Information about the Spitz

Spitz-type dogs (the correct German plural is Spitze, though spitzen is commonly used in the English) are a type of dog, characterized by long, thick, and often white fur, and pointed ears and muzzles. The tail is usually curled over the dog’s back.

The exact origins of spitz-type dogs are not known, though most of the spitz-types seen today originate from the Arctic or East Asian regions. The type was described as Canis pomeranus by Johann Friedrich Gmelin in his revision of Systema naturae in 1788 (printed in English in 1792.)

There is no archaeological evidence showing transition stages between the wolf and the often-similar spitz-type dogs. Skeletal remains up to 5,000 years old suggest it is far more likely that the ancestors of spitz types mated with wolves. In recent genetic testing of dog breeds, many spitz-types were found to be in the group closest to wolves, presumed to be the oldest types of dogs.

Humans have intentionally mated spitz-types with wolves in more recent times to achieve or maintain the wolf-like appearance of breeds such as the Alaskan Malamute.

About 3,000 years ago, dogs began to migrate from the Arctic into temperate Europe, North America, Asia, and to a lesser extent, Africa.

Skeletal remains around 2,000 years old unearthed in Switzerland indicate that spitz-type dogs have inhabited Central Europe for millennia. These dogs are almost certainly the ancestors of the European spitz-types, such as the German Spitz and Schipperke.

Many spitz-types also migrated into Siberia and Mongolia. Over the centuries, many of these dogs were transported by humans to Japan, most likely from Manchuria. These Asian spitz types are the ancestors of today’s breeds such as
the Chow Chow and the Akita Inu.

Through selective breeding, spitz-types have been developed to fit three purposes helping humans: hunting, herding, and pulling sleds.

The larger and more powerful breeds such as the Akita Inu, Karelian Bear Dog, Norwegian Elkhound and Swedish Elkhound were used for big game hunting, helping humans kill moose and brown bears.

Smaller breeds such as the Finnish Spitz and the Lundehund were used in Scandinavia to hunt birds and smaller mammals.

Two of the very largest spitz types, notably the Canadian Eskimo Dog and the Greenland Dog, were used to pull sleds up until the 19th century. During that century, when fur trapping became a lucrative business, people began to realize that size did not necessarily relate with endurance, and the smaller Siberian Husky came to be used more frequently in Canada and Alaska. The Finnish Lapphund was used by the Sami people.

Spitz-types are well suited to living in harsh northern climates. They often have an insulating, waterproof undercoat that is denser than the topcoat to trap warmth.

Small ears help reduce the risk of frostbite, and thick fur that grows on the paws protects the dogs from sharp ice.

Many spitz-type breeds retain wolf-like characteristics such as independence, suspiciousness, and aggression towards unfamiliar humans or other dogs, and can therefore require much training before they become manageable. Some, such as the Karelian Bear Dog, are more difficult to train as companion dogs. Spitz dogs have been said to be more prone to rabies.

The charming look of the spitz-type, with its thick fur, fluffy ruff, curled tail and small muzzle and ears, has caused several people to create non-working types designed to be companions or lap dogs. This trend is most evident in the tiny Pomeranian, which was originally a much larger dog closer to the size of a Keeshond before being bred down to make an acceptable court animal. The Keeshond, the Wolfsspitz variation of the German Spitz, widely known as the national dog of the Netherlands, is an affectionate and loyal, albeit very energetic, pet.

Other spitz types which have been bred away from working uses are the American Eskimo Dog, the Alaskan Klee Kai, the German Spitz, the Japanese Spitz, and the Pomeranian.