The Keeshond is an ancient breed that originated in Holland. It descends from many of the same dogs that contributed to the Samoyed, Siberian Husky, Norwegian Elkhound, Finnish Spitz, Chow Chow and Pomeranian. The Keeshond’s ancestors reportedly arrived in Europe centuries ago, with travelers from the far North. During the 1400s and 1500s, they were favored by farmers for their instinctive watchdog and guarding capabilities, as well as for their gentle playfulness with and protectiveness of children.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Keeshonds were used extensively as jack-of-all-trade dogs on European farms, barges and riverboats. These lively silver-and-black dogs could easily jump from ship to shore. They barked vigorously at strangers and enjoyed watching over children. They also were skilled at herding livestock, killing rats and other vermin, guarding cargo and even guiding barges through foggy waters by swimming capably out in front of the boat. Keeshonds originally were called “Wolfspitzen” in Germany, “Chiens Loup” in France, “Lupini” in Italy and “Keeshonden” in Holland. Because of its immense popularity and historical prominence in Holland, the breed eventually became affectionately referred to as the “Dutch Keeshond.” While the Pug was the dog of choice for many Dutch aristocrats at that time, the Keeshond was especially favored by commoners.
The source of the Keeshond’s name is the subject of some controversy. One theory is that the breed was named for Cornelis “Kees” de Witt, who was murdered in the Netherlands in 1672 and apparently owned one of these dogs. After his death, according to proponents of this theory, the breed became known as the “Kees Dog,” or “Kees’ hund.” Another, more popular theory is that the Keeshond was named after the 18th-century Dutch revolutionary, Cornelis (“Kees”) de Gyselaer, who lived in Dordrecht. Holland was deeply divided politically during this time. “Kees” de Gyselaer was one of the leaders of the Dutch Patriots, or Patriotten, who supported Holland’s common and middle classes, and his dog became a symbol of political affiliation. When supporters of the Prince of Orange (called the “Prinsgezinden”) defeated the Dutch Patriot Party in 1787, the dog associated with the Patriots’ cause fell out of favor. Its numbers decreased dramatically, especially among members of the urban and upper classes who did not want to be seen with a “Kees’ hund.” Fortunately, some rural families retained their dogs and kept track of their pedigrees.
Starting in the 1800s, commercial transportation began to become modernized. Barges got bigger, and so did the breeds of dogs that were preferred to accompany them. Luckily, foreign dog fanciers discovered the Keeshond at about the same time. Around the turn of the 20th century, several women and one man aroused a great deal of interest in the Keeshond and are credited with bringing the breed to the attention of European, British and American dog fanciers.
In 1910, a dog enthusiast named Lady Gwendolyn Wingfield Digby, of Sherborne Castle in Dorset, discovered Keeshonds while on a yachting trip in Holland. She and Alice Gatacre, a Dutch Keeshond authority at the time living in Devon, began importing Keeshonds from Holland to their Van Zaandam and Guelder kennels in England. Another woman, Baroness Van Hardenbroeck, founded a Keeshond Club in the Netherlands around the same time, stimulating additional interest in the breed. Keeshonds were exhibited at the Birmingham National Dog Show in 1923, under the name “Dutch Barge Dog.” The British sometimes referred to these dogs as "fox-dogs" or "overweight Pomeranians." The Dutch Barge Dog Club was founded in England in 1925, to preserve and promote the breed. The club changed its name to the Keeshond Club one year later.
In 1923, Carl Hinderer relocated his Schloss Adelburg Kennel, and its Keeshonds, from Germany to the United States. Hinderer tried gallantly to persuade the American Kennel Club to recognize his favored breed. In 1930, he convinced then-AKC President, Dr. DeMond, to travel with him to Germany. Hinderer presented DeMond with his German Keeshond Champion, “Wachter.” Dr. DeMond was so impressed by this dog that he got the Keeshond admitted for full AKC registration status that same year, as a member of the Non-Sporting Group.
The first Keeshond was registered with The American Kennel Club in 1930, under the breed name "Keeshonden." The Keeshond Club of America, as it later was named, was founded in 1935 and soon became the Parent Club for the breed in this country. Keeshonds only gained slowly in popularity until the end of World War II, when their numbers - and their fans - started growing in leaps and bounds. Pet owners began to recognize the versatility of this beautiful, kind, sensible all-around family dog. Purebred dog fanciers, including conformation exhibitors and performance enthusiasts, also became increasingly aware of the Keeshond’s wonderful temperament, traits and talents.
The average life span of the Keeshond is 12 to 14 years. Breed health concerns may include epilepsy, hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease), hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, patent ductus arteriosus, Ehler-Danos syndrome (cutaneous asthenia), adult-onset growth-hormone-responsive dermatosis, diabetes mellitus, generalized keratoacanthoma, nasal cavity carcinoma, glaucoma, cataracts, patellar luxation and primary hyperparathyroidism.