We are obviously great fans of our beloved Pekes, but we also like to let people know what it's like to share their homes with this funny, intelligent, and independent little breed.
History of the Breed
According to the Pekingese Club of America:
Pekingese are one of the oldest of all dog breeds with a fascinating history that dates back to 800 A.D. They were the Emperor's dogs in China and were bred exclusively as possessions, fashion accessories and guards of the Imperial Court in Beijing. The penalty for smuggling one of these dogs our of the palaces was certain death. The smallest ones,around 5 pounds, were carried in the huge sleeves of the imperial robes and thus earned the name "Sleeve Pekingese," which endures to this day. Pekingese were introduced to America in the late 1800s and quickly became one of the most popular of all toy breeds.
The Pekingese Personality
Among lovers of the breed, Pekes are rather famous for their Peke-i-tude! They are wonderful companions for the right people. They are vigorous little dogs who love to play and toddle about. They do not require a lot of exercise, but they should have some, even the ones who are a bit, ahem, exercise-averse (aka as 'lazy.') Many are quiet and do not yap, but if somebody comes to the door of their kingdom, they let you know.
Pekes are independent and stubborn, and they often wind up on lists of the "Dumbest Dog Breeds" on the internet, usually compiled by people who hold breeds like Border Collies as the highest order of canine intelligence. Pekes are, indeed, trainable, but they can be obstinate. Whenever a Peke is issued a command, many think about whether they feel like responding or not; it may not be that they don't understand you or that they are 'too dumb' to learn what you want them to. It may be that they don't feel like doing what you say right at that moment. Or you may not be communicating well enough. And Pekes can be very fussy about food, too, so that with some, bait training can prove a challenge as your Peke will sometimes waltz away, nose in the air, from treats that other dogs are dying to have.
That independence makes them very funny and amusing to those of us who love their spunk, but it can be very frustrating to those who expect Pekes to behave like breeds from the working group (Dobermans, Border Collies, etc). Pekingese will never mirror these breeds--they have the gift of great cuteness, after all, and their job is to be adorable-- but, if training is fun, they will train to commands and even agility. The key is patience and practice, and to become the type of Peke friend who can figure out how to reinforce desired behavior in a dog that may (or may not) be interested in treats or that may (or may not) respond much to praise or scolding.
What does that mean? Well, it means that you have to be smart about how you train and communicate, and what you expect. You have to figure out what motivates them and how to make training fun for you both.
It also leads to multiple things to focus on: house training and socializing. House-training a Peke can be difficult because they are very smart about what they want and what they don't want. If they would rather sneak off to another room to do business and then come right back for a nap or a cuddle, that's what they will do rather than ask to go outside. Nonetheless, they do learn to use doggie doors and house train like other dogs, but they can lose their training in new houses and new settings.
In our experience, frustration over house training leads to many instances of Peke abuse and abandonment. Be realistic and consistent, and keep them confined to one place in the house with you until they have learned house manners.
Pekes also have their own opinions about how they should be treated and with whom they want to play. Thus only some of them are good with small children. Some of our Pekes come to us beautifully socialized and with personalities capable of dealing with small children--or just about anybody.
We sometimes get dogs we can be assured don't bite unless extremely provoked. But some Pekes really just don't like rough play, and it can cause them to nip. That leads us to say "no" to some potential adoptions as we try to protect both the dog and the family in question. Even if a Peke is great with your child, that doesn't mean the dog will be great with your child's friends. Pekes tend to be loyal and attached to their favorite people even if they are sensible with strangers. It's best to go slowly with any new rescue dog, and Pekes (just like most dogs) should always have a place in the house that is theirs and theirs alone, where they can rest undisturbed and get away from little hands.
Pekingese Health Issues
Pekingese can be vigorous little dogs that handle the cold well--but not so well that they should be left outside alone. They are indoor dogs, even if they do enjoy hikes out with you. Because of their many health and grooming issues, they are not inexpensive dogs to keep. In our experience, vet bills and grooming costs drive many Peke owners to abandon their pets. Things to keep in mind:
- Pekingese can not handle heat. Observe your dog when he or she is outside in hot weather. Weather that feels fine to you may leave our fuzzy, short-nosed Peke friends snorting and gasping for air. Like many push-faced or short-nosed breeds, Pekes have trouble breathing, and this trouble gets worse with heat, and it also worsens with its attendant health problems, like heart murmurs.
- Pekingese are not strong swimmers. Yes, undoubtedly, many people have Pekes that love to swim in pools, but most Pekes are not strong swimmers and, if they fall into a pool where nobody can help them get out, they can soon become fatigued and drown. It's best never to leave your Peke friend anywhere near a pool.
- Heart murmurs are common in Pekingese. These can often be treated but not cured.
- Allergies, both of the skin and for food, are common, and many Pekes require homemade or specialty food or else they shred their skin scratching in misery. The allergy problems also lead to frequent ear infections.
- Teeth. Because their jaws are small and recessed into their skulls, teeth require vigilant cleaning, lest periodontal disease can prompt infections that attack both the heart and the brain.
- Back and disc problems. Pekingese are long in the back, and that means you should pick them up and put them down carefully, and watch how your groomers and vet techs handle them as well. Disc injuries can paralyze a dog and gravely affect their quality of life.
- Eye problems are a constant source of concern for Peke owners. Pekes have very shallow eye sockets and large eyes, which means those eyes may come out easily if the dog sustains an injury to the head. They also get dry eye, and if untreated, those can become infected. For some pekes, drops or cream in the eyes are required twice a day, every day, for the rest of their life. If you aren't ready for that, then you may need to think twice before taking on a Peke. That said, many pekes who have been mistreated will lose an eye, and some are born in puppy mils without eyes at all. Our experience is that they learn to cope with vision limits and blindness just fine, and once an eye is gone, it can't trouble them anymore!
Notes on grooming
Please understand this: for Pekingese and other long-haired breeds, grooming is a health issue. Matted, dirty hair provides cover for fleas and ticks, which can be a serious health threat, particularly for small dogs like Pekingese. Moreover, mats foster warmth and moisture, which allows bacteria and yeast to grow. These can cause serious skin infections and damage your dog's health.
Peke owners range by the amount of grooming they do for the dog's appearance, but all of us, when we take on a Pekingese, also take on all the responsibilities that come with a long-haired breed. Some Peke parents love to keep their dogs in full coats all year, being careful to brush just about every day with the right kind of equipment. We like Furminator brand brushes for small dogs, for instance.
Others let the hair grow out for the winter, and then have a groomer do a puppy or kennel cut on the dog for hot summer days. (Be careful, though; fur protects from the sun, too!).
Still others in warm climates keep their Pekes clipped in a kennel cut most of the year; one of our volunteers here in Los Angeles has a dog that came from a puppy mill where he sat in his own filth for 5 years. This dog begins to get depressed and unhappy if his hair grows too long past a simple kennel cut no matter what the weather, and he gets happy again as soon as he gets a haircut. (Her husband is like that, too!)
Professional groomers charge around $50 a visit on up, and most Pekingese require professional grooming at least every two months or so. Alternatively, you can buy your own grooming equipment and start learning to care for the dog's grooming needs yourself. Whether you pay or do it yourself, grooming is vital to keeping your Pekingese healthy, happy, and a pleasure to have in the family.