshond puppy home, make sure you are prepared to help them grow up right. Early obedience classes, plenty of socialization, and starting house training on the right track are all steps you can take to build a strong, happy relationship that will last a lifetime.
The average purebred Keeshond puppy costs around $600, but breeding lines can go for as high as $4,000.
Overall, this is a relatively healthy dog that shouldn’t cost more to care for than the average canine, though you may need to invest more of your time for grooming and cuddling.
10 Fun Facts About the Keeshond
Now that you know what it takes to own a Keeshond, here are a few more fun facts about the Dutch barge dog.
- They have well-defined “spectacle” markings on their face which resemble glasses and help highlight their expressive eyes.
- A Keeshond named Tikva was used to help comfort rescue workers after the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center.
- When the Kees sheds, it usually loses all of its undercoat at once, making for a dramatic change in shape until the new coat grows in.
- A part in the hair along a Keeshond’s back is considered a fault. The hair should be frizzy and light enough to stand on end instead of dropping to the side.
- Historically, Keeshonds came in a number of colors including white, red, black, and piebald. The grey and silver sable color is preferred but it is still possible to find variants in some litters.
- The Kees is prone to separation anxiety because of their need for constant owner contact.
- Kees have been known to smile–a sneer that resembles a snarl but is actually an appeasement signal.
It’s easy to see how the Kees’ coat protects them from the cold, but it’s also important in insulating them from the heat. That is why shaving your Kees is never a good idea.
- The plural of Keeshond is Keeshonden, from the Dutch pronunciation.
- The breed was once known as the “overweight Pomeranian.”
- The breed ran into some adversity when they first arrived in America due to German stigma following the First World War. It took extra effort to get them recognized by the AKC given their spitz heritage.
Before You Go
Not sure the Keeshond is the right companion for you? Here are a few more breeds to consider.
Sara Seitz has spent most of her life in the pet industry and has a bachelors in animal behavior from Colorado State University. Sara started working with dogs and cats as a high schooler at a rural boarding kennel. There she learned a lot about the bad and the ugly of the pet service industry. But not even the toughest day at that job would dissuade Sara from following her dream of working with animals.
In college, Sara got a job at a dog daycare and boarding facility in Fort Collins, Colorado. Her new career provided even more opportunities for learning about dog behavior than her classes did. As general manager of the daycare, Sara helped the company launch a new in-home pet sitting branch and trained to become a certified dog trainer. Between shifts taking care of peoples pets in-home and supervising dogs during playtime at the daycare, Sara organized and taught obedience classes.
Sara has always been passionate about bettering the lives of our canine companions. She soon found that advocating for and educating owners in the power of positive reinforcement training was one of the best ways to help dogs and their owners live happier lives.