Nearly 50 years ago, circus trainer Caleb Thompson toured the US and Canada with two animal acts featuring all white horses and small white dogs. He bred, raised, and trained the animals on his White Horse Ranch in Nebraska, and established a school to teach horsemanship and animal training there.
The breed of dogs featured in his trick animal acts was the American Eskimo, a spitz dog with a convoluted and colorful history. Typically northern-dog in appearance, the American Eskimo's bright, appealing temperament, skill, and snowy coat made him a favorite with circus audiences whether he rode in a cart pulled by other dogs, pulled a small cart himself, rode horseback, or accomplished a variety of other feats. Circuses have gone by the wayside for the most part, but the Eskie still plies his trade in living rooms all over the country as he delights owners and friends with his pranks and abilities.
"Spitz" is a type of dog with a pointed muzzle, pointed ears, and a curled tail, not a breed of dog any more than a "hound" or a "spaniel" is a breed. Dogs in the spitz family, also known as northern dogs, include Akita, Norwegian Elkhound, Chow Chow, Finnish Spitz, Pomeranian, and Keeshond. The latter two breeds are closely related to the American Eskimo as all three developed from a family of German spitz breeds differentiated by size and color.
The Wolfspitz is wolf gray and is the largest of the group at 18 inches tall. This breed is probably the progenitor of the Keeshond, the lively Dutch dog that was a favorite of the working class in the lowland country. (See the Keeshond profile, Dog Owner's Guide, June 1993.) The remaining breeds in the group come in several colors and vary in size as follows: Gross Spitz or Giant Spitz is 16 inches tall; Mittelspitz or Standard Spitz is 11-14 inches tall; Kleinspitz or Small Spitz is 8.5 to 11 inches tall; and Zwergspitz or Dwarf Spitz, which became the Pomeranian in the US, is less than 8.5 inches tall.
Different types of spitz dogs came to the US with German immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but the actual development of the American Eskimo as a white spitz breed is lost because there was no breed club to keep written records until 1969. However, there is no doubt that the breed came from Germany, and is not a "miniature Samoyed" as some people claim.
"American Eskimo Dog" became the official breed name during World War I, when an reference to Germany was considered anathema in the Allied Nations. In England, the German Shepherd Dog became the Alsatian; in this country, the American Spitz became the American Eskimo Dog.
The American Eskimo Dog is registered with the United Kennel Club and on July 1st, 1995 was accepted into the non-sporting group of the American Kennel Club becoming the AKC's 138th breed. There are two national clubs for the breed, the National American Eskimo Dog Association and the American Eskimo Dogs of America.
The standards for the breed differ in words but not in description of the breed. The major difference is that UKC recognizes only the standard and miniature sizes and the AKC will add the toy size. The American Eskimo Dog has a typical northern dog appearance: well-proportioned body, double coat, pointed muzzle, small eyes, triangular ears with rounded tips, curled tail, and smooth, steady gait. Although bred mainly as a companion, the Eskie looks like a sled dog and is at home in snow, ice, and cold temperatures.
White is the preferred color, although biscuit or cream markings are acceptable. The dog's body should be strong and compact, with well-sprung ribs, a deep chest, and a straight, muscular back and loin. As with other Nordic dogs, the feet should be tight with tough pads. The tail is plumed with long hair and is carried over the dog's back; a tight curl or double curl, which is often seen in Akitas, is a fault in Eskies.
The coat is more lavish on males than females. It is thickest in a mane around the neck and is completely free of waves or curls. The undercoat is very thick and soft, and when shedding, sends tufts of white wafting through the air, scurrying along the floor, and scooting under furniture. The top coat is longer and stiffer and forms a layer of protection from the weather.
Standard-size male Eskies are 15-19 inches, and females are 14-18 inches. Miniature males are 12-15 inches tall, and miniature females are 11-14 inches tall. In puppy classes, miniatures have a minimum height of 11 inches for males and 10 inches for females. The AKC sizes are nine-to-12 inches, toys; 12-15 inches , miniatures; and 15-19 inches for standards with no differential for males and females.
Breed disqualifications include blue eyes; deafness can be a problem in blue-eyed, white dogs.
The American Eskimo is a bright, alert, intelligent dog that is perfectly willing to guard his family when necessary. The dog has a high energy level and can be noisy or destructive if not given enough to do. A well-bred Eskie is a fine city dog as long as he gets a daily walk. His enjoyment of human company<197>his owner's and others'<197> and his penchant for learning tricks and playing games make him a fine companion for a moderately active family.
The Eskie likes well-behaved children, and is considered a good breed for novice dog owners if purchased from a reliable breeder.
Unfortunately, however, the breed has suffered at the hands of puppy farms and ignorant backyard breeders and many are bred with no regard for temperament. A poorly bred Eskie can be high-strung and nervous, yappy, or painfully shy.
The Eskimo coat needs brushing a couple of times each week to prevent mats and tangles, particularly around the ears and the tail. A pin brush with blunt pins is suitable for regular brushing; a mat rake will be needed if the coat is allowed to tangle. Eskies shed profusely at least once each year. Unspayed bitches may shed after each estrus, and dams drop their coats after nursing a litter.
The Eskie is a long-lived breed with few identified problems, but since breeders do little genetic testing, the incidence of inherited diseases may be higher than currently suspected. Although the breed is small to medium in size, the breeding stock should be x-rayed for hip dysplasia. Urinary tract stones can be a problem, as can flea allergies.
The Eskie must be trained, and that training must be done with kindness and consistency. The breed is unforgiving of harsh methods and may turn into a shrinking violet or a troublemaker if not treated fairly and firmly. Many American Eskimos have excelled in UKC obedience trials and the dog is a favorite in animal acts. Now that AKC has approved their inclusion in the miscellaneous group, they will begin to compete at AKC trials as well.
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