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A long-haired Pekingese brushed out and ready for show
Common nicknamesPeke
Kennel club standards
China Kennel Union standard
Fédération Cynologique Internationale standard
Dog (domestic dog)

The Pekingese (Chinese: 北京狗, literally, "Beijing dog", also spelled Pekinese) is a breed of toy dog, originating in China. The breed was favored by royalty of the Chinese Imperial court as a companion dog, and its name refers to the city of Beijing (Peking) where the Forbidden City is located. The breed has several characteristics and health issues related to its unique appearance. Because of its desirable characteristics, the Pekingese has been part of the development of designer crossbreeds, such as the Peekapoo (crossed with a poodle) and Peke-a-tese (crossed with a Maltese).


Dark coated Pekingese

Modern breeders and dog show judges seem to prefer the long-haired type over the more traditional spaniel-type coat.

The Pekingese's flat face and large eyes are some of the breed's most obvious characteristics. The body is compact and low to the ground. Pekingese also have a muscular and durable body.[1] The breed's unusual rolling gait may have been deliberately developed through selective breeding, to prevent the court dogs from wandering in ancient times.


All breed standards allow a wide range of color combinations. The majority of Pekingese are gold, red or sable. Cream, black, white, tan, black-and-tan and occasionally 'blue' or slate grey have appeared in the breed. The latter often has poor pigment and light eyes. Albino Pekingese (white with pink eyes) should not be bred due to health problems associated with albinism.

A black mask or a self-colored face is equally acceptable in show dogs. Regardless of coat color, the exposed skin of the muzzle, nose, lips and eye rims is black. Due to heavy shedding and to prevent mats, this double-coated breed requires frequent extensive grooming.

Sable Pekingese

Pekingese weigh from 7 to 14 lb (3.2 to 6.4 kg) and stand about 6–9 inches (15–23 cm) at the withers; however, they can be smaller. These smaller Pekingese are commonly referred to as "sleeve" Pekingese or just "sleeves". The name is taken from ancient times, when emperors would carry the smallest of the breed in their sleeves. A Pekingese over 14 lbs. is disqualified in the show ring.

The Pekingese is slightly longer than tall when measured from the forechest to the rear. The overall outline is an approximate ratio of 3 high to 5 long.


A 2024 UK study found a life expectancy of 13.3 years for the breed compared to an average of 12.7 for purebreeds and 12 for crossbreeds.[2]

The leading cause of death for Pekingese, as for many other Toy breeds, is trauma.[3] Primary health concerns include neurological and cardiovascular defects,[3]

As a result of breeding for an increasingly flattened face, its brachycephaly can lead to health issues in some Pekingese. Therefore other potential concerns in the breed are eye issues and breathing problems, resulting from its tiny skull and flattened face. Furthermore, skin allergies (including hotspots) and eye ulcers may develop spontaneously. Pekingese may also develop keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye) and progressive retinal atrophy.[4][verification needed]

In an effort to address potential 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".[5] This was in response to public opinion following the BBC programme, Pedigree Dogs Exposed.[citation needed] The breed standards of two other brachycephalic breeds, the Pug and English Bulldog, were soon also changed.


Keeping the Pekingese coat healthy and presentable requires daily brushing and a trip to the groomer every 8–12 weeks. Dogs intended as a house pet may be kept in a puppy cut, which requires less maintenance than a show coat. It is important to remove foreign materials from the eyes daily, and clean the creases on the face to prevent sores (hot spots). It is also necessary to keep and maintain the long fur in the rear end (aka the "trousers" or "skirt") clean and well-groomed, as the area is prone to soiling. In cold climates, the trousers may accumulate clumps of snowballs.

Due to their abundance of fur, it is important to keep the Pekingese cool. The breed is prone to have heatstroke when exposed to high temperatures.[6]

Pekingese exercise needs are minimal. Due to their extremely short snouts, they are at a higher risk for breathing difficulties (most notably brachycephalic obstructed airway syndrome).[7] Because of this, they are rarely capable of more than 30 minutes of exercise per day. It is important to monitor their breathing while exercising, especially if in the heat. If the Pekingese begins wheezing, exercise should cease immediately. After running, they should rest in a cool place until their breathing returns to normal. They must have access to plenty of water before, during, and after exercise to prevent overheating and dehydration.


Pekingese, 1904
Chinese Spaniel, 1903
Chinese Happa dog from the 19th century, an ancestor of the modern Pekingese, Rothschild Zoological Museum, Tring, England

The breed emerged in China from several kinds of small dog owned by aristocratic families. Unlike the others, it could only be owned by members of the Chinese Imperial Palace.[8]

During the Second Opium War, in 1860, the Old Summer Palace in Beijing was sacked and set ablaze by a combined Anglo-French expeditionary force, after the Xianfeng Emperor had fled with all of his court members to Chengde.

A British soldier, Captain John Hart Dunne came across a lone pekingese, which he brought back to England. It was the first of the breed to survive the voyage.[8] He presented her to Queen Victoria, who named it Looty.[9][10][11]

It is often said that during the sack of the palace grounds, a contingent of British and French troops entered one of the palaces. An elderly aunt of the emperor had remained behind, but when the troops entered the palace she committed suicide. She was found dead with five Pekingese beside her body. They were taken by the troops before the Summer Palace was burnt to the ground.[citation needed] 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. The fifth was the one found by captain Dunne. However the tale has no support from contemporary documents, while both Hay and Fitzroy may well have acquired pekes from some source, they were serving Naval officers expected to stay with their ships guarding the entrance to Beijing.[12]

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.[10]

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. Later, they were owned by Rumer Godden, who wrote in her autobiography that "I do not like dogs except very large ones and one or two with such character that they cannot be denied; Pekingese are not dogs but something more"[13] and by Auberon Waugh, who on one occasion fancifully boasted that one of his dogs shared his love of The Daily Telegraph and hatred for The Sunday Times.[14]

In recent[when?] years, their popularity has declined, eclipsed by similar breeds such as the Shih Tzu.[15] However, in 2021 a Pekingese named Wasabi won the Westminster dog show, the fourth time a Pekingese won Best in Show at Westminster.[16]

Sleeve Pekingese[edit]

White-cream Pekingese with black mask

According to the 1948 publication Dogs In Britain, A Description of All Native Breeds and Most Foreign Breeds in Britain by Clifford LB Hubbard, the Sleeve Pekingese is a true miniature of the standard-sized dog, and was also known as the Miniature Pekingese. The name Sleeve Pekingese came from the custom of carrying these small dogs in the capacious sleeves of the robes worn by members of the Chinese Imperial Household. They were used as a defensive weapon if needed. Hubbard indicated that this tradition appeared to be early Italian rather than Chinese, but its adoption by the Chinese Imperial Household led to dogs being bred as small as possible and to practices aimed at stunting their growth: giving puppies rice wine, holding newborns tightly for hours at a time or putting the puppies into tight-fitting wire mesh waistcoats. These practices were apparently forbidden by Dowager Empress Cixi.

In Hubbard's time, the term Sleeve was applied in Britain to a miniature Pekingese no more than 6–7 pounds in weight, often appearing to be only about 3–4 pounds. Mrs Flander's Mai Mai weighed only a little over 4 pounds and many other breeders had bred true miniatures of a similar size. He noted that miniatures may appear in a litter bred from full-sized Pekingese and were exhibited in classes for dogs less than 7 pounds at the major dog shows in Britain. In 1946 (when Hubbard wrote his book), the Sleeve Pekingese had a strong following with the most popular colours being cream and white, with white being considered particularly attractive. He illustrated the description with a white Sleeve Pekingese bred by Mrs Aileen Adam.[17]

Origin myths[edit]

Pekingese puppy

There are two origin stories for the Pekingese.[8] The more common one is The Lion and the Marmoset:

A lion and a marmoset fell in love, but the lion was too large. The Gods intervened to even up their sizes; in one version of the story they shrank the lion down, in another they enlarged the marmoset. The Pekingese was the result.

The other originating story is The Butterfly Lions:

A lioness fell in love with a butterfly. But they knew the difference in size was too much to overcome. Together they went to see the Buddha, who allowed their size to meet in the middle. From this, the Pekingese came, as brave as a lion yet as dainty as a butterfly.

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Keegan's Puppies - Pekingese Breed Traits and Characteristics". Archived from the original on 2011-10-09. Retrieved 2010-07-21.
  2. ^ McMillan, Kirsten M.; Bielby, Jon; Williams, Carys L.; Upjohn, Melissa M.; Casey, Rachel A.; Christley, Robert M. (2024-02-01). "Longevity of companion dog breeds: those at risk from early death". Scientific Reports. 14 (1). Springer Science and Business Media LLC: 531. Bibcode:2024NatSR..14..531M. doi:10.1038/s41598-023-50458-w. ISSN 2045-2322. PMC 10834484. PMID 38302530.
  3. ^ a b Fleming, J.M.; Creevy, K.E.; Promislow, D.E.L. (March 2011). "Mortality in North American Dogs from 1984 to 2004: An Investigation into Age-, Size-, and Breed-Related Causes of Death". Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. 25 (2): 187–198. doi:10.1111/j.1939-1676.2011.0695.x. PMID 21352376.Open access icon
  4. ^ Bell, Jerold S.; Cavanagh, Kathleen E.; Tilley, Larry P.; Smith, Francis W.K. (2012). Veterinary medical guide to dog and cat breeds. Jackson, WY: Teton NewMedia, Inc. p. 355. ISBN 9781482241419.
  5. ^ "Login". The Times.
  6. ^ "Pekingese - Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome". www.ufaw.org.uk. Retrieved 2024-03-03.
  7. ^ "Pekingese Breed Information". PDSA. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  8. ^ a b c Godden (1977)
  9. ^ Looty, Friedrich Wilhelm Keyl, 1861, oil on canvas backed on panel, 33.3 x 38.1 cm, Royal Collection, RCIN 40697. Painted at Windsor for Queen Victoria
  10. ^ a b Key, John (April 2000). "Pearlstone Pekingese History". Shankhill, Dublin, Ireland. Archived from the original on 2007-09-17. Retrieved 2009-10-13.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)()
  11. ^ "The Letter", David Matthews, Jo Lee Magazine, Nov. 2002, p. 18" "This little dog was found by me in the Palace of Yuan-Ming-Yuan near Pekin on the 6th of October 1860. It is supposed to have belonged to either the Empress, or one of the ladies of the Imperial Family. It is a most affectionate and intelligent little creature – it has always been accustomed to being treated as a pet and it was with the hope that it might be looked upon as such by Her Majesty and the Royal Family that I have brought it from China." John Hart Dunne, Captain, 99th Regt.
  12. ^ Godden (1977) p.94
  13. ^ A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep by Rumer Godden, originally published by Macmillan 1987 and taken from page 109 of Corgi edition, 1989
  14. ^ "Top dogs", The Daily Telegraph, 23 March 1994, reprinted in the anthology Way of the World, Random House (Century) 1994 and taken from page 396 of Arrow Books edition, 1995
  15. ^ Country Life magazine, 18 August 2018
  16. ^ "Prime Peke! Wasabi the Pekingese wins Westminster dog show". ABC News. Retrieved 2021-06-15.
  17. ^ Hubbard, Clifford LB. Dogs In Britain, A Description of All Native Breeds and Most Foreign Breeds in Britain. Macmillan Books, 1948


  • Godden, Rumer. The Butterfly Lions: The Pekingese in History, legend and Art. Viking. 1977.

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