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What’s in a Pom?

In This Chapter

Falling in love with Pomeranians and deciding this is the breed for you is easy. But picking a dog based just on looks is as naïve as picking a mate based on looks. Sure, Poms and handsome spouses are fun to be seen with in public, but you may find you have irreconcilable differences at home. And although you can divorce your spouse and go your merry ways, divorcing your Pom can mean sealing his fate — sending him to a shelter, where he won’t necessarily find a new home. So find out what’s in a Pom before you decide to put a Pom in your life.

Eyeing the Standard: The Pomeranian Blueprint

What makes a Pomeranian a Pomeranian? The short answer is, DNA. But because you can’t whip out your handy DNA test kit, you need to rely on what you see.

That’s where the standard comes in. Every American Kennel Club (AKC) breed has its own standard of perfection that describes not only the essence of the breed but also the little details that make up the perfect specimen. The standard is the result of vigorous efforts on the part of breeders to describe the ideal Pom (both in physique and personality) when each breed was accepted for AKC recognition.

Technical Stuff

Periodically, the standard may change slightly to clarify certain points or even to make certain traits — like new colors that may have cropped up or extremes in sizes — more or less desirable. However, such changes are never made lightly. The American Pomeranian Club (APC) is responsible for safeguarding the Pom standard. The first APC standard was adopted in 1916; subsequent standards were adopted in 1935, 1960, 1980, 1991, and 1997 (the current version).

I describe the basic points of the standard in the following two sections. For the exact wording or to compare the present standard with earlier versions, go to the APC site at

The gist of the Pom: General appearance

How do you describe a Pomeranian? For starters, you don’t talk about the shape of his feet or any other of the important, but tiny, details. Instead you begin with his essence — the parts of the standard regarding general appearance. For the Pom, the description is

– A compact, short-backed toy dog

– A profuse outer coat and a plumed tail that lies flat on his back

– An active, alert, cocky, commanding, and inquisitive nature

Of course, there’s more to a Pom than that, so the rest of the standard fills in the details. I cover these in the next section.

From head to toes: Pom specifics

The standard may seem like a lot of detail, but then they say the Pom is in the details . . . or something like that. (See Figure 2-1 for an illustration of this royal dog.) The following are only the main points:

Size, proportion, and substance: He’s a sturdy, medium-boned dog weighing 3 to 7 pounds (ideally, 4 to 6 pounds), slightly taller than long. 

Head: His expression is foxlike, with small, high-set, erect ears; he has dark, almond-shaped eyes of medium size and a rather short, fine, but not snippy, muzzle; the top of his skull is slightly rounded but not domed, and it doesn’t have a soft spot; his teeth meet in a scissors bite with the top incisors just barely in front of the bottom ones.

 Figure 2-1: The Pomeranian breed standard.

Neck and Body: He carries his head proud and high; a short neck leads to a short, level back, which in turn leads to a tail that lies flat and straight on the back; the body is compact, with the ribcage meeting the elbows.

Forequarters: His forelegs are straight and parallel to each other with strong, straight pasterns leading to well-arched, compact feet that point straight ahead; the length of his legs is such that his elbows are halfway between the ground and the highest point of his shoulder.

Hindquarters: Viewed from behind, his legs are straight and parallel to each other; from the side, his buttocks are well behind the set of the tail; the knees are moderately bent, and the hocks are perpendicular to the ground; the well-arched, compact feet point straight ahead; as in the front, he stands mostly on his toes, not his heels.

Gait: When he trots, his front legs reach well out in front and his rear legs push off with a strong drive, the whole impression being smooth, balanced, and vigorous. The faster he goes, the more his legs converge in a straight line toward a center line beneath his body.

Coat: His coat is made up of two parts: a thick, soft, dense undercoat and a long, straight, glistening, harsh outer coat. The thick undercoat makes the outer hairs stand off from his body, giving him a puffball appearance. The coat is heaviest around the neck and the forepart of the chest and shoulders; it is shortest on the head and legs. The coat on the rear of his legs down to the pastern and hock is feathered; his tail is profusely covered with long, harsh, straight hair.

Color: All colors and patterns are equal in desirability:

  • Black and tan: The tan is rich and clearly defined over the eyes, on the muzzle, throat, and forechest, on all legs and feet, and below the tail.
  • Brindle: The base color of gold, red, or orange has strong, black, vertical stripes.
  • Parti-color: Colored areas appear on white; a white blaze is preferred.

Temperament: He is extroverted, intelligent, and vivacious; a great companion and a competitive show dog.

Beneath the Fur: Pom Anatomy 101

A Pom may look like a puffball of fur, but beneath it lies a real dog that has all the same parts as other dogs — and wolves! No one expects you to become a canine anatomist and know the names of every part of your Pom’s body. But knowing the basic parts helps you understand the breed standard, and it comes in handy when you’re trying to describe your dog’s boo-boo to the veterinarian.
Basically, your Pom’s body is like yours. Sort of. But if you could get down on all fours, stand on your fingers and toes, and grow a tail, you’d have a better idea of how your parts matched up. (Just don’t do this when you’re expecting company!)
The following is a list of the more common parts:

– Your dog’s toes are his fingers.

– His hand, or pastern, is actually off the ground.

– His elbow is way up there almost to his chest.

His upper arm is next to his body.

– His shoulder blades reach up to form a high point above his spine; this point is called the withers. 

– His heels (or hocks) are in his hind legs and are well off the ground.

– His knee is called a stifle.

– His lower back is called his croup.

Figure 2-2 illustrates parts of Pomeranian anatomy. It’s helpful to locate them on your own dog for practice and then compare them to your own anatomy for fun!
Figure 2-2: The Pom anatomy.

Small Package, Big Personality

Poms sure look cute — but you know how looks can be deceiving! Luckily, there’s no deception in the Pom’s case. These little spitfires act as cute as they look. This section contains my top eight traits that make Poms so unique.

Great balls of fire!

Poms are full of energy, their little pistonlike legs moving in a blur as they rush from one place to the next. If Poms were big dogs, they’d travel miles every day and drive their people quite insane. Fortunately, they’re small, and even though they travel great distances, they can do it all inside your home by scurrying from room to room.

The Pomeranian genealogy

Pomeranians descend from one of the most ancient lines of domesticated dogs, the Spitz family. Spitz-type dogs were associated with hunter-gatherers at least 6,000 years ago.
The Spitz have retained many of the traits that helped their ancestors (European wolves) survive in cold climates. They have thick, weather-resistant coats for warmth; small, furry ears that are less susceptible to heat loss and frostbite; a bushy tail to cover the nose when sleeping; and a muzzle of moderate length to warm incoming air.
Over time, various subtypes of Spitz breeds developed according to the needs of the geographical regions. For example, some Spitz were used as sledge dogs, some as herders, and, last but not least, some smaller ones as house dogs whose main function was to sound the alarm at danger. Sound familiar?
Little is known about the Pomeranian dog of long ago except that it was a Spitz dog weighing about 30 pounds, not the tiny darling we know today. The breed’s home country is Pomerania, in what is now part of northern Poland and Germany. Poms were prized pets not only in Pomerania but also throughout Europe, attracting notables such as Michelangelo, Mozart, and Isaac Newton.
The Pomeranian came to Britain in 1767. In 1888, Queen Victoria spotted an especially small Pomeranian while she was on a trip to Florence, Italy. (Marco weighed only 12 pounds when most Pomeranians were weighing closer to 20 pounds.) She brought him home and exhibited him at an English dog show, thus setting the trend for smaller Poms. When specimens started to mature below 8 pounds, they were dubbed Toy Pomeranians. Marco was also a red sable at a time when most Poms were white, black, or white and black. But by the end of the 19th century, most Poms were small and red. Ah, the pull of royalty!
By the beginning of the 20th century, Pomeranians were one of the most popular breeds registered or shown in England. The smaller size and greater variety of vivid colors did much to make the breed a dog of fashion that no well-dressed lady could be without.
Poms were also catching on in America, although, without the royal example, the trend was a little bit slower. In 1888 the first Pom was entered into the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) stud book, and in 1892 the first one was exhibited at an American dog show. The AKC officially recognized the Pomeranian in 1900, the same year the Pomeranian Club of America was founded. The breed grew in popularity, becoming one of the ten most popular AKC breeds in the 1930s. It again entered the top ten in 1994, where it remained for many years.


Nonetheless, don’t let their small size fool you into thinking you can ignore them. In a pinch they can exercise on their own, but they need the mental exercise that only you can provide. Without that stimulation, a Pom finds his own entertainment and challenges — and then exercises his mind by getting into trouble!

He needs the chance to stretch his legs and expand his mind every day. This means you need to play with him, make sure he gets a workout, and train him every day. Just like the big dogs, he looks forward to outdoor adventures like a romp in the yard or a walk around the block. Make your outings adventurous by exploring new routes and places every day. Nobody likes to get in a rut — a bored Pom is a bad Pom, but a tired Pom is a good Pom.

Cuddle-up pup

What about being a lap dog? Poms enjoy cuddling in your lap and being spoiled, but only after they’ve had a chance to run around and be dogs.
Poms are affectionate but not fawning. They tend to be very attached to their family, often choosing one member as their special person.

Perky and playful

Poms just want to have fun! This fun-loving fuzz ball is always eager to play a game. For instance, he loves to play big-game hunter with tiny, stuffed, squeaky toys and may find a thrown ball irresistible.
He won’t back down from a game of tug of war, but be careful not to pull too hard or he may go flying — and he can do all this inside your apartment! (But be sure you get outside too. See the previous section “Great balls of fire!”)

Fit and fancy-free

Pomeranians descend from one of the most ancient lines of domesticated dogs, the Spitz family, which has been associated with hunter-gatherers for at least 6,000 years. (See the sidebar “The Pomeranian genealogy” for more  on their background.) But a Pom doesn’t just look like a miniature Spitz. She also acts like the tough northern dog whose ancestors pulled sleds and sounded the alarm if intruders came calling. That’s no work for sissy dogs.

It’s the Spitz

Pomeranians are the smallest of the dogs considered to be in the Spitz family. Spitz breeds tend to have wolflike or foxlike wedge-shaped heads, small ears, thick double coats, bushy tails curled over the back, and a stocky build. They are independent by nature. Other Spitz breeds include the Akita, Siberian Husky, American Eskimo Dog, and a host of others.


Spitz dogs have always relied on their own thinking to get the job done. In the same tradition, Pomeranians don’t just sit around scratching their ears, waiting for your next command — they’re already acting out their own plan. As a result, Poms are constantly checking out new sights and don’t mind telling your company they’re not welcome. (Yes, they can be a little suspicious of strangers — it’s the Spitz way.) That’s why early socialization and training are vital for Pomeranians. 

The little brainiac


Pomeranians are incredibly bright (although their independent nature means they often use their intelligence to get into mischief). And they won’t be bullied into compliance — their Spitz ancestry makes them too good at digging in their heels. That’s why positive, reward-based training methods work so well with them. When you convince your Pom that your way pays off for him, he becomes your apt and willing pupil. In fact, many Pomeranians have attained high honors in obedience trials, and they’re adept at picking up new tricks.

Bold and brash

One of the less-bright traits of Poms is forgetting their size. They tend to approach much larger dogs with brash cockiness, almost daring them to cross the line. The bluff often works — the big dogs back away from this mighty mouse — but not always. As a Pom owner, you want to make sure your dog doesn’t overestimate herself.

Watchdog extraordinaire

Smaller Spitz dogs were used as watchdogs, and the Pomeranian certainly doesn’t disappoint in that regard. This perky patroller is always on the alert, sounding the alarm if anything is even slightly amiss.
Sometimes they can get carried away in the barking department, so it’s important to train your dog when to bark and when to obey your command to be quiet. Holding his tongue is a challenge for most Poms, though! After all, he does have very strong opinions, and he expects you to listen to them.

Protection dog — not so much!

Of course, if a burglar decides to ignore the barking, your Pom probably isn’t too much help in ripping him to shreds. Nevertheless, at least one Pom has been proclaimed a hero for attacking an armed intruder and saving his mistress. I was so impressed that I include him as one of the most famous Poms in Chapter Ten Fun Facts about Poms.

All Things Considered: The Pros and Cons of Poms

As cute as Poms are, you’d expect them to be the most popular dog in America. In fact, they’re not far from it. Toy dogs have been steadily gaining in popularity since the turn of the millennium, with an almost alarming increase in their numbers. Pomeranians were among the top-10 most popular AKC breeds in the mid-1990s; since then, they’ve been passed by other toy breeds but they still remain in the top 15.
Even with all their advantages, though, Poms aren’t for everyone. This section can help you see how Pom perks and pitfalls balance out for you.

The not-so-great points

On the down side, no dog, not even a Pom, is perfect for every person and situation. While small size has big advantages, it also has disadvantages worth considering, as do some other Pom characteristics. For example:

– Toy dogs can be seriously injured by jumping off of furniture, being dropped, or being stepped on.

– They can trip you easily.

– They’re too fragile for very young children to play with safely.

– They can’t go jogging with you, can’t get far hiking, can’t do a good job of protecting you, and can’t do some dog sports aimed at larger dogs.

– Housetraining can be more of a challenge in toy dogs compared to large dogs.

– They can be killed by larger dogs, wild predators, or even birds of prey.

– Poms in particular need attention to their coat.

– Poms can also bark a lot.

The great points

One reason for the upsurge in toy dog popularity is that it makes sense to go small! Consider these other reasons:

– Small dogs cost less to board, medicate, and generally care for.

– They can chew on one kibble like it’s a feast.

– Because less goes in, less comes out, and you aren’t faced with elephantine poop piles or puddles.

– You can carry a toy dog in a purse-sized bag and take her with you to places big dogs aren’t allowed.

– Busy schedules, small yards, and maybe a bit of laziness all make small dogs more appealing when you consider the exercising element.

– Small dogs don’t need to go outside in bad weather to get some exercise. On snowy days, you can play fetch, tag, or your own crazy games indoors!

– They don’t push you out of your bed or eat you out of house and home.

– They don’t drag you down the sidewalk, kill the neighbor’s cat, or jump through your windows to attack the mail carrier.

When you’ve decided a toy dog is just the ticket, you have so many breeds — Affenpinschers to Yorkshire Terriers — to choose from. So why a Pomeranian?


Poms have their own way of standing out among the toy dogs:

– Poms are among the smallest of all the toy breeds.

– They’re among the more energetic and adventurous of toys.

– They enjoy meeting challenges and can succeed at many dog sports.

– Poms love to play, but they also enjoy cuddling.

Color varieties

Poms come in one of the widest varieties of colors of any breed: white, black, brown, red, orange, cream, blue, sable, black and tan, brown and tan, spotted, brindle, and combinations of these colors and patterns.

Technical Stuff

The earliest Poms were white or sometimes black and white or solid black. When the red-sable Marco came on the scene (see the sidebar “The Pomeranian genealogy” for more on this guy), he aroused interest in other colors.

In the early 1900s, an orange English Champion named Mars came to America and created not only a sensation but also a demand for more orange! By the 1930s, Poms were being shown in a wide variety of colors, with blacks enjoying popularity. In the 1960s, black and tans, formerly unacceptable, were deemed acceptable by the Pomeranian standard. Since then, black and tans have become some of the top-winning Poms in the country. In 1996, brindle was finally recognized as an acceptable color.
by D.Caroline Coile,Ph.D.
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