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Foo dog statue

Dogs were once considered to be very lucky in ancient China, a fact readily proven by the love and attention so many emperors and nobility gave to their lap pooches. Still today, many people consider them lucky and will take a stray off the street as a sign that fortune is headed their way.

1. Chinese crested

Chinese crested dogs are loving and energetic. They have a very striking and memorable appearance with their crested head, socked feet, and hairless body. Having won the most awards as the world’s ugliest dog, they are the most popular hairless dog in China, if not the world. These spunky dogs were used as ratters on ships dating back to the 14th century. While there is some debate if they were bred in China, it’s agreed that Chinese sailors made them popular.

Chinese crested dog walking on grass

Facts about the Chinese crested

  • Breed groupToy breed
  • Intelligence — High
  • Barking — Moderate amount
  • Life span — 13-18 years

2. Chinese Kunming wolfdog

The Chinese Kunming wolfdog is a relatively new breed. It was created by breeding native wolves, local dogs, and imported German shepherds. They were originally bred in the 1970s to work in the police force and the military.  While officially recognized in China, they aren’t part of the American Kennel Club yet. Similar in appearance to the German shepherd, Chinese Kunming wolfdogs stand a few inches taller with a shorter coat.

Chinese Kunming wolfdog standing on a concrete block

Photo credit: Bigsteeve (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Facts about the Chinese Kunming wolfdog

  • Breed groupWorking breed
  • Intelligence — High
  • Barking — When necessary
  • Life span — 12-14 years

3. Chinese Shar-Pei

The Chinese Shar-Pei is an old, proud breed that was created to guard the emperor’s palace in ancient China. They have a distinctive appearance with their wrinkly skin and blue-black color tongue. Generally, these dogs are very intelligent and independent, which often mix into stubbornness. They also tend to be territorial and protective, so they are not recommended for homes with other pets or younger children.

shar-pei dog walking in grass

Facts about the Chinese Shar-Pei

  • Breed groupNon-sporting breed
  • Intelligence — High
  • Barking — When necessary
  • Life span — 8-12 years

4. Chow chow

Chow chow is the English name for the Chinese songshi quan. The Chow chow is an ancient breed, believed to have its origins 2,000+ years ago. Despite their big fluffy appearance, chow chows are very aloof, loyal dogs that prefer to be with just their family. They are one of two breeds that have blue-black tongues.

Chow chow dog on city street

Facts about the Chow chow

  • Breed groupNon-sporting breed
  • Intelligence — Very high
  • Barking — Only to alert
  • Life span — 12-15 years

5. Japanese chin

While bred in China, this dog breed gained popularity with Japanese nobilities. Japanese chins are small lap dogs that love to be cuddled and spoiled indoors with their families. These little dogs tend to be very quiet and have a long luxurious coat that comes in a variety of colors and big round eyes.

Japanese chin dog laying on concrete

Facts about the Japanese chin

  • Breed groupToy breed
  • Intelligence — Average
  • Barking — Lower than average
  • Life span — 10-12 years

6. Lhasa apso

The Lhasa apso breed comes from the Buddhist monasteries in Tibet. They were bred as watchdogs for the monks and for royalty. The Dalai Lama typically will have a Lhaso apso with him because of the significance they play in Tibetan mythology. According to folklore, Tibet was guarded by the mythical Snow Lion, and the Lhasa apso is the earthly representation of that mythical hero.

White lhasa apso wearing a bow and sitting beside a lake.

Facts about the Lhaso apso

  • Breed groupNon-sporting breed
  • Intelligence — Average
  • Barking — Moderate amount
  • Life span — 12-15 years

7. Pekingese

Another breed that was bred for royalty, Pekingese are affectionate and loyal. Despite their size, they make pretty good watchdogs and will alert you of the comings and goings around your house. These small dogs do well in families with little roughhousing and tend to get attached to one person in the family.

Pekingese dog walking on soil

Facts about the Pekingese

  • Breed groupToy breed
  • Intelligence — High
  • Barking — When necessary
  • Life span — 12-15 years

8. Pug

It’s hard to imagine, but this goofball, quirky breed used to sit on the laps of ancient Chinese emperors and nobility. Their even temper and fun-loving nature make the Pug a great fit for a family, even with infants. One thing to keep in mind is that Pugs are considered a brachycephalic breed, meaning that have inherited breathing problems.

Three pugs in a garden

Facts about the Pug

  • Breed groupToy breed
  • Intelligence — High
  • Barking — Low volume but frequent
  • Life span — 12-15 years

9. Shih tzu

Shih tzus are another small-size, big-personality breed that warmed the laps of Chinese emperors. They were developed from the Lhaso apso breed and intended to be companions. Because of the way their fur grows outward in all directions, this adorable breed was nicknamed the Chrysanthemum Dog.

Shih tzu strolling down street

Facts about the Shih tzu

  • Breed groupToy breed
  • Intelligence — High
  • Barking — Moderately vocal
  • Life span — 10-18 years

10. Tibetan mastiff

Tibetan mastiffs are known for their impressive size and fluffy coat. Similar to their smaller cousin, the chow chow, Tibetan mastiffs are very independent and fiercely loyal to their families. Bred by the Buddhist monks of Tibet to guard their temples and flock, Tibetan mastiffs can be very protective of their families. Additionally, they aren’t ideal for apartments; these dogs need room to romp!

They require much contact and early training to avoid unwanted behavior or aggression problems towards other animals and people, children. They are very territorial and heavy on socialization from puppyhood is important. They are very loyal to their families and make good watch dogs. I never have seen the "bear" attributes in these dogs but could have those mistakes in general public. (Heck, hunters have known to have mistaken cows for the wildlife they were hunting).

Dr. Bruce Armstrong
Tibetan Mastiff resting on blanket on stones

Facts about the Tibetan mastiff

  • Breed groupWorking breed
  • Intelligence — High
  • Barking — Average
  • Life span — 10-12 years

11. Tibetan spaniel

Tibetan spaniels were kept and bred in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and partnered with Tibetan mastiffs to guard the monks. These spaniel-like dogs — although not spaniels at all —  would sit on top of the watch towers to alert the monks and mastiffs if anyone approached. They still retain that curiosity and spunk today, but they are also great family dogs that love to be in the middle of everything.

Tibetan spaniel dogs playing outside

Facts about the Tibetan spaniel

  • Breed groupNon-sporting breed
  • Intelligence — Average
  • Barking — When necessary
  • Life span — 12-15 years

12. Tibetan terrier

Similar to how their Tibetan spaniel isn’t a spaniel, the Tibetan terrier isn’t a terrier. Both breeds were misnamed by Westerners when they were introduced to them. The Tibetan terrier has many roles — sometimes they were watchdogs at the Tibetan monasteries, sometimes herders, and sometimes just companions. They have a friendly and open disposition and love to play with their families.

Tibetan terrier dog closeup

Facts about the Tibetan terrier

  • Breed groupNon-sporting breed
  • Intelligence — Above average
  • Barking — Moderately vocal
  • Life span — 15-16 years

Non-recognized breeds

The following breeds are not internationally, officially recognized as separate breeds. However, because of their low numbers, China has recognized them as rare breeds. There are programs in place in China to increase numbers and become recognized.

1. Xiasi Quan

Xiasi quans have a look that is similar to the Shar-Pei, but with a longer, wire-haired coat. They have a stocky build and have striking colors — they are always cream or white with a pale pink nose. They are native to the Guizhou province which is in southern China.

Xiasi quan dog standing outside

Photo credit: LauraKelsch (CC BY-SA 3.0)

2. The Tang dog

According to research done at the Institute of Zoology in Kunming, this is the oldest dog breed in history. Although their exact origins are unknown, it is believed that the Tang dog was the first domesticated dog breed. They get the name Tang dog because these were the most popular dog breed in China during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) when trade started between China and the rest of the world.

Tang dog standing on brick walkway

Photo credit: Suitoop RAiv Tickemp (CC BY-SA 4.0)

3. Xi Gou

This is another ancient breed originating in the Tang Dynasty. Xi Gou are sighthounds similar to the Saluki or Persian greyhound. Also known as the Xian hound, their skeletons have been found with the bodies of Chinese royalty and nobility.

4. Laizhou Red

This breed was created in Shandong in the 1970s. They were bred with Great Danes for their size, along with local dogs for their stamina. Unfortunately, they quickly fell out of favor once China allowed foreign breeds to be bought and sold within its borders by the public.

Laizhou Red dog outside

5. Chongqing

This is an ancient Chinese breed that has been around since the Han Dynasty. They are native to the Sichuan province in the southwest. The Chongqing’s coat is bright red and very similar to the color of the local, spicy pepper the province is famous for. They have a similar appearance and size to an American pit bull and are fierce, muscular guard dogs.

Chongqing dogs sitting in front of owner

Lions were the protectors of the Chinese from the harsh environment and other mythical creatures. The most popular dog breeds of ancient China had long hair to resemble these mighty lions from legend.