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The American Eskimo: From Farm Dog to Circus Performer

The American Eskimo dog -- no relation to the American Eskimo people -- found fame as circus dogs in the 1920s.

Caroline Coile  |  Aug 24th 2015


The American Eskimo is one of the most popular unpopular dogs in America. That’s because even though they’ve been around for years, almost all of them are registered with the United Kennel Club, not the American Kennel Club.

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American Eskimo Dog by Shutterstock.

More interesting things about the American Eskimo

  • The breed is a typical Spitz breed, with thick stand-off coat, slightly pointed nose, curled tail, and small erect ears — all traits that help protect it from cold weather.
  • They were developed from Spitz-type dogs in Germany, with input from other Spitz breeds such as the Pomeranian, Volpino Italiano, and Keeshond. When European clubs excluded white Keeshonden and large Pomeranians in the early 1900s, the “orphaned” medium-sized white Spitz dogs became the basis of the German Spitz, which in turn gave rise to the American Spitz.
American Eskimo by Shutterstock.

American Eskimo by Shutterstock.

  • The United Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1913 as the American Spitz. After World War I, the breed’s name was changed to the less Germanic-sounding American Eskimo. The breed has no connection with American Eskimo people, or any other Eskimo breed. Instead, the name comes from the most popular kennel at the time of renaming. Despite its popularity, the breed was not recognized by the AKC until 1994. Even today, more Eskies are probably registered with the UKC than the AKC; many are registered with both.
  • It is a member of the AKC Non-Sporting group, and of the UKC Northern Breed group.
  • Initially they served as general farm dogs and watchdogs. In the 1920s, many became famed as circus dogs. Circuses even sold puppies complete with pedigrees that listed what tricks each ancestor could do. An Eskie who performed with Barnum & Bailey was the first dog to ever walk a tightrope. Accounts differ, however, as to whether this dog’s name was Stout’s Pal Pierre or Bido.
  • Here’s a video of their close relatives, the Japanese Spitz, performing:


  • Here’s a modern Eskie doing tricks:

  • Eskies have the largest size range of any Spitz breed, with toy (9-12 inches, 6-10 pounds), miniature, (12-15 inches, 11-20 pounds) and standard (15-19 in., 20-40 pounds) sizes. Even now, the Standard Eskie can be confused with the Samoyed, although the Samoyed is still much larger and heavier boned; and the toy could be confused with a white Pomeranian, although the Pom is still smaller.
  • The breed’s official nickname is “The Dog Beautiful.” But most people call them Eskies.
  • The Eskie is the 114th most popular AKC breed.
  • Shed Eskie fur is often used for knitting. It is very soft and warm. The fur is also used to make artificial fishing lures.
  • No Eskie has yet won Best in Show, or, for that matter, the Non-Sporting group, at the Westminster dog show. Only one has even placed in the group, a fourth, which occurred in 2015.
  • Eskies appear in the movie The Proposal, in which four Eskie puppies played the role of Kevin.
  • This breed is made for the Hollywood lifestyle — but why can’t we find any celebrity owners?

Interested in other breed profiles? Find dozens of them here.

Read recent stories by Caroline Coile:

About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.