Type: Companion dog / Watchdog
Height: Male – 17-19in / 44-48cm
Female – 16-18in / 40-46cm
Appearance: Keeshonds are medium-sized dogs with long hair. They have small pointed ears and small dark eyes. Kees have a double coat with longer hair around the neck. The hair colour is a mixture of black and grey with pale grey or cream undercoat. They shed twice a year and because of the length of their coat they must be brushed regularly, frequent bathing isn’t required however.
Temperament: Kees are playful and can bark quite loudly for their size. These are smart, trainable and excellent companion dogs, they don’t like to be left alone and can become clingy and needy of their owners if they spend large parts of the day without company. They also have a tendency to bark if left alone, something that can cause problems with neighbours.
Skills: They are fast learners, so fast in fact that you might be surprised. Kees don’t have a specific feature that makes them great in a specific field, they are good friends and companions in general. They perform well in obedience, agility or rally competitions.
Behaviour Toward Other Animals and Kids: Keeshonds are great family pets, get on well with children and love to play with them. Of course, you should still be careful, always keep an eye and teach your children to treat your dog with respect. Keeshonds can be trained to be great with other pets if they are socialised well, or they’ve grown up together.
Common Health Problems: Although a healthy breed Kees sometimes have problems such as hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, luxating patellas, progressive retinal atrophy, epilepsy, diabetes, Addison’s disease, Cushing’s disease, Von Willebrand disease and allergies.
Lifespan: Average 12-14 years.
Kees are loveable and tolerant family companions, who have a penchant to make decisions of their own if pecking order inside the family – their pack – has not been properly established. Despite their independent streak, the Keeshond can be an incredibly obedient yet still fun-loving companion, if given the right amount of patience and kindness. They respond best to positive reinforcement methods, where consistency, repetition and patience are the key to successful training. Keep in mind, however, that too much repetition can make the always alert Kees bored and unresponsive. Once he has grasped a command or a trick and is able to comply with it, move on to teaching another one. Keeshond training must begin at an early age to avoid many of the issues which may develop in adulthood, such as excessive barking or chewing. Socialise the Kees with people and animals, and introduce them to a variety of noises and situations from an early age to allow them to grow into adjusted and confident adult dogs.
Establish Yourself as the Leader
The Keeshond needs to know who the leader of the pack is if you want him to listen to you during training. Always be the alpha leader for your dog – set schedules, establish rules and clear limits what is allowed and what is not:
- always be the first to go out or come in through the door;
- always eat first and give your Keeshond food after you’ve finished your meal;
- don’t encourage begging for food off your table;
- don’t go around your Keeshond when he is lying on the floor, instead make him move out of the way;
- pay attention to the Kees when you think necessary and not when he demands it, especially if he’s displaying negative behaviour, such as excessive barking or jumping;
- avoid having the Keeshond sleep on your bed – provide him with his own sleeping area.
Control Excessive Barking
Keeshonden have an innate urge to protect their family and property and will bark at strangers or other animals. This can annoying, especially if you live in a busy area. The key to dealing with excessive barking is socialisation with as many people and animals from an early age. Kees may be vocal at times, but they don’t growl or yelp that much, so controlling excessive barking is relatively easy if you simply don’t reward the barking with attention, for example if the puppy is barking outside and you let him in, this will only encourage him he can get his way by barking. Provide attention and respond when you consider it necessary.
Deal with Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety among young puppies can result in barking, or eliminating inside the house. Your Kees puppy won’t be happy to see you getting ready to leave, so you need to show him there’s nothing to be afraid of by leaving the house for more prolonged periods of time, starting with 20 minutes. Make sure your pup has warm, safe areas and plenty of toys to play with or chew on when you’re away. Provide him with plenty of outdoor exercise in order to expend his energy and take a rest or a nap while you’re not home.
Avoid games such as tug of war that encourage biting. Don’t wrestle with your Kees during the initial stages of training – he may get the wrong idea that biting is normal and encouraged. Reward him when he’s friendly and plays nice with another dog.
Purchase a clicker for training sessions – start teaching the basic commands and when your Kees complies with them, reward with a treat and a clicker sound. Gradually, the dog will associate the “click” with desired behaviour and a double-click will become the only reward you will need for training.
Leash training has to begin day one for both young puppies and adult untrained Kees. Use a lightweight collar and once the dog feels comfortable with it, introduce the leash. At first simply let the dog walk around, dragging the leash with him. When he’s grown accustomed with it, you can take the other end but let him lead the way. When you feel he’s comfortable with you holding the other end of the leash, you can take the lead but make it his choice to follow you. Reward and praise when the dog decides to follow in your direction.
Although the exact origin of the Keeshond is undocumented, the breed is considered to be among the most ancient ones, with a lineage that ties it to the unique breeds of the Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions. Kees belong to the Spitz family, some of the oldest known types of dogs, with archaeological evidence suggesting their existence and migration into Europe occurred almost 3000 years ago. A close cousin to the Samoyed, Chow, Norwegian Elkhound, and Finnish Spitz, the Kees was recognsied by the world of purebred dogs much later than its relatives, including its little brother the Pomeranian, largely due to its fateful involvement in political misfortune. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the breed was popular as a companion and watch dog on the small vessels navigating the Rhine River. Paintings by Dutch artists such as Jan Steen portray a dog that is not much different than the Keeshond we see today.
When Holland was divided between the Patriots and the Prince of Orange followers, the Kees became the symbol of the rebel party as the leader of the Patriot party, Kees de Gyselaer, was often accompanied by one of his dogs, also named Kees. As the followers of the Prince of Orange overthrew the rebel party, many farmers started discarding of their Keeshonden, which had come to represent a lost cause. The breed continued to be in misfortune in Holland until 1920 when Baroness van Hardenbroek became interested in the Kees and stated favouring the breed, leading to the formation of the Dutch Keeshond Club in the 1930s. Today, the Keeshond is Holland’s national dog.
Kees were brought to the attention of the dog fanciers first in Britain and later worldwide thanks to the effort of Miss Gwendolyn Hamilton-Fletcher who after a vacation in Holland, took two grey pups back home with her, introducing the Dutch people’s dog to the peerage in England. She brought more dogs in years to come and eventually promoted the breed’s registration by the Kennel Club of England in 1925. Initially registered as “Duch barge dog”, the breed was renamed to Keeshond (pronounced KAYZ-hond) and the official breed club was established in 1906.
Generally not a fussy eater, the Keeshond needs a feeding schedule of two meals a day of high-quality food. Any premium formula will do, but if you decide to prepare your dog’s food yourself, consider an important physical characteristic of the breed which affects their nutritional requirements – Kees shed heavily year-round and need a lot of protein in their diet. Protein sources native to the Keeshond’s ancestors in low land Holland would have been ocean fish, poultry, dairy products, rice, and beets. Thus, the best diet you can feed a Keeshond is one with a low carbohydrate to protein ratio, and 30% protein from sources that have a high fatty acid contents, ideally a blend of fish and poultry, and complex carbohydrates from sweet potatoes, rice or beet pulp. Complex carbohydrates take longer time to burn and prevent sugar blood spikes. Kees can develop a habit of begging for food off the table, and it’s best you don’t succumb to it and snip it early on.
Many people assume that the thick, downy undercoat and off-standing outer coat of harsh, straight hair would require an excessive amount of grooming but it’s quite the opposite, actually. The Kees’ coat is self-cleaning, it doesn’t retain the typical “dog” smell and the fur doesn’t stick to clothes and furniture, but rather just rolls off. For regular coat upkeep, brushing twice a week with a pin brush from the skin out will suffice. Other smooth coated breeds shed smaller amounts regularly, while the Keeshonden shed their entire undercoat twice a year. These shedding periods may be intense and last for about three weeks. In the summer, the breed may require more frequent brushing due to its intolerance to heat, but not shaving. The coat actually insulates, keeping the Keeshond cool and protecting him from sunburn. The Keeshonds’ coat doesn’t mat, and even if it gets dirty after playing in the mud, you can just let it dry and when the dog shakes it, it’s almost all gone, so frequent bathing is not necessary – every six to eight weeks will suffice.
A Keeshond needs moderate exercise and a brisk daily walk is usually enough of a mental and physical exercise. Lovely and affectionate with his family, a Keeshond will gladly join any activities with his owners. He needs to be socialised to prevent him from becoming timid or reserved. Take him to the canine playground when he’s a young puppy, or enroll him in a training class as soon as he has had his vaccines. Kees are smart dogs, who pick up commands and tricks quickly, they excel at obedience, agility, and rally. If you notice him spinning around in circles, or displaying other destructive behaviour such as excessive barking, he needs to expend some mental and physical energy. During the summer, it is best you keep him inside air-conditioned premises or near fans and let him refresh in a wading pool filled with cool water.