By Chelsea Tomat, Pet Naturals® Product Developer
The Breed of the Month posts are back! This week, Chelsea Tomat – Product Development Manager for Pet Naturals® of Vermont – talks about owning a Keeshond. Learn more about this unique dog in her post, which includes some great pics of her dog, Winnie (pictured left). We’d also like to take the opportunity to say Happy Holidays, and we wish you the best of luck in the new year! Stay tuned next week for more pet health tips from Pet Naturals®!
Every afternoon when I walk my Keeshond, Winter (aka Winnie), around town, I am guaranteed to get at least one or two comments from strangers exclaiming, “That is a furry dog!” Yes, she is a fluff ball, but there is a lot more to owning a Kees than just that massive coat. When I go on to chat with people about my “furry dog,” the first thing they ask about is the breed. People usually think she is a Chow or an Akita, so when I say she’s a Keeshond, I am met with a confused, blank stare. Keeshonds are not very common, and many people have never heard of them.
Basic Info about Kees
The word Keeshond is pronounced “kayz-hond,” not “keesh-hound” (they’re not hounds). The name comes from the Dutch liberal political leader, Kees de Gyselaer, and “hond” means dog. To complicate the name, the plural is “Keeshonden.” I like to call them Kees or Keesies since the name is a bit of a mouthful. The breed originated in Holland from spitz barge dogs. Keeshonden have never been bred for anything other than companionship. They don’t herd, retrieve, track, guard, hunt or do anything particularly useful, making them the definition of a non-sporting breed. So what do they do other than shed? They cuddle.
In addition to providing companionship to workers on barges, the breed also has a long history of taking care of children and acting as babysitters. As adults, Kees weigh in at around 40 to 50 lbs, but that does not stop them from wanting to be lap dogs. Winnie follows me around the house from room to room and any time I stop to sit, she is beside me slowly trying to weasel her way onto my lap or slide her head under my arm.
I was first introduced to the breed 10 years ago while working my way through college as a dog groomer. One of my clients brought in their new Keeshond puppy, and I instantly fell in love with his silly personality. And let’s be honest, I’ve always been a sucker for the spitz type Nordic breeds (foxy face, little ears, curled up tail). I continued to groom the puppy regularly as he grew up and eventually met more Keeshonden. Not only did these dogs have the most luxurious coats of fur I’ve ever seen, but they also had the sweetest personalities. Years later, when I was ready for a dog of my own, I knew that Kees were the dogs for me!
Winnie came from a Keeshonden rescue because her original owner had passed away and his family couldn’t take her. Once I adopted her and she came to live with me, she settled in very quickly. Her gentle and affectionate personality that is so common for the breed allowed her to bond with me very quickly. Winnie was so bonded, in fact, that she got very upset any time I left. She barked frantically whenever I even went outside, and the behavior escalated to the point that putting on my shoes or reaching for my coat sent her into a hysterical fit.
Don’t let their impressive appearance fool you – Kees have the high pitched yap of a Pomeranian, but with the volume of a 50 lb dog. The result is an ear-drum shattering noise that has been known to elicit complaints from the neighbors. Feeling concerned about my dog’s separation anxiety, I discussed the behavior with a local dog trainer who also happened to breed Keeshonden. She gave me lots of helpful training pointers, such as distracting Winnie with a snack when I leave to keep her mouth full and to associate being left alone with positive rewards, but she had to admit that mornings in her house were mayhem.
Kees are very intelligent dogs, and they don’t miss anything! All of the Kees owners I’ve met said that their dogs recognize their own “getting ready to exit” routines and have similar meltdowns any time someone leaves. Now that Winnie is 7 years old, and we have a pretty solid morning routine, she’s calmed down a lot. But I still need to put her in her crate or in a spare room when guests get ready to depart. The benefit of such clingy behavior is that Winnie is very reliable off leash and never strays far enough away to take her eyes off me; however, I do have to continue to manage this behavior.
How Much Work is a Keeshond?
One word of caution that I would give prospective Keeshond owners is that these dogs require a lot of exercise. I often envy my friends with golden retrievers who can sit outside and toss a ball until their dog is tired as their form of exercise. Kees don’t have much of a prey drive, and while Winnie will occasionally retrieve a ball, fetch isn’t exactly her idea of a good time. Exercise includes walks, hikes, or training sessions. As I have mentioned, Keeshonden are very smart and alert. Training is fun, but you need to work to keep their attention.
Be sure to invest in some very delicious treats to keep them engaged. I recommend Agility DMG Chews by Pet Naturals®, or our Daily Catch Treats. Their high level of energy, intelligence, and bond to their owners make Kees excellent candidates for agility activities or hiking. Winnie and I have hiked several large mountains together including a snow shoe trip up Camel’s Hump in February (pictured left)!
So what about that famous coat? Kees are part of the spitz family, so they have a double coat. The wooly cream-colored sub-fur gives the coat that larger-than-life, fluffy appearance, and that is the part that sheds. The dark-colored guard hairs are longer, so they stand out over the sub-fur. Every spring and every fall Winnie “blows” her coat for about 2 – 3 weeks. The fur comes off her in tumble weeds. I can brush enough fur off her to fill an entire grocery bag every night during those few weeks, and then the shedding drops right off.
During the rest of the year, brushing once every week or 2 weeks is sufficient. When I was a groomer, I always recommended that dogs with sub-fur should not be shaved. Once you shave off the sub-fur and guard hairs so that they’re all the same length, the fur never grows back the same. The wooly undercoat takes over, and their coat basically looks like a sheep. There are certainly cases of dogs that have skin conditions or come from rescue situations where a full shave down is unavoidable, but in general it’s best to keep the coat au naturale.
Bath time can be challenging because fluffy dogs hate to get wet. You may find the occasional Kees who likes water, but usually they don’t like to wade in past their bellies. Winnie tries to convince me that she’s made of cotton candy – she’ll simply melt if she gets wet. I prefer to take her to the groomer because they have a high powered blow drier that not only dries her fairly quickly, but it also blows out all the loose sub-fur that would otherwise end up all over my couch. They do get hot very easily in the summer, so I try to keep Winnie fairly quiet when the weather is hot. But we make up for it in the winter. Just the sight of falling snow out the window is enough to make her drool!
The Best Dog in the World
I’ve had Winnie for 5 years, and I can’t imagine a more wonderful pet. Her comical personality and goofy antics keep me smiling no matter how stressful my day has been. My Keeshond really is my best friend, and I don’t know what I’d without her!
Do you have a Keeshond or know someone who does? Share your Kees story with us on our Facebook page!