Posts Tagged ‘German spitzes’

white spitz

I have never understood why some breeds have such incorrect names. As I have noted before, I have always doubted that the Dalmatian comes from Croatia, and we all know that the “Labrador retriever” doesn’t come from Labrador. It descends from the dogs of Newfoundland. Now, I tend to think of it as a British breed, because I recognize that a St. John’s water dog is not the same thing as the modern Labrador. However, that breed’s name is somewhat in the ball park. After all, Labrador and Newfoundland are in the same country. They even form the same province– “Newfoundland and Labrador– which was historically the independent dominion of Newfoundland, which joined Canada in 1949. The term “Labrador” for the dog originates with the Third Earl of Malmesbury. It is probably a misunderstanding of the name for a Portuguese dog that probably played a role in developing the St. John’s water dog– the Cao de Castro Laboreiro.

The Lab and the Dalmatian aren’t the only breed with this sort of weird naming. We have a dog in the US called an Australian shepherd. On this blog. I refer it as the “Australian [sic] shepherd,” because its origins are very much American. It may include some Australian ancestors, like the koolie, but it also could get that appearance from German herders called “tiger dogs.” These “tiger dogs” are also the ancestor of the koolie, so maybe we should call them German shepherds? Wait. That name is already taken.

Now, consider the case of the so-called American Eskimo dog. It is about as Eskimo as I am. Quite literally.

The American Eskimo dog has no origins in the North American Arctic or that of far eastern Russian. It has no connection to any of those indigenes of those regions. Like me, its origins are Teutonic, from Mitteleuropa, specifically the German-speaking world.

Every region in the German-speaking world had its own spitz. The most famous of these spitz dogs today are the diminutive Pomeranian and the Keeshond or Wolfspitz (which is native to the Rhineland and the Netherlands). However, there are several different forms of these dogs, which acted as multipurpose farm dogs on the small estates. They herded stock, killed rats, and guarded their owners’ meager posessions.

Some of these dogs were white in color, and this color was quite popular among the German working classes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, the early German fancy didn’t like the white color in their the spitz dogs, so these dogs wound up as culls as the German spitz became a standardized breed.

Further, lots of Germans were leaving for America during that time period. They had heard stories of the great opportunities that existed on the prairies and in the bustling cities. Further, there was a greater level of democracy in the USA than in the old German Empire, which, despite the raving of the mad intelligentsia of that time period, was a very weak democracy.

They brought their white spitz dogs with them. My grandfather still refers to dogs with a curled tail and erect ears as spitzes.  It doesn’t matter if they are technically from Central Europe or not. A Norwegian elkhound is a spitz to him, as is a Siberian husky.

So why are they called Eskimo dogs?

Well, why is that so many people in Britain call the German shepherd an Alsatian?

During the First World War, German dogs got different names. At the time, the white spitz  was a popular family dog in the United States, and its breeders recognized that it was probably not wise to connect them to the Kaiser.

Also, the Germans themselves did not like white spitzes. Their original breed standards did not allow white, so there was very little reason to connect the American version of the German spitz to the German version.

Today, only the North American registries recognize an “American Eskimo dog.” The FCI regards them as German spitzes.

Now, the people we call Eskimo do have dogs of this type. However, they are much larger. The Qimmiq (Canadian Eskimo dog), the Greenland dog, and the Labrador husky are true “Eskimo dogs.” However, they have shorter, denser fur, and they make more wolf-like vocalizations. I have no idea why anyone would think that a German spitz, which know for their barking, would have anything in common with the true dogs of the Arctic.

Now, these dogs are related, albeit distantly, to the Samoyed/Lapphund type. It is very possible that the dogs of the Samoyed/Lapphund type are the ancestors of these dogs. It is also possible that they share a very close common ancestor. All of these dogs have longer hair, and all of them can herd. I’ve even known a Pomeranian who could herd horses. (Granted, the horses were more than willing to be herded by the little orange fox creature.)

But I still can’t call them America Eskimo dogs. For me to do so would require me to drop everything I know about dogs. And I just can’t do it. White German spitzes have nothing to do with the North American Arctic.

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