Although they still make good boat dogs, Keeshonden are much more popular now as shore-bound guardians and companions.
There is a legend dating back to 800 AD in which two men and a dog, at sea in a fishing boat, are caught in a violent storm in the black of night. Driven off course into unfamiliar waters, the men are certain they will perish, until, unexpectedly, they reach shore. The men survive the ordeal, and thereafter look upon the dog, who also escapes without harm, as the talisman for their good fortune. From that day forth, it was considered lucky to have a dog aboard a ship. The great Seal of Amsterdam, the city where the troubled fishing boat is believed to have come ashore, displays a ship bearing two men and a dog.
So it was that many of the cargo vessels that traversed the misty canals of Holland before the 18th century were tended by a beautiful and popular dog, little known to the rest of the world until political events in the Netherlands brought the breed to international prominence. The Keeshond (pronounced "caze-hawnd") was not only valuable as a watchdog and companion to the bargemen, but to farmers, as well.
In 1781, the Conservative Dutch political party known as the Orangists (supporters of the Prince of Orange) was opposed by the Patriots (the rebellious "People's Party"). Cornelius "Kees" de Gyselaar, the rebel leader, had as his constant companion a beloved pet dog who eventually became the symbol of his political party. "Kees' hond" appeared in many political cartoons of the day. The appellation stuck, but when the party was defeated and the Orangists led the country, many Keeshond owners did away with their dogs, afraid of being identified with the now unpopular Patriots. (Shown to the left is a Dutch political lampoon of the 18th century, depicting the Keeshond in the popular trim of the time - "lion clip".)
At the same time, the Keeshond was also losing his popularity as a barge dog. As they became roomier, vessels were able to accommodate the larger breeds of guard dogs. Aside from a few bargemen and farmers, who remained loyal to the breed, Keeshonden virtually vanished in Holland until the 1920s. Then, through the efforts of the Baroness van Hardenbroek, interest in the breed was revived and enthusiasm soon spread throughout Europe. Her own dog, Champion Bart (pictured to the right), is recorded in many modern pedigrees.
The first Keeshonden were brought to the United States in 1926 by Mr. Carl Hinderer, a German immigrant who lived in Baltimore. After many trips to New York to show his dog, Wachter Schwartz, to the officials of the AKC, the breed was finally recognized in 1930 as one of the non-sporting group. (Click here to read the American Kennel Club's Standard for the Keeshond)
(The Keeshond was first registered in Canada in the years 1928 - 1929. Click here to read the Canadian Kennel Club's Standard for the Keeshond)
It seems odd that a dog know fondly as "the laughing Dutchman" and "the gentleman from Holland' could have had such a tumultuous history. The modern Keeshond is one of the gentlest of dogs. Never bred as a hunter and never used for any other specialized work, these dogs are companions extraordinaire and great home lovers. Mr. Bob Priest, president of the Keeshond Club of America, believes it is this friendly, gently devotion that makes the Keeshond unique. Indeed, anyone who had owned a Keeshond would agree with his statement that this is a dog that wants to please; an affectionate dog with a wonderful disposition.
Let it not be said, however, that the Keeshond is not a good watchdog. His intelligence and devotion to his home makes him very protective and keenly alert to any stranger who may approach, as a pamphlet put out by the Keeshond Club of America states. But, it goes on to say, "Keeshonden are not attackers or yappers, and quickly offer their friendship to those who are welcomed by their owners." Typically, they are not afraid of anything or anyone.
Keeshonden also excel in all phases of obedience. The first obedience team formed in the U.S. consisted of four Keeshonden. It was headed by Mr. Milo Pearsall, a devoted Keeshond Fancier and author of the now-classic book, Dog Obedience Training.
The Keeshond is a medium-sized dog whose distinctive appearance attracts much attention. The coat is silver-grey to black with a pale gray or cream undercoat. The muzzle should be dark and there should be the characteristic black "spectacles" around the eyes. Ears are held upright. The neck sports a lion-like mane, and the tail is plumed and carried over the back. The hind legs, dense with fur, form the well-known "trousers."
Prices for the Keeshond pups vary widely. Show quality pups may sell for anywhere from $150 to $500, depending on lineage and area of the country, but the national average is about $300. The typical litter may include up to eight puppies. (Note: These prices are no longer accurate.)
As with all dogs, it is wisest to obtain a Keeshond puppy from a reputable breeder. Most professional breeders, besides having given their pups proper care from the very start, are genuinely concerned about the welfare of their pups and want to see them go to good homes. In addition, a good breeder can advise you on selecting the puppy that is best for you, as well as offer you the benefit of his expertise in all matter of care and training.