Chinese Dog Breeds That Are Some of the Oldest and Rarest Breeds on Earth

According to the Chinese zodiac, people born in the year of the dog are loyal and energetic partners. This is not surprising to many Western cultures, which have always regarded dogs as lovely companions. But in China, the history of dogs is even more subtle. Based on artifacts and archaeological discoveries, scholars have learned that dogs were first seen as laborers of early Chinese civilization. Think More work, less play. Over time, Chinese dog breeds evolved into family protectors and symbols of good fortune. Unlike dogs indigenous to Japan and Australia, Chinese dog breeds are much more varied in their temperaments and features. One thing they all have in common? Bragging rights as some of the oldest and rarest breeds on earth.

Domesticated dogs in China

Modern people don’t seem to know when our ancestors started training dogs. We had a lot of speculation, but no details. A 2015 study of the canine genome found that East Asian dogs had the “highest genetic diversity” and were more closely related to wolves. Canine bones have also been discovered in Neolithic (Stone Age) graves and dump sites in China, some of which are 15,000 years old. These findings indicate domesticated dogs likely originated in China.

Initially bred for herding, hunting, and transportation, dogs in this part of the world assisted early humans with day-to-day tasks. According to the World History Encyclopedia, the Banpo Village in China’s Shaanxi Province was full of people and animals from 4500 to 3750 B.C. The villagers worked alongside dogs (cute!) and researchers believe once the dogs became too frail for labor, the villagers would kill them for fur and sustenance (yikes!).

Let’s address the elephant in the room: eating dogs. Dr. Dai Wangyun, a researcher with a doctorate in folklore, says yes, ancient farming communities in China would eat dog meat when necessary. They survived on grains and vegetables, so dog meat was a handy protein option. Around the Sui and Tang dynasties (in the early 600s) as Buddhism and Islam became more popular, many people in China stopped eating dog meat.

Although canids have such a difficult history, dogs are respected in Chinese culture and are closely related to their guardians, both in the present world and in the afterlife.

Dogs and guardianship

Many ancient Chinese philosophies state that dogs link the living and the dead. Canines were said to offer protection in the afterlife, guide their owners on their journey, and defend people on earth from ghosts. Because of this, many imperial family members and notable citizens insisted on being buried alongside a dog after they died.

There is evidence that residents of the Banpo Village sacrificed dogs and buried them in front of homes as a way to ward off evil and protect themselves. This practice morphed into a tradition of placing straw, stone or jade figures of dogs out front to protect the home and family. Archeologists have identified many dogs in ancient Chinese art, including Chow Chows carved into unearthed sculptures from the Han Dynasty (around 150 B.C.).

If you want to bring your family luck and guidance to heaven, you better have a dog to help.

Dogs as pets in China

Even though dogs symbolize guardianship in Chinese culture, they haven’t always been accepted (or allowed) as pets. Around the 1300s, dog ownership was a way of declaring high status. The Pekingese were particularly popular among wealthy families in the 1600s. But, things took a turn, and owning a pet dog was seen as a waste of resources.

As recently as the 1980s dogs as pets were banned in Beijing (the ban turned into a more lenient restriction in 1994). By 2003, pet dogs were allowed as long as they were just a foot tall. Many Chinese lawmakers still saw dog ownership as indulgent and uneconomical, even into the 2010s. Just last year (2020) dogs were officially declared “companion animals,” rather than “livestock,” by China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

Today, there are more than 5 million pet dogs in China. Many Chinese communities have even incorporated their pets into the Qingming Festival during which they sweep the tombs of their ancestors (also known as Tomb Sweeping Day). People grieving the loss of a pet can visit their pet’s grave and leave trinkets or toys in honor of their loved one.

If you are interested in native Chinese dogs, remember their rich history. They have been around for a while and may be stuck in their way. But you will certainly have a guardian for life.

Published On: December 21st, 2022Categories: Dog knowledge