Pekingese (Peke): Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Pekingese dog running outside

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The Pekingese (Peke) is a toy dog breed originally bred to live its life among ancient Chinese royalty. Though it's known for its low body, and slightly bowed limbs, the dog is recognized by its short snout, large eyes, and obvious V-shaped facial wrinkle. This compact, stocky dog is also famous for its “lion’s mane" of long hair.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Toy

HEIGHT: 6 to 9 inches

WEIGHT: Up to 14 pounds

COAT: Long, thick double coat

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

LIFE SPAN: 12 to 14 years

TEMPERAMENT: Opinionated, aggressive, stubborn, affectionate, intelligent, good-natured

HYPOALLERGENIC: No

ORIGIN: China

Characteristics of the Pekingese

A Pekingese is an independent and alert toy dog and a charming lapdog companion. This breed is stronger and braver than its compact appearance might suggest. Among the favorite characteristics of the Pekingese is its friendly, social, and affectionate personality—and the fact that it can appear so dignified, “opinionated,” and walk with a seemingly effortless rolling gait. However, it has an assertive side to its personality.

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

The Pekingese is one of several compact 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 eternally loyal and walk with a dignified gait.

Chinese nobles were known to breed flat-faced lapdogs for many centuries, including Pekes as well as the shih tzu and pug. The original Pekingese were kept completely pure and considered sacred—stealing one of these coveted regal dogs would result in a punishment by death. Treated as royalty, the dogs 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.

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, her five surviving Pekingese dogs were returned to England as a gift for Queen Victoria. The breed quickly grew in popularity among the Queen's 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

A Peke is always very alert and aware of its surroundings, and can make a great watchdog. Early socialization will also be necessary in order to ensure that your Peke 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).

Exercise

This breed does enjoy participating in games and canine sports, but only at its own pace. A Peke's walks should be kept at a leisurely pace to prevent overheating or difficulty breathing. Plan on a couple of walks a day that add up to about 30 to 60 minutes total.

Because of the Peke's thick coat and flat face, it tends 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. Walks and outdoor playtime should be kept very limited when it’s excessively hot.

Grooming

A Peke's coat requires a fair amount of maintenance. Longest at the neck and shoulders, the thick double coat of the Pekingese will require at least one lengthier weekly brushing to help remove hairs and prevent matting. Your Peke will also appreciate 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 every dog, trim nails regularly, stay on top of dental care by frequently brushing its teeth, and consistently clean your pet's ears to avoid infections.

Training

Because Pekes lived in palaces for centuries, they can be serenely independent, just like the emperors who owned them. As a result, training these dogs can sometimes be a challenge. Many Pekingese will consider themselves in charge, so Peke owners will have to persuade their dogs to follow commands. Not surprisingly, this breed responds best to positive reinforcement. Harsh approaches to discipline can lead to a Peke's defensive or even aggressive behavior.

Common Health Problems

Though the Pekingese tends to be a healthy, sturdy breed, there are certain health issues associated with this dog, including the following conditions:

  • Brachycephalic Syndrome: This condition causes breathing issues and possibly snoring.
  • Corneal Abrasions: Because a Pekingese doesn't have a long muzzle, there’s no natural barrier to protect its round, bulging eyes, so the breed is susceptible to eye issues like corneal abrasions.
  • Skin Dermatitis: 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.
  • Intervertebral Disc Disease: Pekes are low to the ground and have a hard time with frequent climbing on furniture and steps, which is why it's always a good idea to invest in ramps to help your dog maneuver around the home. In addition to a slipped disc from moving in the wrong direction when jumping, Pekes can develop IDD, a condition where the cushioning gel in the spinal disc deteriorates and causes the spine to compress.
  • Liver Shunt: Pekes are prone to liver shunt, a disorder where blood vessels bypass the liver, preventing the proper flushing of toxins and nutrient absorption to occur.
pekingese dogs as pets
Illustration: The Spruce / Kelly Miller

Diet and Nutrition

The breed is also associated with some minor health problems that revolve around food allergies to ingredients like corn, wheat, filler, ash, and sometimes chicken. This flat-faced breed may also suffer gastrointestinal problems because it inhales a lot of air while eating. However, Pekingese should perform well with any high-quality dog food. As a less active breed, Pekinese 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.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Pekingese

Pekingese is a popular dog breed. It's always best to check your local animal shelters and breed-specific rescue groups for a Peke in need of a home. If you choose to work with a reputable breeder, the costs can vary widely, but expect to pay around $1,500 but more likely $4,000 to $5,000 per Peke pup. Here are a few resources to help you start your search.

Pekingese Overview

Pros
  • Charming and social lapdog

  • Great choice for apartments

  • Vigilant, vocal mini guard dog

Cons
  • Not great with kids

  • Strong-willed and difficult to train

  • Prone to breathing issues

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 Peke owners, breeders, and rescue groups to learn more. Check out these other similar dog breeds.

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

FAQ
  • Will a Pekingese dog get along well with kids?

    Pekes are not great with small children. The dogs 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.

  • Is a Pekingese a good choice for apartment living?

    Historically bred to provide comfort and amusement to their owners, Pekingese dogs only have modest daily exercise requirements and are suitable for apartment living. However, Pekes that have to frequently climb steps may be prone to developing back problems, so it's best to consider the environment before bringing home a Pekingese.

  • Is a Pekingese a good choice for a first-time dog owner?

    This breed is a good choice for a less active first-time dog owner. The Peke is a popular lapdog, plus it's small, and relatively fuss-free when it comes to exercise. However, since it can be a tough breed to train, it may frustrate some novice dog owners who lack experience in training canines.