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Get to Know the Keeshond: The "Smiling Dutchman" With a Name Rooted in Politics

Once the emblem of Dutch Patriots who fought the House of Orange in the late 1700s, the Keeshond is now known more for his smile.

 |  Sep 2nd 2014  |   1 Contribution


It's pronounced KAYZ-hond. And plural is Keeshonden (KAYZ-hond-en). But if you walk one down the street, expect to be asked if it's almost anything else anyway. A Husky? No. A wolf? Not really. A Spitz? Well, actually, yes!

The Keeshond is a member of the Spitz family, a group of dogs originating in the Northern to Arctic regions who have in common a thick, double, stand-off coat, small erect ears, and usually a curled tail carried high and over or to the side of the back. More specifically, it is a type of German Spitz, which encompasses breeds separated by color and size, from the small Pomeranian to the large Wolfspitz, or Keeshond.

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Keeshonden have incredibly thick double coats. Keeshond by Shutterstock

  • The Keeshond is often confused with the Norwegian Elkhound, but the Keeshond has longer hair with a more plush coat. He may also be confused with the Samoyed or American Eskimo Dog, but those breeds only come in white, whereas the Keeshond only comes in gray.
  • The Keeshond was established in Holland as a watchdog and companion at least by the 18th century.
  • The dog later became known as the barge dog because he was used as a watchdog on barges that travelled the Rhine. He is a good barker!

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Keeshond and woman by Shutterstock

  • The breed gets its name from a man named Cornelius "Kees" de Gyselaer, who led the Dutch Patriots against the House of Orange in the late 1700s. His barge dog appeared in many political cartoons alongside him and was adopted as the emblem of the revolution, soon becoming known as the Keeshond ("hond" meaning "dog").
  • When the Patriot party lost, many Keeshond owners disposed of their dogs as they feared being associated with the revolution. The breed almost disappeared. However, several remained as barge dogs.
  • The breed was officially called the Wolfspitz in the 1800s. By 1901 the German standard specified the requisite "silver gray tipped with black" coloring.
  • In the 1920s, the Baroness van Hardenbroeck became interested in the breed and helped to rejuvenate it. The dogs were shown briefly as Dutch Barge Dogs around 1925.

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Keeshonden only come in shades of gray. Keeshond in field by Shutterstock

  • In 1926, the breed was officially renamed the Keeshond.
  • The first Keeshonden came to America in 1923. Carl Hinderer, their owner, worked tirelessly to seek AKC recognition at a time when anything from Germany was not very popular in America. He finally won them over, and the Keeshond became an AKC breed in 1930.
  • The Keeshond is a member of the AKC Non-Sporting group.
  • It is the 86th most popular AKC breed, close to its 85th position a decade ago.

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Keeshond running by Shutterstock

  • The Keeshond is now the national dog of Holland.
  • The breed is often called "the smiling Dutchman."
  • Owners include Walt Disney, W.B. Yeats, and Princess Diana (as a young child).
  • Only one Keeshond has ever won the Non-Sporting group at the Westminster dog show, back in 1968.

Do you own a Keeshond? Have you spent time with one? Let's hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you'd like us to write about, let us know that, too!

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron's Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier

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