If there was ever a dog for whom the phrase “face only a mother could love” is applicable, the Chinese crested is definitely in the running. It’s true, there’s no need to mince words here: The Chinese crested is not an attractive member of the dog kingdom. But what they might lack in movie-star good looks, they make up for in personality, attentiveness, and sheer likability.
The breed actually comes in two varieties, a hairless version and one with a long, full coat, referred to as powderpuff. Both the hairless and powderpuff varieties can come from the same litter and are in every other way the same breed of dog. The powderpuff trait is a straight recessive gene, while the hairless gene has a prenatal lethal effect in zygotes that feature double hairless genes, meaning all Chinese crested dogs carry at least one of the recessive powderpuff genes.
You’ll not find another dog that has as dramatic a spectrum of potential appearances for one litter of puppies. The powderpuff Chinese crested will feature a double coat of long, fine hair that is very soft and silky to the touch. When left untrimmed, this gives the powderpuff a look very much like a traditional spaniel, though owners will usually trim down the hair around the muzzle and face. The coats can get quite long if left untrimmed, and colors can range from black or blue to yellow or chocolate, with tricolors occurring as well.
Hairless crested pups can still have varying amounts of fur, depending on how strongly the gene presents itself, with most commonly having fur around all four feet, the end of the tail, and the crest on the head. Hairless cresteds who have more hair will often be trimmed or shaved down to just these points as well. Being almost the only hair they have, the crest on hairless dogs tends to be a dramatic flair and, depending on the amount and style of trimming, the crest can give a dog a look that falls anywhere between “1980s metal band” and “I’d like to speak to a manager.”
For the non-furred parts of a hairless, their skin is soft and ranges in color from pale peach to black. The fur that does grow on a hairless grows in a silky single coat, while the fur of a powderpuff is in a thicker double coat, which means the latter will do slightly better in colder climates.
Regardless of coat, all Chinese crested dogs are “hairfooted,” meaning their toes are slightly longer than most breeds. This gives them longer quicks in their nails, so care must be taken during trimming to not cut too deeply.
Regardless of how much hair your Chinese crested has, they are all the same on the inside. Chinese crested are marvelous lapdogs, requiring less exercise than many breeds their size, making them excellent companions for seniors and people living in apartments. They are friendly, social dogs, so leaving them alone for too long can lead to some separation anxiety stress behaviors, but they get along famously with other dogs and cats, so a multi-pet home would help mitigate those effects.
While not usually listed as one of the very smartest breeds, Chinese crested are still bright dogs who take to obedience training fairly well and have shown an aptitude for rally, lure, and agility competitions as well. One caveat, however: Chinese crested are notoriously difficult to house-train, so expect to have a lot of patient repetition when it comes to training, as they are not a breed who responds well to sharp tones or harsh training.
These guys make perfect apartment dogs. Chinese cresteds are nearly hypoallergenic, quiet, clean, and have low demands for exercise, making them ideal for smaller living spaces. They have a quiet, friendly personality and are more than happy to curl up and sit with their family on the couch, which makes them great for seniors and people with mobility issues.
If you do have a yard, Chinese crested will be happy to make use of it as well, but keep in mind nothing about these dogs—especially the hairless varieties—is suited for outdoor living. These are in-house lapdogs, through and through, which means outside time will need to be supervised and limited. Be especially aware that cold weather will be particularly concerning for your hairless Chinese crested, and some kind of sweater or covering will be a necessity, rather than a fun accessory.
Chinese crested get along well with other dogs, cats, and small animals, so they’ll fit in well with any multi-pet homes, though larger animals will need to be paid closer attention to, as the smaller Chinese crested could get trampled easily.
This same advice can be used for children as well. As friendly, playful dogs, they love children of all ages, however, care must be used with toddlers and smaller children, as the Chinese crested’s small frame can be easily hurt if play gets too rambunctious.
This is the one area of life where what variety of Chinese crested you have will matter the most.
For the powderpuffs, grooming is straightforward but persistent. Brushing daily is the best way to avoid matting and, for the healthiest possible coat, it’s recommended to never brush their hair while dry. A light misting from a water bottle during brushing will help keep hair tangle-free and easy to maintain. That aside, a bath every month or so will probably be necessary.
For hairless dogs, brushing is obviously a much smaller concern. But in exchange, they do have skin to maintain, same as we do. This will include sunblock, regular moisturizing, and bathing.
“When there’s no hair for protection, there’s no protection from the sun,” says Michelle Beck, DVM, CCRT, CVA-Veterinarian, with the Backlund Animal Clinic in Omaha, Neb. “So it’s important to treat (Chinese cresteds) a lot like small children, really. Keeping them out of direct sun in the mid-day, having them outside only for short periods at a time.
“They can have more issues than just skin cancer concerns,” she continues. “Keeping them properly cleaned and moisturized. Checking for skin lesions.”
Baths will be a regular ritual, as well.
“Once a week bathings, but really, no more than that,” Beck says. “The more you wash their skin, the more you remove the natural oils that act as protectants.
Ideally, they will also be treated with an acne cream every couple of months as well, to keep their skin clear. It should be noted that many cresteds have allergies to lanolin, so care should be taken regarding which creams to use on your Chinese crested.
Once again, regardless of if your Chinese crested is hairless or powderpuff, they have more or less the same health expectations. Chinese crested are hardy dogs, with lifespans of 13–18 years. The most common health problems as they age will be eye problems such as lens luxation, glaucoma, and PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy), as well as luxating patellas, and Legg-Perthes disease.
The one area where the powderpuff and hairless diverge is in their mouths. Chinese crested have what is referred to as a “primitive mouth,” meaning all of their teeth are pointy like canines. In the powderpuff dogs, full, healthy dentition is the norm. However, in the hairless dogs, missing teeth, overcrowded teeth, and a high susceptibility to tooth decay are all common problems. In the short term, those issues can each do their part to ensure the Chinese crested doesn’t win any beauty pageants; in the long run, removal can be the last resort, if teeth aren’t brushed and properly cared for throughout the dog's life.
“Humans brush our teeth,” Beck says. “We floss, we rinse, and we go to the dentist a couple times a year for additional cleaning and upkeep. Dogs only do any of that when we do it for them.
“If you’re not brushing your dog's teeth at least two to three times a week, you might as well not do it,” she continues. “There are definitely advantages to monitoring your dog’s teeth. Brushing prevents buildup of plaque, and will help with gingivitis and overall mouth health.”
With a history that goes back thousands of years, the exact origins of the Chinese crested are a bit murky. However, a genetic study into the origins of their hairlessness has found that it’s highly unlikely the Chinese crested actually originated in China. Instead, the breed most likely came either from what is now Mexico, where they shared a common ancestor with the Xoloitzcuintli, or they came from Africa.
Eventually (again, the timeline is murky), the breed found their way onto visiting Chinese trading vessels and were brought back to the mainland, where the Chinese immediately began shrinking them (see shih tzu and Pekingese for further examples). Chinese sailors began keeping cresteds on their ships as ratters, according to the American Kennel Club, and eventually the name “Chinese crested” stuck.
The breed made their way to the U.S. in the 1880s thanks to the efforts of a breeder named Debra Woods and journalist named Ida Garrett. Separately, they promoted the breed in the United States.