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5 Best Ancient Dog Breeds From China

Updated on November 2, 2016
DrMark1961 profile image

Dr Mark is a veterinarian in Brazil. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

The Shar Pei is one of the ancient Chinese dog breeds.
The Shar Pei is one of the ancient Chinese dog breeds. | Source

Many of the dog breeds from China are considered ancient. Some of them are thought to be closely related to the wolf and perhaps the ancestors of our modern dogs.

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The Pekingese and that famous flat face.Were Pekingese really a combination of a lion and a monkey?This Pekingese yearns to climb like a monkey.
The Pekingese and that famous flat face.
The Pekingese and that famous flat face. | Source
Were Pekingese really a combination of a lion and a monkey?
Were Pekingese really a combination of a lion and a monkey? | Source
This Pekingese yearns to climb like a monkey.
This Pekingese yearns to climb like a monkey. | Source

The Pekingese

The lion dog is one of the ancient breeds of dog and was a member of the Chinese Imperial Court. Anyone who has seen them around, of course, knows there is something funny about these dogs. The Chinese believe that a lion fell in love with a marmoset (or a monkey) but was too big to marry the small mammal and complained to Buddha. The Great Buddha allowed him to become small and their child was a Pekingese. That explains it.

Pekingese are small (3 to 6 kilos, or about 7 to 14 pounds), with a flat face, big eyes, and bowed legs that make them waddle around the house. (They might have been the inspiration for the drunken monkey kung fu style.) They are usually golden or reddish, have a black mask, and have a fierce personality, which is why everyone assumes they are part lion.

Are Pekingese good with kids? Well, it really depends on what you mean by that. If you are thinking of a dog that is always happy, like a Bichon, then no, Pekingese are not good with kids. If you are thinking of a dog that will play with your kids but also teach them to not do something foolish like reach under the table to bother the dog, then yes, the Pekingese is good with kids. This dog can be a good teacher, but only if you do not mind allowing your kids to attend the school of hard knocks.

They are amazing but can also have a lot of problems. Pekingese have flat faces so don’t do well in heat and humidity. They have long backs so are prone to injuries. Some Pekes are prone to heart disease and will eventually develop congestive heart failure. Since they breathe with an open mouth, their teeth are likely to build up heavy tartar and they will develop periodontal disease at an early age. The teeth should be brushed every day to control this but most Pekingese still have problems.

Pekingese have an average life expectancy of about 14 years. These dogs require a lot of maintenance, like daily brushing, trips to the groomer every few months, wiping off the tear stains, and brushing the teeth every day, but if you want to get a pet lion and really don’t want to deal with the grocery bills, this is about as close as you can come.

What about the grocery bills? Pekingese are small so they don’t eat much. Those people out there who don’t believe the story about the marmoset and the lion know that Buddha actually created the Pekingese from a lion who fell in love with a butterfly. He allowed the lion to shrink, the butterfly to grow, and the Pekingese is what was created from that union.

Everyone knows that butterflies don’t eat much.

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Shih Tzu in dog shows are left long and groomed carefully.Many Shih Tzu owners like the "puppy cut" since dogs are easier to care for.Longer Shih Tzu look great but take more time to groom.
Shih Tzu in dog shows are left long and groomed carefully.
Shih Tzu in dog shows are left long and groomed carefully. | Source
Many Shih Tzu owners like the "puppy cut" since dogs are easier to care for.
Many Shih Tzu owners like the "puppy cut" since dogs are easier to care for. | Source
Longer Shih Tzu look great but take more time to groom.
Longer Shih Tzu look great but take more time to groom. | Source

Shih Tzu

This ancient Foo dog may be a child of the Pekingese and the Lhasa Apso, a cousin from distant Tibet. That combination may explain their looks and dental problems, but it does not explain their great personalities.

They are about 6 or 7 kilos (13 to 15 pounds), with long silky hair that does not shed much, large eyes, and an underbite that would scare off most orthodontists. They are seen in a lot of colors but are usually black, white, or brown of some type.

Shih Tzu have some health issues. Some are prone to back problems (intervertebral disk disease), which they can probably blame on their Pekingese ancestors. They can also blame the Pekingese for flat faces and breathing problems, periodontal disease, liver problems, and some less common diseases. There was probably a Pug back there to blame too because they are also prone to hip dysplasia.

They average lifespan is about 14 years but many make it up to 20. The most amazing part of this Foo dog? His temperament is great and he likes kids, is friendly to most adults, and will even buddy up with strangers pretty quickly.

That is definitely not a trait he inherited from the Pekingese or the Lhasa Apso.

This dog is either very well trained or, shall we say, less than intelligent?

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Pugs can run, but because of their flat faces they cannot run much.A Pug puppy.The Pug is photogenic, even when he is trying to look ugly.
Pugs can run, but because of their flat faces they cannot run much.
Pugs can run, but because of their flat faces they cannot run much. | Source
A Pug puppy.
A Pug puppy. | Source
The Pug is photogenic, even when he is trying to look ugly.
The Pug is photogenic, even when he is trying to look ugly. | Source

Pug

The big question facing all fans of Chinese dogs, of course, is “do Foo dogs really have to have long hair?”

This Foo dog does not. He does have a flat face, big eyes, and a chunky little body, like any good Foo dog should have. Older paintings make him look long and lean; modern Pugs are kind of square and squat, with a tightly curled tail and big eyes.

They usually have an underbite too. That seems rather standard on the Foo dog.

The underbite and crowded teeth mean that the Pug needs to have his teeth brushed daily. They also have breathing problems due to their flat faces, eye problems (hmm, due to what?) like scratches and proptosis (the eye popping out), neurological problems due to an abnormally formed back (hemivertebrae), and skin problems (like demodex mange infections) due to their weak immune systems.

Besides all of that, over half of all Pugs have hip dysplasia; a disease that most people only thinks affects big dogs. This also makes them prone to arthritis in later years.

Do you have all of that under control? If so, and you allow your Pug to lie around and do nothing, they are prone to obesity and all of the health problems secondary to that condition.

They still manage to average about 11 or 12 years of life, though, which is about the same as other small dogs. Pugs are remarkable. They are good watch dogs, (but not guards!) good with kids, and just all around good!

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Yes, this Chow Chow can see.The tongue that makes the Chow Chow famous.Chow Chows smile a lot, but you can't always tell.
Yes, this Chow Chow can see.
Yes, this Chow Chow can see. | Source
The tongue that makes the Chow Chow famous.
The tongue that makes the Chow Chow famous. | Source
Chow Chows smile a lot, but you can't always tell.
Chow Chows smile a lot, but you can't always tell. | Source

Chow Chow

The puffy-lion dog is what a lot of us think about when we imagine a Chinese dog breed. They are famous for their wide head and small eyes hidden in a thick mane of orange or black hair. (At times a Chow Chow will show up in another color, but don’t worry about it.)

All dog fanciers know, of course, that this breed is unusual because of the black tongue. Anyone who has worked at an animal shelter has heard “He is part Chow because his tongue has black spots.” Sorry, it does not work that way.

Dogs like Samoyeds, Keeshounds, and Norwegian Elkhounds are also supposed to be related to the Chow Chow. Even the Chinese don’t know for sure. They do know that this dog breed has been around a long time and was originally bred to work and was also to be eaten.

They still guard and hunt. I am not sure about the eating part.

They have some pretty serious health problems like cataracts, glaucoma, and eyelids that roll in (entropion), hip dysplasia, diabetes, and some autoimmune diseases like pemphigus. Chow chows also are prone to several types of cancer like lymphoma and melanomas, a skin cancer.

If everything is okay they usually live about 12 years but some of them are around for a lot longer than that. Chow Chows may be considered aggressive by some insurance companies but if you bring home with one of these dogs, and provide good socialization, training, and exercise, you are probably going to have a calm and mellow dog guarding your house and sharing your life.

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Does the Shar Pei really have a snout like that of a hippopotamus?Shar Peis can come in several colors.Some prefer basic black.Adult Shar Peis have less wrinkles than puppies.
Does the Shar Pei really have a snout like that of a hippopotamus?
Does the Shar Pei really have a snout like that of a hippopotamus? | Source
Shar Peis can come in several colors.Some prefer basic black.
Shar Peis can come in several colors.Some prefer basic black. | Source
Adult Shar Peis have less wrinkles than puppies.
Adult Shar Peis have less wrinkles than puppies. | Source

Shar-pei

This Chinese dog is definitely not a model for the Foo dogs that guarded the imperial palaces. Foo dogs were noble, meant to protect the royal family. The Shar Pei was the dog of the common man.

They probably should have been chosen to be the Foo dog though since they were tough, stoic, and could use their loose skin to move around and take down a boar or fight another dog even when they were being bitten.

Who knows? The artists may not have liked them to model as Foo dogs because of all the wrinkles, and of course they may have been turned off because of the small eyes.

The Shar Pei has a black tongue, and in this case it probably does mean that the dog is related to the Chow Chow. They have colors similar to the Chow Chow too, but have a short bristly coat and any dog born with long hair like a Chow Chow is not considered to be up to the breed standard. Shar Pei even means “sand coat”.

The breed was almost extinct and only a few dogs (about 200) were saved back in the 1970s, so they have quite a few health problems from being so closely bred. Skin problems, of course, ear infections, as well as eyelid problems (entropion, where the eyelid rolls in and hairs rub against the eyeball).

Some dogs are also prone to a disease called Familial Shar Pei Fever, and when they suffer proteins are lodged in the kidneys and some eventually die of renal failure.

They usually live about 10 years. They are a good watch dog and guard and if they are well socialized and go through obedience training they make a good family pet. You just have to get used to hugging a Brillo Pad.

Finding Your Chinese Dog

There are a lot of good places to go if you are looking for a Chinese dog. Check first with your local animal shelter. A dog may have been given up when someone was forced to move or a Chinese dog may have run away and never been claimed. Be sure to check.

If no little friend is available nearby, be sure to check Petfinder.com. They keep listings of dogs available in your area and you might find a Chinese dog just a few cities away.

Check out the breed rescues in your area too. Open up your search engine, type the breed of dog and the city you live in.

You can also visit dog shows to see examples of the breed you are looking for. Talk to the breeders and find out when any puppies or adult dogs will be available.

Do not buy from a pet shop or an internet shipping group. You will be supporting a puppy mill.

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      Sarra Garrett 4 years ago

      Hi DrMark. The snow has finally stopped flying and it's actually in the 70's today. Whoo hoo. Thank you for the kudos on my new avatar. It's a couple of years old so now I just have to update it with my lovely silver hair lol. I figured I'd show my 'mug' to the world. lol

    • DrMark1961 profile image
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      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Hi Sara thanks for stopping by! I hope things are going well for you now that spring has come up that way. (Are you finished with snow in Nebraska by now?)

      Great new avatar! I have been on HP almost a year now so it is time for me to change, too.

    • profile image

      Sarra Garrett 4 years ago

      As always voted up and useful Dr.Mark. As you know I just love dogs and would do anything to help them. I've had a Chow and a Pek before and they are very smart and loving for sure not to mention they will protect their families.

    • DrMark1961 profile image
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      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Thanks for the kind words. I have been working on that "world tour" for the past several nights, and have really been learning a lot. I thought I knew almost everything about German dogs and Chinese dogs but I am putting together a hub on dog breeds from India. What an eye-opener!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      Thank you for all the information DrMark! We think we know so much about a breed until we get all the facts ;) These are all adorable dogs, even the noble Chow! Your pictures and videos are certainly the icing on the cake. Seems you are giving us a world tour!

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • dilipchandra12 profile image

      Dilip Chandra 4 years ago from India

      Cute dogs, i like this hub. Great share! Voted UP

    • Scribenet profile image

      Scribenet 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks for the warning about the maneaters...ya gotta watch the little quiet types! I'll make sure my ankles are protected! My cat tries to take me down that way as well...I am practiced in the art of avoiding ankle attackers! ;)

    • DrMark1961 profile image
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      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Scribenet, you do realize those Peke puppies are vicious maneaters who are only trying to distract you while another sneaks up and savages your ankle? And you thought they were playing quietly. Haha!!!!

    • DrMark1961 profile image
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      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Bill, your little Gobi sounds like a racial sterotype! You should get some pictures of her doing un-Shih Tzu things and make her one of your next hubs! (I doubt you will be able to get her to run the Idatarod though. Too bad.)

      I grew up with a chunky little Pekingese in the house. They are great biters, nothing at all like the Shih Tzu.

    • DrMark1961 profile image
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      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Hi Jimmy, I guess you are not into the concept of hugging a steel wool pad? They are not for everyone, that is for sure!

    • Scribenet profile image

      Scribenet 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I love the Pug puppy video, though I have to say the Shar Pei puppies all looked like their aunt Bee had knitted them "too big" sweaters! I am also amazed at how quiet the Pekinese puppies were...just a lot of panting...lol

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hey DrMark. Our Shih Tzu fits your description to the tee. Underbite? Yep. Large eyes? Yep. Loves pretty much everyone? Yep. Breathing problems and snoring? Yep. But despite their issues they are great little dogs. Our Gobi, named for the Gobi Desert, is now 11 and still in great condition. I will say this, she is one stubborn and persistent little dog. Great hub. We also had a fat little pug when I was a kid.

    • jimmyglaughlin profile image

      Jim Laughlin 4 years ago from Connecticut

      Good article! I can do with out the Shar Pei though, lol.

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