Keeshond dog
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The Keeshond is a very beautiful dog, but underneath that fabulous mane they have an incredible brain. The breed scored 16th out of 132 different dog breeds in Dr. Stanley Coren’s experiment in dog intelligence and they have a regular presence in competitive agility and obedience events.

Above all else, the Keeshond was bred to be a companion. They originated in Germany as the German Spitz or Wolfspitz until the name was officially changed in 1926 to Keeshond. They are also referred to as the Smiling Dutchman due to their friendly manners.

Breed characteristics

Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHighest
Exercise NeedsHigh

Dog breed group: Companion dogs.
Height:16-19 inches tall at the shoulders.
Weight:34-45 lb.
Life span:12-15 years.

The breed was extensively used as watchdogs and companions on the boats that travelled the rivers of Holland in the 17th and 18th centuries. Due to their heritage and history, they are to this day one of the most beloved breeds in Holland and are even considered as Holland’s national dog.

Even though they don’t need much exercise and find daily walks sufficient, the breed does require plenty of companionship and attention. Nothing will break their spirits more than being apart from their humans for extended periods of time! Apartment dwellers will find this breed a great choice due to their size and moderate energy levels.

They make great companions and get along great with children and other pets. The breed is generally well-mannered and sweet tempered but they are very sensitive breed and don’t do well in homes where tension and stress levels are high. They also don’t respond well to harsh training or treatment.

Their sensitivity and love of people makes the breed prone to separation anxiety which is why crate training is highly recommended. If left unattended for long periods of time and not given the attention and love they crave and deserve, the beautiful breed may develop some destructive habits such as excessive barking and chewing on your prized possessions.

Many Keeshonds are used as therapy and comfort dogs in schools and hospitals. Some were also trained as guide dogs.

Keep in mind: They shed year round and blow their coat 1-2 times a year. People who are not prepared to deal with copious amounts of hair everywhere, or people with asthma and allergies might want to consider a different, less hairy breed.

According to AKC, they are ranked as the 85th most popular breed.

Main Highlights
  • Has been known as the German Spitz and Wolfspitz in Germany and Dutch Barge Dog in England before their present name was adopted in 1926.
  • The breed is very intuitive and sensitive which is why they are extensively used as comfort dogs. For instance, one Keeshond dog, named Tikva, has been present at Ground Zero on 9/11 to offer comfort and support to search and rescue workers.
  • The breed is very people oriented and can be very clingy and attached to their humans.
  • Has the tendency to spin around in circles when excited.
  • The Keeshond is Holland’s national dog.
  • They can be excessive barkers when bored or unhappy.
  • The breed prefers the colder temperatures due to their lush double coat.
  • The Keeshonds have a typical Spitz appearance and strongly resemble the Samoyed.
  • They are prone to separation anxiety due to their sensitivity and deep love of people.
  • The breed makes a poor choice for a guard dog since they love everybody and anything, although they will alert their families to newcomers.
Breed History

The Keeshond breed originated in Germany and was specifically bred to be a loyal companion with a sweet and friendly nature. They are closely related to the other Spitz breeds such as the Chow, Norwegian Elk-hound, Pomeranian, Samoyed, and the Finnish Spitz. Actually, in the end, they bear a strong resemblance to the Samoyed.

They were used on the barges in Holland in the 17th and 18th centuries and became one of Holland’s favourite breeds when they became a symbol of the rebel party during a time of political unrest in Holland. The leader of the rebel party had a Keeshond which became the mascot. Sadly, their popularity plummeted after the rebels were overthrown.

The breed was introduced in England in 1905 and quickly became a favourite. The Keeshonds were introduced in the United States in 1929 by Carl Hinderer. In 1920, their popularity in Europe drastically declined and it was resurrected shortly after thanks to the Baroness Van Hardenbroek who has been an avid fan of the Keeshond and worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the breed.

To this date, they are still one of Holland’s favourite breeds, and remain a loyal and devoted companion.


The lively breed measures at 16-19 inches tall at the shoulder, and weighs in at 34-45 lb. The females are usually smaller than the males.

Personality and Character

The Keeshond breed makes a very friendly and loyal companion to anyone who will have them. What essentially makes them a poor choice for a guard dog is actually the number one reason the breed is so popular – their overall friendliness.

They love their people unconditionally and absolutely need to be involved in their families’ lives. If you’re not willing or able to provide them with the attention and companionship they require, perhaps another breed is a more suitable choice for you. This is not the breed that is content spending their days in the yard or in a crate. Although, with proper socialization they will tolerate it if needed, they still need plenty of interaction with their humans as they are very people oriented.

They love everybody and everything. Although not a backyard dog, they make a good watch dog and will alert their families of strangers. The breed is on the vocal side and can develop excessive barking habits if bored or unhappy. They will need to be taught that some things shouldn’t be barked at, especially if they reside in an apartment.

The breed requires moderate exercise and is be satisfied by daily walks. Their energy levels and size makes them suitable for apartment living but most dogs’ ideal living conditions are a home with a fenced yard where they can run around and vent their energy.

The Keeshonds are an extremely sensitive breed and do well in peaceful and quiet homes. They are very intuitive and attentive to their handler’s needs which makes them very easy to train. Even more, due to their emotional intelligence, many Keeshonds are used as therapy dogs and even guide dogs. Their small frame is the only reason why the breed is not used as guide dogs.

Health and Potential Problems

The keeshond breed is usually a healthy and sturdy breed. Unfortunately, their popularity left them vulnerable to irresponsible breeding which left them exposed to health problems and temperament issues. You should never buy a puppy from a puppy mill and you must always make sure that the shelter or breeder is reputable. Reputable shelters and breeders usually make sure the puppy or the dog has received a clean bill of health from the vet.

  • Hip Dysplasia: Common health issue in dogs. It occurs when the femur doesn’t fit properly into the hip socket and may result in lameness and discomfort. It is usually managed with medication for pain and may be surgically corrected in severe cases.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy: An eye disorder that causes a slow deterioration of the retina and may cause limited vision or blindness.
  • Diabetes: A disorder that is found in both humans and dogs and is caused by the body’s inability to maintain proper blood sugar levels. Symptoms may include weight loss, increased apatite, excessive thirst and urination. It is typically managed by administration of insulin as well as dietary adjustments.
  • Addison’s Disease: A potentially life threatening disorder that is caused by low production of adrenal hormones. Early symptoms include vomiting, lethargy, and loss of appetite. Severe symptoms may develop when the dog’s potassium levels are high enough to damage heart function or when the dog is stressed.
  • Allergies: A common condition in dogs and is usually treated with environmental adjustments, dietary changes and medications.
  • Epilepsy: A condition found in both humans and dogs, causing unpredictable seizures. The condition is managed with medications and the majority of dogs diagnosed with this condition live a happy and long lives.
  • Slipped stifles: A common problem among dogs, it occurs when the calf, knee cap and thigh bone are not properly aligned. The condition may cause lameness and discomfort and is treated with medication and surgery in severe cases.
  • Cataracts: An eye disorder that usually develops in older dogs and causes opacity on the eye lens. The condition can be surgically corrected.
  • Hypothyroidism: A condition that is caused by the body’s inability to regulate and maintain proper levels of thyroid hormones. Symptoms may include obesity and hair loss. The condition is usually treated with medication and regulated diet.
  • Von Willebrand’s disease: A disorder that is found in both humans and dogs, it interferes with the clotting process. Symptoms may include blood in stool, bleeding gums and nosebleeds.

With proper diet, plenty of exercise and regular pet visits your loyal companion will remain by your side for years to come.

Care Features

As with all other breeds, Keeshonds need to be socialized as soon as possible to grow up to be a well-rounded dog. They have the potential to grow up to be timid and shy which is why you must introduce the puppy to different people, kids, animals, various scenarios, and multiple different environments. Puppy kindergarten is highly recommended to introduce your puppy to the big world under professional guidance. Not only does it serve your dog in becoming a well-rounded adult but participating in puppy kindergarten will also deepen the bond between you two.

They only require moderate exercise but they need plenty of human interaction and attention. They need to be involved in their families’ day-to-day activities. The Keeshonds have a tendency of following their humans from room to room and cling to them so be prepared to having a shadow following you around at all waking hours.

The Keeshonds are very easy to train as they are extremely intelligent and eager to please. They don’t respond well to harsh training or treatment which should be avoided at all costs. It would be highly recommended getting them involved in agility and obedience competitions as well as conformation and rally events. In addition to getting their busy brains to work, it will also strengthen the bond between you. It is a great socialization tool as well — the events expose your Keeshonds to a variety of different people and dogs, as well as noise levels.

The breed is a good choice for the inexperienced and novice handler, however they can be a little mischievous, stubborn and manipulative and do better with a firm and consistent pack leader that can set boundaries and follow them. They usually only need gentle corrections and loving guidance. The breed responds very well to positive reinforcement in the form of treats, praise and kind words.

The Keeshond breed is prone to separation anxiety, being as sensitive and people oriented as they are. Crate training is highly recommended for this breed as it will help reassure them that even though they are away from their owner, the owner will always come back. Crate training also helps with house training and provides the dog with their personal spot to retire to when tired or wanting space.

Feeding Schedule

The Keeshond breed requires 1-2 cups of high quality dog food a day, divided into 2 meals. Of course, each dog’s nutritional needs are different depending on their size, age, and activity levels.

Dogs will benefit from a high quality, grain and filler free, rich in meat protein, quality dog food. The higher nutritional value of the food, the less they require. Proper nutrition, that fits the individual dog’s needs, will go a long way in ensuring the health and happiness of your companion.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The keeshond has a double coat that makes them more suitable for cold climates. The undercoat is thick and woolly while the outer-coat is straight, long and harsh. The most common colors are cream, black, and grey.

Surprisingly, the plush coat is not very difficult to maintain and groom. They need weekly brushing, at least twice a week to keep the coat from tangling and matting. The coat repels dirt and water so bathing is only necessary if they got into something especially nasty.

Although it might be tempting to shave the coat in the hot summer days, it is not recommended as the coat provides insulation from both extreme hot and cold climates. Providing shade, plenty of water and perhaps a doggy pool, is more favorable.

The breed sheds year around, and sheds heavily 1-2 times a year so you should make sure your vacuum is up for the challenge.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

Children will find a loyal and playful companion in the Keeshond. Their intuitive nature and sensitivity makes them an excellent four-legged friend to the kids. As with all other breeds, play time between dogs and children should be supervised by an adult at all times. Children should be taught respect for animals. Any ear or tail pulling should be discouraged immediately.

The Keeshonds are very well mannered with other dogs and animals as long as they have been properly socialized. In general, the breed doesn’t have a mean or aggressive bone in their body as they have been bred to be companions. However, their temperament also depends on their breeders, environment, socialization or lack of it, training and the handler.

If you are looking for a devoted and loyal companion to share your life with, the Keeshond is the breed for you. As long as you supply them with plenty of attention and love that is. They thrive on human contact and can become very unhappy and offended if they are kept away from their families for extended periods of time.

They don’t require much exercise and are happy with daily walks which makes them a good choice for apartment dwellers. However, like most other breeds, they enjoy a good romp in a fenced yard.

The Keeshonds are a very intelligent and sensitive breed. They seem to know what their owner wants or needs from them and are very eager to please. They make good companions to children and are friendly and well- mannered towards other dogs, cats and other animals. So, if a Keeshond puppy or dog has their eye on you, consider yourself lucky as you gained a devoted and loyal friend for many years to come.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.