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.