History of the Spitz Family

Ancient Seal c 3,000 BCAncient Seal c 3,000 BC

Archaeological evidence suggests that around 3,000 BC medium sized 'Spitz-like' dogs began living in close proximity with humans. Fossil remains from this period have been found among remains of pile dwellers in many parts of Europe. For thousands of years, nomadic hunter-gather people had lived around the fringe of the Arctic land masses, following the movement of game. These Arctic people, sometimes called Inuits or Eskimos, were natives of  Greenland, Alaska, Canada, and eastern Russia.

Europeans began pushing into the north polar region in search of shipping routes from the 1820s. The Lapphunds and other Scandinavian Spitz dogs probably came across the Baltic Sea to settle in Europe. Originally called Esquimaux dogs, by the mid-1800s those who settled in 'Pomerania' in Germany became German Spitz and Pomeranians while others became the basis of the family of Spitz breeds we know today[1].

The Esquimaux Dog

Esquimaux Dogs (c 1850)Esquimaux Dogs (c 1850)

Today's Sled Dogs of the Arctic are a conglomeration of breeds that are used as sled dogs. These Spitz-like dogs, were some of the descendants of the stone-age 'Peat Dogs', the oldest type of dog known in ancient Central Europe. Formerly called the Esquimaux Dog, the accompanying picture was published in 'The Quadrupeds of North America' by John James Audubon and John Bachman (1845 - 1848).

From observation of Esquimaux dogs' skeletons, these tough, powerfully built hard-working dogs weighed up to 80 pounds. By the 1860s these dogs were described by early Euro-American explorers as having thick necks, deep chests and very strong legs. Esquimaux dogs also had bushy tails, erect ears, and an intelligent expression. Some of these Spitz dogs also had a distinctive howl rather than a bark. Consequently, when a group of these dogs got excited, the sound they produced was named 'one of the most thrilling sounds of the Arctic'.

Pariah Dogs

Australian DingoAustralian Dingo

Pariah Dogs are primitive dogs which are considered to be close ancestors of the Spitz family. They are medium-sized fairly square in outline with a double coat, a wedge shaped head, pricked ears and a tail curled over the back. They lived in free-roaming packs in large areas of Asian wilderness from the Middle East to the Indian subcontinent to South East Asia, and also in North and Central America and Australia. They first existed by scavenging for food from human settlements and then gradually became domesticated. They include not only some which still live in the wild like the Australian Dingo and the New Guinea Singing Dog, but also the now recognised pure breeds of the Canaan DogPharaoh Hound, the Ibizan Hound and the Basenji[2].

Grey WolfGrey Wolf


The domestic breeds we know today that are members of the Spitz family were formally descended from the wild dog of the wolf family. Their most common ancestor is the Grey Wolf, sometimes also called the Timber Wolf.

It is believed wolves were first domesticated in Northern Eurasia many thousands of years ago. These wolves once ranged from Alaska to Canada and all over what is now USA to Mexico and throughout Europe and Asia. They lived in every type of habitat except tropical rain forests.


Wolf (USA)Wolf (USA)

Domestication is a genetic process by which whole populations of dogs become progressively suitable to co-exist with humans for the mutual benefit of both races[4].

Built for travel, wolves have the ability to pursue prey at 60 km (37 miles) per hour. This equips them for a predatory way of life. In the wild, wolves have to travel long distances to find sufficient food to survive.

Domestication is believed to have begun when wolves discovered that humans who lived in camps, threw away lots of waste. This not only ensured the wolf of a reliable food source, it saved hunting for its own food. On the other hand, humans realised that resident wolves chased not only other wild species away from their camps, but also rival wolves. This kept their humans safe from predators.

Wolves of various sizes

Most wolves stand about 76 cm (30 in) high at shoulder. However, their weight varies greatly from 14 - 65 kg (31 - 143 lb), according to the terrain in which they live. Female wolves are generally 20% smaller than males. The largest wolves tend to be in west-central Canada and across Northern Asia.

Wolf (Mexican)Wolf (Mexican)

The smallest wolves tend to be nearer the southern end of their distribution (the Middle East, Arabia and India). Wolves have long legs, large feet and deep but narrow chests This build suits them well for life on the move. The body coat is usually grey but it may be brown, reddish, black or whitish, while the underparts are usually yellow-white. Light coloured wolves are also common in the Arctic regions[3].

References and Further Reading

[1] Alice Gatacre, 'The Keeshond' Published by London Country Life Ltd 1938 'The Keeshond in History and Art'  Illustration in an article called 'Anitquity' by Dr Max Hiltsheimer from the German 'Zeitshrift fur Hundeforschung' Page 1

[2] Lee Boyd and Victor Kaftal 'Canaan Dog' Published by T.F.H Publications Neptune City N.J, USA ISBN 0-7938-0800-6 Origin and History of the Canaan Dog Pages 7 - 8.

[3] Steven H Fritts, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chief Scientist, Gray Wolf Recovery, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Helena, Montana, U.S. Advisory Board, International Wolf Center, Ely, Minnesota, U.S. Feb 12, 2021 https://www.britannica.com/animal/wolf

[4] Jessica Addams and Andrew Miller 'Between Dog and Wolf' Published by Dogwise Publishing Wenatchee, Washington WA 98801, USA Chapter 3 Domestication from Dog to Wolf Page 59