American Eskimo Dog

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult American Eskimo Dog

Also known as the ‘Eskie’, the American Eskimo Dog is actually originally a German breed. A Spitz-type dog, they come in ‘toy’, ‘miniature’ and ‘standard’ varieties. Usually white-furred, they are known for their beautiful coat and delicate, friendly face.

Good-natured and sociable, the American Eskimo Dog loves to be around people and is very tolerant of young children. They have the potential to become highly-strung if not properly socialised or if under-stimulated, so do require a lot of time spent with them and plenty of exercise.

About & History

While you might be tempted to guess that this dog was developed in America and is related to breeds, such as the Northern Inuit Dog, both assumptions would be far from the truth. Initially from Germany, the American Eskimo Dog was only brought to the USA in the 1800s, and is a Spitz breed, closely related to the German Spitz, who is its predecessor. As well as the German Spitz, other contributing breeds are thought to include the Keeshond, Pomeranian and Italian Spitz. While white was not always a common colour in the breed, it was the preferred colour of American breeders and owners alike, and soon became the breed standard.

Once known as the American Spitz, the reason for their deceptive name change is said to be patriotism. The Americans were loath to call their cherished pet anything that would remind them of their German enemies during the First World War. A radical name change was needed, and so the American Eskimo Dog was born.

These little dogs have always been beloved by humans, thanks to their devotion to their owners and their ability to guard their properties and farms despite their small stature. Incredibly, one of the American Eskimo Dog’s main claims to fame is their well-documented history in the circus as performance dogs in the 1900s, when circus acts were big business. They would dance, partake in comedy acts and, it is said that, one of their most popular tricks was, believe it or not, tight-rope walking. In fact, the circuses would sell their performance dogs’ puppies to spectators after the show, hence the reason many American Eskimo Dog owners believe (quite rightly) that their dog is likely a descendant of these famous performing canines.

The UKC officially recognised the breed in 1919, although their breed standard was not written until long after, in 1958. More recently, the American and Canadian Kennel Clubs have accepted the breed, though it is still not formally acknowledged by many international Kennel Clubs, including the UK’s Kennel Club. Confusingly, because of this, some owners will compete their dogs internationally as German Spitz, though these two breeds have not been the same for many years.

Appearance

American Eskimo Dog Large Photo

The American Eskimo Dog comes in three distinct sizes. Toy American Eskimo Dogs measure 22-30cm and weigh only 3-5kg. Miniature American Eskimo Dogs measure 30-40cm and weigh 5-8kg, while the bigger Standard American Eskimo Dogs measure 40-50cm and weigh a much larger 8-16kg.

Unmistakably a Spitz dog, the American Eskimo Dog has a compact body, thick white fur, a small pointed muzzle and a tail that curls over their back. Their ears stand erect while their eyes should be dark in colour with an alert expression.

Possibly best known for their luxurious double coat, some people actually knit with their soft, straight fur! Their fur is shorter on their face, while thicker on their neck and tail and should be pure white or white with cream. This is in contrast to the similar-looking German Spitz dog, who comes in a large variety of colours, such as brown, white, orange and black.

Character & Temperament

A superbly-tempered dog, the American Eskimo Dog is known for its sweet and loving personality and its ability to get on well with young children. Smart and compliant, several breed members have won prestigious obedience competitions throughout the years. They love to be given the chance to show off and are always keen to do what has been asked of them to a high standard.

Likely due to their intelligence, they can be very prone to developing anxieties and behavioural issues, such as constant and excessive barking, if not given an outlet for their energy. It is vitally important that they are kept both physically and mentally stimulated and given the opportunity to excel in the activities that they so enjoy.

Used as watchdogs in the past, they are suspicious of those they don’t know and will bark at them, although with just a little persuasion can be encouraged to accept new guests. Exposing the American Eskimo Dog to plenty of different situations, people and animals from a very early age can help to neutralise their desire to be watchdogs and encourage them to accept new situations in a calm manner.

Trainability

Photo of American Eskimo Dog puppy

Given their history as performing dogs in the circus, it’s little surprise that the American Eskimo Dog absolutely excels when it comes to training. Superstars when in the right hands, these smart cookies can sometimes outsmart a rookie trainer, and may purposefully perform tasks incorrectly or manipulate situations so they get the most treats or praise out of them. Having a firm trainer who is familiar with the breed can ensure that they remain respectful and obedient.

Health

An overall healthy breed, American Eskimo Dogs will tend to live until their early teenage years, maintaining a good quality of life. Medical conditions that first-time breed owners should be aware of include:

  • Patellar Luxation – A common disease of small dogs, the American Eskimo Dog can be prone to developing knee caps that pop in and out of place. In some dogs, this will happen to only one knee, while others may be affected bilaterally. The severity of the condition varies greatly from individual to individual, and while some never appear to even notice their disorder, others can suffer with chronic pain and lameness. Surgery is an option for those that are struggling to cope with the condition.
  • Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease – While the reason that this condition occurs is still not fully understood, we know that the head of the femur bone will spontaneously start to degenerate in affected canines, typically before the age of one. Toy dogs are over-represented when it comes to this painful disease, and owners will usually notice a lameness followed by a lack of muscle mass on the affected limb. A surgery that removes the affected bone, followed by physiotherapy, may be required in some cases.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy – Also known as PRA, the American Eskimo Dog is said to be at an increased risk of developing this condition, which ultimately results in a pain-free blindness.
  • Juvenile Cataracts – When the lens of the eye becomes opaque or ‘milky’, this is known as a cataract. Juvenile cataracts occur in young dogs, and often lead to trouble with vision once they are well-developed. Some owners may opt for a surgery to remove a cataract if it impairs vision.
  • Obesity – Although not technically a disease, it is anecdotally said that the American Eskimo Dog puts on weight easily. In a breed that is known to suffer from orthopaedic conditions, such as patellar luxation, keeping them slim is essential to maintain good joint health. A calorie restricted diet and exercise programme should be implemented throughout a dogs’ life.

Exercise and Activity Levels

While a small dog, the American Eskimo Dog does have a high exercise requirement and although they can be kept in small living quarters, they should have access to a large garden and, ideally, would be brought on a minimum of two good walks a day. Spirited and humorous, the American Eskimo Dog loves to play games and solve puzzles.

Grooming

Brushing their famous coat several times a week should keep it in good condition and avoid matts. As with many dogs, regular baths are not advised as this can leave their coats lacklustre and dry. The American Eskimo Dog does not technically need their fur trimmed, as they will lose a good portion of their fur through shedding each year.

Famous American Eskimo Dogs

As a dog who once performed regularly in the circus, it should come as no surprise that there are quite a few examples of the sweet, highly trainable American Eskimo Dog on the big screens.

  • An American Eskimo Dog called Stout’s Pal Pierre claims to be the first tight-roping dog ever to perform in the Barnum and Bailey Circus.
  • Richardson’s Keta Shelton was the American Eskimo Dog who won the UKC Grand Championship in 1978.
  • An American Eskimo Dog called Tank Iglu Sweet Love won the UKC Grand Championship and the UKC obedience competition in 1981.
  • Kevin was an American Eskimo Dog in the popular movie The Proposal. Four dogs shared this role, including: Sitka, Nanu, Winter and Flurry.

Cross-Breeds

Given the breeds sweet nature and keen training ability, you'll find quite a few cross breeds, involving the American Eskimo Dog. These include:

  • Aussimo – Cross between an American Eskimo Dog and an Australian Cattle Dog
  • Chimo – Cross between an American Eskimo Dog and a Chihuahua
  • Doxiemo – Cross between an American Eskimo Dog and a Dachshund
  • Eskapoo – Cross between an American Eskimo Dog and a Poodle
  • Pug-a-mo – Cross between an American Eskimo Dog and a Pug

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