12 Unique Dog Breeds That Come From China

12 Unique Dog Breeds That Come From China

These Chinese dog breeds have some fascinating histories

shar pei dog

Tara Gregg / Getty Images

Dogs have been a part of Chinese culture for more than 7,000 years. Dogs have been woven in cultural stories, found in artworks, and skeletal remains from Chinese archaeological digs. They have been used as guardians, hauling, herding, hunting, and regal companions from the time they were domesticated. The breeds span all types and sizes, from fluffy lapdogs like the Shih Tzu to wrinkly-faced guard dogs like the well-known shar-pei and rarely mentioned Kunming wolfdog.

Tip

All dogs have basic needs, like food, shelter, exercise, and medical care, but do not forget the emotional and social support that our domesticated friends have come to need and expect. Without security, trust, and bonding, they can become feral, more wild canines—not suitable for life in the home.

 

Breed Characteristics

The breeds span all different body types and sizes and are as unique as the varied regions of China, from the colder mountain zone to the tropical, coastal areas. It is believed that the emperors and nobles greatly appreciated the flat-faced look; hence many—although not all—have shorter snouts and folds in their faces. Flattened faces gave the dogs almost a “lion dog” appearance, an important symbol of protection in Chinese lore. Another unique quality—the shar-pei, chow chow, and Chongqing dogs have blue-black tongues—a rare quality in dogs. Most Chinese dogs are in the toy to the medium-sized range; a few breeds go up to 80 pounds but not more than that.

These 12 unique dog breeds hail from all parts of China.

 

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Pugs

A Pug dog looking up at the camera.
 Purple Collar Pet Photography / Getty Images

Pugs are one of the most popular family dog breeds due to their sweet, friendly demeanor and manageable size. They’re also one of the world’s oldest breeds. The pug likely originated in China around 400 B.C. as a Tibetan Buddhist monk companion. Hypotheses swirl tying pugs to Tibetan mastiffs while others claim it’s related to the Pekingese, another Chinese dog hailing from China. Formerly a mischievous companion of emperors, this comical, loving pup warms hearts everywhere it goes.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Toy (AKC)

HEIGHT: 10 to 13 inches

WEIGHT: 14 to 18 pounds

COAT AND COLOR: Short, smooth coats that typically come in fawn or black

LIFE EXPECTANCY: 13 to 15 years

 

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Pekingese

A Pekingese dog looking into the camera.
 Alan Shapiro / Getty Images

Also called “Pekes,” “lion dogs,” or “sun dogs,” Pekingese were initially kept as companion pets to Chinese royalty and were ingrained in Chinese folklore. One story says that Pekingese were created when Buddha shrunk a lion down to the size of a small dog. In reality, Pekingese were most likely the result of breeding a larger dog with toy-sized dogs in China. They were a favorite—and much looked-after—pet among Chinese royalty for thousands of years.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Toy (AKC)

HEIGHT: 6 to 9 inches

WEIGHT: Up to 14 pounds

COAT AND COLOR: Long, thick double coat with a lion-like mane in gold, sable, or red, gray, black, tan, and cream

LIFE EXPECTANCY: 12 to 14 years

 

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Shih Tzus

Shih tzu dog lying on a newspaper
 Geri Lavrov / Getty Images

The Shih Tzu, a small toy dog with a playful personality, is named for its lion-like appearance. Its name comes from the word “lion” in Chinese. Like the Pekingese and pugs, Shih Tzus were treasured by Chinese nobility for centuries and were considered the noble dog of China. The Shih Tzu can be traced back to ancient dog breeds but are more closely related to wolves than other dog breeds.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Toy (AKC)

HEIGHT: 8 to 11 inches

WEIGHT: 9 to 16 pounds

COAT AND COLOR: Long, double coat that comes in numerous color variations, most commonly in black, white, blue, gold, or liver

LIFE EXPECTANCY: 10 to 16 years

 

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Shar-Peis

Shar-Pei runs near canal water.
 Paulo Hoeper / Getty Images 

Known for their distinctive, wrinkled faces, petite ears, and blue-black tongues, Shar-peis are a unique and rare breed with roots in ancient China. Shar-peis, meaning “sand skin,” were initially bred as hunting and guard dogs 2,000 years ago in southern China. Sadly, during China’s communist revolution in the mid-1900s, shar-pei populations were decimated, almost making the breed extinct. Sometime during the 1970s, a Chinese shar-pei enthusiast rallied American breeders to propagate the breed, and numbers rose once again.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Non-sporting (AKC)

HEIGHT: 18 to 20 inches

WEIGHT: 45 to 60 pounds

COAT AND COLOR: Short, bristle coat, commonly in black, chocolate, blue, and cream

LIFE EXPECTANCY: 8 to 12 years

 

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Chow Chow

An adult Chow Chow sitting outdoors.
 Hans Surfer / Getty Images

Chow chows are among the most ancient Chinese dog breeds, with evidence dating back to 206 B.C. They were originally employed as hunting and guard dogs. Like the shar-pei, chows have a very distinctive appearance: Their faces are somewhat bear-like with deep facial folds and a blue-black tongue.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Non-sporting (AKC)

HEIGHT: 17 to 20 inches

WEIGHT: 40 to 70 pounds

COAT AND COLOR: Coats can be rough or smooth in black, blue, cinnamon, cream, or red

LIFE EXPECTANCY: 10 to 12 years

 

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Chinese Crested

A Chinese Crested dog outdoors.
 tsik / Getty Images

Because the Chinese crested has extremely early origins, no one is exactly sure when or how the breed was developed. Some assume that hairless dogs from Africa were brought to China and bred with smaller, toy-sized dogs to give the crested its unique, hairless appearance. Chinese crested dogs were popular for use on Chinese trading vessels to hunt vermin.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Toy (AKC)

HEIGHT: 11 to 13 inches

WEIGHT: 8 to 12 pounds

COAT AND COLOR: Soft, silky hair only on the head, feet, and tail, the rest of its body is hairless with grayish-pink skin; a less famous coated “powderpuff” variety has a silky coat with white and gray coloring

LIFE EXPECTANCY: 13 to 18 years

 

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Xiasi

A Xiasi Quan dog outdoors
 LauraKelsch / Wikimedia Commons / Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

The Xiasi, pronounced “she-ah-she” is a lean, muscular hunting dog that originated in the Guizhou region of China, sometime around 1080. Although the breed is typically used for hunting or guarding, it is widely believed in the Guizhou province that owning a Xiasi dog can bring wealth to the family.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Not recognized by the AKC

HEIGHT: 17 to 20 inches

WEIGHT: 22 to 60 pounds

COAT AND COLOR: The coat is short, wiry, and white

LIFE EXPECTANCY: 12 to 14 years

 

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Kunming Wolfdog

A Kunming Wolfdog resting indoors.
 Ryhor Bruyeu / Getty Images

A wolf-dog hybrid, the Kunming wolfdog, is related to German shepherds introduced to China in the 1950s. It is sometimes called the Chinese German shepherd. Like German shepherds, Kunming wolfdogs are trained as military assistance dogs, fire dogs, and search-and-rescue. Named after the capital city of the Yunnan province, they’re also a popular family dog throughout China.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Not recognized by the AKC

HEIGHT: 25 to 27 inches

WEIGHT: 65 to 85 pounds

COAT AND COLOR: Long, double coat that comes in black, brown, rust, cream, and other color variations

LIFE EXPECTANCY: 12 to 14 years

 

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Japanese Chin

A Japanese Chin dog smiling.
 Heather Bensen / Getty Images

Despite its name, the Japanese chin is believed to have originated in China. Closely related to Tibetan spaniels, they were likely a gift from the Chinese emperor to Japanese royalty. Known for their cat-like, calm, and affectionate behavior, the Japanese chin became extremely popular among Japanese nobility over 1,000 years ago. Later, when Japan began to trade with other countries, the Japanese chin was a traditional gift to naval officers or sold to traders and sailors.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Toy (AKC)

HEIGHT: 8 to 11 inches

WEIGHT: 4 to 9 pounds

COAT AND COLOR: Long and silky coats in black and white, lemon and white, sable and white, black, and other color variations

LIFE EXPECTANCY: 10 to 14 years

 

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Formosan Mountain Dog (Taiwan Dogs)

A Formosan Mountain Dog outdoors.
 Corpse80719 / Getty Images

Formosan mountain dogs or Taiwan dogs have been genetically traced to 10,000 and 20,000 years ago, making them one of the oldest and most primitive dog breeds in the world. The Formosan mountain dog is a small- to a medium-sized dog that hails from south Asian dog stock in the Taiwanese mountains. Although Formosan mountain dogs were considered wild, they’re now domesticated as hunting dogs, guard dogs, rescue dogs, and family dogs.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Primitive, hunting dog (FCI), not recognized by the AKC

HEIGHT: 13 to 16 inches

WEIGHT: 25 to 40 pounds

COAT AND COLOR: Short and smooth coats in black, fawn, brindle, white, and combinations of these colors

LIFE EXPECTANCY: 9 to 13 years

 

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Chinese Imperial

Shih Tzu Running On Grass
 Tara Gregg / EyeEm / Getty Images

Closely related to the Shih Tzu, the Chinese imperial dog is also known as a teacup or micro Shih Tzu. It is considered by many to be a separate Chinese breed, although not by the AKC, which calls it a smaller Shih Tzu. As its name implies, this was another small companion dog kept by dynastic Chinese emperors.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Not recognized by the AKC

HEIGHT: 7 to 8 inches

WEIGHT: 4 to 7 pounds

COAT AND COLOR: Luxurious, long dense coat with a fluffy and curly tail in fawn, brown, silver, white, black, pied

LIFE EXPECTANCY: 10 to 15 years

 

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Chinese Chongqing

Chongqing
 Markus Monroe / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

This breed after the city of Chongqing has a wrinkly face similar to a shar-pei, a signature look for many Chinese breeds. This rare hunting and guardian dog breed is rare in modern China but still exists in some rural areas. It is believed to have first appeared 2,000 years ago during the Han dynasty in southwestern China. It is sometimes called the bamboo ratter due to its unusual tail that looks like a straight, slender, and hairless bamboo stick.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Not recognized by the AKC

HEIGHT: 16 to 19 inches

WEIGHT: 44 to 54 pounds

COAT AND COLOR: Short, flat, sparse, and harsh coat in deep brown or mahogany

LIFE EXPECTANCY: 10 to 13 years

 

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Breeds to Avoid

If you’re in love with Chinese breeds, then dogs that might not interest you as much would be floppy-eared hound-type breeds or giant breeds like Great Danes or Newfoundlands. Most Chinese breeds were lapdogs for royalty, and others served as lion-looking guardians. Fu dog statues are Chinese protection symbols that typically “guard” the entranceways to buildings and homes. Even though they’re called “dogs,” they depict lions.

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