Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Keeshond

The national dog of the Netherlands, the Keeshond has a long history as a companion dog, bred and selected to live in close confines with its owners on barges. Though it also served as a guard dog, and still has a mighty bark when aroused, this is a gentle and sociable breed that gets along with everybody it meets. It is an ideal family pet, being tolerant of children of all ages and adaptable enough to fit in with most lifestyles. Its incredibly dense silver and black coat protects it from both cold and heat, and is surprisingly easy to care for. This coat, as well as the thick, curled tail are characteristics of the Spitz family to which this breed belongs.

The Keeshond is an extremely clever dog, and most owners will find training to be easy and rewarding. In addition, because of the breed’s history and traditional living conditions, it can happily lead a relatively sedentary life, so is suited to apartment living. Although most individual Keeshonds are healthy, there are quite a few health problems associated with the breed, and prospective owners should always research the family history when considering choosing from a litter of puppies. Healthy Keeshonds have a life expectancy of 12–14 years.

About & History

Once known as the German Spitz, the Keeshond was kept on board many of the barges travelling the River Rhine across Germany and Holland in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but it remained under the radar of many non-boating folk throughout this time. However, the breed exploded into popularity with the successful dethroning of the Prince of Orange by the Dutch Patriots’ Party in the mid-eighteenth century. The leader of the Patriots, Cornelius de Gyselaer, had a favourite dog that was his constant companion. This dog was named Kees, and he and his descendants became symbols of Dutch Nationalism. Unfortunately, this popularity did not last, for when the Royalists returned to power in 1787, the Keeshond became synonymous with failure, with the result that many dogs were abandoned or otherwise disposed of.

For over a century thereafter, the breed was stewarded by a small band of devotees, until a lady by the name of Miss Hamilton-Fletcher brought a breeding pair to England in 1905. Through an intensive breeding programme and enthusiastic promotion, she and a colleague formed the first breed club in 1926, at which point the erstwhile “German Spitz” was renamed the Keeshond. By this time, interest in these dogs had been rekindled in their homeland, and the Dutch breed club was established soon after. As a Spitz, the Keeshond is related to the Chow Chow, the Norwegian Elkhound, and the Finnish Spitz, amongst others, but it is difficult to ascertain when it was first developed as a breed in its own right.


Keeshond Large Photo

The Keeshond is a striking-looking dog of sturdy build. It gives the impression of great bulk because of its dense hair that stands directly upright and forms a thick ruff around the neck. It has an intelligent, expressive face that relies heavily on dark “spectacle” markings around the almond-shaped eyes for its appearance, and the triangular prick ears enhance its alert and energetic demeanour. The skull is wedge-shaped, with a solid muzzle and a distinct stop. The lips are clean, and should be darkly pigmented.

The neck and back are compact and solid, and the topline should be level to the point of the rump, where it slopes gently to the tail base. The chest is reasonably deep and barrel-shaped, and the abdomen has a subtle tuck. The characteristic tail is thick, reasonably long, and well-feathered. The base sits high on the spine and is held tightly curled over the back. The limbs are sturdy, and very upright, particularly the forelimbs, which show virtually no angulation.

The double coat is made up of an outer layer of long, straight hair that stands out from the soft, dense undercoat. Its character varies slightly between different areas, with the head featuring softer, smooth hair that is often likened to velvet. The ruff around the neck and behind the head resembles a lion’s mane and is more pronounced in males, and the hair on the limbs is generally shorter than elsewhere, although so-called “trousers” are seen at the backs of the legs. The hair is a mixture of silver, black, and cream of varying shades. The spectacles mentioned above are a strict requirement of the breed standard, and are a darker colour, as is the hair on the muzzle.

Male Keeshonds are around 44 to 48 cm (17–19 in) in height, and weigh 18–20 kg (40–44 lb), while females stand 40 to 46 cm (16–18 in) tall, and range between 15 and 17 kg (33–37 lb) in weight.

Character & Temperament

Keeshonds are playful, happy dogs that become extremely attached to their people, who they greet with great enthusiasm after short periods of separation. Longer spells of isolation are extremely distressing to this human-centric breed, which should always be kept indoors at the heart of family life, and included in all activities. It is a dog that is always eager to please, and will usually be seen with its neck craned upwards to watch its owner’s facial expression for feedback on its behaviour.

As a dog that was once expected to guard its owner’s barge, it does a good job of raising the alarm when appropriate, but this is not an aggressive breed, and it is very unlikely to follow a bark with anything more intimidating. Persistent barking and destructive behaviour are common consequences of separation anxiety.


Photo of Keeshond puppy

Stanley Coren’s book The Intelligence of Dogs is the standard reference for anyone wishing to compare the various pedigrees, and in it the Keeshond is ranked an impressive 16th of 71 breeds.

Coupled with its desire to please its owner, this makes it one of the easiest dogs to train to a high standard, and it particularly enjoys the challenge and stimulation that activities, such as competitive agility provide.


Though Keeshonds are generally healthy dogs, the breed is unfortunately susceptible to a number of health problems, and breeders should be quizzed carefully on their health records before one commits to buying a pup.


The breed is prone to three distinct types of cataract, all resulting in some degree of visual impairment in affected young adult dogs.

Cardiac Disorders

All Keeshond pups should come with certificates of veterinary examination, as the breed is predisposed to several congenital heart disorders. It is at six times greater risk of patent ductus arteriosus, in which an embryonic blood vessel persists after birth and causes blood to bypass the lungs. In addition, septal defects (so-called “holes in the heart”), though uncommon, do occur. All of these malformations cause abnormal heart sounds that can be detected on careful veterinary examination.

Diabetes Mellitus

Insulin deficiency causing weight loss, increased appetite, and increased thirst and urination. Especially common in elderly females, who may become dependent on twice-daily insulin injections to manage their blood sugar levels.


Sometimes passed down along family lines. Seizure activity may first be observed in dogs between six months and five years of age.


Increased pressure within the eye due to an imbalance between ocular fluid production and drainage. Causes pain and loss of vision in older dogs.

Growth Hormone-Responsive Dermatosis

Hormone deficiency causing marked hair loss and skin pigmentation.


An unusual skin tumour to which male Keeshonds are predisposed.

Nasal Cavity Tumours

Occur in older dogs and may cause signs, such as sneezing, head shaking, and nasal discharge.

Primary Hyperparathyroidism

Very uncommon in other breeds, but seen in the Keeshond. A functional benign tumour of a tiny gland in the neck responsible for regulating blood calcium levels. Excess thirst, depression, muscular tremors, and seizures may be seen as symptoms of this condition.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Keeshonds are not overly enthusiastic athletes, and are usually content with around 30-minutes of walking each day. However, unless the weather is exceptionally warm, they should be capable of doing quite a bit more, though they are not suitable jogging companions, as the heavy coat makes them prone to overheating.


Though spectacularly thick, the double coat is quite easy to maintain. Brushing once or twice a week is enough for most of the year, although the heavy moults of spring and autumn may require more frequent attention. The coat is also remarkably resistant to dirt and odour, meaning it rarely needs washing – around once every three months should be enough for most dogs.

Famous Keeshonds

Kees, the dog belonging to Cornelius de Gyselaer of the Dutch Patriots, was the first celebrity within the breed, and his image was used to represent empowerment of the peasant masses for many years. Laura Marano, star of children’s television, is a fan of the breed, and currently owns a female named Velvet.


The breed is used to create some adorable fluffy hybrids, including the following:

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