The American Eskimo Dog

A German Spitz - or a completely different breed?



American Eskimo Dog Circus Eskie


From 2002 onwards, the American Eskimo Dog ("Eskie") was introduced into the German Giant Spitz breed by importing two bitches from the USA. And since then, opinions have differed: is the Eskie a kind of purebred American Spitz or is it now a separate breed that shouldn't have been simply described as a Giant Spitz? Are Eskie and white Spitzes really different, or are they both just two sides of the same coin? One thing is certain, however, that quite a few of our large Spitz now also have Eskies as ancestors - like my own dog Birk.

History of the Eskie

The only dog breed built in America that belongs to the Spitz is the American Eskimo Dog. The name "American Eskimo Dog" is misleading, however, because the native people known as "Eskimos" had nothing to do with the breed. The breed is not, as the name might suggest, a sled dog or polar dog. Incidentally, Spitz breeds are also called “Nordic breeds”, although both terms essentially mean the same thing. "Nordic" instead of "Spitz" arose with the anti-German sentiment during the First and Second World War.


The German immigrants who came to America from the beginning of the 19th century brought with them not only the brewing industry, its regional cuisine and its religion, but also the German Spitz. Many Germans had settled in the Midwest of the USA because it closely resembled the German landscape and had their belongings guarded by their Spitzes. These dogs were ancestors of the modern Eskie and were first called "German Spitz" and soon after "American Spitz". Even during the early days of the USA, the "Eskie" was quite large in order to be able to fulfill its duty as a farm dog. Since the beginning of the 20th century, breeders began to breed it in smaller versions. 

There may also be another reason for the change of name, namely that the renaming from "German Spitz" to "American Eskimo Dog" cannot only be explained by the anti-German sentiment during the war, but may also have been done in order to get rid of the stigma of the rabid Spitz dog of the late 19th century, which only attached to the Spitz and not to the "Eskie". For more information, see my article “The Spitz must be eradicated!”


However, the top position on the farms did not last long, as the docile, easily trainable and very agile dogs were quickly discovered by the local circus. Back when traveling circuses, vaudeville troupes and Wild West shows toured America to amuse people, the German Spitz became a mainstay of local dog shows. One of the most famous dogs was a Spitz named "Stout's Pal Pierre," who was a tightrope walker with the Barnum & Bailey Circus in the 1920s and 1930s. Because the circus performers were so famous and popular back then, many of the current Eskies are descended from these dogs, as the dogs' puppies were sold to spectators during the many trips the circus made. So eventually a separate breed was formed, and an association was founded. Anyone who has ever seen "Eskies" in action will be struck by their origins from circus dogs.


It wasn't until 1917, when America entered WWI and people were hostile to anything German, that the breed was given the name we know it by today: "American Eskimo Dog." Why the breed was named that way is not known for certain. Some sources claim that “American Eskimo” was chosen to pay homage to an Ohio kennel of the same name. Another theory is that these dogs looked like smaller versions of the Eskimo sled dogs. 


Although the breed has a long and fascinating U.S. history, it wasn't until 1995 that the AKC registered its first Eskie. The little white wonder dogs that performed various tasks on Midwestern farms and later charmed audiences under the circus tent are now primarily kept by people who are looking for a versatile, active and fun-loving companion.

Breed standard

The Eskie is a small to medium-sized dog and comes in white and cream coat colors. It was not possible to research why there are no other colors. Their thick, double-coated fur has a lion's mane-like ruff, well-feathered backs of the front legs as are the rear legs down to the hock. The fur is neither curly nor wavy, but completely straight. The double-coated fur protects the dogs from wind and weather. However, the fur of the "Eskies" has often a completely different structure than that of the Giant Spitz; it is much plusher, softer and therefore quite difficult to keep in order. The Eskimo dog sheds extremely, although frequent brushing out of the dead hair prevents the worst,


The tail is carried on the back or hanging and is set moderately high on a short and compact, although not cobby, body. Hind-quarters are well-angulated (approx. 30 degrees to the horizontal). The eyes are not completely round, but slightly oval and should be set wide apart and not slanted, protruding or bulging. The eye color is brown, but never amber nor blue. The ears are triangular and correspond to the size of the head, and they should be as far apart as possible so that they virtually merge with the head. The skull is wedge-shaped, the greatest width is between the ears. The stop is well-defined, although not abrupt. The muzzle is wide and should not exceed the length of the skull, so it should not be too long. Nose and lip pigment are dark brown or black.

American Eskimo Dog breed standard
American Eskimo Dog [1]

The "Eskie" is available in three sizes: toy, miniature and standard - based on height:

  • Toy: 22-30 cm and 2.27-4.5 kg
  • Miniature: 30-40cm and 4.5-9kg
  • Standard: 38-50cm and 6.8-18kg  

However, other Nordic dog breeds were also crossbred into the Eskies, such as Samoyed, Volpino Italiano and, after WW2, among others, a  Japanese Spitz called “Conners Fuji”. Fuji was born in Japan on April 26, 1955, and was registered as a Spitz with the Japan Kennel Club. Mr. Conner, an American soldier stationed in Japan, was its owner. When Mr. Conner returned to the States, he took Fuji with him and applied for its registration on May 26, 1958, whereupon Fuji was registered with the UKC. Fuji is also the ancestor of many Eskies alive today. After Fuji, no Japanese Spitz was ever registered as an Eskie again. Fuji may have been able to cheat its way through because its registration certificate didn't say Japanese-Spitz, just "Spitz".


The first written mention of the Eskies was in a print from the UKC in 1958. It states that the breed was bred from large sled dogs and has nothing to do with its German origins. It was even said that they were supposed to look like miniature Samoyed. Since these statements were not substantiated in any way, I would rather attribute them to the Anti-Germanism that was still prevalent at the time. 

American Eskimo dog pup puppy cute
Eskie puppy [2]

In 1969 the "National American Eskimo Dog Association" (NAEDA) was founded. The NAEDA divided the breed into two sizes, namely standard and miniature. This was probably just for show purposes, as more trophies could be won. In 1974 the standard was revised and published in the official UKC magazine "Bloodlines". But that was all, not a single word was said about the American Eskimo Dog, neither where it came from nor what it was bred for. In 1978 there was another complete revision of the standard. Although this standard was much more detailed, there was still no comment on the breed. 


In 1985 the "American Eskimo Dog Club of America" was founded. The AEDCA has recognized the toy, miniature and standard sized varieties. The UKC standard continues to only recognize standard and miniature. In 1995, the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the breed in the "Non-Sporting Group". The stud book was opened from 2000 to 2003 to allow more of the original UKC lines to be registered, so today many American Eskimo Dogs are dual registered with both American Kennel Clubs. The breed was also recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club in 2006.


Eskies exported from the USA are usually reclassified as German Großspitz or Mittel Spitz, since the American Eskimo Dog is not listed as a breed by many breed associations outside of America and Canada - for example, it is not recognized by the FCI either.


The American Eskimo Dog can suffer from diseases such as progressive retinal atrophy, knee joint injuries and hip evaluation. However, Eskies are robust, pretty healthy and durable dogs.


American Eskimo Dog
American Eskimo Dog [3]

The "Eskie" is first and foremost a companion dog, a devoted family member who prefers to be with his people at all times. He is cheerful, affectionate and very smart - so smart that he is considered one of the most intelligent dog breeds. He can learn tricks in no time and would make a perfect circus dog at any time. But only as long as he feels like it. He is just an independent thinker, curious and equipped with the ability to solve problems himself quite precisely. He is particularly suitable for activities where he has to use his intelligence, such as obedience or trick-dogging.


Since a lot of the Eskie's ancestors were once famous circus performers, this legacy can still be found in them today: American Eskimo Dogs need a lot of exercise and are really active. Since the Eskie is quite a free spirit, it is better to train him to be obedient from puppyhood, otherwise this clever dog will outsmart his owner pretty fast.


The very sporty dogs have a lot of energy and can sometimes become destructive if they are bored or are even left alone too often. Eskies are particularly good for very active people and in busy households because their high energy level means they can keep up very well. They are a so-called "trotting breed" that can trot for a very long time without getting tired, so a four-hour walk is no problem for them. 


Eskies have excellent self-confidence, like all Spitzes. They like to be the center of attention and want to please those around them. They are yappy guard dogs who - although they warm up to strangers over time - always react suspiciously at first. The Eskie takes his watchdog duties very, very seriously, which is perhaps a legacy of the Japanese leaders who really report more or less every visitor. If you are looking for a very talkative dog breed that likes to bark, howl or mumble, this breed is ideal because these dogs really need to communicate.


When the Eskie isn’t talking, he likes chewing. Most are avid chewers and need a constant supply of chew toys to keep them from gnawing on furniture. Otherwise, they are very friendly and get along well with other dogs, cats and children; however, some of them they have a tendency to prey on smaller animals or birds. This can often be solved by corresponding training. 

The Eskie arrives in Germany

For several years now, American Eskimo Dogs imported from the USA have been crossed into the white German Giant Spitz. Although their origins go back to the German Spitz, they have now had to undergo various crossbreeding with other dog breeds. Nevertheless, they were rewritten by the German Spitz Club as German Giant Spitz.

Import American Eskimo Dog German Spitz Giant stud book Sierra's Alina
Excerpt from German stud book '92: Even before 2002, Eskies were imported like Eske bitch "Sierra's Alina" bred by Mrs. Allen by Eyke Schmidt-Rohde. Officially, Alina had no descendants. Suuuure....🤡

Mrs. Ilse Lauermann from the "Berg Sonnenhof" kennel in Bavaria was the first to import American Eskimo Dogs in 2003, namely the females Alpine's Walk to Remember (*2002) and Nature's Puppy Love  (*2003). There was massive resistance to this action, which almost led to the breakup of the Bavarian Spitz group, but the rewriting of the two Eskies to Giant Spitz was approved without any requirements.


The background to the import of the two bitches was the urgently needed blood refreshment of the large white Spitzes. Critics of this campaign have complained that the Eskies are no longer purebred Giant Spitzes, as other Spitz such as Samoyed or Japanese Spitz were brought in. On the other hand, one cannot exclude the fact that foreign breeds have been crossed into the German Giant Spitz again and again over the years - knowingly or secretly.

Left and center: Nature's Puppy Love/Right: Alpine's Walk to Remember. In the pictures of the two bitches, you can clearly see that there are quite different breed types among Eskies. While Penny would easily pass for a medium-sized Spitz, Puppy Love looks more like an undersized Samoyed.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Until recently, no hereditary diseases were known in German Spitz - until it emerged that the progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) was introduced into the white German Giant Spitz population via at least one of the two Eskie bitches imported into Germany. PRA is an eye disease that usually causes affected dogs to go blind by the age of 4-5. The disease was completely unknown for the German Spitz until 2002, but it is a typical hereditary disease for American Eskimo Dogs. Although a genetic test for the diagnosis of the PRA defect gene has been available since 2005, neither the imported bitches nor their offspring have been examined with this genetic test. The two bitches were included in the stud book of the German Spitz Association as white Giant Spitzes - and that solved the PRA problem, because PRA is not a German Giant Spitz thing.... 🙄


In 2009, a veterinarian with a practice focus on genetics took over the position of German Spitz Club general studward. Unfortunately, the two Eskie bitches were not stopped from breeding either.


Although many of the active FCI-breeders in Germany bred and breed with so-called registry dogs*, mating of dogs with papers with these registry dogs are strictly regulated by the German Spitz Club. Descendants of the imported Eskies were even recommended and used for mating. Two sons of the Eskies were recommended as stud dogs, especially to registered bitches. Unfortunately, these dogs were not tested for PRA either. 🙄🙄🙄

* Registered dog = the ancestors of one of the parents are not known or do not have any recognized ancestry evidence or the dogs were not bred under FCI

The difference between American Eskimo Dog and Giant Spitz

"American Eskimo Dog" book cover
"American Eskimo Dog" on an american book

Are they identical or not? No, they are not. Other breeds were introduced into the breed, such as Japanese Spitz, Akita and Samoyed. That's why they sometimes differ visually from the Giant Spitz, so the Eskies sometimes look like the Nordic Spitz - with consistently hairy legs and rather strong paws, while the Giant Spitz has cat's paws. However, sometimes the Eskies look more like a Giant Spitz than our Giant Spitz itself. The structure and quality of their fur often differ from the fur of the Giant Spitz. The Eskimo coat is often plusher and softer, and therefore unfortunately considerably more care-intensive. Our Spitz, on the other hand, has rather harsh fur that is virtually self-cleaning.


But there are also differences in personality between the two: the Eskie has a higher energy level and needs more exercise and lots of mental challenges, while the German Spitz also likes to be active, but doesn't get mad if there isn't much for a few days happened. The different breeding focuses are clearly visible here: the Giant Spitz as an incorruptible guardian who sometimes doesn't do anything when nothing is happening - and the Eskimo dog as an old show and circus breed that is much more demanding when it comes to activities and gets bored more quickly. 


Eskies are also much more sporty than Spitz and are easy to motivate. Eskies are less suspicious because at a certain point in time their guard qualities were no longer in the focus of breeding, so the territorial instinct (that is essential for a good guard dog) has no longer been a breeding target. Nevertheless, the American Eskimo Dog reports visitors. The Eskie therefore corresponds more closely to the “yelper” than the German Spitz does. Due to the cross-breeding of various other Spitz breeds, many Eskies sometimes have a slight hunting drive.


So if you are looking for an agile and sporty companion dog for hobbies like agility, fly ball or trick-dogging, the American Eskimo Dog is an excellent fit.  However, if you prefer the more primitive nature of the German Giant Spitz and want a reliable and incorruptible guard-dog, you will find your suitable counterpart in a Giant Spitz from a purebred German lineage.


Although the German Spitz and the American Eskimo Dog are sometimes different breeds, the following question arises at this point: can we as German Spitz breeders afford to forego a fresh bloodline when it comes to the Giant Spitz? No, we actually can't do that. However, these fresh bloodlines should be selected very carefully and used wisely. In retrospect, it would probably have been more sensible to leave the imported dogs as American Eskimo Dogs and use their genetic reservoirs in certain places in order to make targeted improvements. 


Although the American Eskimo Dog breed is not recognized by the FCI and its use in breeding is highly controversial, it was no problem to reclassify the imported "Eskies" as German Spitz without any restrictions. And this despite the fact that they were once created from a mixture of different types of Spitz (medium and large German Spitz, Volpino Italiano, Samoyed and, after WW2, Japanese Spitz). It should therefore be possible to abolish the strict separation of varieties of German Spitz and allow crossbreeding in order to get the Giant Spitzes into a better genetic position - in the long term!






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