A Mini Guide to...
Spitz Dog Breeds of the World
By Natalie F. Harris
(Thanks so much Natalie for this wonderful page!)
Most people who see a spitz-type dog say, "Oh, look at the sled dog!" Certainly many of the dog breeds that fall under the category of spitz were developed as working sled dogs, but not all. Also sometimes known as a Nordic or northern dog, the spitz is instantly recognizable to people who have read the books of Jack London, or seen sled dogs in movies or on television, or have witnessed the famous Iditerod and other sled dog races throughout the world. The wedge-shaped head is often wolf or foxlike with short, erect ears. The fur is double-coated, thick, and bushy, and it often stands out from the neck like a mane. The tail is bushy and curled, and is carried over the back. The build is stocky and powerful, with the thick chest and strong legs of a beast of burden. And the expression is generally intelligent and kind, the mouth often stretching into a seemingly human smile that hides the strong personalities and independent natures common in these dogs.
Independent they can be, like the stereotypical stubborn pack animal, but the spitz dog breeds have served mankind for thousands of years, lending their intelligence and raw power to a long mutual history of exploration and discovery. More than any other type of dog, the spitz breeds have contributed, for better or worse, to the expansion and settling of human beings throughout the world, and are still honored and prized for their contributions in this regard.
Spitz-type dogs are happiest when they have a task to perform, and most were developed to handle very specific jobs. Generally, most spitzes can be split into five job skill categories:
1)Sled or draft dog. This is the most obvious position held by many of the spitz breeds. The image of a Husky or Malamute pulling a sled is so ingrained in human imagination that the spitz breeds that don't specialize in this task are often mistaken for sled dogs themselves.
2)Hunter. Some of the more powerful spitz breeds, such as the Akita and the Norwegian Elkhound, were developed specifically to hunt large or small game and to provide for their owners.
3)Watch dog. This particular task generally is mastered by the smallest members of the spitz family. Though many of the smaller spitz breeds are classified as "non-sporting" or "companion" dogs, they are actually superb watch dogs, determined to warn away trespassers and alert their owners to potential danger despite their often tiny size.
4)Guard dog. Not to be confused with watch dogs, guard dogs are used specifically to physically defend an owner or property. This is not a task to be taken lightly, and any dog trained for this discipline needs firm yet kind training and handling from experienced trainers. Dogs that are improperly trained can be as dangerous to their owners as they are to actual threats.
5)Herd dog. Many of the Scandinavian spitz breeds, such as the Norwegian Buhund and the Lapphund breeds, were developed to be used as herding dogs. Some of these dog breeds can be traced back to the Ice Age, and they have been herding cattle, sheep, and even reindeer for centuries.
Spitz Breeds of the World
Also known as the Hokkaido, this medium-sized breed originated from dogs that accompanied migrants from Honsyu (the main island of Japan) to Hokkaido during the 1140s. The Ainu was originally bred to hunt bear and other large animals.
Also called the Akita Inu, this large, handsome dog was developed specifically to be a hunting and fighting dog. The breed is considered a national treasure in its native Japan, due in part to the faithfulness and undying loyalty of one legendary dog for its owner.
Technically not held to any breed standards, the Alaskan Husky is a mixed breed developed to create the ultimate racing sled dog. The Alaskan Husky is a sleek combination of the Siberian Husky and many other dog breeds, though it still retains the spitz type. Whereas many sled dog breeds can commonly be found in the show ring or as family pets in suburban homes, the Alaskan Husky is used almost exclusively in sledding competitions.
Alaskan Klee Kai
Not to be confused with the much larger Kai dog from Japan, the Alaskan Klee Kai, or Miniature Husky, is a rare and elegant small breed that was developed in the United States from the Alaskan Husky and other breeds. It is a companion dog that comes in three sizes: Standard, Miniature, and Toy.
The largest and most powerful of the sled dog breeds, the Malamute is prized for its strength and stamina. It is named after the Malhemut people of North America, which reportedly developed the breed from Timber wolves. It is very friendly and affectionate toward people but may be aggressive toward other dogs.
American Eskimo Dog
A classic white spitz breed, the lively and alert American Eskimo Dog, or Eskie, is known for its playfulness and loyalty to its owners. It also excels as a watch dog. This breed comes in three sizes: Standard, Miniature, and Toy.
Also known as the Israel Canaan Dog, this is an ancient breed that existed in the wild as a pariah dog for thousands of years in Israel and surrounding territories. The modern Canaan Dog, named after the Land of Canaan, was developed in the mid-20th century as a service and guard dog to help the Israelis in their war of independence. The dog is medium sized with a short coat, and it comes in a variety of colors.
Canadian Eskimo Dog
Also known as the American Husky, the Eskimo Dog, the Inuit Dog, or the Esquimaux. Not to be confused with the American Eskimo Dog or the Alaskan Husky, this is a large and efficient sled dog breed native to North America.
Chinese Foo Dog
Once thought in the western world to exist only in Chinese mythology, the Chinese Foo Dog was used for thousands of years as a worker, hunter, and protector. It is very affectionate with family members but wary around strangers. The Foo Dog is available in three sizes (small, medium, and large) and two coat types (long haired and short haired).
Called "Bear Dog" in its native China, this stocky, strong spitz-type breed was used as a guard dog and beast of burden in China for thousands of years. It has a calm, serious nature, and tends to be loyal to its owner and its owner only. There is a long-haired variety and a short-haired variety.
This medium-sized spitz originally was developed in an attempt to "recreate" the ancient German Wolfspitz, by combining the attributes of the modern Wolfspitz (Keeshond) and the Chow-Chow with those of European sled dogs. The Eurasier is a very friendly, affectionate dog that comes in many different colors, though only the solid colors are registered according to the breed standard.
A lively, medium-sized spitz breed, the Finnish Spitz was originally bred to hunt small game and birds in its native Finland. The coat is always red-gold in color. Outside of Finland, the breed is commonly used as a companion and watch dog.
German Spitz AKA German Klein Spitz
This dog is descended from ancient spitzes that existed during the Stone Age, and it is the foundation breed of many modern spitz breeds. The German Spitz is used mainly as a companion and watch dog, and comes in a variety of colors. There are five sizes of German Spitz: Wolf spitz (wolf), Gross spitz (large) Mittel spitz (middle), Klein spitz (small), and Zwerg spitz (dwarf).
Also known as the Gronlandshund or Greenland Husky, this breed originated in Greenland and is thought to be descended directly from wolves. Used primarily as a sled and guard dog, it closely resembles the Eskimo Dog and is thought in some countries to be the same breed, though the Greenland Dog is larger.
This very old breed was originally brought to Iceland by the Vikings where it was used to herd sheep and horses. It came close to extinction in the early 1900s when it was almost wiped out by a viral epidemic, then was culled to prevent a tapeworm epidemic. The breed was preserved in the other Scandinavian countries and in England, and was recently reintroduced to its native Iceland.
Another white spitz breed, the Japanese Spitz is the newest Japanese spitz-type breed, developed in the 1920s from white spitzes brought to Japan from Europe, North America, and Australia. The Japanese Spitz looks very much like the American Eskimo Dog, but it comes in one size (miniature).
Also known as the Korean Spitz, this is a very primitive breed with very wild instincts. The Jindo is considered a natural monument under Korean law, and only Korean citizens are allowed to take the dog outside of its native country. A medium-sized dog, the Jindo specializes in hunting deer, wild boar, and rabbit. The Jindo is named after Jindo Island in Southwest Korea.
Also known as the Kai Tora-Ken, the powerful, brindle-coated Kai was developed in the Japanese prefecture of Yamanashi, where it was used to hunt large game. This breed originated from medium-sized dogs that existed in Japan in ancient times. The breed was designated as a "natural monument" in Japan in 1934.
Karelian Bear Dog
Also known as the Karjalankarhukoira, this medium-sized black-and-white breed was developed to hunt and bait large game, particularly bears, in its native Finland. Most commonly kept as hunters, Karelians also are sometimes used as watch dogs. The Karelian is named after the province of Karelia in Finland.
Once a symbol of revolution in its native Holland, this dusky-colored and good-natured medium-sized spitz breed was originally developed from the German Wolfspitz as a companion and watchdog for Dutch bargemen.
There are several types of Laika breeds: the East Siberian Laika, the Karelo-Finnish Laika, the Nenets Herding Laika, the Russo-European Laika, and the West Siberian Laika. Laikas are middle- to large-sized Russian dogs with lean and strong body structures. Most Laikas originally were developed as powerful and fearless hunters or herders, and are still primarily used in this capacity. The name "Laika," roughly translated, is meant to indicate a "barking dog." In Russia, all spitz-type dogs are referred to as Laikas.
There are three types of Lapphund: the Swedish Lapphund, the Lapponian Herder, and the Finnish Lapphund. These medium-sized, elegant yet humble dogs are commonly used to herd sheep and reindeer in Norway, Sweden, and Finland. They are often credited with helping the Sami people to domesticate caribou into reindeer.
Also known as the Norwegian Puffin Dog, this small, unusual breed was developed to hunt puffins in cliff-side nesting sites. The Lundehund has six toes on each foot and an unusually flexible spine and leg joints, useful for navigating narrow tunnels. This spitz breed is believed to be Norway's oldest purebred dog, unchanged since the Ice Age.
Also known as the Norbottenspitz or Nordic Spitz, this lithe, smooth-coated dog was originally developed as a hunting dog. The Norbottenspets is known as Sweden's national dog. It's a gentle and friendly dog despite its ability to track birds, moose, and occasionally bear.
Known in Scandinavia even before the Vikings, this medium-sized, compact breed is used as a herding and guard dog. In Norwegian, "Hund" means dog, and "bu" refers to both homestead and livestock. The most common coat color is cream or biscuit.
This large, gray-black, good-natured dog is perhaps the most popular Norwegian dog breed outside of its native country. It was developed as a moose hunter and is also used to pull sleds and skiers. Its friendly, affectionate nature makes it an ideal family dog. The Black Norwegian Elkhound is considered a separate breed.
The smallest of the spitz breeds, the Pomeranian is regarded as a companion dog, though it also makes an excellent watch dog. The breed is lively and playful, and is the most popular of the spitz breeds -- indeed, it is one of the most popular dog breeds in the world.
Perhaps the gentlest of the spitz-type breeds, this large, all-white sled and reindeer-herding dog came to fame at beginning of the twentieth century as the sled breed of choice for explorers of the North and South poles. The modern Samoyed is descended from dogs imported from Siberia, probably Nenets Herding Laikas.
The small, all-black Schipperke is a spitz-type shepherd breed considered to be the smallest member of Belgian Shepherd family in its native Belgium. It is tremendously loyal and protective of its human owners. The breed's name means "Little Shepherd" in Flemish. Traditionally, the tail is removed in young pups; but since anti-docking legislation was passed in many countries, Schipperkes with curled tails have become much more common.
A small, hardy breed, the Shiba Inu is the most popular spitz breed in its native Japan. The Shiba is very independent yet loyal to its owners, and it has peculiar vocalizations that breed enthusiasts call "the Shiba scream."
Also known as the Kochi-Ken, the sesame-colored Shikoku was used to hunt boar in the mountainous districts of Kochi Prefecture in Japan. There are three varieties of this breed: the Awa, the Hongawa, and the Hata, all named after the districts in which they were originally bred.
Perhaps the most well known of the spitz-type breeds, the strong and lithe Siberian Husky is the supreme sled dog of the world, prized for its speed and endurance. Its amiable nature and wolflike beauty have made it one of the most popular breeds in the world.
Also known as the Jamthund or the Schwedisher Elchund, this dog is Sweden's largest native hunting breed, used mainly for hunting elk or moose. The Swedish Elkhound is believed to have been used originally to hunt bear and lynx. It is grey in color with light grey or cream markings. The White Swedish Elkhound is considered to be a separate breed.
There are exceptions to every rule, and the Vallhund is certainly an exception. A small but powerful and courageous herding dog, the Swedish Vallhund is a very old type of spitz that was known to the Vikings. Its distinctive short legs and long body have led some people to believe that the Vallhund is an ancestor of the Corgi breeds. Traditionally, the tail is removed in young pups; but since anti-docking legislation was passed in many countries, Vallhunds with curled tails have become much more common.
Also known as the Italian Spitz, the Volpino Italiano closely resembles the Pomeranian and is often mistaken as such. It originally was a pet for the Italian gentry and a watch dog for the working class, but today is a lively and devoted companion dog. Its common coat colors include white and champagne.
Other Breeds of Note
This small, charming African hunting dog is known for its light, smooth build and peculiar vocalizations that make up for its inability to bark. Its sharp features and curled tail lead some people to classify the primitive Basenji as a spitz; but in North America, it is considered to be a sighthound, related to the Greyhound and Whippet.
Chinese Shar Pei
A medium-sized, powerful, aloof breed, the Shar Pei is noted for its loose, wrinkly skin, which is believed to have been originally developed to protect the breed in dog fights. The breed may have historical connections with the Chow Chow, and is often listed in kennel clubs as a Northern breed, but it is not a spitz-type breed.
Developed in the early 1900s from Inuit Dogs, Saint Bernards, and Belgian Shepherds, the rare Chinook is a large sled dog breed with immense pulling power. It is a muscular, thick-coated Nordic dog with the appearance of a large shepherd or hound, but it is not a spitz-type dog. It can have erect or pendant ears.
Native to Great Britain, the Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgi breeds are energetic, short-legged herding dogs. The Pembroke, in particular, is known as a favorite breed of the British royal family. The Corgis' apparent close ties with the Swedish Vallhund lead some people to classify them as spitzes; but in North America, the Corgis are considered to be more closely related to the collie breeds.
A lively toy breed with large, fringed ears, the Papillon is commonly mistaken for a spitz breed, but it is actually a member of the Spaniel family. The breed's name is French for "butterfly," in reference to the dog's ears.