The Keeshond is quite distinctive with its grey coat tipped with black and 'spectacles' around its eyes. Originally called the German Wolfsspitz, when they arrived in England around 1900, they were called 'Dutch Barge Dogs'. This was because they guarded the gangway of the numerous barges of Holland while their masters went ashore. Re-named the Keeshond by the Kennel Club (UK), today their medium size and excellence as watch dogs makes them a suitable adjunct to the modern household.
The Breed named after a Political Party
1780's goblet engraved with a Political Statement from the 'Dutch Patriot Party'.
The name 'Keeshond' dates back to 1781 with the uprising of the 'Dutch Patriot Party' which divided Holland into two political factions.The 'orangists' supported the Prince of Orange as the governor of the Netherlands, while followers of the opposition 'Dutch Patriot Party' were called 'Keezen'. The political statement made by the etching on the goblet (pictured on the left) represents the Keezen people's dog lifting its leg in contempt of the "orangists' who are represented on the goblet by the orange tree!
Black Wolfsspitz c 1870
The name 'Keezen' arose for two reasons. Firstly the Dutch Patriot Party's leader's name was Cornelius, a name which had the nickname 'Kees'. Secondly, 'Hond' means dog in Dutch. As the leader always had his dog by his side, his dog became known as his 'Keeshond'. Interestingly, their opposition 'The House of Orange' was also characterised by a different dog, the Pug.
History of the Keeshond
Black Wolfsspitz c 1920
Integral to Keeshond's beginnings was the 'German Wolfsspitz' which came in a variety of colours, the most popular of which were white, black and wolf-grey. They also came in orange, red and parti-colours. But the British concentrated on the smaller wolf-grey variety from the southern provinces of Holland where they were commonly seen guarding the gangway of barges while their master went ashore. Hence the name 'Dutch Barge Dogs'.
White Wolfsspitz c 1879
Meanwhile in Germany in 1899, breeders formed the German Spitz Club. They published their first Stud Book in 1913. Over 1,000 large and small German Spitz were listed as being whelped between 1891 and 1898. Of the 699 large Spitz variety 247 were white, 222 were black, 221 wolf-grey, 8 orange or red and just 1 was parti-coloured[1a]. The size of the Wolfsspitz was 45 cm or more, and the wolf-grey colour was described as '... silver grey with blackish shadings on the individual tips of the hair; the colour lighter on the muzzle, around the eyes, on the legs, the belly and on the tail' .
The Keeshond become a Pure Breed in the UK
Mrs Wingfield Digby c 1935
Keeshonden (plural for Keeshond) were first brought into England in 1905 by Mrs Wingfield Digby, purchased from the people who worked the barges on the Dutch canals. In England they were first regarded as overweight Pomeranians. But after World War One, they were registered with the Kennel Club (UK) as 'Dutch Barge Dogs'. In 1925 the first Specialist Club was formed and in 1926 the Kennel Club (UK) changed their name to Keeshond with Challenge Certificates being awarded from 1928.
'Ada' imported 1929
By 1929 these original Dutch importations were followed by more German Wolfsspitz. Of particular note was a son and daughter of 'Ada von Thierlstein' (pictured) who also whelped a litter in quarantine. These were owned by Alice Gatacre. She became embroiled in the controversy about colour resulting in the elimination of all black, white and parti-coloured German Wolfsspitz. By the 1930's, the grey variety we know today had become the only colour recognised by the English Specialist (Keeshond) Club[2a].
History of the Keeshond in Australia
Ch Kendari Curacao
Keeshonden had their beginnings when in 1949 when Mrs Bourne migrated to NSW from UK bringing 4 Keehonds with her. These were Ch Airking of Arnheim, Ch Valies of Vorden, Airamber of Amhein and Babettte of Willowen which, when bred under the 'Arnhem' prefix, formed the basis of Keeshonden in Australia. One of the early enthusiasts in Victoria was Mr Ken Pierce and his wife Betty. Ken became one of our post-war 'trained' all-breeds judges.
But it was Mrs Ruth Taylor who really brought Australia's Keeshonden to the fore. She imported Ch Ensign of Duyora from UK, an exquisite example of the breed who, bred with several of her imported, carefully selected bitches, marked the 'Kendari' prefix indelibly on the breed. Pictured is 'Ch Kendari Curacao', the first Keeshond to win the Non-Sporting Group at any Australian Royal which he accomplished at the 1985 Royal Adelaide Show'.
The Keeshond Today
The Keeshond is a typical Spitz breed with a fox-like head, an alert expression and a short, compact body. The male stands 46 cms (18 ins) with bitch's height at shoulder is slightly less at 43 cms (17 ins). But his coat, which is a mixture of a grey and black top coat with a pale grey undercoat, that makes him so distinctive.
The dark, medium sized, almond-shaped eyes are obliquely set. Well defined 'spectacles' around the eyes are characterised by a delicately pencilled black line slanting from outer corner of eye to lower corner of ear. This is coupled with distinct lighter shadings around the eyes themselves, forms the unique expression that typifies the Keeshond. The small ivy-leaf shaped dark ears should always be pricked and velvety in texture. They should be rather high set on skull, completing the fox-like head.
The neck is moderately long and arched, and covered with thick, profuse coat forming large ruff. The shoulders well laid and looking straight on to the dog, the front legs are straight and of medium width apart, with good bone.The round, well padded, cat-like tight feet should be cream in colour, with black nails. The brisket has good depth and the ribs are well sprung. The body is short and compact, with the length from withers to tail equal to height at withers.
The hindquarters are well muscled and the hind legs straight when viewed from the rear of the dog. The hocks only show show slight angulation when viewed from side, but not straight or stilted like the Chow Chow. That is why the Breed Standard asks for a clean, brisk, sharp but straight movement. The tail is moderately long, high set and tightly curled over back with a double curl highly desirable. It should be carried close to the back at all times.
Coat and Colour
The Keeshond has a profuse double coat consisting of an outer coat and an undercoat. The outer coat should be harsh, straight and off standing. It should never be silky, wavy or woolly, nor should it form a parting down the back.
The light coloured ruff is particularly dense and the shoulder markings well defined. The feathering on the forelegs and trousers is also dense and light coloured but should not extend below the hock. The plume of the tail is light on top where it is curled, with black tip.
Coat showing black tipping
The outer body coat should be a mixture of black and grey in any shade. The black tipping on each individual hair is around two inches long.The undercoat should be soft, thick, and a very pale grey or cream, but never tawny. The forelegs and hocks should be cream with no black below the wrist or hock, except for pencilling.
The breed standard states 'any shortening of the coat which alters the (dog's) natural outline should be penalized'.
There are two reasons why this breed should not be trimmed:
- Removal of the black tipping on the individual black hairs compromises the distinctive colour pattern of the Keeshond.
- Trimming alters the natural outline of a Keeshond compromising its breed type by making it look more like the Pomeranian pictured.
References and Further Reading
 Clementine Peterson, 'The Complete Keeshond' Published by Howell Book House Inc New York 10022, 1971 ISBN 0-87605-174-3 Chapter 3, 'Early History of the Keeshond Pages 13 and 37 - 38.
[1a] ibid., Page 35
 Mrs Gatacre, 'Hutchinson's Dog Encyclopedia' Edited by Walter Hutchinson, published by Hutchinson & Co (Publishers) LTD., London Part 28, German Spitz Page 747
[2a] ibid., Pages 1044 - 1046
 Alice Gatacre, 'The Keeshond' Published by London Country Life Ltd 1938 'the History of the Keeshond in England' Page 35 - 36