Having existed for over 2,000 years, the Pekingese is a breed of antiquity. The exact nature of its early development is uncertain, although it is first referenced in the Imperial Court of the Tang Dynasty, China, where it was observed as a popular companion dog amongst royalty. Widely considered a sacred dog, or semi-divine, the Pekingese was often sacrificed following the death of an emperor in order to deliver his soul to the afterlife. In the 1800s ownership of the Pekingese was restricted to royalty and anyone caught trying the steal one was put to death. Due to the closed nature of Peking, or Beijing as it is now known, no Pekingese dogs existed outside China. This remained unchanged until 1860 when British and French military occupied the Old Summer Palace in Peking; the emperor fled, his aunt and the only remaining guardian of the court's Pekingese committed suicide, leaving the troops to capture the five abandoned dogs and introduce them to the Western world. One of these dogs was directly gifted to Queen Victoria.
Highly distinctive in appearance and structure, the Pekingese boasts a low to the ground body, with short legs, a large head and flat face, a high-set tail that is heavily feathered and arches over the back, and prominent, wide-set and dark-rimmed eyes. The double coat is generally long and thick, with profuse feathering and is typically coloured sable, gold or red, with variations of cream, blue, black and tan, and white being observed rarely. Contrary to popular belief, the Pekingese can be house trained, although firm leadership, consistent obedience training and early socialisation is imperative to achieve this. Due to its versatile, energetic and affectionate nature, the modern Pekingese is well suited to domestic living and is commonly seen in rally and agility, with some being used as highly effective therapy dogs.
A lively and contented breed, well suited to active family life. Whilst being friendly and obedient towards its owners, the Pekingese can display a certain reticence around strangers so early socialisation is important. Susceptible to separation anxiety and 'Small-Dog Syndrome,' the Pekingese should be gradually conditioned to expect short absences and adapt to them without fuss. Despite being small in size, the Pekingese does not lack in personality and is both animated and docile in the appropriate setting. On average, an adult Pekingese will weigh 3.5-4.5 kg depending on its gender, with a life expectancy of 10-15 years. It is not uncommon for the breed to outlive this expectancy.
For a toy breed, the Pekingese is relatively healthy and low maintenance. Certain ailments are identified, however, including various optical disorders ranging from cataracts to progressive retinal atrophy, and orthopedic complaints. Luxating patellas and hip dysplasia are commonly seen in the breed, which may require surgical correction.