Courtesy of: the Pekingese Club of America, Inc.
We have all read many interesting histories of our beloved Pekingese, most of them going back to the old legend of the lion who fell in love with a marmoset. In order for him to be wedded to his lady love, the lion begged the patron saint of the animals, name Ah Chu, to reduce him to the size of a pigmy, but to let him retain his great lion heart and character. From the offspring of this union descended the dogs Fu Lin, or the Lion Dog of China.
They became the special pets of the Chinese Emperors, and these likenesses were found in art of all kinds - screens, vases, pottery, and sculpture. Dogs of this description were mentioned in the time of Confucius, and in the first century they told of "little dogs" which were "very short-legged with flowing tails and ears."
They were the constant companions of the Emperor, and as he made his way to the audience room, many of the little fellows led the procession, announcing his arrival with sharp little barks, a cue for all lesser mortals to avert their faces. (At night they carried little lanterns strapped to their necks.) More little dogs followed, holding their heads high and carrying in their mouths the Emperor's train. They were held in such affection and esteem by their masters that they were often given titles such as "Viceroy" or "Imperial Guardsmen".
It was during the Tao Kuang period (1821-1851) that the breeding of these little dogs - now called Pekingese - reached its peak. Imperial Dog Books, which were illustrated with pictures of the most admired dogs, were used as the standard. Though records of pedigrees were never kept, breeding was the subject of much thought and many elaborate theories. Prenatal impression was the method most in vogue, and mothers were taken several times daily to see pictures and sculptures of the most beautiful dogs. Then the colors most desired for their coats were hung in their sleeping quarters, where they slept on sheepskins to suggest a profuse coat. Spectacle marks around the eyes, in keeping with the huge horn-rimmed spectacles worn by officials and the literate, were desired, as to confer a look of wisdom and learning.
All-white dogs - partly because of rarity and partly from the fact that white is the color of mourning in China - were greatly prized and the subject of much superstition. When one appeared, it was believed to be the spirit of some great man and was generally kept in the Temple and treated with profound respect.
During the reign of Empress Dowager Tsu Hsi (known as "Old Buddha"), in order to gain prestige, she surrounded herself with diminutive "lion dogs," insisting that their resemblance to the lion be as close as possible. The great Lama Buddha was always accompanied by a small pet dog which, at will, became a lion on whose back the Buddha rode through the heavens, with power to call from his fingertips tiny lions which, in the hour of need, became great beasts and attacked his enemies.
It then became even more important that the little dogs have more feathering and a greater width of muzzle. A white spot on the forehead was a feature greatly prized, as the traditional lion was represented as holding an embroidered ball between his feet. Embroidered balls were always the playthings given the young dogs - and so they are today!
In 1860, when Allied troops occupied Peking, five dogs were found in a secluded corner of the Summer Palace beside their attendants, who had committed suicide rather than be captured. Admiral Lord John Hay and another naval officer each took two. The fifth was taken by General Dunne, who later presented her to Queen Victoria, who christened her "Looty." Looty's portrait by a distinguished painter still hangs in Windsor Castle. The two little Pekes who found their home with the Duchess of Richmond were given the prefix "Goodwood" and were the foundation of the breed in England.
In 1896 Mrs. Douglas Murray made a sensational appearance with the two finest specimens yet seen. Her husband, who had large business interests in China, had succeeded, with much patience and wire-pulling, in obtaining them. These two were later famous throughout the Pekingese world as "Ah Cum" and "Mimosa." Knowing nothing of any other kennels, Mrs. Murray was astonished one day to be chased down the street by Lady Algernon Gordon-Lennox who, in passing, had caught a glimpse of the two Pekes. These two ladies later joined forces, and to them jointly goes the honor of producing the first English Champion, "Ch. Goodwood Lo." The next Champion was "Ch. Goodwood Chum," and these two, fortunately, were terrific sires and were an incalculable influence on the breed.
In 1898 a standard of points was drawn up, and in 1904 the Pekingese Club of England was founded. About this time the Alderbourne Kennel was started by Mrs. Clarice Ashton-Cross and her four daughters on a combination of Goodwood-Murray-Manchu and the Broadoak-Goodwin-Pekin-Prince blood lines. It was destined to e one of the greatest English kennels and put the stamp of the Alderbourne name in all the finest pedigrees.
The impetus given by the founding of the Pekingese Club and the establishment of Peke classes at dog shows gave a remarkable value to the dogs. Breeders of all sorts flocked into the game, some either ignorant or indifferent to the standard originally established. The Pekin Palace Dog Club was soon formed to protect this standard.
In spite of the limitations imposed by this Club (a 10-lb. weight limit and a policy of quality rather than quantity), it prospered and has impressed its policy on its members (and even today many English Champions are under 10 lbs.).
With the Empress Dowager's death in 1911, the long reign of the Pekingese in China came to an end. Rather than let the little dogs fall into unworthy hands, the court officials killed the great majority of them; the few that escaped disappeared into private homes, leaving no trace.
But the breed was now firmly established in the west, so it was not lost. In 1921 there began the curious paradox of returning breeding stock to China. But again these were lost during the Communist Revolution. Thus, to the original looting of the Palace and carrying away a few of these little dogs we owe the survival of our wonderful Pekingese breed.
Originally, in old China dogs were kept for what they were intended - either for hunting, guard, sheep dogs or palace pets - yet without the spur of showing and the skill and work of dedicated Pekingese lovers, we should not have the Pekingese of today, far more beautiful and hardy than the original Chinese. "They are a triumph of cultivation; the gardeners of the Summer Palace who curled the chrysanthemum petals and gently coaxed the peony buds into full flower would have understood."
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written by Louise Harden
Notes on the Standard
The Pekingese is a member of the AKC’s toy group. His body can best be described as having a wide chest, short, bowed forelegs, thick short neck, a wide ribcage tapering to a narrow waist and loin. His head should be large, rectangular and flat across the skull. The face, when viewed in profile, should be flat with the nose well up between large round dark eyes. The lower jaw should be undershot — neither teeth nor tongue should show.
His coat, all colors of which are acceptable, should be profuse, especially the "cape" over the shoulders, long feathering on the back of his legs and on his tail. The Peke moves with a distinctive rolling or swagger motion. His weight should not exceed 14 pounds.
The Pekingese is characterized as a brachycephalic (flat-nosed) breed. As such, he is one of the breeds considered to be heat-sensitive. Great care must be taken in warm weather to provide a cool environment for him. A Peke is a house dog and should not be expected to live out of doors.
Because of his very flat face, his eyes are very susceptible to injury. His play or exercise area should be free of thorned or barbed shrubs. His low, heavy body is not built for jumping, and he should not be encouraged to do so.
The brachycephalic breeds present an anesthetic challenge, due in part to abnormal airways, soft palates, and narrow tracheas. Before any surgical procedures are scheduled, a discussion of anesthetic administration should be held with your veterinarian.
Being a toy dog, a well-cared for Peke can live well into the teen years. His need for exercise is minimal — some enjoy leisurely walks — many prefer the freedom of a fenced area for safe exercise.
Regardless of show- or pet-quality, in the right circumstances, the Peke is a wonderful companion. Without careful, selective breeding, those characteristics important to the show dog, i.e., length of coat, bulldog-type conformation, etc., are normally not seen in the many Pekes entering rescue. The pet-quality Peke frequently will possess longer and straighter legs, and a longer, lean body which is reminiscent of his ancient spaniel-type ancestors. These Pekes often exceed the 14-lb. limit, and sometimes will exceed 20 pounds.
The large round eyes and undershot jaw are usually evident, but the face lacks the total flatness with the nose extending beyond the profile of the face. The coat will be varying in length, but mostly short-to-medium in length. Despite his lack of resemblance to his show-quality cousin, the wonderful Peke character still remains.
Because of his natural aloofness with strangers and his stubbornness, he definitely will own you as opposed to your owning him. Once he has chosen you, however, he can be very protective to a point of being possessive, which requires assertiveness by his owner so that his natural tendency to guard doesn’t turn into aggression. Like most animals, a Peke never forgets an unkindness — so only with much patience and an extremely kind hand can an abused Peke be convinced to trust again.
Pekes can be successfully obedience trained. But, again with a lot of patience and kindness. His independent nature makes him easy to live with as he can amuse himself for hours with a favorite toy or another Peke companion. A true Peke enthusiast looks at Peke ownership with the passion of ownership of fine artwork, and many have more than one Peke at a time.
Notes on Grooming
The Pekingese is a double-coated dog, which sheds his undercoat one to two times a year. He requires consistent brushing one to two times weekly to keep him looking his best and to prevent matting. The only area in need of trimming is between the pads of his feet if the toe feather becomes too profuse. The feathering on the front of his feet is another distinctive feature. The coat is the Peke’s "crown and glory" and, as individuals considering adopting, therefore, who expect to shave the coat back are encouraged to pursue another breed. The over-nose wrinkle should be cleaned regularly to prevent moisture-related problems in that area of the face, and eyes should be checked daily for foreign matter — usually hair, to prevent irritation, which can lead to more serious eye problems.