Tiny Guard or Fashion Accessory?
M. J. Nelson
ancient China, the Pekingese handled both roles. To those whose only
exposure to the breed has been to watch them potter around the show
ring, the fashion accessory part of the breed’s history seems much more
plausible than the guard dog. But to those who participate in
performance activities with their Pekes, the "guard dog" aspect of the
breed’s history is not as farfetched as it may seem.
a streak of athleticism that surprises a lot of people," said Cheryl
Chang who owns three conformation champions with rally titles, one of
which is currently working in agility. "They’re not just the ‘ornament’
that many people think they are."
Thomas added, "Many people who have Pekingese or other toy breeds for
that matter assume that they cannot do anything but look cute. That is
not true. I treat my Pekes like real dogs, I expect them to perform like
dogs and they do."
Nancy Bowman agreed. "Many Peke people think
that Pekes can do nothing but look pretty. But that’s not so. They love
to please you and performance work keeps them in great physical shape."
This is a very old breed, which likely descended from early Maltese
that Muslim traders brought to China. Skeletal remains of dogs found in
human settlements reveal a short-muzzle dog in China as early as 200 BC.
Around 800 AD, breeding toy-sized dogs became popular in China and the
Chinese breeders wanted a dog that represented features in Buddhist
stories and art.
Chinese mythology, the Pekingese is believed to be a cross between a
lion and a marmoset. Small sized dogs with special markings were highly
valued by these early Chinese breeders. The very small dogs with the
most ferocious temperaments were used as guard dogs and were hidden in
the large sleeves of the clothing worn by the nobility in this era. From
the 17th to the 19th centuries, there was a good deal of exchange of
different breeds between the palaces and monasteries in China and Tibet.
The evolving Pekingese were crossed with many different breeds including
Pugs, Japanese Chin, Tibetan Spaniels, Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzu, Tibetan
Terriers and Chow Chows.
By the 1820s, Pekingese had become
popular with the Chinese emperors and the members of the court. The best
ones were closely guarded and the punishment for selling one of these
special dogs was brutal torture. While the breed was developed as a
companion dog, its original purpose was to be a fashion accessory for
the emperors and courtiers in the Forbidden City of Imperial China and
the ancient Chinese standard refers to the breed as having specific
colors to match certain clothing. The smallest, most ferocious Pekingese
also served as an early version of pepper spray to protect members of
Perhaps because of their pampered history, Pekes are
not amenable to any amount of force in training. "Pekingese are not
going to be trained with force," said Chang. "They will just lay down
and ‘play rug’ if you try to use force with them. They must be convinced
that all the exercises you train them to do are their idea of a fun game
they are playing with you. I was absolutely shocked when I trained my
first Rough Collie who would do an exercise just because you said so
with no questions asked. The Pekes are definitely more fun to train
because you need to work smarter with your training. They seem to do
better in rally and agility because those activities are more fun for
them since there is unlimited communication between you and the dog.
They seem to get bored by traditional obedience and that’s when you find
yourself walking the off leash pattern by yourself as they go off to
visit with the judge or the stewards."
Thomas said surprisingly
this is a breed that is really easy to train in obedience, at least at
the novice level. "However, you do have to be VERY enthusiastic and
patient. Where some dogs are always very anxious to please and ask to
work, a Pekingese must first be convinced that obedience is FUN and then
they will get into the program. However, they can be very stubborn and
can take a lot of convincing. I’ve found they don’t learn things as
quickly as some other breeds but once they get it, they are more
reliable. You do have to be very patient and be prepared to practice
things many, many times before they are comfortable with the exercise.
You also have to praise twice as much and be ready to go completely
crazy when they do something really well."
Chang noted that there
are some obstacles to training a Peke for performance activities. "They
are quite intelligent and hard-headed in a cute sort of way. You have to
figure out how to make training their idea. You can’t train in the heat
of the day with them and really tall grass is not good. There is also a
problem finding instructors who will teach you and your Pekingese, not
blow you off because you don’t have a Border Collie."
added that the breed’s main quirk is stubbornness. "They are stubborn
and every Peke is a bit different when it comes to their take on
obedience. You have to balance the praise and the training routine
differently with each Peke. You have to really understand the Peke you
are working with so you know just how to approach each exercise and you
have to be prepared to try many different approaches to teaching each
exercise. There are some that just don’t want to do the more advanced
work. One of the hardest things I have ever taught Pekingese is the
retrieve. You must teach a ‘forced retrieve’ in the sense that it is not
a game and the Peke must learn to get the dumbbell on your command as
well as hold it until you give the release. I do not use strong force or
such things as the ear pinch to teach my Pekes to retrieve because they
don’t respond well to force. Jumping is also an obstacle. My Pekes have
always mastered the eight-inch high jump but the 16-inch broad jump has
been another matter entirely. They don’t see much point in jumping
something that is so much easier to climb across but you can teach them
to jump it. They all have seemed to be physically able to jump but they
need to be convinced that it is a fun thing to do."
concurred with Thomas’ evaluation of the breed’s stubborn streak.
"‘Soft’ is a word that doesn’t apply to Pekingese. They are very
stubborn and take a lot of time, patience and effort in training. I’ve
found when it comes to training for the dumbbell, metal and leather
articles and the gloves, they become very stubborn. This is one exercise
where you have to teach a ‘force retrieve’ but you have to be extremely
careful how you teach this exercise. Mine refused to fetch the articles.
It took a lot of work and training to work through the retrieving
problems in both open and utility. Retrieving articles was probably the
most difficult exercise to teach my dogs. In addition, you have to make
sure that you measure just right for the size of articles that a
Pekingese must pick up and carry. Another problem was the jumps. Pekes
would rather go around instead of over the jumps. On the other hand,
sits and downs are easy. When you have once trained those commands, you
can rest assured that your Pekingese will sit, down and stay."
Rally and obedience appear to be the best fits for Pekingese although
some have also been successful agility dogs. "Since rally was approved
that has been the best for me and my Pekes," said Chang. "They are
healthier and happier when they have a job. We’ve started agility
classes in May and are just now starting to enter trials but I live on
the Island of Oahu in Hawaii and we have limited opportunities in this
area with only eleven all-breed obedience/rally trials and a dozen
agility trials per year so it may be awhile before we get any agility
think it is very important for those who really care about the breeds
they own to exhibit their dogs in performance events," said Thomas.
"People need to see what a correct and well-bred specimen of a breed can
do. It is also important for good breeders to produce sound dogs that
can handle performance activities. There are a lot of benefits to
training dogs for performance events but the main one is that you get to
spend a lot of quality time with your dog. I never know my dogs until I
start training them. They you really get to know what makes your dog
tick and the relationship you build with the dog is tremendous.
What dog doesn’t love a lot of individual attention?" Unlike many toy
breeds, the Pekingese has been spared many of the trials and
tribulations that go with being a popular breed.
However, this does
not mean that Peke lovers do not face some challenges with the breed.
"We face a real problem with ‘groups’ meddling in the setting of breed
standards. While their motive of trying to create healthier dogs is
laudable, changing the breed characteristics to the point they have
completely altered breed type does nothing to actually help health. That
can only be done by making sure health checks and tests are done before
breeding," said Chang.
Thomas added that breeders today need to
be concerned about breeding sound dogs. "The greatest challenge we face
today with Pekingese is getting breeders to be concerned about breeding
Pekes that are sound and capable of walking and playing without sounding
like they can’t breathe and looking like they can’t walk any more than a
few feet at a time. A good Pekingese can be a very active dog.
take my male, who is in training for open obedience, on a mile and a
half walk regularly with my Corgi and my Irish Setter. Aside from the
fact that he picks up every leaf along the way, he has a great time and
does very well. Pekes should be able to do this and not have their
activity limited because they are physically unable to get out and
Bowman also cited breathing problems as critical for the
breed. "Any dog should be able to breathe freely. Pekes should be able
to play, run and walk without any harsh sounds coming from their
breathing. I have a Peke that can run, play, walk and has good breathing
and enjoys all her exercises. All Pekes should be able to enjoy all
aspects of life and that includes running and playing in the snow and
the fields. This is what love and performance is all about."