History of the Pomeranian Dog BreedThe historical region of Pomerania (Old Slavic for “next to the sea”) once spread across a large swath of the lowlands on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea. Today the name survives among certain districts, much smaller in extent, around the border where Poland meets Germany. The name also survives in the Pomeranian dog breed, the history of which is every bit as interesting as the region’s.
A little dog with a big ancestryThe Pomeranian, or “Pom” as it is more affectionately known, is one of the smallest lap dogs and classified as a member of the “toy” group, but its ancestors weighed in excess of thirty pounds. Tracing dog breeds back to their origins is not always an exact science. Pomeranians seem to have descended from the Spitz dog type, perhaps best characterised by its distinct muzzle, thick fur, pointed ears, and a tail that curls over its back. According to some sources, Pomeranian ancestry goes back to sled dogs of northern Europe, but other (and probably more reliable) sources indicate an origin in central Europe stretching back thousands of years. It is, of course, not impossible that the Pomeranian breed, as bred in England, was without an infusion of Icelandic or other north-European stock.
The Spitz dog type herded sheep, and possibly other livestock, in Europe. It was in Pomerania that they first began to be bred for their smaller size, and around the middle of the eighteenth century the English came to call them by their modern breed name which derives from “Der Pommer”, a regional name for the breed in northeast Germany (Pomerania). However, the term “Pomeranian” at that time also included various Spitz dog types from Germany and Italy, and only later applied to the specific breed so familiar to everyone today. It was not until the end of the nineteenth century, again in England, that deliberate interbreeding reduced the weight of the Pomeranian to ten and then to less than seven pounds.
A famous breedA number of notable characters in history owned Pomeranians. Michelangelo had his Pomeranian present, curled up on a satin pillow, when he painted the Sistine Chapel. Sir Isaac Newton’s dog, a Pomeranian named Diamond, is said to have knocked over a candle and destroyed many years of her owner’s work – an act that led to a nervous breakdown for Sir Isaac! Mozart wrote an aria for his Pomeranian, Pimperl, and Chopin composed the now-famous “Minute Waltz” (originally called the “Little Dog Waltz”) after watching a Pomeranian chasing its own tail (which must have been difficult for a dog of that breed). Martin Luther had a Pomeranian named Belferlein. Marie Antoinette is also said to have had Pomeranians among her dogs. Harry Houdini and even the Royal Family became proud owners of Poms.
Queen Victoria, however, became the biggest fan of the breed when she imported a number from Florence, Italy, in 1888. It is said she had thirty-five Pomeranians in the royal kennels at one point. One of the dogs, Turi, even kept vigil by the Queen’s side as she lay upon her deathbed. Queen Victoria’s influence helped make the breed one of the most popular in society. Ironically, her dogs were actually Italian Volpinos, a breed of Spitz no longer classified as Pomeranians today.
Nevertheless, Queen Victoria must surely account for a large part of the reason why Pomeranians today are not only to be found in the homes of the rich and famous, but also in the houses of many dog lovers across the globe. The popularity of these cute lap dogs has grown year by year, thus ensuring the history of the breed continues for many more generations to come.