German Spitz

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult German Spitz

Archaeological evidence suggests the German Spitz has been living with humans in Central Europe for at least the last 5000 years, and it has changed little in the time since, being the ancestor of many of the modern breeds. Depending on where you are in the world, “German Spitz” may refer to several different breeds, and in German-speaking countries, the Pomeranian is actually considered under the same umbrella, being simply a toy-sized version. In the United Kingdom, the breed is divided into Klein (small) and Mittel (middle), with the only distinguishing characteristic being their size. These are solid, fluffy dogs with the typical bushy Spitz tail, and they have strong personalities; vivacious and confident around their families, they tend to be wary of strangers, and need considerable socialisation when young in order to prevent any nervousness or aggression developing in later life.

The breed develops a strong bond with its people, and although it is an affectionate dog, it does have a tendency to be bossy, and will try to assume the role of pack leader if it senses a lack of confidence or assertiveness from the owner. For this reason, it might not be the best choice for a novice owner. In addition, while it is generally even-tempered, the Kleinspitz may be rather more easily hurt by boisterous children, and will be quick to snap in retaliation. Older, more considerate children will find the dog to be good company, but families with toddlers should steer clear. The thick, double coat needs regular brushing, but is relatively easy to care for, and the breed does not have onerous exercise requirements, meaning the German Spitz is a surprisingly low-maintenance dog. It is also generally healthy, with a life expectancy of 13–15 years.

About & History

Skeletal remains of Spitz-type dogs have been found associated with human settlements from five to six thousand years ago throughout Central Europe, implying that man was already heavily dependent on domesticated dogs for his survival in the region by this time. Peering slightly further back in time, these dogs likely originated from Central Asia, with other branches of the Spitz family heading east, eventually reaching as far as Greenland, and leaving their mark along the way in the form of the Canadian Eskimo Dog, Greenland Dog, and others besides. In form, if not behaviour, these European Spitzes have changed little over the intervening millennia, with the major refinements being to the size, rather than shape of the dogs.

Travellers on the River Rhein selected larger German Spitzes for companionship and protection on their barges, and through this selection the Keeshond was born. In Germany, it is known as the Wolfspitz, and is still considered a fully fledged member of the German Spitz breed. Likewise, the Zwergspitz (Dwarf Spitz) is the name given to the Pomeranian, while the Großspitz, Mittelspitz, and Kleinspitz complete the family. Although we distinguish between these breeds in the English-speaking world, the chief differences between them are superficial, involving variations in size and coat colour. The German Spitz was first exported to the United States in the 1800s, and developed quite a following there, especially amongst the large German population, but it suffered a decline in popularity in later years, with the pervasive anti-German sentiment during World War I causing many breeders to “rebrand” some of their dogs as American Eskimo Dogs – a breed solidly based in German Spitz genetics, with some input from others such as the Finnish Spitz.

Appearance

German Spitz Large Photo

The breed has a fabulous coat, made to stand out from the body by the dense undercoat. In particular, it has a thick mane, or ruff, that covers the neck and frames the head, which has a fox-like quality, being wedge-shaped with a tapering nose and a relatively flat skull. Its muzzle is moderately long, usually around 40% of the total length of the head. The lips are close-fitting and not pendulous, and are always pigmented, usually black, but sometimes brown, and the teeth may meet in either a pincer or scissor bite. The breed has small triangular ears set high and pointing upright, and the dark eyes are almond-shaped and slightly slanted.

The neck, which is difficult to appreciate beneath the thick ruff, is relatively short and set well into the shoulders, and it sweeps into a straight, strong back and the long, tightly curled tail that is carried forward. The breed has a deep chest that is particularly broad at the level of the forelimbs, and a very slightly tucked abdomen.

Because of this broad chest and ample muscling, both fore and hindlimbs are set well apart, giving the impression of a powerfully built body. The limbs are relatively upright, and have good bone structure. In motion, the German Spitz has a short but strong stride, with a good spring from the small, tight paws.

The coat consists of a long, straight outer layer of harder hairs, and a dense mesh of cotton wool-like secondary hairs. It should not form any parts or whorls anywhere over the body, and is particularly abundant over the neck, backs of the limbs, and on the tail. It may be many different colours, including:

  • Black
  • Brown
  • White
  • Orange
  • Grey-shaded (sliver-grey with black tips)
  • Cream

Depending on its designation as Klein or Mittel, the German Spitz can be between 23 and 29 cm (9–12 in) or 30 and 38 cm (12–15 in) in height, with its weight ranging between 5 and 11 kg (11–23 lb).

Character & Temperament

The German Spitz is a watchful and curious dog, always alert to its surroundings. It will never fail to leap up and raise a racket when the doorbell rings or a strange footstep is heard in the driveway. It forms a strong bond with its owners, and wants to accompany them everywhere; it does not deal well with separation, and may resort to persistent barking if ignored.

Its distrust of strangers can manifest as fearfulness or even aggression if not properly managed, but with plenty of socialisation, most German Spitzes are more likely to simply ignore a visitor rather than be overtly hostile towards them. The breed has a very low predatory drive, and generally gets along well with other pets, but it can find small children a nuisance, and may be irritable with them.

Trainability

Photo of German Spitz puppy

This is a dog that is naturally inclined to test the boundaries with its owners at times, whether by taking possession of the prize armchair or carrying out an assault on someone’s slippers in retaliation for some insult, real or imagined. It is important that the owner is experienced and level-headed enough to deal with such incidents in a firm but reasonable way in order to maintain the pecking order within the home.

Although the German Spitz can be somewhat stubborn, persistence in training will yield results, and a well-trained dog is more likely to accept the owner’s dominance, resulting in better overall behaviour. As mentioned above, socialisation is vital from a young age to help ameliorate the breed’s natural suspicion of strangers.

Health

This is one of the healthier breeds, with a low incidence of serious health problems. The Kleinspitz is particularly prone to obesity, which can bring on a range of secondary problems, so owners should be cautious about their feeding habits, especially in dogs that are less active. Some of the conditions that the breed is thought more susceptible to include

  • Collapsing trachea – Weakness in the wall of the main airway, leading to fluctuations in the airway diameter during heavy breathing, and a consequent harsh, goose-honk cough. While this is more of a nuisance than a serious problem in many dogs, it can be worsened by obesity, and some severely affected dogs may benefit from a surgical implant to maintain patency of the trachea.
  • Epilepsy – A brain disorder of unknown cause that manifests as episodes of convulsive seizures or altered consciousness.
  • Patellar luxation – More common in the Kleinspitz due to its finer bone structure; lack of support around the knee joint allows the kneecap to slip out of position, preventing weight-bearing on the affected limb for a brief period.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy – The most significant inherited disorder in the breed, this is a common cause of blindness in young adult dogs through death of sensory nerve cells in the eye. The Kennel Club, in collaboration with the British Veterinary Association, runs a testing scheme that all breeding dogs should be subjected to in order to detect the condition before it develops, and to prevent breeding from carrier dogs.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The German Spitz is a very adaptable dog – lively and athletic, it enjoys long walks, but can also cope with being an indoor dog, as long as it is allowed at least 30-minutes of outdoor activity every day. It is a reasonably high-energy breed in the home, rarely lying still unless there is nothing going on around it.

Grooming

As the coat sheds reasonably heavily year-round, it is helpful to brush it at least twice a week to remove dead hair and to keep it in top condition. This is usually a fairly easy task to perform, as the hair is slow to knot unless severely neglected. Depending on their living situation, most German Spitzes will need a bath every one to three months, but professional grooming is not essential. The breed’s nails are strong, and often not worn adequately by exercise, so they will need to be clipped every few weeks – listen out for the tell-tale click as the dog walks across hard floors as a clue that they are too long.

Famous German Spitzes

Although the German Spitz has not played a prominent role in popular culture in this part of the world, it has, rather oddly, featured in several high-profile Bollywood movies. Additionally, Lucy Watson, the ITN newsreader in the United Kingdom, has a German Spitz named Digby, who has his own Instagram account.

Cross-Breeds

Although its close relations the Keeshond and Pomeranian are popular choices for cross-breeding, the same cannot be said for the German Spitz, as it has no cross-bred offshoots recognized by any of the international hybrid associations at this time.

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