China is a country enveloped in legend and magic, so it's hardly surprising that Chinese dog breeds encompass all of these characteristics and more. Keep reading to discover which breeds hail from the mythical land, some of which may surprise you!
In China, dogs are thought to be symbols of prosperity and wealth and were originally bred for the purpose of guarding monasteries or offering companionship to monks. Due to their religious roots, a lot of Chinese dog breeds were considered sacred and most have no outside influence from dog breeds of other countries - which is one of the many reasons Chinese dogs have a completely unique appearance unlike any other.
China is a mystical land adorned by imperial guardian lions which are thought to provide protection. Also known as Fu dogs - these 'dogs' are thought to have influenced many Chinese dog breeds and as such, many resemble downsized lions.
From Lhasa Apsos and Chow Chows to rarer breeds, you may be surprised by some of the Chinese dogs that have made our list.
1. Tibetan Terrier
Interestingly, the Tibetan Terrier is not actually a Terrier at all. In fact, it was actually given its name by European travellers visiting the country that thought the breed resembled the terriers from back home.
Referred to as 'the holy dog of Tibet', this Chinese dog was bred to provide protection to Tibet's ancient monasteries. Now, Tibetan Terriers thrive on human contact and are a popular choice for therapy dogs.
2. Lhasa Apso
This Chinese dog breed dates back thousands of years and was originally used to protect Buddhist monasteries in the Himalayas. The Lhasa Apso is thought to be one of China's most sacred breeds and were only permitted to leave the country when gifted by the Dalai Lama as a symbol of good luck and prosperity. The first pair were sent to the USA as a gift to the explorer C. Suydam Cutting in 1933, and the rest of the world soon fell in love.
Named after Peking, the old name for Beijing, the Pekingese dog dates back to 700 C.E. According to legend, these Chinese dogs are thought to be shrunken lions due to their resemblance to the Fu dog statues situated around the country. Originally, they were only allowed to be owned by royals and the punishment for stealing them was death. Their self-important attitudes are still present in the breed today and they're sure to become king or queen of your home.
4. Chow Chow
The Chow Chow is another dog breed that follows the Chinese lion dog tradition. Tracing back to 11th century BC, this Chinese dog breed is one of the oldest living dog breeds in the world today, and there have even been ancient Chinese artefacts uncovered which feature the mighty breed. Its original purpose was as an all-round farm dog and could be found hunting, herding, pulling and guarding.
Many are often surprised to learn that the Pug is a Chinese dog. The actual time period the breed hails from is unclear, but some say as early as the Han Dynasty over 2,000 years ago.
6. Tibetan Spaniel
The Tibetan Spaniel is another very old Chinese dog breed, and in the same vein as the Tibetan Terrier, it's not actually a Spaniel at all! Bred in the Himalayas nearly 2,500 years ago, it was one of the watchdogs of choice for Buddhist Monasteries. Despite its small stature, the Tibetan Spaniel was very adept at its job - the dogs would sit high up on walls and bark when strangers came near. Due to their roots, you can expect a Tibetan Spaniel to be an attentive and excellent protector of your home.
7. Chinese Crested
Famous for its small size and unusual looks, this Chinese dog breed should actually be celebrated for something else - they aided in the prevention of the spread of the black plague on ships, where they were taken on voyages to kill any rats. The Chinese Crested comes in two varieties, the powderpuff and hairless and, interestingly, the hairless is the most popular!
Fun fact: They're sometimes referred to as feline dogs because they love heights and climbing just like cats.
8. Tibetan Mastiff
Thought to be the most expensive dog breed ever, the Tibetan Mastiff is often seen as a status symbol in China. Impressively large in size, this Chinese dog's primary use is for guarding. The breed has been said to have protected Alexander the Great and even the Dalai Lama!
Fun fact: the most expensive dog ever sold was a Tibetan Mastiff which sold for almost 2 million dollars in 2014.
9. Shih Tzu
This incredibly popular small dog dates back to around 1,000 BC in Ancient China, where they were kept as royal pets. Shih Tzu literally translates to 'little lion' which may be due to a legend that surrounds the Chinese dog breed. The story goes that Buddha owned a small Shih Tzu and one day when out on his travels, robbers ambushed him with the intent of robbing and murdering him. To protect his owner, the small dog transformed into a humongous lion and scared them away!
In recent years, their affectionate personalities have seen them go from the palaces of emperors to family sofas all around the world.
10. Formosan Mountain Dog
Hailing from Taiwan, the Formosan Mountain Dog is one of the rarest dogs on the list. At one point, this Chinese dog breed was nearing extinction because of lack of conservation efforts combined with the dog-eating culture brought in by the Chinese Nationalist party in 1945. Today, purebreds are rare and are mostly limited to Taiwan for conservation efforts, but there are plenty of mixes found throughout American homes thanks to rescue schemes.
11. Xiasi Quan
These hunting dogs from the Southern Guizhou Province of China are another Chinese dog breed that's in danger of becoming extinct and today, there are fewer than a few hundred left in the area. Xiasi Quan dogs were a well-respected breed, primarily used as hunting and protection dogs. Additionally, they were thought to be good luck charms which would bring wealth and prosperity to the homes of their owners.
That's our top 11 Chinese dog breeds! Fancy a trip around the globe to discover more stunning breeds? Read our 9 German dog breeds article next.