Referred to as the Dutch Barge Dog, the Keeshond is a medium breed from the Netherlands with pointed ears, a double coat, and a tightly-curled tail. While it was originally bred to watch over the barges traveling along Holland's many canals and rivers, you're more likely to find a Keeshond today cuddled up on the couch. Still, there is no doubt that modern Keeshonds have retained their ancestors' loud, stern barks and watchful eyes (which often have black markings that resemble eyeglasses).
The bark isn't the only distinguishing feature of Keeshonds. This breed is well-known for its dense, long, fluffy coats that comprise three layers: a thick double topcoat, a wooly undercoat, and a long outer coat. Even with layers upon layers of hair, Keeshonds are surprisingly low-maintenance in terms of grooming. They're also known as friendly companions despite their guarding instincts.
Group: Non-Sporting Group
Height: 18 inches (males); 17 inches (females)
Weight: 35 to 45 pounds
Coat: Very thick with a double topcoat, wooly undercoat, and long outer coat
Coat Color: Cream, black, and gray color combinations; black markings around the eyes
Life Span: 12 to 15 years
Temperament: Alert, bright, playful, loyal, lively, intelligent
Characteristics of the Keeshond
Despite their loud barks and excellent watchdog skills, Keeshonds have extremely loving, loyal personalities. They form close bonds with their people and get along with kids, other pets, and strangers alike. In fact, Keeshonds present such a friendly temperament to strangers that 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. 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.
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History of the Keeshond
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Keeshonds were popular picks as companions 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 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 popularity, as many people believed they represented a lost cause. For this reason, sadly, many Keeshond dogs were killed. A few remaining dogs lived on Dutch 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. 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 expand 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.
The Keeshond is a smart breed that thrives with basic training, moderate exercise, and plenty of time with its owners. Its thick coat only requires minimal grooming to stay soft and tangle-free.
Thanks to their history as barge dogs, Keeshonds can thrive in very small spaces and don't have high exercise needs. Several walks or one longer, more vigorous walk each day should suffice to keep your Keeshond healthy and happy. To exercise your dog's body and mind, activities like agility sports, puzzles, and indoor games are a great option for this intelligent breed.
Don't let the Keeshond's dense, fluffy coat fool you—they're actually fairly low-maintenance to groom. Brush Keeshonds at least two times per week to prevent matting and tangles, and bathe them about every three months. This breed has two major shedding periods every year to shed the entire undercoat at once. Each shedding period can last up to three weeks.
This breed isn't very tolerant of heat, but you should never shave your Keeshond in the summer. It may seem counterintuitive, but the thick coat actually acts as insulation against warm temperatures. Plus, shaving Keeshonds can make them more susceptible to sunburns or even skin cancer.
Like all breeds, it's important to brush your dog's teeth and check their ears each week. Clean debris in the ears with a soft cotton pad (avoid cotton swabs, which can damage the delicate inner ear). If your dog's ears become red, swollen, or have an unusual smell, contact your vet to determine if it's an infection. Brushing the teeth daily is ideal to prevent dental disease, but twice per week offers suitable protection.
Keeshonds are intelligent dogs that like to please their owners. This breed responds best to positive-reinforcement training methods and can begin basic obedience as early as eight weeks of age. Remember that these dogs were bred to live with barge operators, so they're meant to be alongside their owners. If your family is away from the home often, you may want to consider another breed. Keeshonds don't like to be left alone, and they're known to bark endlessly or become destructive when lonely and bored.
Common Health Problems
Although Keeshonds are generally healthy, they're susceptible to certain genetic health conditions like most purebred dogs. Some health problems commonly seen in Keeshonds include:
- Hip Dysplasia: Weakness, lameness, or pain in the hips are signs of this hereditary condition that is caused by a malformation in your dog's hip joints.
- Luxating Patella: 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 proper care.
- Cataracts: Like humans, many dogs develop cataracts as they age. Dogs with cataracts may have blurry or cloudy vision, but in severe cases, they can be treated with surgery.
Diet and Nutrition
The best diet for your dog depends largely on its age, activity level, and weight, but you can expect to feed your Keeshond one to two cups of high-quality dog food divided into two meals each day.
Overfeeding can result in health conditions like canine obesity, heart disease, or diabetes. Follow your dog food's recommendations for the proper portions by weight. If you're unsure how much to feed your Keeshond, your veterinarian can help you develop a healthy meal plan.
Where to Adopt or Buy a Keeshond
It may be difficult to find a Keeshond at your local shelter, but breed-specific rescues can help you find your next best friend. Many similar breeds in need of forever homes may be more readily available in your region, and adopting a rescue can be incredibly rewarding.
If you decide to purchase a Keeshond from a breeder, it's essential to do your research and ensure the breeder is ethical, reputable, and moral. Responsible breeders should provide medical history and allow prospective adopters to meet the litter's parents (along with showing their living conditions). Puppies typically cost between $1,500 and $2,000, but prices may be higher depending on availability and pedigree.
These resources for the national breed club and AKC breeders can help you start your search:
- Keeshond Club of America Breeder Listings
- Keeshond Club of America Rescue Organizations
- AKC Keeshond Breeders
Loving and loyal to family members
Low-maintenance and great for small spaces
Intense shedding twice per year
Tendency to bark loudly and often
Can be destructive when lonely or bored
More Breeds and Further Research
If you're interested in learning about breeds similar to the Keeshond, check out:
There are plenty of dog breeds out there that can join your family. With a little research, you can find the perfect match!
Is a Keeshond a Good Family Dog?
Keeshonds make excellent family dogs thanks to their friendly temperament, loyalty, and trainability. These dogs thrive when they spend plenty of time with their owners and are even suitable for apartment living, but they're not ideal for those that leave the house often.
Do Keeshonds Shed a Lot?
Are Keeshonds Rare?
The Keeshond is very desirable for many owners, but it's also a rare dog breed that can be hard to find. If you're interested in adopting a Keeshond, check out resources through the national breed club to find rescues and breeders in your region.
Is a Keeshond a Velcro Dog?
"Velcro dog" refers to a dog breed that is extremely attached to its owners and doesn't do well when left alone. The Keeshond can certainly fit this description, as it can develop separation anxiety or become destructive when lonely and bored.