Saturday, 29 January 2011

Pekes - some progress?

Danny the Peke
We gave Pekes a hard time in Pedigree Dogs Exposed, mainly on account of the 2003 Crufts winner looking like a Tribble. Ah, and the fact that the dog had needed a soft palate resection the year before in order to breathe and was so prone to overheating that he had to sit on an icepack when it was warm - in common, indeed, with many Pekes.

After the film, the Pekingese was the breed that the Kennel Club was the first to act on. It changed the breed standard in order to encourage breeders to return the dog to something more like the Pekes of old - ie, less coat and more muzzle.

A Tribble
There has been a mixed response.  While many accept that the breed's health does need to improve, many fought hard to retain the description of the breed's "rolling gait" in the breed standard (in fact a side effect of being achondroplastic - a dwarf) and some diehards refuse to accept that the breathing problems in the dog are to do with the Peke's very flat face.  The Peke Clubs, then, have decided to help fund research to find a gene for Bracychephalic Airway Syndrome.
100 years ago... a Peke from 1911


Now it is certainly true that some Pekes with very flat faces can breathe much better than others. But that is surely due to the variation in the amount of bunched-up tissue inside blocking the airways - something that is never going to be controlled by a single gene for which a DNA test can be developed.

It is hard not to see this as a ridiculous time-and-money wasting exercise so hopefully it won't take too long for the researchers to conclude that this is not the way to go.

A much better initiative from the Peke clubs is a new health survey - UK based, but open to all Pekes, wherever on the planet they may be.  Here's a chance for Peke owners to really help the breed by establishing what the main health issues are.

If you have a Peke, please take a moment to fill in a simple online survey form here. 

And spread the word on the Peke lists and forums.

The survey closes February 15th, so be quick!


  1. The minor changes to the breed standards are a step forward but a very small one. The same changes have been made to the pug breed standard with regards to the length of the muzzle, from "short" to "relatively short, blunt square".
    Yet, no one, be it the breed club or the kennel club can actually explain to me when asked, what"relatively" means.
    When trying to create the new illustrated standard for the pug, the CISPUG web page concludes with;
    "the new requirement of “fairly” short muzzle and “fairly” large head cannot be reconciled with the need for a “square, blunt” muzzle in the Pug."
    Both the peke and pug breed clubs are convinced that respiratory problems are purely down to the size of the nostrils.
    Good open nostrils will help, but a longer muzzle would do a lot more to help.

  2. Short legs , big coat and flat nose , poor things have nothing going for them

  3. Find a gene for "Brachcephalic Airways Syndrome"?


    These people are breeding dogs?

    Some things do have a simple inheritance.

    The amount of soft tissue on the palate isn't one of them.

    The variability of dog muzzle shape and length are the result of the unusually high number of tandem repeats they in their DNA:

    It is more likely that the airway issues have more to do with those than any ephemeral "bad gene."

  4. Indeed. But, rather unbelievably, it is Ostrander's lab that is doing the work.


  5. Do you have a view on whether simply reversing the direction of selection (for things like short face or wrinkled skin) is likely to fix associated problems?

    So far as I can see there's no reason why it couldn't actually make things worse if you're not actually selecting for what you want (breathing or having eyes that don't hurt).

  6. A good point. Yes, I agree that breeders should select for dogs that can breathe freely. Perhaps there is a way of measuring/rating respiratory pressure with dogs being measured at rest, walking and running. Having said that, the link between bracychephalia and respiratory distress is firmly established - and a very, very flat face (as found in the pug and peke and chin clearly affords less protection to eyes.

  7. I'm sure it's correct that breeders must be discouraged from selecting for flat faces - what bothers me is the thought of someone starting with dogs whose faces have already been squashed and deciding to stretch them.

    It seems to me that might well do unexpected things to the tear ducts, for example.

  8. What, like un-buckle them..? :-) I find it hard to believe that anything that selects back towards a more natural form would cause a problem but I accept the theoretic possibility.

    You've made such a good point above that I'm going to explore the possibility of an official breathing-testing scheme for bracychephalics - the respiratory equivalent of the hip scheme. It has the added bonus of giving the peke, pug, chin etc breeders the chance to prove that their v flat-faced dogs can breathe. What not to like?


  9. I agree with cambstreasurer.

    Cavaliers where a short nosed dog that was bred to be long nosed again , perhaps this is why they have problems such as long palates, SM.

    Short nosed dogs also have a different heart structure to cope with less oxygen.
    what is an advantage to one dog may cause problems for a dog of a different body / head type.

    The short nose is caused by faults in the genes and they are still going to be there if the nose is bred longer . if you want to "recreate" a breed as they did with the cavalier, use dogs that are already close to the shape you want , dont try and backtrack, you may end up with an unfortunate mismatch

  10. Nooooooooooo..... this is all wrong Anon. Brachycepalic breeds do not have "a different heart strcuture" to cope with less oxygen. What on earth makes you think this?

    And if your logic re the short nose stood up, it would support my argument of returning dogs to the shape of old. Have you not noticed how changed many of today's dogs are compared to the dogs of yesteryear?

    You are not a dog breeder, I assume, with such scant physiological and genetic knowledge?


  11. "Short nosed dogs also have a different heart structure to cope with less oxygen."

    Even if this was true, why SHOULD they have to cope with less oxygen, purely for human whims?

    My worry is about selecting (again!) for apparent form rather than function because, except with gross deformities, humans aren't very good at deducing successful function from form. I'd like (for example) to see pups bred from winners of pug agility competitions being more sought after than show champions.

  12. "Short nosed dogs also have a different heart structure to cope with less oxygen."

    Sorry, this is just not true. About as true as me being told by my pugs breeder when I rang many years ago about her breathing, that they have "different chests".
    They are more prone to secondary heart problems due to strain on respiration YES.

  13. Regardless of whether or not you're a fan of Pekes or other brachy breeds, there are a couple of things I'd like to point out.

    First, I had the chance to see the very dog you mockingly refer to as a Tribble at home with his kennel mates recently. He must be 12+ in age (?) and is very much an active and happy senior. He leads a grand life with enormous amounts of room to enjoy himself with his harem of Peke bitches. He leads quite an idyllic life. In talking to show breeders and pet owners it is clear that Pekes are actually quite longlived.

    Secondly, the issue of coat. Personally I dont think it is an ''issue'' per se, more a matter of personal preference. I certainly don't see it as a welfare issue and with that in mind, what's it to you or anyone else to dictate what is or isn't apropos? THere is a wide array of coat types in the breed, and many look just like the one pictured from 1911. Modern show dogs are shown heavier coated today but without some of the grooming techniques used to emphasise volume, most dogs look much different at home than they do in the ring. Again, the ''look'' may have evolved, but what's the problem from a health standpoint?

    Finally, your post once again drags out the old chestnut that this Peke and others require an ice pack, practically inferring that they would not survive a warm spring day without a trusty icepack nearby to regulate their temperature. This is simply a wildly exaggerated un-truth.

    The NEC is completely chaotic, noisy and crowded during a huge event like Crufts. Most of the canine entrants will have never experienced this sort of sensory overload. In an effort to keep dogs' stress levels as low as possible, exhibitors will often attach a small fan to the front of a dog's cage, or in a smooth haired breed, a wet towel over the back like a coat, or a wet towel to stand on on the floor. This is not because the dogs would die of heat stroke, but rather to keep them cool, happy and relaxed. We are talking about owners who are concerned about the WELFARE of their animals. Because a Peke is profusely coated, an ice bag is the perfect bit of kit as it provides a cool surface to lie upon that will keep his coat dry at the same time, so that when it is his turn in the ring he will hopefully be ready to do his 'thing' for the crowd.

    For a diminutive dog such as a Peke, who takes ten times as many steps to get from point A to point B, to move around a large ring under hot lights and a tense atmoshpere (ie the Best in Show ring at Crufts) the whole ordeal is quite stressful, and if a handler offers his exhibit a bit of comfort WHAT IS IT YOU OR ANYONE ELSE??!!

    Jemima, you criticise those breeders who do not health test their dogs, and then criticise those who use DNA tests as trying to cheat the system. You say that breeding healthy dogs with flat faces is not the answer. But ShihTzus, Lhasas, Staffies and others frequently suffer from elongated soft palates? So is breeding healthy stock together not a sensible course of action? Enlighten, please.

  14. Can I point out to those detractors, inferring on exaggeration etc - check out the Peke breed profile in Dogs Today some months ago. While the owner adored the breed, it was also pointed out adjustments needed to be made because of their physical form.

  15. To PekesOnIce. I have no doubt that Danny is healthy now, but you are ignoring the fact that this Crufts champion required surgery to ease his breathing.
    Yes, dogs do get stressed at Crufts, I have no doubt my own two little mongrels would find wading between the thousands of legs daunting and the noise would make both of them anxious. However, neither of them would need an ice pack to prevent them from getting too hot or too stressed.
    Pekes, among other brachycephalic breeds, have a reduced capacity to regulate their body temperature. Due to their small number/surface area of sweat glands dogs use the surface of their tongue to reduce their core temperature. A peke has a far reduced surface area over which this heat loss can occur. In mesaticephalic and doliocephalic breeds the surface area to body weight ratio is great enough to allow efficient heat loss via the tongue. A modern peke however, does not. The amount of stress on these show dogs at crufts causes many of them to pant, and this in itself is entirely natural. These dogs will be able to sufficiently control their body temperature however, whereas a peke cannot.
    It is quite logical...

    Brachycepahlic breed + long thick hair + short legs + stress = panting with a reduced efficiency.

    Compare the photo of Danny after his win with that of Yogi and you just cannot compare them.
    If breeders start to aim for a dog with a longer leg, shorter coat and longer muzzle (as seen in the breeds history) it would increase the surface area over which heat exchange could occur and would ease the movement of the dog. You cannot argue that with these changes the dog would still need an ice pack. You didn't see Yogi sitting on one to keep his stress levels down! I hate to think how Danny would have been without his surgery.

  16. Thank you for the lesson, but you are missing my point....offering comfort to a stressed and excited dog is not the same as hooking him up to life support.....the ice pack is not key to survival but something to make a dog happy and calm.

    Have you ever noticed that German Shepherds are almost always panting whilst being shown? Surely these canine athletes are not experiencing temperature-regulatory issues?

    I am not arguing with the science behind your post, but am disputing the places you choose to insert it and some of the suggestions you infer.

  17. ...and yet GSD owners never feel the need to put them on an ice pack or chuck a cold towel over them.

    The way breeders have selected pekes, bulldogs and other brachycephalic breeds, has resulted in a dog with an anatomy with which the dog is no longer capable of efficient thermo-regulation. A GSD has a large nasal sinus and oral cavity with which copious blood supply results in efficient heat exchange. Heat loss is also occurring in the extremities, hot blood from the core travels down the arteries into the legs where, on its way down, it passes the veins. The veins contain cooler blood and the close proximity of the two result in heat exchange.
    GSDs are shown in a trotting gait, so the dogs will have an increased respiratory rate and that coupled with the interest (and stress) of the show results in panting. Incidently the photo of the GSD BOB 2010 at crufts isnt panting on the KC flikr site.

    Pekingese breeders are aware of this health issue with pekes. The peke is a heavily built dog with little in the way of thermo-regulation anatomically. One breed book describes as the pekingese as "heat-intolerant". Overheating in pekes is a very real health issue. Ive been stuck in a windowless room with a pug before on a mild day and he wasn't doing to well with it. We had to have a fan on him and he had to get outside. Imagine a pug with a pekes coat and shorter legs. This is by no definition healthy OR welfare friendly.

    These dogs are hugely special beautiful little animals, they have such gorgeous characters but you just need to see a few MRI scans or X-rays of these dogs to see the injustice we have done to them. Allowing these dogs slightly longer legs, a longer muzzle and perhaps allowing show dogs to be clipped in the summer months can only be a good thing. We have to do the best thing for them, we are in complete control of their lives. For all their unconditional love and attention, we most definitely owe them.

  18. Hi!

    I must say when I first saw a Peke post on your blog I was incredulous. I had never known that dog was a Pekeningese until I saw it written on your blog.

    Here in Portugal Pekes used to be very popular, and there are still many of them around, even though Yorkies, Miniature Pinschers and Pugs are the most recent fad around here.

    But all of the Pekes I have ever seen looked like the old type, that looks pretty much like the Tibetan Spaniel.

    On this portuguese animal community site (like a facebook for pets) you can see some of the Pekes living in Portugal, both old and young.

    And there are tons more of these around.

    Unfortunately, there are sightings of the "modern" Peke around here, that I only recently noticed (these are imported dogs).

    But fortunately, most people don't even see them as Pekes, and prefer the non-pedigree ones, buying them from sporadic litters here and there. While I do not agree with reckless breeding, I'm am pleased that the old type of these breed still lingers here, and in such high numbers. (most of the Pekes I met didn't make any noticeable breathing sounds nor showed signs of struggling to breathe).

    Anyway, I just wanted to share this bit of info with you, and I must say I love your blog and hope you post more soon!

    P.S.: is the Pedigree Cats Exposed still an on-going project?

    -Joana Botelho

  19. About 30 years ago I was living in Germany, as was my mother. After my father died, she was very lonely and was looking for a dog to become her companion. I came across two pedigree pure bred Pekes at my vets, who were needing to be re-homed. They had been purchased in Tibet by a German couple who had lived there for many years. Mum's little bitch looked exactly like the Peke in 1911 shown in the photo in this article. She did not have a rolling gate but ran like any other dog at high speeds, jumping up on beds, over high grass etc. A very healthy dog indeed and she did not have any breathing difficulties. the little dog did have a thicker coat, but still looked like a proper dog and chased after his girlfiend, couldn't quite manage the high bed though. What is being shown at the shows today is not at all what this breed used to look like and is so sad to see!