Guide to Owning a Keeshond


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Keeshonds come from the Netherlands, and are unbearably cute fluffballs as pups. They are lighter as pups, growing their darker, long guard hairs as they become adults, when they also have very fine 'trousers'. 'Spectacles' of dark fur round their eyes, are a Keeshond trademark, though they are not clearly visible in all Keesies, and it's much more important that your Keesie has a nice temperament.

Their name comes from a Dutch politician called Cornelius Kees, and many people will tell you the plural is Keeshonden. You can anglicize the name if you are an English speaker, or call them Dutch Barge Dogs. They are related to German Wolfspitz, though are somewhat more amenable. Many eulogies of the breed will tell you what wonderful family dogs they are, and how they can live in flats, and don't need much exercise. This could lull many first-time spitz owners into a false sense of security, and Keesies and Samoyeds are often the first spitz breeds that British people get to own. Keeshonds are very trainable, for a spitz, but they are not trainable in the sense that Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, or Border Collies are. They are trainable in the sense that they can learn complex tasks quickly and can perform extremely well as obedience and agility dogs, when they put their minds to it. You need to be firm, consistent, and patient with this breed, and earn their respect. They are relatively easy to train for a spitz dog, but they are still not as forgiving a breed of training mistakes as Labs or Goldens, so it's important to start out as you mean to go on, and teach a Keeshond puppy the house rules he should obey as an adult. This includes no biting of ankles or other parts of your person, and a degree of bark control.

Not all breed guides are honest about the most maddening characteristic of a Keesie, which is a propensity to bark. They bark when they are happy, pleased to see you, pleased to see another dog, want to tell you about the postman arriving, or that an aeroplane or a crow is flying in the sky... There are ways of controlling this barking, but total control is much more difficult to achieve than with other breeds with a less strong bark drive. Tips for Keeshond owners: All dogs bark less when they have enough exercise, and when they don't hear or see things likely to trigger barking, so taking your Keesie out for a run before he's left alone, and leaving him in a room where he doesn't see passers by to bark at, will mean he is more likely to be quiet and not annoy the neighbours. Saying 'Good dog' can stop alarm barking, because it tells the dog that you have heard what he has said, so he doesn't have to bark any more. Whispering is more effective than shouting for curbing excitement barking, especially if you want to go out at night and not wake the neighbours - don't let dog out of door until he is quiet, and take him indoors again if he utters a peep, until he exits quietly. Arriving early at training classes means your Keeshond will be less stressed than if you arrive when there are a lot of dogs in the room, so early arrivals mean less barking. You get to learn what the different barks mean, since Keeshonds are very expressive. At first you will think that their bark (which is a typical high-pitch spitz bark) is designed for maximum irritation, but Keeshonds do have a very wide vocal range, and their barks can range from pathetic puppy noises, to 'I am a fierce watchdog' sounds. Understanding why your Keesie is barking can also help you respond better.

Communicating with your Keeshond is easy, because they are so expressive, and have such a wide vocal range. They don't just bark, they also 'talk', or make a wide range of non-barking sounds which you soon learn to interpret. They like attention, and want to communicate with you, which is a great help in training. They also respond well to food used as a lure or a treat. They enjoy doing interesting things you ask them to do, but make their own decisions if you ask them to do something they find boring. Often they will jump the gun and anticipate commands, so you need to change commands frequently to keep them on their toes. This is working with a different sort of intelligence from a Labrador Retriever or a Golden, in fact in some ways, though a Keeshond may be more 'disobedient' than a Golden, many Keeshonds can learn faster than many Goldens, and the breed is very versatile. Trying to bully any spitz dog in a bid to convince them you are the alpha, tends to be counterproductive. The trick is to motivate your Keeshond, and earn his respect as a leader, otherwise he will not co-operate. They are fun-loving dogs who like attention, and often see even obedience training as fun, because it means getting attention. Obedience training will generally improve their behaviour, though many a Keesie is an angel in class, and not so obedient when they are more interesting distractions. Keeshonds generally enjoy agility immensely, and this is a good way to learn to understand your dog. They are very good at jumping, and handle heights well, because they have little legs,. They aren't usually as fast or as intense as Border Collies, but are much more fun as agility dogs, because they derive such obvious pleasure from the sport.

Many breed guides say that these dogs don't need much exercise. This is relative - while a Keeshond doesn't have the same drive to run as, say, a Sibe, they do need at least a daily walk, with some of the time off leash, or a spell of active off-leash play outside in a large garden and a walk on a leash. They enjoy retrieving, which they can learn from when they are young pups, by ten weeks' old, though they are not natural retrievers, tending to prefer the chase to the bringing back. They have also taken part in sledding and flyball, and even herding. Keeshonds that don't have enough to do tend to get bored and bark a lot. You can entertain them at home with games. They especially enjoy sniffer dog games, such as finding cloths with the smell of their favourite titbit, or finding titbits hidden in strategic places. Once you give the 'sniff' command, you can hear them using their noses, which are especially well designed for sniffing, and which even have a special protective structure so that they can use them when it's cold.

Keeshonds have been used as watch dogs and vermin catchers, so they do have to learn to accept visitors nicely without barking at them, and that cats should not be chased. They are generally very friendly with visitors whom their owner has introduced to them, and they are usually friendly with strangers they meet on walks who say hello to them, though strangers who appear threatening are likely to be barked at. Keesies can also bark out of excitement at joggers, so need to get used to them from puppyhood. A Keesie isn't the best guard dog, since many individuals would make friends with dog-savvy intruders. However, poorly trained Keeshonds have been known to bite delivery people coming into a garden unannounced. Bite inhibition training is important for any dog. Don't be distracted by Keesies looking like cute fluffballs as pups - that is no excuse for their sinking their little fangs into your ankles. It is preferable to have your Keeshond as a watchdog, giving an alarm call, than to expect him to protect you physically. Well-trained Keeshonds are a very good breed with small children and frail elderly people. They are generally very tolerant with toddlers who pet them clumsily, and they can be calm and flirtatious with frail elderly people, looking up appealingly with waggy tails, and lapping up compliments and petting. They generally very much enjoy the company of older children.

A big downside for the houseproud is that these dogs produce enormous amounts of fluff twice a year, when they shed their undercoats, especially in spring, less so when they blow their lighter summer coats in the autumn. They are, however, generally easy to housetrain, and are clean dogs, that don't smell much, and they don't need as much grooming as you might expect for a long-haired dog. The fur under their collar can mat, so it's easier to take off the collar when they are indoors (many people take off collars indoors anyhow, since collars can get caught, leaving the dog at risk from strangulation). Many Keesies don't like water much, and will carefully avoid puddles, which means that they don't get as muddy as the average Labrador Retriever, despite having longer fur. Keeshonds aren't wanderers in the way that Sibes and Malamutes can be, but their recall isn't always instant, even if they eventually come back from whatever smell they have found. They are good escape artists if your garden is not very secure. A passing cat, or someone they want to say hello to may trigger a leap into the outside world, though Keesies which have a daily walk tend not to escape just to go walkabout, in the way that Sibes or Malamutes tend to. Like many northern breeds, Keeshonds may also 'help' in the garden by digging shallow holes to lie in. They like to lie in doorways indoors, or on cool stone or tiled floors in summer. For some reason, they like the draughts of doorways, even in winter, though they also like to join you on your bed for a while, if you let them.

Keeshonds take great delight in snow and frosty ground, rolling over excitedly, and behaving like pups. They aren't dogs designed to live outdoors, however, and need to be indoors with their human pack - or outside with you! They like humans company, and can suffer from cold if left outside in a kennel after having been used to central heating, and also suffer in summer heat. Dawn and after sunset are the best times to take a Keeshond out in summer.

Common health problems include hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism and skin allergies, which may be linked. They can also develop knee problems and sound phobias.

This book has illustrations to make you drool, and the author does give a clear idea of what a Keeshond is like to live with. There is the usual breed history, and there is also a mention of inherited conditions that Keeshonds may be vulnerable to, and some of their less endearing characteristics, such as shedding hair everywhere! The book rightly emphasises the need for training and exercise for this lively, intelligent breed, and the need to curb its tendency to be vocal, though it is short on suggestions as to how do do this curbing. Such honesty about the challenges of a particular breed is to be welcomed in a dog breed book. The joy of owning these sociable dogs, with their ability to clown, is also conveyed. Keeshond lovers will want more - this is a slim volume - but it's a good introduction.