Not American, Not Associated with Eskimo People

The American Eskimo Dog isn’t related to the Eskimo people, nor is it an American breed. The “Eskie” is member of the Spitz family of Nordic dog breeds, and was likely a 19th century import coming from Northern European descent.

Easily over 100 years old, the breed has its origins in Germany where it was bred to be a multi-purpose working farm dog. In those days, ancestors of the breed were referred to as “Deutscher Spitz” or German Spitz, and came in five sizes that were eventually deemed to be separate breeds. It was the German Spitz, however, from which the American Eskimo Dog most likely originated.

At various times, the breed was known as the Mistbeller, Spitz, Eskimo Spitz, Mittel (depending on the dog’s height), and the American Eskimo Spitz. Earliest dogs may have appeared in darker colors, but because native wolves were known to maraud through villages and homesteads, white was the preferred color as it clearly distinguished a dog from a wolf.

Eskies came to America with German immigrants, and in a sad bit of irony, the breed’s name was changed to American Eskimo Dog due to the widespread anti-German feelings during World War I. After the war, the dogs became popular entertainers in the American circuses (in particular, the Cooper Brother’s Railroad Circus that in 1917 included several American Eskimo Dogs) and this is how many Americans first became aware of the breed. Some circuses sold puppies after a show, and today, many American Eskimo Dogs can trace their lineage back to those original circus dogs.

It didn’t take long for the breed to get greater recognition since they seemingly can do it all, from herding and guarding, to excelling in agility and in obedience. The first UKC Grand Show Championship for the breed was won in 1978 by an American Eskimo Dog named, “PR Richardson’s Keta Shelton, and in 1981, another Eskie named, “PR Tank Iglu Sweet Love” won both the UKC Grand Show Championship, and the UKC’s top award in obedience. AKC recognition for the breed came in 1995. Interestingly, the American Eskimo is still known as the German Spitz in some countries, but they are not the same breed.  

Image of circus dogs from around 1920 found on Pinterest and happily credited upon receipt of information.

5 thoughts on “Not American, Not Associated with Eskimo People”

  1. My husband and I have owned Eskies since 2002. We love our current 3 Eskies and miss our 3 that have gone to the Rainbow Bridge. Before we got too many Eskies of our own, we also fostered and placed Eskies for a local purebred rescue organization. We will shortly add a 10 week old puppy to our Eskie pack. Here we go again!
    I love looking into our Eskies eyes and seeing a thinking, feeling, being. Someone is definitely home! Eskies are smart and do need an owner that ensures they have proper training from a young age or you could end up with the dog trying to run the house. However if you start them off on the right feet you have an incredible, talented, trainable, versatile companion for many years.
    By the way, like potato chips, you can never have just one America Eskimo Dog.

  2. A lovely commentary on a lovely breed, D.R., thank you for sharing it, and for giving us a glimpse of your lovely Eskies!

  3. This does not, however, apply to the Husky breeds correct? Either the Alaskan or Siberian?

    • Lonesome Wolf, the Siberian Husky is indeed “as billed.” It originated in northeastern Siberia where it was bred by the Chukchi people. We can understand your question since the dogs were initially imported into Alaska during the Gold Rush. As for the Alaskan Husky, it’s not considered a breed, per se, but rather a “type” of dog (usually one that pulls weight) is a blend of different Nordic breeds. We hope this helps!

  4. Growing up, I knew them as Spitz. Some neighbors down the street from me had a couple of them. This was in the ’70’s.

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