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Pekingese - History and Health

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015


The earliest known record of a dog resembling the Pekingese dates to the T’ang Dynasty of the 8th century. These small dogs were treated as sacred by the Chinese and could only be owned by members of the imperial family, who pampered them beyond reason and kept their bloodlines pure. So revered were the small fluffy dogs that their likenesses were carved in ivory and bronze and studded with precious gems, and theft of a Pekingese was punishable by death. The Peke was at its height of popularity in China between 1821 and 1851, during the Tao Kuang period. There were thousands of them in the various Chinese palaces. The breed was introduced to the western world in 1860, after the British invaded the Imperial Palace at Peking (Beijing). Most members of the royal court fled, taking their dogs with them, if they could. Other Pekingese were less fortunate and were killed by their owners before the invading soldiers arrived, to keep them out of enemy hands.

Legend has it that three young British officers (Captain John Hart Dunne, Lord John Hay and Sir George Fitzroy) looted a closed apartment in a deserted pavilion and found five Pekingese “guarding” the body of the Emperor’s aunt, who had committed suicide as the British troops approached. Hay and Fitzroy supposedly each kept a pair of these dogs, and Dunne took one, which he named “Lootie.” When the troops returned to England, Dunne gave Lootie to Queen Victoria as a gift. Despite this often-told tale, Captain Dunne’s diary is probably more accurate. He wrote that he went to a French army camp to buy looted goods (called “trifles”) and there purchased “a pretty little dog, smaller than any King Charles, a real Chinese sleeve dog. It has silver bells around its neck.” This is the dog he gave to the Queen, claiming to have found it in the Palace of Yuan-Ming. The other four Pekingese were probably obtained in much the same fashion, since neither Hay nor Fitzroy participated in the attack on the Palace.

After the sacking of Peking, the royal court returned and re-established itself under the patronage of Empress Tzu His. She made a serious attempt to save China’s Pekingese. However, when she died in 1908, her kennels were disbanded, thus ending the history of the Pekingese in its homeland. In 1893, a Pekingese owned by Mrs. Loftus Allen was exhibited at the Chester dog show in England. So unusual was the dog that it aroused great interest among English dog fanciers. Additional Pekingese trickled into England, Ireland and France in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and toy dog owners became enamored with the breed. Three Pekingese - Ah Cum, Mimosa and Boxer - are credited with being the foundation of the breed in England.

The American Kennel Club first recognized the Pekingese in 1906. Today’s Pekingese is a bit shorter in leg, flatter in face and more abundant in coat than his ancestors. Otherwise than these minor exaggerations, the modern Peke remains virtually unchanged: he is unmistakably dignified, exasperatingly stubborn, independent and aloof, calm and basically good-tempered, neither aggressive nor timid and condescending but still cordial toward strangers. To his closest friends and family, he is affectionate and can even be playful. The Pekingese enjoys a good romp and a walk about town, but he prefers pillows, pampering and prolonged napping over physical exertion.


The average life span of the Pekingese is 10 to 12 years. Breed health concerns may include brachycephalic upper airway syndrome, degenerative heart valve disease, patellar luxation, pododermatitis, intertrigo (facial fold), pyloric stenosis (adult-onset pyloric hypertrophy syndrome), congenital elbow luxation, odontoid process dysplasia, perineal hernia, intervertebral disc disease, hydrocephalus, atlantoaxial subluxation, entropion, keratoconjunctivitis sicca (“dry eye”), corneal ulceration, proptosis, achondroplasia (genetic dwarfism; accepted as a breed standard), cryptorchidism, trichiasis and ulcerative keratitis. The breed’s prominent eyes are prone to injury.

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