Both Tibetan spaniels and Pekingese are ancient dog breeds that originated some 2,000 years ago in the monasteries of Tibet and China. The Pekingese breed has some roots in the Tibetan spaniel, so it seems the Tibetan spaniel may be the older breed.
The Little Lion
Tibbies were first bred by Buddhist monks and lamas more than 2,000 years ago. The small dogs were known as "little lions" for the thick manes that framed their faces. Tibetan spaniels were valued highly, and their numbers increased as they were given to Chinese royalty as gifts and then bred in China. Their offspring were given in return to the Tibetan monks, perpetuating the breed -- a tradition that continued into the 1900s. It is believed that the Pekingese breed originated from these early Chinese breedings.
The Early Peke
Historians trace Pekingese-type dogs to around 200 B.C. and refer to them as "Tibetan spaniel-type" dogs with short-muzzles. The Pekingese Club of America says the exact date of the breed's origin is lost in antiquity. The Pekingese origin may have some early roots in the Maltese, introduced into the breed by Muslim traders visiting China. These little dogs are nicknamed "lion dogs" and can be traced to the Tang Dynasty in the 8th century, according to the American Kennel Club.
Legend or Lore
Tibetan spaniel and Pekingese history is loaded with legend woven loosely with fact. The ancient Chinese treasured a little lap dog known as the Happa dog -- a term describing any small dog of that time. "Happa" is a Manchurian word meaning "roll in the walk" which would seem to describe the Pekingese gait. Pekingese breeders believe that the Happa dog may have been some of the earliest Pekingese dogs. The monks were known to liberally crossbreed lines and types between the 17th and 19th centuries, so it's clear that Tibetan spaniel and Peke histories are intertwined. The modern Peke has lines from pugs, Japanese Chins, Lhasa apsos, Shih Tzus, Tibetan terriers and chow chows.
From Monasteries to America
Tibetan spaniels aren't spaniels at all. The breed acquired the name from a French word, "epagnuel," used in the middle ages to describe the dogs prized by French ladies. Tibetan spaniels made their way to England in the late 1800s and to America in the 1960s. The breed was recognized by the AKC in 1984 and joined the non-sporting dog group. The Pekingese made its way to the United States much earlier, and was recognized by the AKC in 1906. The Peke is a member of the toy group.
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