Pekingese Dog Breed Profile

The Pekingese is an ancient Chinese toy breed that's loving and loyal.

Pekingese dog running outside

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Originally bred to live their lives among ancient Chinese royalty in palaces, the Pekingese is an independent and alert toy dog that makes for a charming lapdog companion. This breed is stronger and braver than their compact appearance might suggest.

Among the favorite characteristics of the Pekingese is their friendly, social, and affectionate personality—and the fact that they can appear so dignified, “opinionated,” and walk with a seemingly effortless rolling gait.

Often referred to as “Pekes,” they are extremely intelligent and loyal, and develop very strong bonds with their families. While they make great lapdogs, this breed may not be ideal for families with small children; they will generally tolerate kids but aren’t active enough to engage in extended play with older children and may be inclined to defend themselves when being handled too roughly by a toddler.

Breed Overview

Group: Toy

Weight: Up to 14 pounds

Height: 6 to 9 inches

Coat: Long, thick double coat

Colors: Typically variations of gold, red, or sable, but occasionally colors including black and tan, white, cream, sables, and gray

Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years

Characteristics of the Pekingese

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs Low
Playfulness Medium
Energy Level Medium
Trainability Low
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding High

History of the Pekingese

A well-balanced, compact toy breed, the Pekingese is one of several breeds that were created for the ruling classes of ancient China. In fact, a Chinese legend says the Pekingese was actually created by the Buddha when he shrunk a lion down to the size of a small dog. Another bit of folklore states that in order for a lion to wed his beloved—who happened to be a marmoset, or type of monkey—he had to beg the patron saint of animals, Ah Chu, to reduce him to the size of a pigmy while still retaining the heart and character of a lion. The offspring of that union was said to be the dog of Fu Lin, or the Lion Dog of China. Throughout history, the Pekingese have been referred to as “lion dogs,” “sun dogs,” and even “sleeve dogs,” since they were often toted around in the voluminous sleeves worn by members of the imperial household.

Because of the ancient history and folklore surrounding the breed, its true beginnings are still unknown, but experts believe that the Pekingese was likely bred down to toy size from a larger dog by Chinese emperors. The earliest-known record of the breed can be traced back to the eighth-century Tang Dynasty. Their humans have historically known these regal, sophisticated dogs to be eternal loyal to their humans and walk with a dignified, rolling gait.

Chinese nobles were known to breed flat-faced lapdogs for many centuries, including Pekes as well as the Shih Tzu and Pug. These dogs were treated as royalty, and even had palace servants to tend to their every need—which may be why today’s Pekingese can often have an independent, stubborn and self-important demeanor. At the time, stealing one of these coveted regal dogs would result in a punishment by death—the most original Pekingese dogs were kept completely pure and considered sacred.

It wasn’t until the 1860s when Pekes first made their debut in the western half of the world. When British troops invaded Peking during the Opium Wars, the royal family opted to kill their Pekes when the Brits stormed the emperor’s summer palace. The British intended to loot the palace and set it on fire, and the royal family didn’t want to see their beloved pets fall into enemy hands. However, when a British captain discovered the emperor’s aunt dead by suicide—survived by five of her Pekingese dogs—they were returned to England as a gift for Queen Victoria. The breed quickly grew in popularity among her subjects, and ownership of a Pekingese dog became a sign of privilege and wealth across the country. In 1894, a dog named Pekin Peter was reportedly the first Pekingese to be exhibited at a British dog show; at the time, the breed was often called a Chinese Pug or a Pekingese Spaniel.

As the year 1900 approached, Pekes were starting to arrive in America—they were originally registered by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1906, and the Pekingese Club of America first became an KC member in 1909. The breed made headlines a few years later when a Pekingese was one of only three dogs to survive the sinking of the Titanic.

Pekingese Care

This compact, stocky toy dog is famous for its “lion’s mane,” and its coat does require a fair amount of maintenance. Longest at the neck and shoulders, the thick double coat of the Pekingese will require at least one longer weekly brushing to help remove hairs and prevent matting, as well as an occasional bath. Owners can also choose to keep their Peke’s coat trimmed short to ease the burden of grooming. Pekingese do shed seasonally, and mats or tangles should be worked out gently. As with all breeds, their nails should be trimmed regularly.

Historically bred to provide comfort and amusement to their owners, the Pekingese only have modest daily exercise requirements and are suitable for apartment living. This breed does enjoy participating in games and canine sports, but only at their own pace. Their walks should be kept at a leisurely pace (and never in excessive heat) to prevent overheating or difficulty breathing due to the structure of their face, and they can also be engaged in playtime indoors.

As dogs who lived in palaces for centuries, Pekes can be serenely independent, just like the emperors who owned them. As a result, training them can sometimes be a challenge, as many Pekingese will consider themselves in charge, so Peke owners will have to persuade their dogs that doing something is actually their idea. Not surprisingly, they do not respond well to any form of harsh training or discipline, as these approaches can lead to defensive or even aggressive behavior. However, this breed is always very alert and aware of its surroundings, and thus can make a very good watchdog.

Early socialization will also be necessary in order to ensure that your Pekingese will get along with other pets in the household, as this is a breed that prefers to be surrounded by the company of humans (and other Pekingese).

Common Health Problems

Though the Pekingese tends to be a healthy, sturdy breed, there are certain health conditions and issues associated with the Pekingese, not the least of which is Brachycephalic Syndrome that causes breathing issues (and snoring). Because Pekingese don’t have a long muzzle, there’s no natural barrier to protect their round, bulging eyes, so they are susceptible to eye issues like corneal abrasions. The breed is also associated with some minor health problems that revolve around food allergies and back issues, and the excessive amount of wrinkling on its face can cause problems with skin fold dermatitis as well as other irritations and infections, so the folds should always be kept clean and dry.

Because of their thick coat and flat face, they tend to prefer cooler temperatures—heat prostration can be fatal for this breed, so it’s crucial that the Pekingese is kept in well-ventilated, air-conditioned rooms when living in warmer climates, and that walks or playtime outdoors are very limited when it’s excessively hot.

Diet and Nutrition

The Pekingese should perform well with any high-quality dog food. As a less active breed, this breed can be susceptible to weight gain, so it’s important to ensure they are not overfed and aren’t offered too many treats. Fresh, cool water should always be available, particularly because this breed does not tolerate heat well.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

When determining if the Pekingese is the right dog for you, be sure to research all aspects of the breed and consult other Pekingese owners, breeders, and rescue groups to learn more. Check out these other similar dog breeds.

Pug