Although white was not always a recognized color in the various German Spitz breeds, it was generally the preferred color in the US. In a display of patriotism in the era around World War I, dog owners began referring to their pets as American Spitz rather than German Spitz.
After World War I, the small Spitz dogs came to the attention of the American public when the dogs became popular entertainers in the American circus. In 1917, the Cooper Brothers’ Railroad Circus featured the dogs. A dog named Stout's Pal Pierre was famous for walking a tightrope with the Barnum and Bailey Circus in the 1930s, and also contributing to their popularity, they sold puppies after the show. Due to the popularity of the circus dogs, many of today's American Eskimo Dogs can trace their lineage back to these circus dogs.
After World War II, the dogs continued to be popular pets. Postwar contact with Japan led to importation into the United States of the Japanese Spitz, which may have been crossed into the breed at this time. The breed was first officially recognized as the "American Eskimo" as early as 1919 by the American United Kennel Club (UKC), and the first written record and history of the breed was printed in 1958 by the UKC. At that time there was no official breed club and no breed standard, and dogs were accepted for registration as single dogs, based on appearance. In 1970 the National American Eskimo Dog Association (NAEDA) was founded, and single dog registrations ceased. In 1985 the American Eskimo Dog Club of America (AEDCA) was formed by fanciers who wished to register the breed with the American Kennel Club (AKC). Following the AKC's requirements for breed recognition, the AEDCA collected the pedigree information from 1,750 dogs that now form the basis of the AKC recognized breed, which is called the American Eskimo Dog. The breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1995. The stud book was opened from 2000 to 2003 in an attempt to register more of the original UKC registered lines, and today many American Eskimo Dogs are dual-registered with both American kennel clubs. The breed is also recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club as of 2006, but is not recognized elsewhere in the world
The American Eskimo Dog is not entirely an internationally recognized breed, and since neither of the American kennel clubs are affiliated with the Fédération Cynologique Internationale, fanciers wishing to participate in certain international dog shows will register their American Eskimo Dogs as the very similar German Spitz. This is done only by individuals wishing to participate in dog sports in international shows, and does not mean that the American Eskimo Dog and the German Spitz are the same. Although the American Eskimo is known as the German Spitz in several countries outside of the United States, the two breeds have actually developed somewhat differently since the American Eskimo was relocated to North America, over a century ago. It is not uncommon for German Spitz breeders to incorporate imported American Eskimo bloodlines into their breeding program to broaden the gene pool, and vice versa.