Breed of the Week: The Pekingese


Pekingese dogs were bred for many centuries to serve as companions to Chinese Emperors and their families. Today, they are also outstanding companion dogs, and very popular at shows.


Okay, this isn’t actually “history” to begin with, but it’s a charming myth, and I think it’s worth passing on. Chinese folklore has it that the first Pekingese dogs were the unlikely result of a love affair between a lion and a marmoset. The lion was so in love with the little monkey, that he begged Buddha to make him smaller so that he and the marmoset could consummate their love, but to allow him to keep his brave, noble heart. Buddha agreed, and from the love between the lion and the marmoset, Pekingese dogs were born.

That’s probably not exactly how it happened, but it does make for a nice story.

That said, the Pekingese is an ancient breed – in fact, one of the oldest, believed to have been in existence in China for at least 2,000 years.

Early on, these dogs were not permitted to leave the country – or even the palace! However, when British troops entered the Chinese Imperial Palace during the Opium Wars, they found something quite remarkable, and quite sad – five of these little dogs, guarding the body of their mistress. Rather than be captured, she killed herself. The dogs were captured and taken to England, where they found favor with the royal family and with nobles.

By 1906, these little dogs had been imported into the United States, and a breed club was formed. Today, the Pekingese is the 49th most popular of the AKC-recognized breeds.


A Pekingese is actually quite sturdy for his size, standing 6-9 inches at the shoulder and weighing 7-14 pounds.


A Pekingese could be described as a big dog in a little body – he’s far braver and tougher than you might think. He’s very protective of his family, and responds best to positive reinforcement as opposed to punishment. Of course, that’s the case with just about any dog.

As to temperament, if you’re looking for a good Pekingese, find a good breeder. Small dogs seem to be gaining a great deal in popularity, and what that means is that there are more and more puppy mills out there breeding small dogs – the Peke is no exception. No dog should never leave his mother before he’s eight weeks old, so if a breeder is willing to let you take your puppy at six weeks (or insisting that you do so), then you are dealing with a puppy mill, and you should run in the opposite direction.

You should also be invited to visit the mother and the rest of the litter – you shouldn’t have to insist on it, and you shouldn’t accept excuses as to why you can’t. If you can see the father as well, that would be ideal. However, it might not always be possible, since sometimes breeders send their bitches to “off-site” studs. Not being able to see the father isn’t a red flag that something’s wrong, but if you can’t see the mother, it most definitely is a red flag.

Temperament has to do with a lot of things, only one of which is heredity. Granted, generally speaking if the parents are good-natured dogs you won’t have a problem with your puppy, but there are other things to look for as well. Even the best parents can from time to time throw a puppy that has “issues,” so when you visit the litter, look for a puppy that’s curious and friendly, but a bit “middle of the road.” In other words, you don’t want the Peke who’s beating up his littermates, and you don’t want the one that’s off in a corner of the kennel, not wanting to be with anyone.

Sometimes, you might not be able to see how your puppy interacts with littermates. You might be, for instance, the person who ends up responding to a “One left!” ad – maybe a deal fell through, and someone didn’t come to pick up their puppy. If that’s the case, ask if there are any other relatives you can visit, or if the breeder can direct you to people who purchased the other puppies. As the twig is bent, so grows the tree, so your best indication of how your puppy is likely to turn out is to take a look at others from the same line.

If your Peke has had enough time with his mother and littermates, the socialization process is already underway. You have to continue it, though, by exposing your puppy to as many different situations and people as possible.


Unfortunately, the Pekingese is a breed that can be very prone to health problems. I’m not saying that your Peke is going to develop these diseases or disorders – just that they’re possibilities. If you’re considering this breed, you have to know that they’re not the healthiest dogs in the world overall.

Here are some problems common to Pekingese dogs.

Patellar Luxation

This is also called “slipped stifles,” and it occurs when the tibia (calf), patella (knee) and femur (thigh bone) fail to line up properly. It can cause a bad gait, and can lead to arthritis. Mild cases might just cause a bit of lameness, which can be eased using pain-killing medication. Serious cases might require surgery.

Brachycephalic Syndrome

Basically, this means that your dog has a smushed-up nose that can lead to breathing problems. Some Pekingese dogs have shorter noses than others. Generally speaking, though, it’s best not to allow any short-nosed dog to become overheated.


This is not usually a problem in young Pekes, but older dogs can be prone to cataracts, which are opaque growths on the eyes that impair the dog’s vision.

Cleft Palate

This is a hole in the roof of the mouth. Some dogs can live with the condition. With others, surgery is needed to close the hole. Much of the time, breeders simply euthanize puppies that have cleft palates.


This condition is better known as undescended testicles, or retained testicles.  Sometimes, retained testicles can become cancerous. The condition is corrected by neutering the dog.


This is a condition in which the dog has an extra row of eyelashes. They protrude along the edge of the lid, and irritate the eye. The condition is corrected surgically.

Ectopic Cilia

This is another condition involving eyelashes, in which extra lashes grow inward, toward the eyeball. It’s very irritating, and can even lead to corneal ulcers. As with distichiasis, the condition can be corrected surgically.


With this eye defect, the eyelid rolls inward and irritates the eyeball. It can affect just one eye, or both, and usually the first indication of entropion is your dog rubbing at his eyes. Sometimes, puppies outgrow the condition. If they don’t, it can be corrected surgically.


This is an infection of the skin that occurs when moisture is trapped, and is common in breeds like the Pekingese who have wrinkly skin. Symptoms include redness, odors and sores. The condition is usually treated by means of antibiotic ointments.


This is a particularly nasty condition in which cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the brain. It usually occurs in young dogs, 18 months or younger, and also in dogs that are older than six years. Surgery is generally required, and if the condition is not treated, the dog will die.

Mitral Valve Disease

This is a defect in the heart’s mitral valve that causes blood to back up in the left atrium. It’s usually only a problem in older dogs, although some breeds, like the Pekingese, have a genetic predisposition to develop it earlier on. It’s usually identified during a routine examination, during which the veterinarian identifies a heart murmur. If this happens with your dog, the vet will likely recommend that he be evaluated by a veterinary cardiologist.

PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy)

This is an eye disorder that leads to blindness. It’s usually detectable early on, but it’s not curable. A diagnosis of PRA, though, doesn’t mean that your dog can’t have a good life – it just means that you’re going to have to accommodate him in the same way that you would a human with the same type of disorder. In other words, don’t leave stuff laying around that your dog could trip over, and don’t rearrange the furniture. A dog with PRA will use his other senses quite effectively to compensate for his lack of vision.

Intervertebral Disc Disease

This is a condition of the spinal column, much like compressed discs in humans. The compression could cause very little discomfort, or in serious cases, it could lead to paralysis and incontinence. Sometimes, the condition is treatable, but other times it’s irreversible. Success depends on where along the spine the compressed discs are located, and also on the time between when the condition occurs and when it’s diagnosed. In mild cases, rest may ease the condition. In very severe cases, even surgery might not be helpful.

Care and Feeding

Pekes make ideal apartment dogs, although they also appreciate a fenced in area where they can wander and explore. They love exercise, but are equally happy just snuggling up with you.


As to feeding, Pekes can be a bit gluttonous, and therefore prone to weight gain. Most of the time I think that free feeding is fine, but not necessarily with a Pekingese. You’re better off feeding on a schedule, offering half a cup to one cup of quality dog food each day, divided over two meals. These little guys can put weight on very fast, and you can end up with a butterball almost before you know it.

Coat and Grooming

Pekingese dogs have long, coarse, straight coats over a downy undercoat. They also have something that looks like a mane on their neck (which might possibly explain the myth that these dogs are descended from lions). Their ears, tails, toes and the backs of their legs are also heavily feathered.

As you might guess from this description, these are dogs that need a fair bit of grooming. Brushing at least once a week is advisable.

Pekes can be pretty much any color, and also have a variety of markings. Fawn, red brindle, and black and tan are some of the more common colorings.

When you’re grooming your Peke, it’s important to pay attention to the skin folds, especially around the face and eyes, in order to prevent infections. You can use a baby wipe or a damp cloth, and then make sure to dry him so that there’s no dampness left on the skin. Most Pekes will need a bath at least once a month.

As to other grooming needs, it’s much the same as with any other breed. Clip your Peke’s toenails regularly, brush his teeth at least once a week, and check his ears and skin for signs of redness or rashes. You want to make sure to catch any health issues early on before they have time to present a real problem.

Kids and Other Pets

Many dog breeds are good with kids – Pekes, not so much. If a toddler grabs a Pekingese, someone’s probably going to get hurt, and it will most likely be the kid. Pekes don’t react well to rough handling, and won’t hesitate to display their displeasure.

As to other animals, Pekingese dogs prefer to be in the company of other Pekes. They will, however, interact well with other dogs provided they’re properly introduced. Don’t be surprised, though, if your Rottweiler, Pit Bull, Great Dane or other monster comes crying to you because the little bugger is being mean! Pekes often dominate other dogs that are far, far bigger than they are.

The Final Word

Pekingese dogs are cuddly and adorable, but incredibly strong-willed. I wouldn’t recommend them for families with small children, but for adults and older kids, these little dogs can be incredibly loyal, loving companions.