By Diana L. Allen
reprinted with permission from author
The American Eskimo dog….
What is it?
What are its natural instincts?
What was the breed originally bred to do?
What is it that sets AED apart from all other breeds?
Rather simple questions, until you talk about Eskies. So many stories have been told sometimes it is hard to tell fact from fiction. The American Eskimo Dog is one of the few breeds that its history was changed for many years, then forgotten. Why? Not because of anything derogatory but because the breed became popular in a time of our history when its country of origin was unpopular.
The American Eskimo Dog’s country of origin is Germany. It was originally bred as a multi-purpose working dog of the farm. In Germany, the breed was referred to as “Deutch Spitz”. The word “Spitz” is translated as sharp point.” There are a number of breeds that are called “Spitz Breeds.” Spitz breeds are also called “Nordic Breeds.” The two terms are interchangeable. The reference to Nordic instead of Spitz came about with the anti-German sentiment during WWI and WWII.
All of the Spitz Breeds have the same characteristics. They have erect ears, wedge shaped heads, double weather-resistant coats, are trotting breeds, tails are well plumed, and they all have been used to assist man. They have been used as herders, hunters, haulers, guardians, and devoted companions. These are just a few of the many services that they did for humans and thus have a strong human bond.
The Spitz in Germany was used to assist humans in a number of tasks on the farm. Farms in Germany are different than what we are used to seeing in the U.S. In Germany, farmers lived in villages, and went out each day to the farm.. Sheep and cows lived in the village at night and had to be taken out to pasture each day. The dog was an intricate part of the farmer’s life.
In an average day, the dog would perform a number of tasks. They went with the farmer to take the sheep out to pasture. They gathered sheep from the pasture and searched for any animals that were strayed. The dogs would go with the children to watch over sheep that grazed in unfenced fields, and remained on the job even if the children were sidetracked with play. They watched the gates that were left open, rounded up the chickens, and put them up at night. The family farm dog would do any number of tasks that may need doing. The dog was also used to serve as a watch dog for the property and family. They were even noted to go with the farmer to hunt on occasions to bring home dinner. The dog would not only keep away predators of animals and humans, out of its territory, the dog needed to know the difference between its own livestock and livestock that was trespassing. The dog served as a “baby sitter” for the children, and was a formable vermin catcher. The Spitz was an intelligent, thinking dog. It was robust and hardy with a strong natural desire to please. The Spitz would do its best to accomplish any task that was asked of it. At harvest time the Spitz would be found riding the vegetable carts into marked protecting against thievery.
The Spitz association with the circus also began in Germany. Gypsies were noted to have Spitz traveling with them. The dogs would readily warn of an approaching stranger, this also included the local law enforcement. Since the breed was easily trained, eye catching, and intelligent, the gypsies would train the dogs to do tricks. They would then invite the local townspeople to come and watch the dogs… for a fee, of course. Some of the circuses in Europe began to use the Spitz in their acts.
In Germany, the Spitz is found in colors other than white. They are also found in black, chocolate, and red. The German circuses did use the Spitz, but no more or less than any other breed or mixed breed.
When the German settlers came to the U.S., their dogs came with them. So came the Spitz. Many of the German settlers settled in the Midwest and New England as these areas look very much like the German countryside. German settlers also went to southern Texas and the Spitz became popular there. The Germans used the breed very much in the same manner as they did in Germany. The breed became a formidable watch dog of the farm. The breed worked closely with man and animals.
Why the white variety was the most popular color is unclear. UKC (United Kennel Club) registered the breed in 1919. Only the white variety was registered. There was a fire in the early days of the UKC. Many of the records were lost. The first “recorded” registration of the breed was in 1922. There were 7 dogs registered under the breed name of “Spitz.”
The first recorded dog registered was a bitch by the name of “Patsy Pall” and given the UKC registration number of 109765. The first male to be recorded was “Rob Roy,” UKC #113765. In 1923, an additional 13 were registered as “Spitz”. By 1924, there was considerable anti-German sentiment in the United States arising. Many of the German breeds were being chastised and discriminated against. UKC changed the name of the breed to “American Spitz.” In 1926, the breed name was changed again to “American Eskimo Spitz.” This name was adopted from the kennel name of Mr. and Mrs. Hall who raised Spitz along with a number of other breeds. Their kennel name was “American Eskimo Kennels.” In 1926, the “Spitz” was completely taken off the name. The breed was still referred to for many years as “Spitz” or Eskimo Spitz.”
In the July, 1936 issue of Bloodlines, an article is written about the name of the breed. It states that the word “Spitz” was a name that was “not in the dictionary and didn’t mean anything anyway.” It states that the breed came from the Hall’s kennel name. There is also another article written in the September 1934 issue of Bloodlines, that shows how much the people of that time did not want the American Eskimo to be associated with Germany, not the name “Spitz.” It states in the article, “Those fanciers living today have the privilege to call them “Spitz” or anything they wish to, but they are registered under the breed name of American Eskimo and the next generation of fanciers won’t know anything about the word (Spitz).”
About this time there was a story of the P.T. Barnum and Bailey circus using a “Spitz” in one of its circus acts. It was said that it was the only dog to be trained to walk a tight rope. This dog was named “Bido.” In some of the old pedigrees of that time, a dog by the name of Bido can be found. He stemmed from the Midwest. There isn’t a record of the dog in the museum of the Barnum Bailey circus, though. There was also a story of a dog named “Trixie” that was said to be used as a circus dog. Research has found a child’s book of that time about a circus dog named Trixie. The dog looks to be of the size of a Pomeranian. Whether this was a real dog that was written about or just a child’s storybook is unknown. The circuses used many dogs in their acts. There were the famous “Football” dogs that were Boxers. There was a Cocker Spaniel that was known for his performances. Poodles, Pugs, Great Danes and a mired of mixed breeds were also used. The American Eskimo dog was undeniably used in circus acts but was never developed for, nor bred to be, a circus dog.
The first written record of the breed was printed in 1958 by the UKC, along with an official history for the breed. It states that the breed was bred down from large sled dogs, and nothing to do with its German origin. It even stated that the Eskies “should look like a Samoyed in miniature.”
What may have triggered those articles was the single registration of one dog. This dog was “Conner’s Fuji.” Fuji was whelped in Japan on April 26, 1955 and was registered with the Japan Kennel Club as a Spitz. Mr. H. Conner, an American serviceman stationed in Japan, owned him. When Mr. Conner returned to the States, he brought Fuji with him to his home in San Antonio, TX. He applied for single registration of Fuji and on May 26, 1958, Fuji was registered with the UKC. Fuji was sired by “Pitou” out of “Deko.” The breeder was F. Kizaki. Fuji grew up to be a 45 lb. standard male. Larger than the Japanese Spitz that we know now. Fuji was bred to Mrs. Chandley’s Snow-White dogs and a number of the Hillcrest dogs. Mrs. Chandley and her Snow-White dogs were very well known in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Fuji is behind many of the dogs of today.
Fuji is the only dog that can be found that was single registered from Japan. After the series of articles in Bloodlines magazine, UKC decided not to register any of the Japanese dogs as American Eskimo Dogs. Fuji may have been registered, as his registrations certificate did not say Japanese Spitz, just Spitz, which was the original registered name of the bred.
In 1968, the UKC reprinted the official standard and history. It states that the breed was imported from Germany, and that the breed name came from the Halls. It also states that the breed is between 15-20 inches at the shoulder and that it is a working dog. It also stated that since the name of the American Eskimo had been adopted, hundreds had been registered, not thousands.
In 1969, the National American Eskimo Dog Association was formed and was recognized as the parent club. The NAEDA divided the breed into 2 sizes, Standard and Miniature according to weight This was done for “show purposes only.” It was done so that there would be more classes, thus more ribbons would be given out. This would hopefully keep exhibitors showing longer and making the shows larger.
In the 1970’s, breeders and exhibitors were learning more about dogs in general and striving to produce a quality dog. In 1974, the standard was revised and printed in UKC’s official magazine, Bloodlines. Standard and miniatures were still divided by weight but there wasn’t a weight maximum stated on the standards. Standard males were 20 pounds and over, standard females were 17 pounds and over. Miniature males were 12 to under 20 pounds and miniature females were 10 to under 17 pounds. Also in the 1974 standard, there wasn’t a history written. Nothing was said about the American Eskimo, ore where it came from, nor what it was bred for.
In 1978, there was a complete revision of the standard. A weight limit was put on the standards. Standard males were from 20 to 35 pounds, standard females 18-32 pounds, miniature males 12 to under 20 pounds, and miniature females 10 to under 18 pounds. A small paragraph before the standard stated “If dogs do not fall within minimum and maximum weight allowed, dogs will not be allowed to enter the show.” This disqualified all dogs over or under the weight limit.
This standard was very detailed and descriptive of the dog. Still, nothing was said about what the breed was, where it came from, or what it was bred to do. Anyone getting into the breed who didn’t have a Bloodlines from 1968 would not know where the breed came from.
There were many new people getting into the breed at this time and many that were new to dogs in general. This was the time that the breed’s history was forgotten. Many stories began to be told about the breed.
In the early 1980’s UKC was approached to recognize a Toy variety of the breed, UKC asked for the Toys to be shown in a non-regular class for 2 years. Judges were to evaluate the dogs as to quality, and turn in a written critique for each dog. After the 2-year period UKC stated that it did not feel that there were enough Toys being shown to justify a separate variety.
During the early to mid-1980’s there was much discussion about changing the American Eskimo size from weights to heights. It was thought that by going to heights rather than weights it would help make the sizes more consistent.
In 1985, the American Eskimo Dog Club of America was formed. The AEDCA recognized the Toy, Miniature, and Standard varieties. The AEDCA, when writing it’s standard for the breed defined size by height rather than weight. It also added size disqualifications. In 1987, the NAEDA revised the standard to change weights to height. When the size requirement was changed the small paragraph before the standard that stated that all dogs that did not fall between the limits of the size as stated in the breed standard could not be shown was omitted. When this happened, there was no disqualification of size in the UKC. The omission was an over site. The 1987 standard also incorporated “movement” into scale of points as it is today. The UKC standard recognizes Standard and Miniature only.
In 1995, when AKC officially accepted the American Eskimo Dog for registration, they did not separate the breed into different varieties, but OPEN class only may be separated into the three divisions. It is shown in the Non-Sporting group. In UKC, it was shown in the Working Group until UKC reorganized its groups and put all of the Northern breeds into one group. The Pomeranian is shown in the Companion group, however.
In 1999, the UKC standard was revised to comply with the UKC requirements of uniform dog terminology. Nothing was stated as to any disqualification as to size.
Today the American Eskimo Dog stands proud of its German heritage. It is a strong, powerful dog for its size. It is a trotting breed, giving one the impression that it is able to trot for extended periods without tiring. It is a robust dog with a sound constitution. It is noted for its longevity, living well into its teens. It is a happy, outgoing dog that bonds closely with humans. It is quick and agile, with an excellent herding instinct. It is ready to serve in Agility, Obedience, Herding, Tracking, Search & Rescue, service Dog, Therapy , or as a devoted companion. All of what the Eskie can do today is directly influenced by its natural instinct as a working farm dog. We must never lose that which makes the American Eskimo Dog what it is. We must never go so far away from what the breed is that if an excellent specimen comes before us, we do not recognize it, for we have the very essence of what makes the American Eskimo Dog an American Eskimo Dog.