The Pekingese is a well-balanced, compact dog of Chinese origin with a heavy front and lighter hindquarters. Its temperament is one of directness, independence and individuality. Its image is lionlike, implying courage, dignity, boldness and self-esteem rather than daintiness or delicacy.
The leading cause of death for Pekingese, as for many other Toy breeds, is trauma. Top leading causes of organ systems include neurologic and cardiovascular, e.g., congestive heart failure. When diagnosed early and successfully treated with medication, a Pekingese with this problem can expect to live many years. A heart murmur is a potential sign of a problem, and must be evaluated by a veterinary cardiologist. Very often, the problem does not surface until the dog is 6 or more years old, so it is very difficult to screen the problem in a pup.
The other main problems of the breed are eye issues and breathing problems, resulting from its tiny skull and flattened face, and skin allergies (and hotspots). An especially common problem is eye ulcers, which may develop spontaneously. Pekingese may also develop keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye) and progressive retinal atrophy.
The Pekingese should not be kept outside, as having flattened faces and noses can cause them to develop breathing problems, making it difficult for them to regulate their body temperature in overly hot or cold weather. Their long backs, relative to their legs, make them vulnerable to back injuries. Care should be taken when picking them up to give adequate support to the back: one hand under the chest, the other under the abdomen. Short legs give some Pekingese difficulty with stairs; older dogs may not be able to go up or down stairs alone.
In an effort to address the breathing difficulties caused by the breed’s flat face, the Kennel Club (UK) significantly changed the breed standard in October 2008, removing the clause that the “profile [should be] flat with nose well up between eyes” and adding instead that the “muzzle must be evident”. This was in response to public opinion following the BBC programme, Pedigree Dogs Exposed. The breed standards of two other flat-faced breeds, the Pug and English Bulldog, were soon also changed.
The Pekingese originated in the Imperial courts of China. They were held in high regard and often given as gifts among the nobility. This regal air is still common in modern Pekingese, who believe themselves to be royalty, and expect their families to treat them as nobility and not helpless lap dogs. According to the AKC Standard, Pekingese “should imply courage, boldness, and self-esteem rather than prettiness, daintiness, or delicacy.” Pekingese make excellent companions for older people who have the time to devote all of their attention to their dog, as this breed demands a lot of attention. They adore their immediate family but are wary of strangers, which makes them excellent little watchdogs.
Pekingese can be happy in a big home or an apartment, as they don’t need a lot of vigorous activity to maintain health and happiness. They like to take walks, proudly strutting their stuff around the neighborhood, and will love playing outdoors, but as they get older they become less playful.
Pekingese are notoriously difficult to train. They believe they are in charge of the home, and many owners have a tendency to treat them this way. This can lead to near-impossible training sessions. You must begin early with your Pekingese, establish leadership and a chain of command with you at t the top. Trying to train this breed when they have established themselves as the leader of the pack is almost always futile. Food is an excellent motivator, as is lots of excited praise. Keep sessions short and vary the activities in order to hold his intereest.
Pekingese are not recommended for families with small children. They are possessive of their toys and food and can snap or bite toddlers who do not understand how to respect a dog’s boundaries. They demand a lot of attention and can become resentful of children who may take the focus away from them. Pekingese are generally well-behaved, but they are prone to barking. They will bark at people, animals, cars, and leaves blowing across the yard. When left alone for long periods of time, their barking can get out of hand. It is recommended that people who work long hours not adopt a Pekingese. They are better suited for retirees or families with a stay at home or work at home parent. It can be easy to shelter a Pekingese. They are tiny and people love to carry them and tote them around in purses. You must walk a fine line, though. Over-sheltered Pekingese can become very high strung. It is important to give your Pekingese independence. Let him walk on a leash rather than tote him around in a bag and socialize him around people and other animals so that he knows how to greet and be greeted with proper manners.
The Pekingese is high-maintenance in the grooming department. The coat needs to be brushed regularly with a small bristle brush, but the coat should be sprayed with water or a conditioning spray before brushing so that the hair does not break. The hair must be brushed all the way to the skin in order to remove dead hair, otherwise tangles and mats will form. A metal comb should be used on the areas of the dog that are fringed, as they are the most prone to tangles. The hair on the feet should be trimmed in order to prevent the dog from getting foreign objects stuck in in the feet and also to prevent mats from forming there. Pekingese should be bathed once or twice per month, and a dry dog shampoo can be used in between baths to help keep the coat clean and healthy. The ears should be checked on a regular basis for signs of wax buildup, irritation or infection. Clean them with a cotton ball and a veterinarian-approved cleanser; never use a cotton swab in a dog’s ear canal. Small dogs are prone to dental problems, so teeth should be brushed on a weekly basis to prevent tartar buildup, promote gum health and keep bad breath at bay. Trim nails monthly if the dog does not wear the toenails down naturally outdoors.
The breed originated in China in antiquity. Recent DNA analysis confirms that the Pekingese breed is one of the oldest breeds of dog, one of the least genetically diverged from the wolf. For centuries, they could only be owned by members of the Chinese Imperial Palace. During the Second Opium War, in 1860, the Old Summer Palace in Beijing was occupied by a contingent of British and French troops. The Xianfeng Emperor had fled with all of his court to Chengde. However, an elderly aunt of the emperor remained. When the British and French troops entered, she committed suicide. She was found with her five Pekingese. They were removed by the Allies before the Summer Palace was burnt to the ground.
Lord John Hay took a pair, later called Schloff and Hytien, and gave them to his sister, the Duchess of Wellington, wife of Henry Wellesley, 3rd Duke of Wellington. Sir George Fitzroy took another pair, and gave them to his cousins, the Duke and Duchess of Richmond and Gordon. Lieutenant Dunne presented the fifth Pekingese to Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, who named it Looty. The Empress Dowager Cixi presented Pekingese to several Americans, including John Pierpont Morgan and Alice Lee Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of Theodore Roosevelt, who named it Manchu.
The first Pekingese in Ireland was introduced by Dr. Heuston. He established smallpox vaccination clinics in China. The effect was dramatic. In gratitude, the Chinese minister, Li Hongzhang presented him with a pair of Pekingese. They were named Chang and Lady Li. Dr. Heuston founded the Greystones kennel. Around the turn of the century, Pekingese dogs became popular in Western countries. They were owned by such arbiters of fashion as Alexandra of Denmark (wife of Edward VII), and Elsie de Wolfe, popular American interior decorator.