Keeshond: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

An adult Keeshond sitting outdoors.

Daniela Duncan / Moment / Getty Images

Referred to as the "Dutch Barge Dog," the Keeshond is a medium-sized dog that was originally bred to watch over the barges traveling along Holland's many canals and rivers. Today, you're more likely to find a Keeshond (pronounced KAYZ-hawnd) cuddled up on the couch, rather than guarding a river or canal barge, but there's no doubt that modern Keeshonds have retained their ancestors' watchful eyes—which often have black, eyeglasses-like markings—and their loud, stern barks.

Their barks aren't the only big thing about Keeshonds, either. Keeshonds are well-known for their dense, long, fluffy coats that comprise of three layers: a thick double top coat, a wooly undercoat, and a long outer coat. Despite their layers upon layers of hair, Keeshonds are surprisingly low-maintenance in terms of grooming.

Despite their loud barks and excellent watchdog skills, Keeshonds are extremely loving, loyal dogs that form close bonds with their people, and get along with kids, other pets, and strangers, alike. In fact, Keeshonds are so friendly to strangers, they're not recommended as actual guard dogs—though their bark may scare away potential intruders.

Keeshonds are ideal for families that are home often—if left alone for too long, they've been known to bark incessantly, or even become destructive. Keeshonds are suitable for first-time dog owners, as they're extremely intelligent and relatively easy to train, as well as people living in apartments or smaller spaces. Because the Keeshond was bred to live on small barges, they can thrive living in a variety of spaces—from a small apartment, to a large house.

Breed Overview

Group: Non-Sporting Group

Height: 18 inches (male) and 17 inches (female)

Weight: 35 to 45 pounds

Coat: Very thick with a double top coat, wooly undercoat, and long outer coat

Coat Color: Comes in cream, black, and gray color variations; black, glasses-shaped markings around their eyes

Life expectancy: 12 to 15 years

Characteristics of the Keeshond

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness Medium
Energy Level Medium
Trainability High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark High
Amount of Shedding High

History of the Keeshond

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Keeshonds were popular picks as companions to—and watchdogs for—barge operators, hence the nickname "Dutch Barge Dog." Their loud, stern barks kept potential thieves away from the barges' cargo.

A close cousin to Samoyeds, Chows, and Pomeranians, the Keeshond later became somewhat of a mascot to Holland during several years of intense political unrest. During this time, Holland was divided into two distinct parties: followers of the Prince of Orange and patriots. The leader of the patriots kept a Keeshond as his companion, and members of the patriot group eventually became known as Keezen by their political opposition. Eventually, the Keeshond became the symbol of the rebel patriot party, and in turn, became popular among non-royal people living in Holland.

After the followers of the Prince of Orange overthrew the patriot party, Keeshonds fell out of popular, as many people believed they represented a lost cause. For this reason, sadly, many Keeshond were killed. A few remaining dogs lived on Diutch farms and continued to ride the rivers and canals with barge operators.

In 1905, the breed was rediscovered by a woman named Miss Hamilton-Fletcher. While on a trip in Holland, she convinced her parents to bring two puppies home to England—and those dogs became the foundation for the breed outside of Holland. When Hamilton-Fletcher discovered that some Keeshonds were still living on Dutch farms or barges, she worked with their owners to propagate the breed. After only 10 years, enough Keeshonds had been bred to form the Dutch Keeshond Club.

The first American litter of Keeshonds was born in 1921. Only a few years later, in 1930, the first Keeshond was registered with the American Kennel Club.

A Keeshond puppy
Daniela Duncan / Moment / Getty Images

Keeshond Care

Don't let the Keeshonds dense, fluffy coat fool you—they're actually fairly low-maintenance to groom. In order to avoid matting and tangles, be sure to brush your Keeshond at least two times per week. It's important to note that the Keeshond has two major shedding periods each year in which the entire undercoat is shed at once. This shedding period can last for up to three weeks. Plan to bathe your Keeshond approximately every three months.

Keeshonds aren't very tolerant of heat, but you should never shave your Keeshond in the summer. It may seem counterintuitive, but the Keeshond's thick coat actually acts as insulation against warm temperatures. Plus, shaving your Keeshond's coat can make him more susceptible to developing sunburns or even skin cancer.

Aside from regular grooming, it's important to examine your Keeshond's ears each week. If your dog has build-up or debris in her ears, gently clean it with a soft, cotton pad. Avoid cotton swabs, as they can damage the delicate, inner-ear structures. If your dog's ears are red, swollen, or smell funny, contact your vet immediately—these can be signs of an ear infection.

Like all breeds, it's important to brush your Keeshond's teeth regularly to reduce her risk of oral disease and plaque build-up. Daily brushing is ideal, but brushing a few times each week can offer some protection, too.

Thanks to their history as barge dogs, Keeshonds can thrive in very small spaces—and don't have very high exercise needs. Several walks or one longer, more vigorous walk each day will keep your Keeshond exercised, healthy, and happy. Because Keeshonds are highly intelligent, they excel agility courses, puzzles, and other games that challenge their mind.

As previously mentioned, Keeshonds don't like to be left alone. If your family is out of the home often, you may want to consider another breed. Keeshonds have been known to bark endlessly when left alone.

Common Health Problems

Although Keeshonds are generally healthy dogs, they may be susceptible to certain health conditions. There's no guarantee your dog will (or won't) develop these conditions, but it's important to know the signs, should they arise in your pet.

Some health problems that are commonly seen in Keeshonds include:

Hip dysplasia: A hereditary condition that affects the hip joints, hip dysplasia is seen in all breeds. If your dog begins to exhibit weakness, lameness, or pain in his hips, talk to your vet immediately.

Patellar luxation: Common in small dogs, this condition is characterized by the knee cap moving in and out of place. It can result in severe pain, but many dogs can live long, happy lives with the proper care.

Cataracts: Like humans, many dogs develop cataracts as they age. Dogs with cataracts may have blurry or cloudy vision, but in some cases, can be treated with surgery.

Diet and Nutrition

Your dog's diet depends largely on its age, sex, activity levels, and metabolism, but you can expect to feed your Keeshond one to two cups of high quality dog food divided into two meals each day.

It's important to follow your dog food's feeding guide, as overfeeding can result in dangerous health conditions like canine obesity, heart disease, or diabetes. If you're unsure how much to feed your Keeshond, your veterinarian can help develop a healthy diet plan.

Pros

  • Extremely loving and loyal to family members

  • Friendly with children, pets, and strangers

  • Low-maintenance in terms of grooming and exercise, and can thrive in small spaces

Cons

  • Experiences intense periods of shedding two times per year

  • Has a tendency bark loudly—and often

  • Needs a lot of attention from family members, and can become destructive when bored

Where to Adopt or Buy a Keeshond

It many be difficult to find a Keeshond at your local shelter, so check out rescue groups in your area. Websites like Petfinder make it easy to search for adoptable pets by breed, too.

If you decide to purchase a Keeshond from a breeder, it's vital to do your research and ensure they're ethical, reputable, and moral. If possible, visit the breeding site and ask to meet the litter's parents. Be on the lookout for signs of backyard breeding, like unhealthy dogs or unsanitary conditions.

More Breeds and Further Research

The Keeshond is an excellent choice for families, apartment dwellers, and first-time dog owners, alike. Their low grooming and exercise needs, as well as their intelligence and ease of training, make them all-around low-maintenance dogs.

If you're interested in learning about breeds similar to the Keeshond, check out: