Bred to live as pampered royal pets in the palaces of Chinese emperors, Pekingese (pronounced pee·kuh·neez) are lovingly referred to as lion dogs because of their long manes and stocky build. Initially, they may seem aloof—as though they remember their regal beginnings—but these intelligent, loving, and affectionate little dogs make loyal pets, so it's no wonder that Pekingese are so popular. They don’t need much exercise and are perfect lap dogs who crave the company of their owners. Their long mane means Pekingese do need frequent grooming to keep their glorious coats in top condition.
Pekingese are affectionate little dogs who are perfectly sized for snuggling on their owners' laps. Reaching a maximum weight of 14 pounds, and standing at between 6 and 9 inches tall, the Pekingese is surprisingly stocky and well-muscled under all that luscious fur. Though golden coloring is most commonly associated with this breed (sometimes with a black mask), they come in almost every shade (with blue and gray being considered more rare for a Pekingese).
Pekingese have black eyes, typically, that are so dark when they are looking straight ahead that barely any white is visible. Occasionally a Pekingese will have blue eyes. Keeping a Pekingese looking its best requires grooming two to three times a week (or whenever you discover tangles), and it’s important to bathe them occasionally.
Pekingese dogs can seem aloof and a little snooty when you first meet them, but to their owners, they are smart, funny, and full of personality. “Part of the appeal of this breed is that they aren’t everybody’s fool, but they’re happy to be your own private clown,” says Caroline Coile, PhD, author of Pekingese: A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual. They’re also selective about who they lavish their affections on. “They love you, they love your family and like your friends, and just tolerate everybody else,” she says. “This breed makes you feel special.”
This toy breed is the very definition of a lap dog and is pretty laid back at home. However, the Pekingese is an alert little dog and if he senses a threat he will sound the alarm with a persistent warning bark.
Pekingese get along well with other dogs and cats. “They’re pretty laid back with other animals,” Coile says. They can be a great family dog but won’t stand for roughhousing, so they may be better suited to families with older children.
Pekingese don’t need much space, as their favorite place to be is right on their owner’s lap, making them a great dog for apartment living and a perfect companion for seniors, Coile says.
They form a close bond with their owner, so Pekingese can suffer from separation anxiety. They’re not the right breed for your household if you have to be away from them for extended periods of time.
That long leonine mane and thick double coat require a fair bit of maintenance, with the American Kennel Club recommending an hour of brushing every week to remove loose hairs and prevent matting. That’s okay though, Pekingese love being lavished with attention. “These dogs don’t mind sitting on your lap and being brushed. It's rather soothing for both dog and owner,” Coile says.
Pekingese don’t need much exercise, though they can enjoy agility and games done at their own pace. “They like to go places and see things, like all dogs, but physically they can get their exercise inside an apartment,” she says.
Pekingese are notoriously hard to train. “They can be very stubborn, but you just have to motivate them in the right way and you can train them,” Coile says. “Ultimately, they want to please you.”
The Pekingese lifespan averages between 12 and 14 years. The breed is prone to the same issues all short-faced breeds have, such as brachycephalic syndrome which can lead to respiratory distress. Their shortened airways also mean these dogs make a snuffling noise when awake, and may well snore when asleep—but this is something many Pekingese owners seem to consider cute.
However, this could potentially be a severe enough issue to significantly restrict the ability of the dog to breathe through their nose, says Mel Vassey, DVM, a veterinarian at Comprehensive Health Services. “In conjunction with this, the soft palate, the roof of the oral cavity way back at the back, is frequently elongated, which can partially obstruct the opening to the trachea, or windpipe,” he says. “These problems can be addressed to a degree with surgery, but it’s often better to look for bloodlines where this has not been a significant issue.”
Unfortunately, their brachycephaly also puts the Pekingese at increased risk for certain eye conditions. “Shortening of the face also results in the eye sockets being a good bit shallower, making the eyes bulge forward, where they are less protected. Sometimes this can be enough to keep their eyelids from closing fully, which keeps the tear film from being spread over the forwardmost point on the cornea,” Vassey says. “This increases the risk of corneal ulceration, which can become severe enough to result in loss of the eye, or at least corneal scarring, which obscures the field of vision over time.” It's worth discussing potential Pekingese health issues with your vet so you know what to watch out for, and can deal with any issues early on.
That characteristic Pekingese facial structure also means it's hard for them to regulate temperature and they can easily overheat. “You need air-conditioning in the summer, and if you’re driving somewhere warm with them in the car,” Coile says.
Toy breeds such as the Pekingese can also suffer from several orthopedic issues, such as patellar luxation. Vassey explains this is when the groove the patella (kneecap) ordinarily lies in is too shallow, allowing it to pop out of place. “This can be painful, and over time it can result in arthritic change in the joint,” he says. “It is, however, generally reparable with surgery.”
The Pekingese has a long and regal history, and evidence of some version of similar-looking short-nosed dogs being bred in China can be found as far back as 200 BC. Though it was around 800 AD that the breeding of toy breeds became popular. Favored by Chinese emperors and those who lived in their palaces, Pekingese were bred as “sleeve dogs” small enough to fit in the wide sleeves of royal garments, and peppy enough to act as tiny guard dogs when necessary. In line with ancient Buddhist teachings, the Chinese mythology of the Pekingese is that they came about through the coupling of a lion and a marmoset—hence their lionlike appearance.
- A Pekingese named Sun Yat Sen was one of only two dogs to survive the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.
- These adorable little fellows seem ready-made for internet popularity. They are all over social media, from the Instagram-famous Wonton Soup the Pekingese (55K followers) and Kuma, a shih tzu and Pekingese mix (33K followers), to Henry the Pekingese on TikTok (38k followers).
- Wasabi the Pekingese won Best in Show at the 2020 American Kennel Club National Championship. The 18-month-old pup comes from a long line of championship Pekingese.