The Pekingese is a little lion of a dog with an ancient and noble history. Lovers of the breed find them to be loving, loyal companions who can be less inclined toward strangers, small children, and other pets.
Origin and History
The Pekingese breed is believed to have existed since 700 A.D. in China. They were bred to be the companions of royalty and were considered sacred dogs, hence the many "Foo Dog" statues that can be found around the country. They were also called "lion dogs," "sun dogs," and "sleeve dogs."
The last name was derived from the fact that nobles would carry the dogs inside their massive garment sleeves. The dogs first came to the West during the invasion of Peking in 1860 by the British. Dogs were taken from the palace by looting soldiers and brought back to England to the Queen. They became immensely popular, and a breeding program began right away. The dogs appeared in the U.S. in the 1890s and were accepted by the American Kennel Club (AKC) for registration in 1906.
The Pekingese shares some similarities to the Shih Tzu and Lhasa Aspö in terms of temperament and physical characteristics. It's believed that there may have been crossbreeding between the three breeds as the dogs were developed in Ancient China and Tibet. There is currently a crossbred "designer mix" combining the Shih Tzu and Pekingese called the peke-tzu.
The Pekingese, or "peke" for short, is a member of the Toy Group, and typically weighs between 7 and 12 pounds. Males are slightly taller than females, coming in at about 8 inches at the withers, with females about an inch shorter. There is also a teacup Pekingese that weighs around 6 pounds, though this is not an accepted standard in the breed, and breeding for small size can create various health issues.
The Pekingese's body is longer than it is taller with a tail curled over their back. Despite their size, they are not delicate dogs and they're known for a "rolling" gait when they move. They have brachycephalic faces and long ears.
One of the Pekingese's most striking features is their long double coat. The coat is straight and harsh on top and soft underneath. Their hair covers not just the chest and body but the tail, ears, and legs to create a dog that is definitely not low-maintenance as far as grooming. Their coat comes in black, black and tan, cream, fawn, fawn sable, gray, red, red sable, and white. They can also come in part-color and a solid color with a black mask.
The Pekingese is another toy dog who is not aware they are small at all. They can be bold like their lion namesake and can make very good watchdogs. They will alert to the presence of strangers by barking, though they're not known for being aggressive. They are generally wary of strangers.
These dogs can get along with children, but they're not likely to tolerate rough handling or too much activity, and may nip if they feel unsettled by unruly toddlers. With their families, they are loving but not clingy, although they do enjoy lounging on a good lap.
The Pekingese is a great choice for homes that are quieter and have a lower activity level. They do not need long walks and while they can be playful, they are not overly energetic. They also need to be careful around extreme temperatures because of their facial structure and respiratory problems, so this isn't a dog you can take on long walks or jogs in the summer.
They're a good choice for anyone living in a small apartment or condominium, and for adults and seniors who want a pleasant companion who doesn't need to be heavily exercised.
The peke has a reputation for being fiercely smart and independent, which can make training harder for people who aren't used to this type of dog. They do well with positive reinforcement training and actually can excel in sports like competitive obedience. One issue that pekes have in common with other toy dogs is difficulty with house training, so crate training is recommended right away when you first bring your puppy home. Early socialization and puppy classes are also highly recommended because of their tendency as adults to be less favorably inclined toward new people.
The Pekingese has a few health problems that are endemic to the breed, as well as common to other brachycephalic dogs.
- Eye disorders: Issues with their eyes occur frequently in this breed, because the shape of the peke face leaves their eyes open to issues like abrasions, irritations, distichiasis (double eyelashes), trichiasis (ingrown eyelashes), and keratoconjunctivitis sicca (known as KCS or dry eye).
- Respiratory disorders: These are also common with flat-faced dogs, and pekes can snore more than other breeds. Their shortened faces also put them at a higher risk of heatstroke.
- Elongated soft palate: This condition occurs when there's not enough space for the soft palate in the mouth, and it can obstruct a dog's airway and ability to breathe correctly.
- Stenotic nares: This is yet another condition related to their brachycephalic face. This condition involves pinched nostrils that make it difficult for the dog to breathe, and the larynx can collapse.
- Skin allergies: Irritations may occur without regular coat upkeep. They also can get dermatitis on their face because they have areas of folded skin that need regular cleaning.
- C-sections: This procedure is usually required for a Pekingese to give birth. They also can have problems handling routine anesthesia.
- Luxating patellas: A condition that involves a dislodged kneecap and is a common condition with smaller dogs. It can lead to lameness and may require surgery.
- Urolithiasis: Also known as bladder stones, this condition involves the formation of kidney stones, which can be very painful.
- Intervertebral disc disease: A degenerative issue that occurs when a rupture forms in the spine. The dog can become lame or even paralyzed.
Pekingese are generally healthy and have an average lifespan of between 13 and 15 years.
If you intend to keep them in a show coat, you will either need to learn how to care for the coat yourself and have the necessary supplies or find a groomer you can take your dog to regularly. They need a regular brushing for an hour a week at a minimum and more during the shedding season.
You will also need to use a comb regularly to make sure they're mat-free. A peke will also need a bath about once a month. Some owners prefer to keep their pekes in a "puppy cut" or another clipped style to make grooming more manageable.
Fun Facts About the Breed
- The Pekingese has a royal heritage.
- In Ancient China, they were used as miniature guard dogs.
- The breed is named after the ancient Chinese city of Peking, which is now known as Beijing.
- Pekingese were developed to look like Chinese guardian lions known as "foo dogs."
- According to Chinese legend, the Pekingese are the offspring of a love affair between a lion and a marmoset.
Adopting or Purchasing a Pekingese
A purebred Pekingese puppy will cost you around $300 to $800. Higher show line dogs may cost up to $3,000. The Pekingese Club of America has a breeder referral list. Make sure your breeder considers both health and temperament when breeding their Pekingese litters. You should also look for one who is actively providing socialization for the puppies while they await placement in their homes.
The Pekingese Charitable Foundation lists dogs needing homes across the United States. They have listings on their website as well as on their Facebook page. You can also use the Petfinder and Adopt-A-Pet to look for Pekingese dogs that may be in all-breed rescue groups or shelters near you. Breeders may also be a source of leads for pekes that need to be re-homed by their owners.
Is the Pekingese the Right Dog For You?
The peke is a lovely choice as an intelligent companion who enjoys being close to you without being excessively clingy. They are not high-energy dogs and make perfect companions for seniors and adults who don't have the time or ability to take a dog for long, intense daily walks. They may not be the best choice for homes in very hot or cold climates or homes with a lot of noise, activity, and small children. They do have extensive grooming needs, so you should speak to an experienced groomer before bringing one home to get a good idea of what you're getting into and what tools you'll need to keep your Pekingese healthy.