ERBEKEES-KEESHONDEN


BREEDER OF COMPANION KEESHONDEN


Colored Keeshonden


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During the last years the question of ''colored Keeshonds'' was seriously discussed in the Keeshond world of the USA - the country with the biggest population of the breed in the world. Unfortunately, many of the breeders and owners were not aware of the historical background of the problem. I have taken efforts in clearing the situation with letters and personal discussions and tried to explain the ''European sight.'' I hope I have succeeded, although there is still much controversy. Unfortunately, there is still no official statement from Germany (the country of origin of the Keeshond/Wolfsspitz).


Almost four years ago, a litter of Keeshonds was born in the east of the USA, consisting of four puppies that should have been ''normal'' - the mother was a successful young bitch; the father an impressive guy, as I saw for myself when I visited Florida in 1992. But the little surprise was: just one of the babies, a bitch, was wolf-grey, the others (males) were cream with a blueish skin and reddish hairtips, (no albinos but well pigmented). When I saw the photos, I couldn't believe my eyes. Here they were again, those ''other colored Gross-Spitz'', which existed in Germany until shortly after World War II. But, the American Keeshonden developed separately from the continental Wolfsspitz, 50 years ago, so how was this possible? ''Colored Keeshonds'' (i.e. Keeshonds with a colour other than wolfgrey whelped in litters of ''normal'' parents) were not something new for the Americans at that time. It was known that in some lines a black puppy was born from time to time (the same was known in Canada) and even whites appeared. These ''colored'' dogs never had an easy life. Maybe some breeders ''removed'' them regarding them as ''faux pas''' and changed the stud dog right away. Others got on well in the world, proved in obedience trials that they were ''true'' Keeshonds, won all the trophies winnable, but did not make friends with the owners of grey dogs who maybe wondered about these ''mixes'' ... Nobody really cared about the ''colored ones'' until the Keeshond world attended to them and the confusion began.


Back to the roots...


Let's go back to the beginnings of the Spitz breed in Germany.


The first official standard was far away from today's five-size-and-variations system. Only the so called Gross-Spitz'' and the ''Klein-Spitz'' (big and small Spitz) existed. The first with a size of 40cm and over, the latter with a size of 28cm or smaller. The recognized colors for both of these sizes were ''wolfsfarbig (wolfgrey), ''schwarz'' (black), ''wei§'' (white) and andersfarbig'' (other colors) ... and this is our subject!


From the beginning, the Wolfsspitz (the name for the wolf grey Gross-Spitz) had an exceptional position. He was the most popular of the big ones, inherited his color very well and also was somewhat bigger and stronger. In addition, his coat was more luxurious. All these attributes distinguished him from most other Gross-Spitz, even today. But let's look at the color. The Standard defines ''wolfgrey'', ''black'', ''white'' and finally ''other colors'' stating: ''all colors other than the previously mentioned, also piebalds ... Piebalds are white Spitz with colored patches, but not solid colored ones with white feet, a white patch on the chest or a white blaze.'' Therefore, brown was an ''other color'', too. And one can see that anything was possible. No color was regarded as a fault, not even the solid colored Spitz with white ''spots'' (although of course the others were preferred).



From the beginning, there were obvious discussions about the ''other colors''. They had their favorites and opponents even in the committee of the Verein fur Deutsche Spitze (founded in 1899). In 1906 it was decided to recognize all colors. But what did the reality look like? It is impossible to describe a detailed situation because many records, documents and stud books are missing (I continue this work!). Therefore, one can say (reservedly) the following about the breeding of Spitz until the end of World War II; the ''other colored'' Gross-Spitz were a rare marginal variety until the 1940's. In the stud book with the registrations of 1932, only 2 ''brownish-greys'' were registered beside 9 solid whites, 33 solid blacks and 59 wolfgreys (total 103 big Spitz). In 1936, again only 3 ''brownish-greys'' were registered besides 11 black, white and grey Spitz. One of them was ''Stropp von Lauerhaus'', born August 14, 1932, who is described in the legendary book, ''The Keeshond'' by Alice Gatacre (1938), as follows: '' ... a beautiful typical Spitz, but of a most unusual colour. His outer hairs were bright orange, and his undercoat a pale cream. Most startling and most attractive.'' Interestingly this description is a picture of the puppies born in the USA in 1991! Both of Stropps parents were wolfgrey, whereas one grandsire was black. Stropp was also used as a stud. Maybe it is owing to him that the ''colored'' had a certain boom for a short time.



At this time it was absolutely usual to interbreed black and grey Spitz. Only very few lines were pure black whereas many were pure grey. In this respect, no breeding regulations existed yet. The separation of colors began much later. It was allowed to cross black Gross-Spitz and Wolfsspitz until the 1960's. White Gross-Spitz, in fact, were bred separately, with only a few exceptions. It can be said that the Wolfsspitz/Keeshond and the black or brown Gross-Spitz are so closely related that we can really regard them as one breed (today's FCI Standard regards the ''German Spitz'' as one breed with five size variations of which the Wolfsspitz is the biggest, followed by the Gross-Spitz, the Mittel-Spitz, the Klein Spitz and the Zwerg-Spitz - the latter being equivalent to the Pomeranian. One color variation in former times were black Gross-Spitz with grey legs, mainly registered as ''Wolfsspitz, but without chances in the Wolfsspitz ring because of their color. One could read in the dog paper ''Der Hund'' (#4/1944) that from now on these dogs should be regarded as Gross-Spitz, being equal to the other colors and that they should be recommended for cross-breeding with black Gross-Spitz, because they had almost their colors, but with better substance and size than the Wolfsspitz. This was an interesting proclamation to the breeders: they should state when, for example, white or brown puppies were born in a litter of a Wolfsspitz/black Gross-Spitz cross, or black puppies from Wolfsspitz parents. Breeders received a premium of 10 Reichsmark for solid black or white puppies and even 30 Reichsmark for ''brown, cream, red/black-sable and brownish-grey'' puppies!!



In 1948, 1,819 (!) big German Spitz were registered in Germany (besides 2,681 Klein-Spitz). The breed was very popular at that time (today, only about 200-300 are registered every year). We can find 66 big ''other colored'' Spitz, 28 of these browns. The others were black and grey as described above, or ''brown and beige,'' ''brown-sable'', ''brown and cream'', ''orange and cream''. The best known cream dog was ''Aron von der Friedburg'' who was a successful show dog and stud dog.



The situation in Germany after World War II


A change in the Standard (the ''other colors'' were not recognized any more) is responsible for the fact that the nice picture disappeared in the 1950's. This was mainly a problem for German Klein Spitz which existed in a rich variation of colors. Suddenly Piebalds or cream dogs were not typical for the breed. Today, English breeders are very successful with these ''exotic'' colors, but at this time the Standard Committee decided to concentrate on ''pure'' colors. I.E. White, black, brown and wolfgrey (and in addition, in Klein-Spitz, orange.)



From 1950 - 1952, there were still a few ''colored'' big Spitz registered in the stud books: Besides 55 pure blacks and 26 browns, there were 14 brown-sables and 23 ''black with grey'' markings, as well as a few dogs which must have had a truly ''exotic'' look for today's eyes: Orange, black + white, piebald, tawny-brown, grey-brown, or beige with black markings.



The change to the Standard could not make the ''other colors'' disappear from one day to the next. We can conclude from the fact that there were no more of them registered in the stud books that they simply did not get papers anymore and that they were ''removed'' after birth. Colors other than wolfgrey, black, brown or white were, and are, regarded as faults for showing and, therefore, could not receive the ''mark'' for being allowed for breeding. Efforts were taken towards ''pure'' breeding, i.e. the colors were not allowed to be ''mixed''. This wasn't a big problem for the white Gross-Spitz because they had separate lines already. Besides, it was seen that the Wolfsspitz and the black Gross-Spitz were very strongly related to each other. For generations, it was usual to cross-breed these colors, obviously for various reasons. E.G. To get darker dogs or better pigmented dogs. Maybe the difference in character was a reason, too. (Black Gross-Spitz are said to be ''sharper''.) Therefore, it was allowed to cross these two varieties until the 1960's, whereas brown was only allowed to be crossed with brown or black. The name ''Fritz von Knusel'' descends from this time, a name anybody who studies pedigrees will come across. He was a black Gross-Spitz and much used as a stud in the kennel ''vom Dornroschengarten'' (sleeping beauty garden) in the 1950's and 1960's. Besides wolfgrey and mostly black children, he also had a few white puppies (just a few years ago some white puppies were born in a black/brown litter in Germany again!!). Fritz is found in many of today's German Wolfsspitz lines, being an ancestor of ''Astot von Landsberg'', ''Arco'', and ''Britta von der Obstblute'' etc.



Although black and therefore, brown Gross-Spitz had become very rare at the end of the 1900's, crosses with Wolfsspitz were forbidden now. Until the 1970's black or brown puppies appeared in Wolfsspitz litters, but these were not allowed to be bred. Today, the population of black and brown Gross-Spitz (black and brown can be interbred in all Spitz sizes - the inheritance of the color is the same as it is in Newfoundlands), is extremely small, but we Wolfsspitz/Keeshond owners should not take from them as they are the last off-spring of the ''other-colored'' and are more closely related to our dogs than any other.



I was asked if I knew anything about ''colored Wolfsspitz'' in recent times. In fact, it would be astonishing, but explainable, if for example, an orange puppy were born on the continent. After all, what is 20 or 30 years in dog breeding? In fact, at least two brown-sable Wolfsspitz were registered in Germany in the 1980's, both with background from the famous ''Fasanenweg'' Kennel, but they were not very noted ... anyway, they show that there are still surprises in dog breeding! As a matter of interest, the so called brown-sable color (the same as wolf-sable, but anything brown instead of black, including pigmentation), is also known as German Klein Spitz - a few of these attractive dogs appeared in former GDR in litters of wolf-sable/black lines.


England


Because of the legendary book, ''The Keeshond'' by Alice Gatacre which was written in 1938, we are well informed about ''color breeding'' in England. Wolfsspitz/Keeshond breeding began in England in the mid-1920's. Mrs. Wingfield-Digby, of the famous ''van Zaandam'' kennels which existed until 1970's, was the first to import ''Keeshonds'' from the Netherlands. Often the influence of these first imports has been overrated. In fact, mainly dogs from Germany are the true ancestors of English Keeshonds, for these had, in contrast to the Dutch dogs (where a planned Spitz breeding was only to be formed at that time), some generations of registered ancestors already. Until 1929, not less than 25 Wolfsspitz from pure German breeding (some of them born in quarantine) arrived in England and only two from Holland. Mrs. Gatacre estimates 75% German influence. Personally I think it was even more. Also, the ''Zaandam'' dogs trace back to German lines. A main influence on the development of the breed had, without a doubt, Mrs. Gatacre's ''Guelder'' kennel. She imported about a dozen dogs from various German lines and did out-crosses as well as line and in-breeding. Not less than 363 ''Guelder'' Keeshonds were born, 89 of these have registered offspring. The last litter was born in 1940. Mrs. Gatacre knew the German situation very well. She also knew that a Keeshond did not necessarily have to be wolf-sable. Although she obviously never wanted to do a planned breeding of different colors, she pled to regard and recognize the ''other colors'' as normal ''Keeshonds''.


Among her imports, we can also find a black bitch from Germany and a black dog bred by herself in the Netherlands (she originally hailed from Holland). One can read between the lines of her book that these dogs were somewhat suspect to the contemporary breeders. She wanted the black and white varieties to be recognized by the Keeshond Club for the reason that they were recognized in both countries of origin (Germany and Holland), too. Her application was rejected by the Keeshond Club so she resigned and joined the North of England Keeshond Club, which was more tolerant. (When she showed two black and two white Gross Spitz at Crufts that same year, even the judge was somewhat confused!)


It seems that nobody else was interested in colors other than wolf-sable. When Mrs. Gatacre discontinued breeding, the ''colored'' obviously disappeared gradually. Although I have all Keeshond registrations of the Kennel Club from 1923 until today, these don't help very much because no color of the dogs was stated. We can just argue that one or the other black Gross Spitz was registered, for from time to time a puppy was called ''black so-and-so''. The ''Guelder'' lines itself is a main part of today's English Keeshond population.


Let's go back to Mrs. Gatacre. She describes in her book that in England ''colored'' puppies (blacks or whites) were whelped in litters with grey parents and that these were culled because they were though to be a ''throw-back''. Mrs. Gatacre collected experience in the inheritance of colors, especially with the black gene but also with other colors. She writes about her assumptions as far as the inheritance of the orange color (like ''Stropp vom Lauerhaas'') and blue is also considered. She knew about blue Keeshonds. For example she had a blue bitch puppy in one of her litters. This ''Guelder Bluebell'' was used for breeding, too, and maybe it is still present in the pedigrees of later dogs. She argues that the German ''am Ziel'' line can be ''blamed'' for this color. She knew very well that black Keeshonds may carry a recessive gene for brown, and she argues that this gene could produce, with right ''combinations,'' the rare ''orange colored'' Keeshonds.


But how can the appearance of orange colored Keeshonds in America in 1991, be explained with experiences from England in 1937?


Tracing ''colors'' in America - and their future


When in October 1991 a litter of four Keeshond puppies came into the world in USA, everything should have been ''usual''. The babies were average size, developed very nicely and were typical of their breed. They came from a normal nephew/aunt linebreeding. Nothing extraordinary, right? Wrong! On the contrary , the three males were not wolfgrey like their litter sister, but cream and orange in the same manner that Mrs. Gatacre described the German Spitz male, Stropp von Lauerhaas'', who was born in 1932.


I received a copy of the pedigree and was asked for my opinion to the mystery. At the moment one cannot explain definitely, which dogs in fact inherited the strange color. Of course, Mrs. Gatacre's book was also read in America and the conclusion was to ''blame'' the English Keeshond imports. The name suspected was AM/ENG CH. Keesland Fisherman, born in 1979, who appeared as the great-grandsire and great-great grandsire in the pedigree of this litter. The modern English breeders answered that they had never had a puppy with a color other than the wolfgrey. I, too, believe that good old ''Fisherman'' cannot be ''blamed'' because I also noticed another name appearing: AM/CAN CH, Racassius of Rhinevale. He came from England as well, but much sooner (in 1968) and therefore is further back in the ancestry. Of course that cannot explain the mystery totally. The English ancestors of ''Racassius'' came from a very well-known bloodline which was used by many breeders. For example, the ''Ledwell'' kennel was founded on two of his litter sisters and did a strong linebreeding on them. ''Racassius'' himself was much used as a stud in the States, and his most famous son, AM CH. Foxfair's Persuasive Friend, appears in almost unaccountable pedigrees. And at no time did any ''other color'' appear...!?


Maybe we have to go back much further. In the main the American Keeshonds stem from English imports from the 1930's onwards, freshed up with a few dogs from the Netherlands at a later date. Mrs. Gatacre mentions about 20 of the first imports of which some came from her ''Guelder'' kennel and some from other kennels with German backgrounds. Therefore, they could have been ''color carriers''. Could it be possible for a gene to smuggle through 15 or 20 generations without cropping up?


Nothing is impossible - the sentence can finish the puzzle at this stage. We could get more information by better studies (once I am ''liquid'' enough, I am going to buy the American stud books too!) as far as ''coloreds'' bred by other breeders. But until that, all dogs called a Wolfsspitz or Keeshond, not being wolfgrey, are in a difficult situation. The American and English standards forbid pure white and black and in the FCI Standard there is a Wolfsspitz which is wolf-sable as well as a variety, somewhat smaller, called the Gross-Spitz, recognized in white, black or brown.


But, IF a ''colored'' puppy appeared in a Wolfsspitz/Keeshond litter it would be better born in England or America. Although they are regarded as ''faulty'', no-one can forbid them to breed them. There are no breeding regulations and one receives a pedigree for pure-bred puppies of pure-bred parents (of the same breed of course!), without problems. The ''colored'' would only be discriminated on in the show ring. They should just find someone who would take care of them, collect the information, buy black, white or ''other colored'' Keeshonds and breed them to grey Keeshonds from estimated ''color lines''. It is possible to get imports from outcross lines (Gross Spitz) from the continent and I could see a very good situation for a good gene pool. The experiences of English Klein-and Mittel-Spitz breeders could help in the question of inheritance of colors as well as old stud books could do. But, who would do all this?


I personally would regard it as a pity if the ''colored'' disappeared again. They existed in the 1930's and 1940's, and now they are born again like 'Phoenix from the Ashes', without the ''help'' of breeders and the surmounted generations of ''show dogs'', like survivals from primitive Wolfsspitz times far away. Black, white or ''other colored'' puppies in grey Keeshond litters are not a new breed. Because of this we don't ask if we ''need them''. Fortunately opinions in the breeding of pure-bred dogs have been changing too. People are becoming more tolerant to minorities (maybe we have finally learned from history?). In some countries, more, in others, less. Maybe strong breeding regulations, forces and rules will exist no longer. I hope for the sake of the ''colored Keeshond that the breeders hold onto them, because they are a normal specimen of the breed and can be, in genetic respects, very worthy for the gene pool.





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