If you want to know what makes an Eskimo dog so special, just ask Sandy Wingert of Mahoning Township.

"For me, their beauty captured me," said Wingert, who has six Eskimos and has even shown the breed at the prestigious Westminster Dog Show.

"They're intelligent," she continued. "They just want to be with you. They're a good companion dog. They're always willing to please. They want to make you happy."

Wingert hosted a gathering of Eskimo dogs and owners at the Lehigh Canal in Weissport, recently. Attendees were from as far away as New Hampshire and Buffalo, N.Y.

Despite its name, the Eskimo dog is not a product of Alaska.

The breed originated in Germany and is a member of the Spitz family.

Wingert has been raising the white dogs for 11 years.

At the canal, she hosted a picnic for members of the American Eskimo Dog Fanciers Club of Greater Philadelphia. It was the second such event she had hosted.

Eighteen dogs attended the event with their owners, all of them dedicated to the breed.

Charlene Shumaker of Buffalo, N.Y. brought her dog, Eli, which she had named after professional football player Eli Manning. She has been a fan of Eskimos, however, since 1977, which is longer than the New York Giants' quarterback has been alive.

Eli is one of two dogs she owns.

Asked what she likes about Eskimos, she responded, "Their intelligence for sure. Also, the fact that they interact with you. They don't just sit under the porch. They need attention."

During the picnic, some of the owners had their dogs perform tricks to show off how well they are trained.

The dogs jumped over hurdles, ran through hoops, stood on their hind legs, and whizzed through obstacle courses.

Wingert explained there are three sizes of Eskimo dogs.

The standard Eskimo is the largest of the breed and generally weighs 30 to 40 pounds fully grown.

The miniature Eskimo weighs about 15 to 20 pounds as an adult dog.

The toy Eskimo weighs only about 10 pounds at its top weight.

Bethany Brenner of Concord, N.H. brought her first Eskimo, Obie, to the picnic. She said when she saw the event was being held, she had to make the trip to Pennsylvania.

"It's fun to see a sea of white," she said.

Brenner has fallen in love with the breed, especially with the "intelligence and fluffiness" of the dogs.

Jim and Ellen Tarantino of Marion Park, Montgomery County, own one dog, Annie, who is 16 1/2 years old.

"We love the looks of the breed," Jim said. "Also, they are smart."

"They've very loyal dogs, they're good watch dogs, and they have don't have doggie odor because they have no oil in their skin," Ellen added.

Breezer, one of Wingert's dogs, had been shown at Westminster. Another, Pixie Dust, was invited to compete at a global showing in Crofts, England four years ago.

The games held at Wingert's picnic were for the dogs that attended.

At the end of the event, the members walked the animals on the tow path of the canal.