12 Unique Dog Breeds That Come From China

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.

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.

1. Pugs

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.

2. Pekingese

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.

3. Shih Tzus

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.

4. Shar-Peis

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.

5. Chow Chow

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.

6. Chinese Crested

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.

7. Xiasi

The Xiasi, pronounced “she-ah-seh” 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.

8. Kunming Wolfdog

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.

9. Japanese Chin

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.

10. Formosan Mountain Dog (Taiwan Dogs)

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 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.

11. Chinese Imperial

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.

12. Chinese Chongqing

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 Characteristics

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.

Published On: May 23rd, 2023Categories: Dog News