The keeshond is a square-proportioned, sturdy dog of Northern type. It is an all-purpose dog, a generalist rather than a specialist, and its build reflects this. The gait of the keeshond is distinctive: clean, bold and brisk, with only slight to moderate reach and drive. It has a long straight harsh outer coat standing off from its body, a good mane and a thick downy undercoat — all imparting superb insulation from cold and damp.

The keeshond combines many traits of the best house dogs: fairly energetic and playful, very attentive and loving, and ready for adventure yet content to take it easy. It is sensitive and learns readily. It makes a good companion for a child or adult. It is friendly to all but, nonetheless, an alert watchdog.

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The keeshond (plural: keeshonden) is one of the family of spitz dogs, although its exact origin is undocumented. It seems to have been well-established in Holland at least since the 18th century as a companion and watchdog.

The breed later became known as the barge dog because it was often kept as a watchdog on the small vessels navigating the Rhine River. By a stroke of fate, the breed became entangled in the political events of Holland in the years preceding the French Revolution. The leader of the patriot faction was a man named Kees de Gyselaer, who in turn owned a barge dog named Kees. The dog Kees appeared in so many political cartoons that he and his breed – a dog of the people – became the symbol of the patriots. Unfortunately for the keeshond, the patriots did not prevail, and many keeshond owners disposed of their dogs lest they be identified with the losing party.

To make things worse for the keeshond, the barges that floated the Rhine became larger, and the small keeshond became less favored as a barge dog. Nonetheless, the breed did survive, although with a low profile, through the efforts of a few loyal river boatmen and farmers.

In 1920, Baroness van Hardenbroek began an effort to rescue the surviving members. She was so successful at winning friends for the breed that the keeshond was in England by 1925. AKC recognition soon followed in 1930. So much did the keeshond recover in its native land that it is now the national dog of Holland.

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This is a lively breed that can have its exercise needs met with moderate exercise. A good walk on leash, combined with a vigorous game, can satisfy its needs. It can live outside in temperate or cool climates, but it is such a sociable dog that it prefers to share its life with its family. The double coat needs brushing once or twice weekly, and more when shedding.

  • Major concerns: none
  • Minor concerns: CHD, epilepsy, skin problems
  • Occasionally seen: renal cortical hypoplasia, tetralogy of Fallot, mitral valve insufficiency
  • Suggested tests: hip, (cardiac)
  • Life span: 12 – 14 years


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