Well-balanced, short-coupled Kees

Handy Tip To Know #1

Also, pause and ask yourself, “Which of these dogs looks most like what the Breed Standard is describing?” In other words, which of these dogs has correct breed type? You may see several dogs that do not resemble one another at all. We seem to be a gaggle of folk who think this type or that type or his dogs or her dogs or “Teddy Bear” type (I hate that!) are the way to go. I firmly believe this is why our handsome breed is so disrespected. Just who’s right? The Standard!



The Keeshond is a very difficult breed to judge. Sometimes even, for many—if not all—of us breeder/judges. If y’all promise to read this whole article, maybe I can help you learn how to judge the breed with much more confidence; just read the article until the very last word and I promise all judges of any breed that I’ll give you some excellent advice I have learned over the years through first-person experience—in three different instances. Deal?

Over the last several years, the Keeshond Club of America (KCA) has refined and nearly perfected mentoring aids to wade through some of the foggiest aspects of the Standard of our beloved “Kees.” But sometimes we have tunnel vision. Indeed, I am one of those few who insist on teaching judges about the dreaded “T” word—the sentence that discusses trimming. Ugh, what a bonehead I am to keep beating this dead horse. Nonetheless, I shall merrily beat said beast until, and if, the Keeshond Standard is revised to exclude same and I sure hope we don’t, or we’ll lose all beginners and have no breeders left to carry on this delightful breed. There is no correct method to groom the dog when one uses scissors on any of the body, ears, tail, trousers, etc. It is to be severely penalized.

When the dogs enter the ring, ask them to go around and look for the oh-so-rare, unique gait laterally. Pause for a moment and look at the line-up. They should all be square appearing, have sloping toplines and the distinctive Keeshond silhouette, and be within a two inch difference on height from 17″-19″ on males; 16″-19″ on females. Incidentally, should you be a little size challenged, know that the metal folding chairs at nearly every dog show are exactly 17-1/2″ from the ground to the seat; while 99% of tables are 29″.

I tend to use the “General Appearance” paragraph while mentoring both novice and experienced judges alike, and in doing a breed seminar. It’s an exceptionally well-written and concise paragraph and has only had very minor edited comments when the AKC Standard was revised in 1990. It’s easier to do in writing as I can just boldface the key words, so here goes:

“The Keeshond (pronounced kayz-hawnd) is a natural, handsome dog of well-balanced, short-coupled body, attracting attention not only by his coloration, alert carriage and intelligent expression, but also by his stand-off coat, his richly plumed tail well curled over his back, his foxlike expression and his small pointed ears. His coat is very thick around the neck, fore part of the shoulders and chest, forming a lion-like ruff—more profuse in the male. His rump and hind legs, down to the hocks are also thickly coated, forming the characteristic trousers. His head, ears and lower legs are covered with thick, short hair.”


Let’s go over these one at a time

Pronunciation of the breed name is a minor thing, but most of us are exhausted trying to teach the universe that the breed name is Dutch; that “Kees” is a nickname for Cornelius and “hawnd” means dog. We’re not talking breed history here; just, please, don’t call them Keesh-Hounds or variations thereof and we’ll all be happier that you at least know the breed name.

Dutch is a very difficult language to pronounce and if I had it my way, I’d refer to them as nearly anything else. True purists pronounce the nickname of “Kees” as “Kayz”—mostly from the Ivy League states.

The seventh word of our Standard is “natural.” I will return to that later—like it or not.



“Handsome” is a word that needs to be looked up in the dictionary along with beautiful, pretty and cute. Decidedly different meanings; a handsome male dog looks somewhat like a stallion, it does not look cutesy-wootsie. A handsome bitch is statuesque, yet feminine. Like all of the male/female species (save the human being—jus’ sayin’), the male is most commanding and is nearly totally referred to in our standard. I rather like the reference to lions later on in the General Appearance paragraph, even though we are discussing the ruff or mane. A male Keeshond should be impressive like a male lion; the female should be equally impressive as is a lioness. There should be a decided difference between a male and a female. A former President of KCA referred to huge-coated bitches as “bearded ladies.” That was stated about 40 years ago and, for me, it still fits.


Well-balanced, short-coupled

“Well-balanced, short-coupled” is meant to describe a male dog in full bloom; i.e., including his hair. When a Keeshond is in motion the Kees has a unique gait (when moved at the proper speed) and they should have less angulation than nearly all breeds, but more angulation than either a Chow Chow or many of the long-legged Terriers. Because the Kees has less angulation, is more short-coupled than many breeds, and moved at the correct speed, you will see a bit of a suspended gait that is truly unique to our breed. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, if the Kees looks like he was squished from both ends and is overstepping himself when viewed laterally.

The KCA Illustrated Standard is an excellent tool to help judges learn the breed standard and is available from our KCA Judges Education Chair. In the Illustrated Standard, we show “coloration.” It can get tricky in that if identical twin puppies were born, but when they became adults one was very dark and the other very light, and if the markings as described later in the Standard are present and accounted for, both dogs are equally correct. However, when you put those two identical dogs next to each other, an optical illusion can occur. It might be size, it could be length, it could even be grooming. Your hands will tell the story and we, as breeders, need both extremes to get to our ideal dramatically marked—a true thing of beauty! The only acceptable coloring on a Keeshond is gray, black or cream—all on a level playing field. Cream is as valid as light grey on the undercoat and the standard calls for both legs and feet to be cream. We have haggled over just what cream means. There should be no white on a Keeshond, the standards over the years have never included the word silver; and cream can best be described as winter white. We need cream dogs to clean up offensively smutty critters with gray and black legs and feet—ick. What is “tawny”? Back to the aforementioned lion; rusty brown is too tawny. Do not penalize puppies under the age of 18 months if they are too yellow. When they blow their puppy coats, in nearly all bloodlines, they come back with the right coloration. When they’re correct and are dramatically marked, I personally feel the breed is breathtaking.


Alert carriage

“Alert carriage” means just that. They ideally are stand-up dogs on the move and while at attention. They should be square appearing. In that a Doberman Pinscher is a truly square dog, we are saying the Keeshond is a bit off-square when out of coat. Alert carriage means they should not slink or sink due to running downhill. They’re a very curious breed, so do not expect the 100% show dog you may be used to in other breeds. They’ll stand like a statue for a while, until something else interests them more. Expect them to happily greet you by jumping up on you or bouncing off their handler. It’s just who they are!


Intelligent expression

“Intelligent expression” and “foxlike expression” are somewhat the same. It is important to know that a stupid Keeshond is smarter than the average dog. They are a thinking breed and most of them are clown-like and a little bit evil—particularly the bitches. A Kees is pretty fixated on its owner and we have a lot of owner-handlers in our breed. Some are extremely talented and know that in order to have the judge appreciate the dog’s expression and intelligence, we are big into bait and/or toys. Most are free-stackers and many resist being hand-stacked, save a minority of exhibitors who train them from puppyhood to hand-stack. Even a seasoned champion likes to wait until the instant a judge focuses on them to wiggle around and look like a pile of Pick-Up Stix—just for fun and amusement on their part. By “foxlike” we do not mean their head shape; we are indicating the sly intelligence of the breed. A small oddity is that the English red fox more closely resembles a Keeshond than does the American red fox. As the Brits rewrote the Dutch Standard, that’s how that term came into play.


Stand-off coat

“Stand-off coat” means that the Keeshond is a double-coated dog. The undercoat is soft, gray or cream, downy and spins into a very nice wool. The outer coat is to be long, straight and harsh. In color genetics, the Keeshond has agouti coloration. Each hair of the outer coat is partially black. Depending on the depth and length of each hair, you will have a lighter or darker Keeshond. Both are correct. Smutty feet and lack of definition to the markings is not desirable and difficult to breed out.


Richly plumed tail well curled over the back

“Richly plumed tail well curled over the back,” but what is correct? One, two or three curls? Understand that the tail is supposed to be set-on high and tightly curled over the back. It should lie flat and close to the body. The tail must form a part of the silhouette of the dog’s body, rather than give the appearance of an appendage. Curl #1 is that which lifts it way over the back. Curl #2 goes under, and curl #3 does another loop. The answer is: Curls #2 and #3 are correct as long as it’s lying close to the back and forming part of the silhouette. A blob sticking up isn’t what we’re trying to achieve.

A dog’s tail set enhanced by trimming should be severely penalized. Do not try to uncurl a tail as some of the 3 (or even 4) curled tails cannot be uncurled. If you want to, lift the whole tail up from the base. If you must, look for the black tip on the end of it, but I doubt any of us cares if it’s there or not. Just being honest. I’ve seen a Kajillion Kees of all sorts of coloration and the stupid black tip is there on all of them. Yet, sometimes, the black tip sneaks itself out from the final curl when we least want it to do so.


Small, pointed ears

“Small, pointed ears” is a little bit of a misnomer. Again, the ears appear small on a male in full coat. To determine if the ear size is correct, gently fold the ear down to see if it meets the outside corner of the eye. Large ears are not desired and too small ears can be somewhat peculiar looking when barely peeking out of the ruff of a dog.

“Lion-like ruff—more profuse in the male,” we’ve already discussed, right?



“Trousers” used to mean just that—lengthy hair that we used to love to watch swaying in the breeze when they were gaited or if the wind blew just so. That was then and now very uncommon to see proper trousers on a Keeshond. Here comes the dreaded “T” word!

As many judges are aware, almost every breed is being beautified by skilled or not-so-skilled grooming methods. If one whacks off the trousers, trims under the tail, trims belly hair and trims the top of the tail just so, the dog will appear higher in leg and shorter in body than they, in fact, are. There are many skilled ex-handlers and now judges who appreciate the effort to present the dog in the best possible way—groomed to perfection. However, [remember] words like “natural” and sentences like, “The Keeshond is to be shown in a natural state with trimming permissible only on feet, pasterns, hocks and, if desired, whiskers. Trimming other than as described is to be severely penalized.” The really excellent trimmers and/or groomers can get the same result with diligent grooming and the correct coat as those who trim. You do not have time to inspect every hair. We are not the only breed that calls for natural presentation and—though grooming is admirable—your job as a judge is to severely penalize a trimmed dog when it is obvious it has been trimmed. I contend that if judges would penalize each dog that they knew was trimmed, the trimming would stop. To me, that means no WD/WB, BOB, BOS, any/all Group Placements and certainly not BIS! If the other Keeshonden are truly inferior specimens, it is your prerogative to withhold awards. Oh, they’ll all squawk, pout and stamp their feet, but if those who persist in thumbing their noses at their standards would run into judges with fortitude, all this gilding of the lilies would eventually come to a halt. I do this not as an old fuddy-duddy purist (silly me!) but for those who come into the breed, actually read the standard and are dumbfounded when an obviously trimmed dog wins. They do one of two things: (a) Try to learn how to trim as well as those with many decades of experience or (b) leave dog shows and consequently never become breeders. This is a serious issue, so please take it seriously. The average age of Keeshond competitors are well north of 50. We are running off our newcomers because they’re told it doesn’t matter or whatever. Where will the Keeshond be if we have no breeders when those of us who are into our Golden Years croak?

The Keeshond is a Spitz breed. The muzzle is of medium length and when viewed from above the entire head is wedge-shaped. “Medium length” means muzzle and backskull are nearly equal in length with a definite stop. A handsome head is one where the muzzle is approximately 90% as long as the backskull. There are many who insist on super short muzzles. These cute little teddy bear guys finish in a heartbeat from the Puppy Classes, but with too short a muzzle and, as their age goes forward, their eyes become rounder and rounder rather than almond shaped and set obliquely. As in nearly all breeds, dark eyes are required. Dark pigmentation on nose, eye rims and pads of feet are a must as well.

The true hallmark of our breed may now be shared with a few other breeds (besides the Pekingese) since the rush of new-to-me breeds have appeared on the horizon. These are the spectacles. Believe it or not, and with further study of the Keeshond Standard, spectacles are not the light around the eyes which can be trimmed in or appear naturally. The spectacles are actually formed by a cowlick of sorts. The black-tipped hairs come up from the muzzle and down from the head and meet at the outside corner of each eye. Ideal spectacles go up toward the outer corner of the ear. It forms the best expression as they truly look like a dog wearing glasses once their dark eyebrows and dark muzzle complete the picture. They’re charming and remain the defining distinction of our breed, and it’s a very serious fault to lack these dark lines. Are spectacles on very dark-faced dogs? Believe it or not, they’re there; you’ve just got to get up close and personal.

“Temperament is of primary importance.” These are fun, fabulous family pets and somewhat silly. Their only job is to be an alarm-giving watchdog. They’ll bark, but the burglar can come in; toss a Kees a cookie and she’ll happily show the bad guy the way to the family jewels. Some people buy a dog for their kids, I had a kid for my dogs; seriously—sort of.


Handy Tip to Know #2

Three top professional Terrier handlers many moons ago suddenly had a Non-Sporting breed and were duking it out in the breed ring. Another respected pro—most famously known for Working Dogs—asked the three guys, “Which one of these three dogs is the best?” The three Terrier guys each extolled the virtues of his dog and slammed the other two dogs for their most obvious fault; it was interesting and, oddly, non-combative. The Working Dog guy thanked them very much and whipped out a Xerox of that breed’s standard from his shirt pocket. He said, “Thanks, I guess I’ll just let this do the talking for me.” When in doubt, refer to the standard; go ahead, look it up. We’ll all respect you for refreshing your memory. When in doubt, no matter who says what, the determining arbiter is the standard in all breeds you judge!

Robin Stark bought her first Keeshond pup in 1962. She was a road warrior for many years and is responsible for approximately 150 Keeshond champions and performance event winners. She celebrated her Golden Anniversary in the breed by judging Best of Breed and Intersex at the 2012 National Specialty—
a significant honor.

Robin has served on KCA’s original Ethics Committee, the AKC Standard Revision Committee, the AKC Keeshond Video Committee and the KCA Illustrated Standard Committee. She has won several DWAA awards as editor/co-publisher of “The Rottweiler Quarterly.”


Final Handy Tip #3:

When judging a large entry of any breed, especially at independent or National Specialties, pull those dogs that you like from each group of 10-12 dogs that comes in. I once witnessed a famous all-breed judge take his first group of male specials and efficiently pull four dogs. Sad to say, all 12 just happened to be the ones he should be concentrating on. His second group of 12 was bleak; his third group was dismal. It’s always easier to zone in and narrow down from a bunch of good ones than a bunch that’s mediocre.

I truly hope this helps you and if you find a perfect one, give me a call. I’m still searching; have gotten and seen some nearly perfect, but not quite. It’s a great breed and if you learn to love it half as much as we do, you’ll enjoy your assignments.

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