Friday, 18 May 2012

Pekes - is this really true?

From this...
... to this, the modern Show Pekingese
I was sent the top picture (and the ones below) of vintage Pekes a few days ago.  They are from Country Life Illustrated dated 16th September, 1899, and they are of Pekes owned by Lady Blanche Gordon Lennox who bred the first Pekingese champion in the UK, Goodwood Lo. "They illustrate this breed before it was ruined," says my correspondent, a breeder not quite brave enough to allow me to publish his name, who says he has given up trying to breed a healthy Peke and is instead focusing on Tibetan Spaniels - which, of course, look very like the vintage Pekes. "They are my pride and joy... so strong, agile and strong."

As you can see, the 1899 Pekes have a bit of muzzle, noticeably wider nostrils than many modern Pekes, much less coat and normal-sized eyes which are less vulnerable to injury than in today's version of the breed which has huge eyes in such shallow eye sockets that under pressure they can sometimes pop out. 

"It is about time, after the 20th century when the breeders through selection made their dog muzzles non existent because of fashion and competition, that Pekes and Pugs get the muzzles back that so rightly belong to them," says my correspondent. " I have every book published about Pekingese, and in the beginning of the1900, the breeders advertised their stud dogs saying that they sired progeny with flat faces, they decided then this was a virtue without realising the sad consequences it was going to result in."

Of course, the above health problems are all well-known. But my correspondent then told me something I didn't know about the modern Peke that had me shaking my head in despair.  He said that the modern Peke has such a large head on such a short neck that they are unable to get round to clean their nether regions - or help with their puppies as they are being born.  I went back to ask for more info and back came this reply:

"Think about it... a thickset little Peke bitch in labour with a flat face, hardly no neck and quite a bit of thick coat, so very little flexibility left there, very difficult to turn around and reach. How can they get to their vagina to clean themselves or welcome a puppy? I'm afraid that this can be quite common. Very, very few newborn puppies, if any, would survive if the owner weren't there to assist, open the membranes etc. The bitches don't care very much when the pups are born. It is a bit afterwards they can realise their responsibility as mums. Besides, even if mine were considered quite "plain" and I had my soundness ambitions, almost every second whelping resulted in a c-section which was very depressing. This is my experience. Of course Jemima, people whelp their bitches at home and would never dream of airing such problems.

"They used to say that Pekes are little lion dogs, but no lion is heavy in front and light behind - it's just the mane. The Peke connoisseurs want them pear shaped. The Pekingese themselves are lovely, it is just a pity that they have made them prisoners in their own bodies."

"In contrast, the bitches of my Tibetan Spaniel litters  have started to clean the puppies before they were fully born.

So how common is this, really? Do all Pekes struggle in this respect - or is this breeder's experience unusual?


  1. Well, you know what the Anonaborg Collective is going to say, of course.

    I have photos of my morphologically normal bitches cleaning off their free-whelped young. Got one last litter showing Momma turned around to welcome a puppy-bubble while his siblings are busy nursing. I have a fuzzy-butted breed, so birth photos are not too easy to acquire, but it can be done -- only if the event actually occurs.

    Just sayin.

  2. From 1964:

    Not to advocate racing your dogs in your garden and betting on them with your friends, but check out the jumping! Couldn't imagine any of today's Pekes doing that, could you?

    1. There are pekes that do flyball , agility and obedience. please don't generalise. This clip has been shown before,& discussed before on this blog.

  3. I've said it before and I'll continue to say it in the hopes that someone breeding these dogs listens:

    If the goal of a breed club is to improve the breed, how does having a dog who can't clean itself improve it? How is that better than a dog who CAN clean itself?

    I own Corgis, which are genetic dwarfs and therefore, technically, "deformed."

    I can list several ways that their short legs and lower metabolism benefitted them and their owners who developed them to herd on small plots. There are drawbacks to the skeletal issues that go along with the deformity, but also benefits (to dog and owner)--- lower to the ground to avoid kicks, very easy keepers makes them cheap to feed, short legs make it easy to run up and down hills without losing balance, etc.

    If one always weighs the benefits agains the drawbacks, one gets a clearer picture of how we have impacted a breed by changing it from it's natural wolf/coyote shape.

    So I would be interested in seeing some Peke breeders who feel the extremes are justified give some examples of how these structural changes benefit the dog. How are they "better" than the more natural shape?

    (And "Because they win in the breed ring" is NOT a legitimate reason!).

    Perhaps someone can enlighten me. I honestly can't think of any way in which the changes to the Peke benefit the dog or the owner (outside of winning, and since the look of a winning dog is arbitrary, that does not count). I may have missed something, though.

  4. I'm assuming Mr. Anonymous is being completely truthful when sharing the experiences his bitches have had while birthing (being unable to reach around to clean newborns, etc.) - this is such a shame!!! I am not a dog breeder, show attendee, nor even a dog owner (for shame, I know, but blame it on MY deficit genetics, i.e. allergies); I AM an animal, and particularly dog, lover. What lengths people go to for an outward appearance of a breed, and to further state that this is the "ideal" of the breed, is beyond me. Well, on further thought, isn't this just what's to be expected, when the same people will judge another person by their outward appearance?? Whatever happened to "don't judge a book by its cover?" Well, gotta go - my haircolor appointment is calling!

  5. Corgis are a show dog disaster too. They used to be short in the back and actually had some legs so it could run. I have pics of Corgis with a nice set of legs from the forties.

  6. Jemima wonder if your anon informer has watched this

    What I found interesting was the modern peke's the monks had at the beginning of Vid. Do not suppose the Monks show their home bred Peke's Do They?

    1. It's a type of historical revisionism that the Fancy really likes. Put modern-type dogs into representations of the past, and pretend they've 'preserved the breed' instead of changing it into an unrecognizable parody.

    2. Excellent summary, Pai. I couldn't agree more.

    3. It's either that, or wide-eyed declarations that the modern parodies are so different simply because they're 'extremely improved' over the crappy original model the breed founders established. Such is a common refrain of the show GSD folk who look at the athletic GSDs from the early 1900s and claim they look like 'mutts'.

  7. These pictures remind me of the type of Pekes my grandmother used to breed. They were exercised daily with my grandfather's Rough Coated Collies over the hills in Scotland.

  8. Anon 20:29, 18 May: I assure you that show Corgis can run, and I have objective proof: I will gladly point you towards more than one dog that has dual titles, CH and MACH (master agility champion). I run agility with one of my Corgis. The other has whelped at least two (of a litter of 6) that run agility-- and in open competition, not breed-only shows. My dogs can outrun a labrador (but not a pointer) and one is a retired show dog, the other bred from show dogs.

    Be careful looking at dogs from the 40's. The Corgi was not a dog who had registries kept; they were the dogs of working farm folk. They were nearly extinct by the end of WWII. I have looked through pictures of all the old champions, and while you see some (badly conformed) dogs with a bit more leg, you also see dogs with the short leg from the same era. Beggars can't be choosers and there were very few Corgis in the world in the 1940's; certainly not only the finer examples were bred from.

    Do I worry they will get too low and heavy? Absolutely, but the huge number of breeders who also run agility gives me hope that they will continue to be the very athletic dogs they now are. Mine can and routinely do hike off-leash for miles; I know of someone who regularly does hikes of dozens of miles at high altitudes with his.

    1. My sister in law had a go at breeding corgis in the 70's/80's (in California). She had no sheep. The corgis proved athletic (and obnoxious) at herding cars, horses, and bicycles, but she dropped the breed cause of spinal column problems and lots of pain.
      Point being, there are many ways a breed can be balanced. Not sure that corgi agility champions have a lot to do with pekes ability clean themselves. I'd hope 'improving the breed' keeps the breed's balance able to lead a healthy life and live like a natural dog.

    2. Jennifer, I brought up Corgis and agility because someone up-thread mentioned that show Corgis can't run, which is demonstrably not true. It's these sorts of sweeping generalizations by well-meaning but uninformed people that tend to get breeders panicky about anyone poking their noses into their hobby, and I try to correct misstatements when it's something I have sufficient knowledge of. Jemima does not make such generalizations, but some who support her do and that makes it easier for others to lump her, incorrectly, into the AR category.

      I'm sorry your sister-in-law''s lines had trouble with bad backs. While it is something to watch for, it's certainly not rampant in Corgis. Corgis seem much less likely to have structural unsoundness than, say, your typical lab (torn ACL's and hip dysplasia both being common, and in young dogs). I've heard of more Corgis who had torn ACL's than IVDD, and even fewer get DM. But since DM, and most likely IVDD, have genetic components it's entirely possible that your relative had ongoing problems.

      As for what it has to do with Pekes, my point is this: virtually every domestic dog has structural changes caused by mutation compared with the ancestral wolf, and all those changes have potential to help or hurt. Take something as simple as a drop ear: it's more prone to infection than a prick ear. So why breed for it? Well, some people just like how it looks (less wolfy, more friendly in the eyes of many). But that's not why it was kept. It was selected for in many hunting dogs because it offers protection in heavy brush from burrs and scratches and the like. So the benefit balances out the downside and makes it worth preserving.

      Breeders always say their goal is to maintain and improve the line. So my response is "How is this an improvement? Where is the benefit?" If it causes some harm to the dog, and there is NO upside, then there is no reason to continue with the mutation. Simple enough. The complication arises when both upside and downside are measurable. Where do you draw the line? Things can get complicated. But in the extreme breeds that Jemima focuses on, the line is not complicated at all. There is no upside that is worth such extreme every day stress put on those dogs. Or none that I can think of, which is why I'm waiting for a Peke breeder to tell me the benefit, to hound or human, of the extreme conformation.

    3. Point taken, but as a Lab breeder I'm not impressed by your choice of examples.
      Oops! Show me the numbers. On the OFA database, the Pembroke Welsch corgi ranks #42, with 18% affected with HD. The Lab ranks #87, with 11.8% affected with HD.

      Corgis are one of the breeds noted for degenerative myelopathy. It is something that breeders need to watch out for and breed away from given that tests are available.


    will show that the Corgi has not gone noticeably down in leg-length in over half a century.


      Go back a few generations on that Corgi in it's own pedigree and you'll find this sire, and look at those longer legs. Corgi breeders are no less responsible for their dogs belly fur nearly rubbing off on the ground than the Basset and Dachshund breeders that have done the same in the last century. I have seen Corgis run, and dance, and do agility, but none can match any breed of the same size range that has more leg. From a biologically genetic stand point, it takes almost no time to correct a breed, phenotypically, or ruin it. It's what the breeders choose.
      Look at some brachycephalic breeds like Saint Bernards, their skull has changed so much between cross-breeding, saving the breed from near extinction, and breeder selection that the monks from 1850 would never recognize their own hospice-born breed.

      They also wouldn't understand why it drools, snores, wheezy, pants like its going to fall over, and is now the size of miniature pony instead of more in the large dog breed range (75-100lbs., 26-28" at the shoulder). My what the breeders have done, especially some American ones, as continental dogs tend to at least have legs. Since it is another breed that is getting low on the leg and heavy in the body, their OFA score is horrid at 7th place and 46.8% dysplasic. I lost my first Saint from a show kennel at 9 months old because she was born severely dysplasic and was incurable by the best vets I could find. I chose to let her go than a life of pain management and a giant-sized wheelchair.

      It is completely the breeders who can and do change a breed, for good or bad. It's their choice, everyone else, especially the dogs, must benefit or suffer through it.

  10. My aunt and uncle had five Pekes that looked like the ones in the black and white photos, loved them dearly. Missy, Benny, Mikey, Billy and Gonzo. They were very hyper. All of which lived very long happy healthy lives. Except for Gonzo. He got hit by a car. My aunt and uncle also had a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever named Timmy and a Rat Terrier named Riley. I still miss them all.
    - Fang.

  11. This article is not entirely true but.. In some ways it is.. I can give you some links about the history of the breed if you want??.. You can find a lot of information and photos of the ancient imperial Peke online. It is out there Jem. Just a click away. Not to mention there is a lot of photos of living pekes with healthier breed standards.

  12. Why ask? Please post any good links you've got. Google's great, but far from perfect in finding stuff.

    Honest people want good information.

  13. Jennifer, re: Corgis and HD, the problem is that many sound Corgi present as dysplastic on x-ray, and OFA is a notoriously poor indicator of actual problems with hips on the Corgi. As dwarf dogs, they have different conformation and most "dysplastic" Corgis will not develop arthritis or unsoundness.

    As for breeding away from DM: It's a recessive and I believe that currently around 8% of all Corgis are double clears, with over 50% At Risk and most of the rest carriers. Breeding away from it would be the extinction of the breed. Since only a handful of Corgis (percent in the low single digits) get DM, yet the majority are genetically At Risk, the fact is that it is not recommended to breed rapidly away from it at this time. Further research is ongoing, and it's believed there are likely modifier genes (i.e., if age of onset of symptoms is programmed to be 20, but the dog lives to 14, obviously it would not be a problem) and/or environmental triggers. Genetics (and therefore health-testing) is not so simple as "breed away from diseases".

    1. Beth,
      Many thanks for this interesting information about Corgis & hip dysplasia: I think that Basset Hounds - another achondroplastic breed - are similar to Corgis in this respect, since many fail their HD and/or ED tests (which are compulsory for breeding in Switzerland!), but don't seem to develop the locomotion problems linked to the same degree (C or D and over) of this disease in other breeds... I'd therefore be most interested to find out more about this issue, as we are merrily excluding otherwise excellent dogs from our narrow gene pool. Many thanks for posting more details about this , if you have any!

    2. Corgis are just another breed defined by the genetic deformity of dwarfism and with out that deformity they are not corgis.

      All breeders and owners of corgis should know this and they also should also know of all the associated problems of the spine and joints that come along with that dwarfism that they have deliberately selected for. Yet they find many ways to try to justify the deformities as good and to totally dismiss the associated problems.

      The justification almost always degrades into what I call the circular case of, any wrong can be made a right. As a last resort they will say that the diseases such as HD and spinal disease associated with the genetic deformity of dwarfism that makes their breed a breed, are so invasive in the breed, that they are part of the breed, it is just the way it is in this breed, and the breed has always been this way, so it is not really a problem. What????

      You have to wonder about the owners/breeder? of show/pet dogs saying that the ethics of breeding genetic dwarfs with HD and spinal disease is justified because being deformed in the bones and joints makes the breed more difficult for cows to kick them LOL. Like their dogs are out dodging cows all day for a living.
      These people who tell these stories are living in a fantasy world, where genetic dwarf dogs with hip dysplasia and spinal disease make better cow dogs, think about it. Having lived 60 years and bulk of that time involved in livestock production I can tell you that the dog that is least likely to get kicked by a cow is a dog that is very athletic, quick and can get out of the way. I would never pick a breed with deformed legs, HD or spinal disease to work cattle.

      The reality of their breed, the real world their breed lives in, is that of a pet. So why do these people live in this fantasy world where genetic dwarfs with all of associated bone and joint disease makes them excellent cow dogs? Because they think it excuses their total lack of ethics in the deliberate selection of genetic deformities. However, they know that their dogs and the dogs they breed are pets not cow dogs. They also know that dwarfism, spinal disease and HD does not make them healthy physically fit pets. So they let the fantasy take over.

      Bottom line, dogs with dwarfism, spinal disease and HD are not fit for function, not in real world as a pet nor in a fantasy as a cow dog.

    3. Anon @ 22:01: Beware the slippery slope. Just saying. Toy dogs, large dogs, dwarf dogs, dogs with deep chests, dogs with heavy ears... each and every one has an increased risk of something in comparison to the wolf ancestor. Then again, there are more than a few people who don't think we should have any purebreds at all.

      Jackie: Much of my information is from breeders who get conflicting reports from OFA on the same set of x-rays, from owners who have dogs that the vet tries to tell them are dysplastic whenever there is some other cause to get an x-ray and further investigation shows that the dog is not dysplastic, and from the large number of people with sound Corgis from sound lines who show up as mildly dysplastic on x-ray when their breeding tests are done (and the grief that causes breeders as they try to figure out what to do). But here is an interesting study from PennHip. Despite the fact that very few of the Corgis showed any sign of OA in spite of lax hips, PennHip seems to draw a conclusion that honestly I'm having trouble understanding. They say that corgis with CFHO should not be considered "normal" and then turn around and say "Conventionally defined OA was rarely seen in the Corgi, despite the presence of subluxation and DI in the OA-susceptible range." They elsewhere say that the CFHO is associated with arthritis late in life (after 10 years of age).... but age-related OA is so prevalent in all joints and in most mammals that I'm not sure of the relevance of that.

    4. I think I love you. Too bad show breeders are immune to logic :/

    5. Anon @ 22:01: says, Beware the slippery slope. Just saying. Toy dogs, large dogs, dwarf dogs, dogs with deep chests, dogs with heavy ears... each and every one has an increased risk of something in comparison to the wolf ancestor.

      You are so correct about that.

      I am so glad you recognize that the extreme features of these dogs that have been deliberately selected for are leading to increased risk for that dog, which is absolutely not necessary!

      Lets take your example of big heavy long ears. They would be a torment to live with, always getting in your food or your mouth when eating or drinking. Ever look at the photos/videos of these poor dogs running with the ears flailing around smacking them in the face and hurling around to and throw, that has to hurt, (Ok, I know I know, it is really cute and fun to watch the freak dogs with huge ears in slow motion videos on you tube).
      Then the increased risk of ear infection, I understand some ears are so big and so heavy that the weight drags them down so low that the ear cannel is actually no longer near the opening to the ear, so they also have trouble hearing. I would guess they even could cause head aches due to the weight of the ears.

      Why in the world would you do this, on purpose, to the poor dog you say you love and care about, it really is sick.

      Modify the ear back to something less extreme and let the animal live in comfort.

      If you can’t stand the thought of having a dog that does not have huge deformed ears then don’t own a dog.

      I really just can’t not see how you people can do this to their animals, knowing what they are doing and the problems it causes them, yet still think it is ethical.

  14. The argument ‘they have always looked this way’.

    This argument focuses on what a certain breed looked like in the past and then this is used as a justification that the breed should remain unchanged today.
    Proving either that the breeders have kept the breed as it was in the past or that the breeders have changed the breed.
    I think this argument could of great interest on many other fronts, for example as history, sociology, psychology and many more areas.
    But I find it useless for indicating the ethics of selection processes in dog breeding today.

    So the real question is, does a breeds historical appearance justify what we do with that breed today?
    I think we all know that what happened in the past is not absolute grounds that it should still happen today.
    All things have to be weighed by today’s moral compass including the selection process in dog breeding.

    Does it really matter what the breed looked like many years ago?
    What matters today is if the current dog (breed) is healthy and fit for it’s role today.
    We do not have any obligation to preserve certain breeds as totally unchanged or to even preserve certain breeds at all. They are not species of animals that we may have an obligation to preserve or assist to prevent extinction. If it is decided that todays breed is not fit for function and that the selection process must change, then I can see looking to the past for ideas that might help in this change, but only as one of many things that might be considered to bring about the needed changes. However if a problem was evident in the past that does not ever justify continued selection for that problem today.
    Deformities are deformities. Just because someone selected for a deformity in the past does not justify selecting for that deformity today. Genetic disease is genetic disease and if we can avoid that disease today, then that is what should be done. Looking to the past and saying the breed cannot be changed if that is what it takes to avoid genetic disease is totally unethical.
    The world has moved on, we understand all sorts of things we did not understand in the past. We should use this new information in all ways to improve our dogs lives. We are not bound to the past, especially if that past was not in the best interest today’s breed.

    For me the real question is how and what do we select for today. The past should be used only to help direct us towards a better future and not ever used to prevent positive change for our dogs.

  15. I stumbled upon this strange depiction of a couple of Japanese Chins with some kind of alien feature protruding from beneath their eyes:$(KGrHqF,!hsE-RcrILg7BPo(7JO1WQ~~60_3.JPG

    They bear more resemblance to the Phalene than to the boss-headed Chin of today.

  16. Oh, here are some goodie corgis, too.
    "The above bitch is very typical of her breed and a rich black, tan and white with great turn of speed for her size." Crufts catalogue, 1927

    Shan Fach, the first corgi to win a champion title in 1929:

    (photos and captions picked off of, where you will also find more corgis and other goodness)

    No thick-boned, sausage-bodied floor dusters here - they're quite agile and the first one even has a pinschery look. I'm pretty sure they were exponentially more effective at their jobs (and life in general) than modern corgis. For me, it is the personality and the head shape that make a modern corgi what it is - it would still be recognizable and lovable if it was given its legs back.

  17. I can't help myself - here's a beautiful collection of more leggy corgs.

  18. I have a peke, she does look a lot like the old pictures- and climbs 30 ft sandunes very easily (as well as running in the sun,swimming and jumping over practically anything) The main thing is though she is not KC registered, her breeder comes from a family of peke breeders who have NEVER KC registered their pekes- wonder if this is coincidence? I could literally not find a breeder locally to me that was KC reg and had puppies with open nostrils, how sad is that! (Oh and unfortunately she can definitely reach her back end, usually when we have company) x

  19. The old photos are of Tibetan Spaniels, not Pekes. Look at The Tibetan Spaniel - A Complete Anthology of the Dog and you will find the same photos.