The Keeshond Coat

THIS ESSAY IS AN OVERVIEW of the development of correct coat color, texture and markings in Keeshond puppies and adults; the importance of coat to Keeshond type; and effects of conditioning and environment. Published first in 1974 (Kee Topics) and again in 1978 (The Keeshond Quarterly), this work has been updated and expanded to reflect breed progress and the standard revisions of 1/90. It is offered in the spirit of Nan Greenwood, whose informed commitment to Truth, Integrity, and the Keeshond was total; and with gratitude to all who encouraged this revision.

Color, Markings, and Texture

THE KEESHOND STANDARD refers to the ideal mature coat as a mixture of grey and black, with a thick, downy undercoat of very pale grey or cream (not tawny) and an off-standing outer coat of harsh, straight black-tipped hair. Faults include silky, wavy, curly coats; coats that part down the back. (See Notes: Breed Type and Standards.)

Shadings from grey to black depend on the length of the black tips and may vary from light to dark. Ruff, trousers, and shoulder markings are specified in terms of relative intensity of color. Ruff and trousers are lighter than the body, and shoulder line markings are light grey and well defined. In most Kees, the trousers are very pale in color, considerably lighter then the ruff. The only areas for which a color intensity is specified are the muzzle and ears (dark), legs and feet (entirely cream), tip of the tail (black), and the plume of the tail (very light grey, not cream). A pleasing, alert expression depends on the required ''spectacles'' and light shadings on the head and along the top of the muzzle.

Acceptable variations of Keeshond color and markings include a dark body coat with sharply contrasting markings; a relatively light body coat with markings that are lighter still; and deeper shades of light grey in markings (except for the required very light grey plume) that contrast, but less sharply, with the body coat. Given clear color, all such patterns and variations in between, are correct.

Too often, Keeshonds with light color are penalized in the ring, even in favor of Kees so dark as to have murky or indistinguishable markings and blotchy legs and feet. In truth, lighter Keeshonds are sorely needed to mitigate excesses of black in the breed, so long as required markings are present and their color is clear of tawniness.

Where does ''cream'' end and ''tawny'' begin? If one imagines the cream on a quart of milk (a rarity in itself), the nearest definition would seem to be ''off-white,'' and by any definition, orange, tan, ecru, reddish-brown, and the other atypical hues that crop up are unacceptable. Poor color in older dogs is often explained as due to their age. However, many Keeshonds retain good color throughout their lifetimes, suggesting its genetic origin and the ability to correct it through selective breeding.

4 Months. Puppy bitch.

The dark infant coat has nearly disappeared and developing puppy undercoat dominates. This puppy is almost entirely silver, with only dark mask, black tip of tail, and emerging guard hairs for the new outer coat. Legs and feet are clear; facial shadings and early head markings are apparent.

11 Months.

Same puppy bitch. A mature bitch possessing this definition and intensity of color would be correct. At maturity, this young bitch presented a quite dark head and body coat, and somewhat lighter ruff, while maintaining the full, bright contrasting britches, shoulder markings, and tail plume.

Coat and Structure

IN ASSESSING COAT, it is important to remember the ideal Keeshond shape, a fundamental characteristic of correct type. His is a well-balanced, short-coupled body, which measures square when back length and height are compared. A correct natural coat will enhance his body contours and proportions. Some Kees bear overlong, drooping or woolly coats that mock the elegant silhouette clearly defined in the standard. Massive coats can hide structural problems. Keeshonds so endowed often are overweight and not in good, hard condition.

Keeshond Bitches

KEESHOND BITCHES EXHIBIT quite different coat development than dogs. Bitches often develop delightful, luxurious puppy coats, but most will retire into the relatively subdued attire of young ladies with their new adult coats. The average bitch will cast her coat with each heat cycle, twice a year, and her most successful attempt at flamboyance may be the characteristic plume and flashy britches, with far less development of ruff and body coat. Many bitches retain their plume and britches throughout their heat cycles.

Some breeders and judges admire massive coats in bitches. In nature, however, few females attempt to compete with their male counterparts in the matter of adornments and stature. Why, then, should Keeshond bitches? The grossly coated Keeshond bitch is an aberration, the canine equivalent of the bearded lady. Without pursuing the lady's problem, suffice it to note that spayed bitches usually develop immense coats.

Keeshond bitches should be prized for correct color, markings, texture, and denseness of coat, all desirable qualities to be passed on to their progeny, both male and female. For their part, judges should look again at their feminine Keeshond bitches, rather than let gender and plumage be deciding factors.

Stud Dog,

4 years, and male get, 11 months. This stud dog photo demonstrates the main points discussed in this essay: the darker coat and contrasting markings of an adult dog; variations between two litter mates; and the equally correct coat characteristics of all three. Subsequent photos follow the darker puppy's maturing process, illustrating one variation of correct coat development in a male Kees. Together, these give a breeder's eye view of the emerging patterns of Keeshond color, not only on the body, ruff, trousers and plume, but also in the ''spectacles'' and other facial and head markings. From the entirely silver/cream 4-month bitch with only the dark puppy ''mask'' (dark muzzle, stop, and jaw) come typical shadings and eventually darkening of the entire head at maturity.

Puppy Coats

KEESHOND PUPPIES ARE BLACK at birth. Many have distinct markings, and undercoat color is discernible. Spectacles are present in some puppies at birth, always within a few weeks. With few exceptions, black markings remaining on legs and feet after three months of age are there forever. They tend to be associated with: atypical (long, narrow) feet; short, smooth leg hair; and dark coat. At this stage, it is reasonable to expect entirely clean legs and feet.

Judges should expect wide variations in color intensity in their puppy classes, not only with age differences but also among litter mates. Characteristic shadings of the face and muzzle are present in young puppies; again, variations in intensity are to be expected. Up to five or six months, the undercoat predominates, and silver, pale grey, or cream are acceptable; tawny shades are not. Dark areas on the chest, belly, and upper forelegs at three to five months usually presage an extremely dark coat at maturity.

Cream-colored puppies usually grow into cleanly marked adults; some develop a tawny cast in their adult undercoats. Very rarely will a brightly silver puppy turn tawny. Some creamy color is likely to remain for a time, particularly behind the ears, usually until after the puppy has dropped his first coat and the adult coat has begun to come in, at anywhere from 12 months to 18 or even 24 months of age. The outer coat, which develops rapidly after six months, should be shades of clear grey.

Keeshonds always darken with age (unless neutered or spayed), some more rapidly than others. Breeder experience has shown that the puppy with a more mature and well-defined coat than others in his age group may well carry excessive black at maturity. All these acceptable variations in puppy coat hue, intensity of color, and definition of markings suggest that this factor cannot be given too much weight in judging puppies, with the important exception that tawny color and black markings on legs and feet should be penalized.

4 Years. Mature bitch.

This Keeshond bitch carried, and passed on to her progeny, the ideal Keeshond coat texture (unusual for a bitch), clear color, denseness, and quantity, beautiful plume and trousers, and correct markings. She was lighter overall than she appears here.

Conditioning & Environment

FOR BOTH DOGS AND BITCHES, good condition is essential to the health of the individual and, of course, an important factor in the ring. Density of coat will vary with climate; there are many notable exceptions, but in general the Keeshond living in a warmer climate will not develop the thick coat that may be possible in colder regions.

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in immune system and hormonal imbalances in the Keeshond. These manifest in dry, short, brittle outer hairs; dry, scant undercoat; and sometimes poor color. These conditions often do not show up in puppy coats, only later as the dog matures. No matter what other positive qualities they may present, dogs and bitches showing these tendencies should not be bred, nor should they be placed in judging.

Lighting at dog shows, and color photos, can play havoc with Keeshond color. Some kinds of artificial lighting, particularly those that tend to yellow, will make the purest Keeshond coat appear dingy, yellowy, and even yellowish green. On the other hand, the undesirable reddish cast some coats reveal in sunlight does not show up under artificial lighting. This problem can result from exposure to the sun (or the glare from snow) or from old age. However, many Keeshonds maintain their healthy color in spite of age and the elements. Like tawniness, then, this tendency to redden is probably an inherited characteristic. There is an exception, namely the presence in some water supplies of elements that cause muzzle and lower ruff to take on a rusty hue. In general, however, water cannot be blamed for reddening throughout an entire coat.

Inadequate kennel facilities and practices can have devastating effects on coat quality and color. Urine, some kinds of soil, and concrete that has not been sealed can impart a dirty color to what might otherwise be an acceptable clear coat. Sometimes, clear color at the skin indicates that indeed environment is indeed the culprit in such cases. However, exhibitors ask too much of judges in expecting them to distinguish between an inherited deficiency and an environmental casualty.

20 Months. Dog.

The young adult coat has hardened up considerably and stands well off from the body; its denseness has also increased. The most dramatic change in intensity occurred between 24 and 30 months of age.

30 Months. Dog.

The intensity of color and definition of markings in are very similar to the coat this dog carried for the rest of his life. The facial markings and elegant silhouette are completely natural and have not been enhanced by trimming or other means.


IT TAKES REMARKABLY LITTLE EFFORT to maintain a Keeshond in show condition (assuming proper diet, kennel practices, etc.): grooming with a pin brush at least once a week, bathing legs and feet and perhaps britches and plume prior to a show, trimming feet and hocks for a tidy appearance, and going over the body coat with a moist chamois or towel to put a on a shine before entering the ring.

Improper grooming can ruin both texture and density in a Keeshond coat. A complete bath two or three days before a show, for example, will rob a coat of whatever harsh, off-standing quality it might have had, and some time may pass before it hardens once more. Furthermore, undercoat often is lost prematurely through bathing or the overzealous use of a slicker brush. Improper use of any grooming tool, but particularly the slicker and comb, will break the outer hairs. A Keeshond normally needs a full bath only after he has cast his coat completely and has been thoroughly groomed to remove all loose dead hair. Some male Kees cast their coats once a year; others may hold coat for two or three years; still others grow and cast coat simultaneously and may never go out of condition if maintained properly.

15 Years.

Here a veteran, this dog demonstrates important facts about Keeshond coat. As a result of neutering at 13, he developed an immense, somewhat softer coat. The effects of excessive coat on his superb silhouette are clear: his body appears long, his legs short. Finally, this dog retained bright clear color and markings, consistently, his entire life.

There are a number of grooming techniques that may bring rewards in the show ring but are serious obstacles to breed progress. One is trimming and thinning excessive coat to emulate or exaggerate the Keeshond silhouette. Trimming at the base of the tail, around the anus, is no substitute for improving body shape and tail sets through knowledgeable selective breeding. The cutting in of light areas around the eyes is a rough intrusion into the piquant beauty of the ideal natural Keeshond facial markings. The natural Keeshond ear is slightly shaded (lighter) along the edge; trimming exaggerates this quality and is easily detected. Finally, the standard specifies smooth short hair on the legs (front and sides). Some Kees have naturally thick undercoat on the legs, giving a fluffier, softer appearance, which technically is incorrect. To create the illusion of bone, often unnecessarily, most exhibitors powder, spray, and brush up the leg hair.


The correct mature Keeshond coat exhibits: clear color (grey, black, and cream); denseness; thick, downy undercoat; harsh, straight outer coat; distinct markings; and an off-standing quality. Emphasis on length at the expense of the other qualities, or to the extent that the ideal Keeshond shape is distorted, should be avoided. Excessive coat, like lack of it, should be penalized.

Wide variations of color intensity are perfectly acceptable in mature coats with clear color and distinct markings. A mature Keeshond with these characteristics and a relatively light body coat is not only acceptable but valuable for the breed as a whole.

Assessment of bitch coats should emphasize denseness, color, texture, markings and the presence of well-developed tail plume and britches.

In puppies, the only coat and color characteristics that realistically can be assessed are denseness of coat, clean legs and feet, prevalence of cream or pale grey as opposed to the undesirable shades, and presence of desired shadings of the muzzle and head, including spectacles.

Considerable development of the outer puppy coat occurs at varying rates between 5 and 12 months or older. Mature markings may not be fully developed until age 24 months or older. Young coats also tend to be softer than adult coats. Keeshonds darken throughout their lifetimes.

Tawniness, whether due to hereditary or environment, should be penalized; the same is true of a tendency to redden. These faults are extremely difficult to breed out.

The Keeshond is a natural breed. Attempts to obscure faulty coat texture, color, or markings by trimming, dyeing, or other means are at the expense of long-term breed improvement. The Keeshond is not well served by judges who overlook such practices or breeders who apply them.

A Note about Breed Type and Standards

ANY DISCUSSION OF ESSENTIAL breed characteristics requires an understanding of the answers to two basic questions: What is type? What is the purpose of a breed standard? Type refers to that collection of characteristics which in pleasing combination manifest in the ideal specimen of a breed. Keeshond type comprises the characteristic details that distinguish the Keeshond from the Pomeranian, Wolfspitz, Malamute, Siberian, Elkhound, Corgi, and so on. These breeds share certain characteristics, yet they are distinctly themselves. Their differences are those of type. Ideal type thus embraces every desirable trait described in a breed standard from general appearance, head and expression, size, coat, and gender distinctions to gait and temperament. Typical gait, or way of going, specified in a standard is not to be confused with soundness, which is a universal matter. Soundness or the lack of it (e.g., cowhocks, paddling, toeing in) manifests in all breeds.

A standard sets forth ideal breed type and is intended to guide and reflect through revisions, breed progress over time toward that ideal. The stated ideal is not a matter of ''should be'' or ''except for,'' it simply is. When a standard needs only to state the ideal, with no mention of exceptions, ''acceptable'' deviations, faults, and unethical practices, the breed and its people have reached wholesome maturity: The breed is in good hands and its type well established. Success or failure rests with breeders and judges equally.

As a practical matter, an early standard acknowledges, but does not encourage, the wide variations occurring in the range of potential breeding stock available at the time. Periodic revisions to a standard reduce and eventually eliminate these early variations, reflecting progress toward the ideal. This process supports and guides careful, patient, and objective selective breeding, through which extremes become fewer and variations less pronounced. The Keeshond standard has retained from its beginnings, and its 1/90 revision aggravates, an anachronism that continues to impede progress and to confuse: ''While correct size is very important, it should not outweigh that [sic] of type.'' This expendable comment means: ''When two dogs are judged equal in all other aspects of type, the one closest the ideal size should prevail.''

ERBEKEES-KEESHONDEN 433 Gunter Hollow RD Fayetteville, TN. 37334 931-557-8884 or 814-691-4902