The story of the Keeshond, as it comes to us down through the ages, is fascinating and filled with contrasts. He is an ancient breed, well-known in some parts of the world, a newcomer in others, and completely unheard of in still others. He has been a dog of the people, and a dog of the nobility. His popularity made him famous as the national emblem of an 18th century rebellious political in Holland, and in turn, caused his relegation to semi-obscurity.
But since time immemorial, he apparently has had much the same general appearance, and the same inherent characteristics that make him a loyal companion and watchdog for mankind. If the breed had a coat of arms, its Latin heraldic inscription might well be “Immatatus et Fidelis”, Unchanged and Faithful.
Through the recorded findings of paleontologists from many countries over the last three centuries, the Keeshond has gradually emerged from the mists surrounding his prehistoric ancestry. The 18th and 19th century works of such eminent authorities as Ludwig Rutimeyer in Switzerland, Brinkman in Scandinavia, Count Poutiatin in Russia, and Linne in France, together with the more recent findings of Gandert (France, 1930), H. Santo (Japan, 1957), and Erich Schneider-Leyer (Germany, 1964) have traced the Keeshond back to fossil remains of Canis Familiaris Palustris of the Neolithic or Late Stone Age (5000 B.C.), found mainly in northern areas of the globe.
This brings us a mental picture of cave dwellers huddled around a fire, with a furry-coated, wolf-like dog curled up at the entrance as guardian-much the same picture that we have of the Keeshond and his function today, but with a few improvements in the modern family’s cave.
There is general agreement on the generic classification of the Keeshond as a Spitz breed. In 1867, Fitzinger listed 48 different varieties of Spitz. Among the large number researched and pictured in Dr. Schneider-Leyer’s 1964 Dogs of the World we find the Swedish Vastogaspet (which look like Corgis), A Russian Laika, Norwegian Buhund, Lapphund Spitz and the Swedish Grahund. Better known modern Spitz are the Samoyed, Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Eskimo Dog, Chow Chow, Japanese Akita, Finnish Spitz, Norwegian Elkhound, German Wolfsspitz, Dutch Keeshond, and Pomeranian. The kinship of these and other Spitz breeds can be seen at a glance from their similarity in structure, coat composition, foxy heads, prick ears, and (excepting the Schipperke) tails carried over the back.
The Samoyed is widely credited on the canine geneaological charts with being the “top man on the totem pole” - the first historically known progenitor of Spitz dogs, and the direct ancestor of the Keeshond. Dr. Schneider-Leyer says of the Samoyed that since ancient time, “this large dog with the smiling face” has served primitive, nomadic Samoyed tribes as sled dog, reindeer-herder, and guardian of his master’s property in northwest Asia and northern Europe, and has lived in close fellowship with man. In regard to color, the book relates that after the Samoyed’s comparatively recent introduction to North America and Alaska, breeders favored the white and cream forms over the breed’s previously gray, brown or black coloration.
But how did the Keeshond fit into this genealogic, geographic and historical jig-saw puzzle? How, when, and where did the breed become known in Europe?
Holland - an excerpt
We now return, in time and place, to the misty shore of Holland, the land where the Keeshond became nationally and internationally famous.
After the founding in Amstelredam in the late 13th century, and the significant inclusion of the Dutch dog portrayed on the Great Seal of Amsterdam, we hear of the dog only vaguely over the next several centuries. However, subsequent history shows that during this dim period, the breed became widely known in continental Europe.
Since early times, most barges, farms and carts had a canine sentry, usually a Keeshond or whatever name he was given in various countries. He was also a guard for flocks and sometimes used to hunt skunks. But we must dispel the notion, often expressed even today, that the dog ever pulled barges. As an 18-inch high animal, how could he? Barges were cargo vessels with living quarters for the Captain and his family, and the dogs lived on board as zealous guardians of their owners’ properties and playmates for their children.
Kees and Spitz are defined in very early Dutch and German dictionaries as “rabble”, a possible indication of the prevalence of the breed in both countries. Oostoeck’s Illustrated Encyclopedia describes the Keeshond as “also called Spitz hond” A watch dog with a fairly long, bushy coat, especially round the neck, with long hairs forming a ruff; most commonly seen in white, but also existing in black and in gray. The latter variety is called “Brabantsche Keezen”. The Dwarf Keeshond or Toy Pomeranian is kept as a lady’s pet.
Historical events in the Netherlands in the late 1700’s, combined with the breed’s popularity in that country, made the Keeshond internationally known in Europe. In about 1781, Holland was divided into two political factions: the Orangists (conservatives) who supported the Prince of Orange as governor of the Netherlands, and the rebellious Patriots (or Keezen, as the pro-Orange men derisively referred to the people’s party members.) Cornelis de Gyselaar, who had one of these popular dogs as his constant companion, was a leader of the Patriots’ revolt. Remember that “Kees” is a nickname in the Netherlands for Cornelis or Cornelius, it seems significant in regard to a basis for the breed’s name that “Kees” de Gyselaar’s “hond” became the emblem of the Dutch party.
It was fashionable in those days to trim the Keeshond in a Poodle type cut, the comical results of which can be seen in the pictures of Keeshonden on political pamphlets and other objects of the period. The 18th century Dutch tile plaque depicting a Keeshond in the same trim, hangs in the kitchen of the Vermont House in Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont, where the author first saw it during a New England dog show circuit.
The fact that the Keeshond was the 18th century Patriot Party’s symbol, and the Pug represented the Orangists is comparable to the roles played by the donkey and elephant in United States’ politics today, and may be the basis for the erroneous reference to the Keeshond as “the national dog of Holland”. Officials in the Netherlands Consulate in New York City have assured the author that to their knowledge, Holland has never had a â”national” dog.
It is believed that after suppression of the Patriots’ rebellion, many Kees were done away with for fear that possession of the dogs would indicate affiliation with the defeated rebels. Thus this beautiful and popular breed paradoxically became the victim of its own fame. Although some barge captains and famers retained their dogs, and kept informal stud records for their own use, it was more than a century later before the Keeshond again came to public attention.
The Complete Keeshond by Clementine Peterson Howell Book House 1971. Pages 23-24 & 37-38
On crois qu`il descend du Spitz-loup. Ce serait un proche parent du Poméranien. Bien connu aux Pays-Bas depuis le milieu du XVIII ieme siècle comme [chien national], on le trouvait surtout dans les villages et les fermes où on l`utilisait comme chien de garde, bouvier, chien de trait et chien de chasse. On l`employait aussi souvent sur les chalands comme chiens de garde et de compagnie. Le Keeshond a souvent été appelé [chien de bateau].
Le nom de la race semble relié à une période turbulente de l`histoire des Pays-Bas; le symbole des Orangistes était alors le Carlin et celui du parti de Patriotes, un petit chien que les gens appelait Kees en l`honneur du chef de ce parti. On parlait donc du Keeshond ou [chien de Kees].
La race pris part à des expositions hollandaises en 1891 mais ne fur introduite en Angleterre qu`en 1905. À l`occasion d`un voyage aux Pays-Bas, Mme Wingfield-Digby fut si impressionnée par les chiens de chaland qu`elle en ramena un couple de chiots dans son pays. Un programme d‘élevage fut amorcé et le Keeshond fit ses débuts sur le ring en 1923 à l’occasion du Birmingham National Show. Deux ans plus tard, Mme. Wingfield-Digby fonda le premier club de race sous le nom de Dutch Barge Dog Club. Ce nom fut modifié plus tard en [Keeshond]. Les premiers sujets arrivèrent au Canada et aux États-Unis au cours des cinq années subséquentes et la popularité de la race n`a cessé de s`accroître depuis.
Il y a longtemps, il arrivait que des chiots noirs et des chiots blancs fissent partie de portées. De nos jours, la seule couleur de robe admise est le gris argent avec extrémités noires. Le Keeshond possée des marques sur la t’ete qui lui sont caractéristiques; ressemblant à des lunettes, elles donnent au sujet une expression de grande intelligence.
Les premiers Keeshonds furent enregistrés au Canada en 1928-1929.
Le livre des chiens, ouvrage officiel du Cercle Canadien Du Cheni
2 ième trimestre 1987. Version française CKC Book of Dogs.