Steeped in legacy and lore, China holds an ancient past and the native Chinese dog breeds originating there have long guarded the land and its people. The history of dogs in China reaches as far back as 15,000 years to a time when the first wild dog locked eyes with a human, beginning what became the beautiful friendship between dogs and dog lovers we know today!
But, the origin of dogs in China isn’t quite one of love and snuggly comfort. The first domesticated dogs were used as work dogs, performing vital roles such as guardian, hunter and herder. As time wore on, dogs were touted not only for their physical ability to protect, but also represented in statuary, folklore, and art thanks to their associations with divinity. Dogs even made their way into the Chinese zodiac as one of the revered 12 animals who competed in the Jade Emperor’s legendary race.
From fluffy lap dogs and giant guardian breeds to hairless dogs and those covered in wrinkles, the Chinese have given us some of the most recognizable breeds in dogdom. Some Chinese dog breeds have grown to such popularity they can be found in homes worldwide while other Chinese dogs have become rare breeds. Regardless of their status, most of the dogs out of China come with ancient and mystical roots.
So, what dogs are native to China? And what are their historical tales? Check out this list of Chinese dog breeds and their storied pasts…
13 Chinese Dog Breeds with Rich Histories
#1 – Chinese Shar-Pei
An easily recognized breed since 200 BC due to his wrinkles and petite ears, the Shar-Pei holds a long lineage with the breed’s origins dating to the Han Dynasty. In the small village of Tai Lin, these protective dogs worked hard to guard farmers and peasants as they went about their daily work. As sturdy and intelligent dogs, the Shar-Pei served as an excellent hunter, which is no surprise for Shar-Pei DNA shares close ties to the wolf ancestors which evolved to the domesticated dogs of today.
#2 – Chongqing dog
You’ve probably never heard of this Chinese dog breed, but here’s a fun fact about the Chongqing dog, they are thought to be the predecessor of the Chinese Shar-Pei. According to the Chinese Chongqing Dog Promotional Committee, they are not a man-made breed, but a “natural” one occurring in East Sichuan. As scent hounds, they were known for their hunting abilities. As the Chinese bred them “solely for their working capabilities,” the Chongqing dog also proves to be an excellent guard dog.
And, they’ve been guarding their humans for 2,000 years! The CKU China Native Breed Conservation Club explains, in April 2000, a Western Han Dynasty graveyard was discovered in the Jiangbei region of Chongqing. The find revealed broken pottery believed to be figures of the loyal Chongqing dog. Such statues were placed in family tombs to provide spiritual protection to the dearly departed.
#3 – Chinese Crested Dog
This dog has quite the sea-worthy tale to go along with their unusual looks. The Chinese Crested dog likely originates from the African Hairless dog and Chinese sailors grew fascinated by this unique dog. With minimal hair, these little dogs were nearly immune to fleas so sailors kept them aboard ships to hunt vermin carrying the Chinese plagues. Because of their work guarding ships, the Chinese Crested Dog “is thought to have been spread throughout the world by Chinese merchant ships.”
#4 – Chow Chow
Another easily recognized breed thanks to their fluff and blue-black tongue, the Chow Chow is one of the oldest dog breeds in the world. While Han Dynasty discoveries date the Chow Chow to that era, genetic study has revealed their origins began much earlier than this. Called the Songshi Quan, or Puffy-Lion Dog, in its native China, this Chinese dog breed has served as a noble companion, guard, hunter, and beast of burden.
The AKC reports, “An emperor of the Tang Dynasty, circa eighth century, was said to have owned a kennel facility that housed some 5,000 Chows and a permanent staff of twice that number.”
Now, Chow Chow dogs enjoy a far more simple life, same as these other dog breeds that just want to chill!
#5 – Kunming Wolfdog
Nicknamed the ‘Chinese German Shepherd,’ the information on this rare dog breed is thin. The title ‘wolfdog’ is apt as the Kunming is actually a wolf-hybrid created in the 1950’s by mixing wolfdogs with shepherds. While taller and shorter in coat than German Shepherds, this Chinese dog breed bares a striking resembles to the GSD, making it possible they share a common lineage. With origins as a military working dog, the Kunming was officially recognized in China in 1988, where they began using this curious and intelligent dog not only for military work, but for police duty as well.
#6 – Japanese Chin
Although the name implies a Japanese origin, this little lapdog was actually developed across the sea in China. According to the AKC, it was bred for the “sole purpose of accompanying the ladies of the Imperial Palace and warming the laps of Chinese aristocracy.” Beats having to work for your dinner.
#7 – Pekingese
Named after Peking (now Bejiing) the little Pekingese was held scared in China when they were first developed in the 8th Century. Only royals could own these lion dogs and the punishment for stealing one was death. And as such prized treasures of the royals, the Pekingese were treated accordingly. A poem entitled “Pearls Dropped from the Lips of Her Imperial Majesty Tzu-Hsi Dowager Empress of the Flowery Land” offers breed standard and instructions on care, “Thus shall it preserve its integrity and self-respect.”
As one of the ancient dog breeds, the Pekingese is reportedly one of the dogs thought to be an inspiration for the famous Foo Dog statues known to guard dwellings and buildings. Bred by Buddhist monks to resemble the lion, an important figure in Buddhism, the Pekingese is thought to banish evil while providing excellent companionship.
#8 – Pug
Everyone knows this breed – fun, quirky and unmistakable with his pushed in nose and deep wrinkles. But most folks don’t know this Chinese dog is one of oldest breeds, dating back before 400 B.C. China is the best guess for their origins, where the breed was a temple dog in the Buddhist monasteries of Tibet. Imagine trying to mediate with a playful Pug bouncing around? And like other Chinese dog breeds, the Pug was loved by emperors and nobles for their ability to serve as companionable lap dogs.
“They kept Tibetan Buddhist monks company in their monasteries and received royal treatment as companions to Chinese emperors and their families, who valued them so much they even kept guards and servants to protect and care for them,” explains the AKC.
#9 – Shih Tzu
There isn’t a lot known about the origins of this adorable lap dog. What we do know is that the Shih Tzu is an old breed, probably dating around 624 A.D. These long-haired lovelies were another of the Chinese dogs who found importance as one of the Tibetan holy dogs, due to their resemblance to the lion. Favorites of the imperial families, the Shih Tzu were kept within Chinese borders for the longest of time. Supposedly, they weren’t even gifted to foreigners of favor.
The Northstar Shih Tzu Rescue shares, “The existence of the Shih Tzu as we know it today is owed to the Dowager Empress Cixi (T’zu Hsi), whose kennel of Pugs, Pekingese, and Shih Tzu was world renowned.”
#10 – Xiasi Quan Dog
“The Bringer of Wealth”, the Xiasi Quan Dog is another Chinese breed you’ve probably not heard of before. They were bred in the town of Xiasi as hunting dogs thanks to a keen sense of smell and their ability to run down prey. Known for being fast and agile, these tough dogs are easy to train.
#11 – Tibetan Mastiff
This easy to identify Chinese dog breed has been around for centuries. Yet, there are no records to solidify specific dates of origin, but written accounts do mention a large dog as early as 1100 BC. These large dogs are known for being a great guardian of livestock or the home. They are also highly prized. Last year, in China, a golden-haired Tibetan Mastiff puppy was sold for $2 million.
#12 – Tibetan Spaniel
Another monastery dog and part of the ‘lion dogs’ culture in China, is the Tibetan spaniel. According to the AKC, “prized as a pet and companion, it was considered a very useful animal by all classes of Tibetans.” Bred in the Tibetan Mountains that bleed into China, the Tibetan Spaniel Club of America tells, “Legend has it that Tibetan Spaniels were trained to turn the prayer wheels in the monasteries.” While this probably isn’t true, “they did serve the monks as companions and bed warmers.”
Proving a superb nap buddy for centuries now, the Tibetan Spaniel also serves as an excellent little watchdog thanks to their alert-barking. With that racket, no one could miss the trouble headed their way!
#13 – Xian Hound
An ancient Chinese dog breed, paintings of the Xian Hound have been uncovered on the tomb walls of a Qin Dynasty prince dating from 2500 years ago. Some believe the Xian Hound to be the start of the sighthound family. With such a noble bearing, it’s no surprise these elegant dogs were used as hunting dogs by royals.