The Chinese Crested is one of the world’s most unique breeds of dog. Native to China, this breed was not seen in the West until the 1800’s. The Chinese Crested comes in two coat varieties, one with long hair known as the Powderpuff and one that is nearly hairless other than a distinctive crest of hair on the top of the head and neck that is known as the ‘Hairless’. Although they are physically dissimilar (in terms of coat) both types are regularly born in the same litter, and it is believed that the Powerderpuff variety cannot be eliminated as it is a result of the gene which produces hairlessness. The Hairless Chinese Crested is most often known for being ugly, and regularly wins ugly dog competitions, including major national and international ones. The Chinese Crested Dog is also known as the Chinese Crested, Chinese Ship Dog, Chinese Junk Dog, Turkish Hairless Dog, Chinese Hairless Dog, Chinese Hairless, and World’s Ugliest Dog.
Very little is known about the ancestry of the Chinese Crested Dog. The breed having been created long before organized records of dog breeding was kept. Additionally, Chinese breeders have traditionally kept fewer records when it comes to dog breeding than their European counterparts, although that may partly be the result of translation bias. That being said, the vast majority of what is today touted as fact in regards to this breed’s ancestry is in actuality completely speculative.
What is known is that this breed was at one point used on Chinese ships. Captains and crews are believed to have kept these small dogs on board primarily to kill rats and also for companionship during lengthy sea voyages. Some sources claim that records of the breed go back as far as the 1200’s, but it unclear what records these are. For many centuries after the Mongol Conquest, China was extremely resistant to outside contact and influence. However, this changed as a result of European exploration. By the end of the 1800’s, America, Japan, and several European nations had established regular trading and political relationships with China. Westerners were greatly intrigued by the Chinese Crested Dogs, who were very different from the breeds with which they were familiar. Because this breed was first known as being from China, it became known as the Chinese Crested Dog.
Most dog experts agree that the Chinese Crested Dog did not originate in China. There are several reasons for this disbelief. The primary reason is that the Chinese Crested Dog is considerably different from any other known Chinese or Tibetan breeds, such as the Shar Pei, Pekingese, and Tibetan Spaniel. It is not just the hairless trait that sets it apart; this breed also has significant structural dissimilarities as well. Looking back into history, it is however, known that a number of hairless dog breeds existed across the tropics since ancient times; areas which were either known or suspected to have had contact with Chinese trading vessels. Of the dogs native to these areas almost all of them are structurally similar to the Chinese Crested Dog, as well as being hairless. The final, and probably the most compelling reason to believe that the Chinese Crested is not native to China is that the breed was never known from mainland China, but rather Chinese trading vessels. The crews of these vessels not only had access to other nations, but they were some of the few Chinese who did.
Although most in the West are unaware of this, Ancient China was one of the world’s first economic superpowers with Chinese trading vessels making regular stops throughout Southeast Asia, the islands that now make up Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Islamic lands, and the coast of Africa. In fact, although historically passed over in favor of Spanish Galleons and those of European explorers, the largest wooden ships ever constructed and sailed came from China. In recent years a growing amount of evidence has even suggested that the Chinese may have discovered Australia and the Americas in the early 1400’s, decades before Europeans.
There is even a belief that the Chinese Crested Dog is the descendant of hairless dogs indigenous to Eastern Africa; dogs that were at the time known to Europeans as African Hairless Dogs, African Hairless Terriers, or as Abyssinian Sand Terriers. Prior to their rebirth as a Chinese product English, Dutch, and Portuguese explorers and traders described these dogs for several centuries, although few if any were ever brought back to Europe alive. These dogs were last seen in the 1800’s, and are very likely extinct. However, there are a few preserved specimens remaining in museums. These specimens show a dog which is almost identical to hairless breeds from the Americas. It is known that the Chinese had regular contact with the coast of Eastern Africa and may very well have acquired these dogs there. However, there is absolutely no hard evidence to support this theory.
Additionally, Abyssinia is an outdated name for Ethiopia, a country which had little to no Chinese contact. If these dogs were from Abyssinia, it is less likely that they are the ancestors of the Chinese Crested Dog, though at that point Europeans were often not precise with the naming of anything from Africa. As little to nothing is known of the origin of the African Hairless Dog, it is equally possible that this breed was instead brought to the African continent by the Chinese, rather than the other way around. Also, the haired examples of this breed have apparently not been described, which would be useful in making a determination of relationship. A final reason to doubt the African origin of the Chinese Crested Dog is that this breed does not seem to suffer from the lack of resistance to diseases such as distemper that have proven fatal to other African breeds upon first entrance to the West, notably the Basenji.
Revisiting the possibility that the Chinese discovered the Americas, recent genetic tests have concluded that the Chinese Crested Dog and the Xoloitzcuintli may be related. It is unclear if that relation is a result of actual kinship or having developed the same mutation which causes hairlessness. The Peruvian Inca Orchid, another ancient hairless breed from the Americas, is also thought to be related to the Xoloitzcuintli and unlike the African Hairless Dog, records of the Xoloitzcuintli and Peruvian Inca Orchid date back centuries to the earliest days of the Spanish conquest. Additionally, archaeological evidence has indicated that both breeds may be more than 3,000 years old. Although very controversial, there is a theory which posits that the Chinese reached American shores in the 1420’s, although they did not maintain contact after an initial visit. It is very possible that the Chinese sailors onboard these vessels would have taken these unique hairless dogs with them after visiting either Peru or Mexico. However, it has yet to be proven that the Chinese did in fact visit America. Additionally, the haired varieties of both the Peruvian Inca Orchid and the Xoloitzcuintli are dramatically different from the Powderpuff Chinese Crested Dog.
At various points in history, hairless dogs have also been reported from Thailand and Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka. As both of these nations, especially Thailand, have had a much longer and closer relationship with China, it is perhaps more likely that the Chinese Crested Dog originated in one of these regions. However, little to nothing is known of these hairless varieties, other than they are now likely extinct. It is therefore impossible to say for certain what relationship, if any, these breeds may have had with the Chinese Crested Dog. As is the case with the African Hairless Dog, it is equally possible that these dogs were the descendant’s of the Chinese Crested Dog, rather than its ancestors.
Wherever it was that the Chinese sailors first acquired the breed, they were certainly the ones who introduced it to both America and Europe. The first pair of Chinese Crested Dogs known in Europe arrived in England as part of a zoological exhibition in the mid 1800’s, but the breed did not become established at that time. European artwork from the same period includes these dogs, indicating that this breed was at least known in Europe, if not yet established. In 1880, a New Yorker by the name of Ida Garrett became interested in the breed and began to keep and exhibit them. In 1885, the Chinese Crested Dog was first exhibited at the Westminster Kennel Club, causing something of a stir. The breed experienced a brief period of modest population for the rest of the century, which had almost entirely disappeared by the start of World War I. Ida Garrett never stopped her work with the breed, and in the 1920’s met a woman by the name of Debra Woods who shared her passion for the Chinese Crested Dog.
Debra Woods began to keep detailed records of her Chinese Crested Dog breeding program in the 1930’s. Her “Crest Haven Kennel” was in full operation by the end of the 1950’s, and in 1959 she founded the American Hairless Dog Club to act as a registration service for the breed. Debra Woods would maintain the stud book for the breed until her death in 1969 when that duty was assumed by Jo Ann Orlik of New Jersey. Unfortunately, in 1965, the American Kennel Club (AKC) ended the eligibility of the Chinese Crested Dog to be registered due to a lack of numbers, national interest, and a parent club. Prior to that time, the Chinese Crested Dog had been placed in the Miscellaneous Class. At the time that the Chinese Crested Dog was dropped by the AKC, only 200 dogs were registered. For a number of years it actually appeared as though the Chinese Crested Dog might become extinct entirely, despite the dedication of Ida Garrett and Debra Woods.
Around the same time that Debra Woods was operating her kennel, the stripper and entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee discovered the Chinese Crested Dog. Lee’s sister had adopted a Chinese Crested Dog from a Connecticut animal shelter and subsequently given it to Lee. Lee became infatuated with the breed and eventually became a breeder herself. She included this highly unusual animal in her acts, and is more responsible for the breed’s promotion nationwide and worldwide than anyone else. It is a testament to the quality of the work done by both Debra Woods and Gypsy Rose Lee that almost all Chinese Crested Dogs in the entire world can trace their ancestry back to one or both lines.
In 1979, the Chinese Crested Club of America (CCCA) was founded by fanciers who wanted to promote and protect the breed. It was their primary goal to increase the breed’s population nationwide and to have the breed eligible for registration with the AKC once again. The records kept by Jo Ann Orlik were entrusted to the CCCA at this time. The CCCA worked tirelessly to regain AKC registration until 1991, when the breed became part of the toy group. The United Kennel Club (UKC) followed the AKC’s lead in 1995.
The Chinese Crested Dog, as well as the Xoloitzcuintli and Peruvian Inca Orchid, have long been used in genetic studies due to the unique genetic trait of hairlessness. These dogs are particularly useful in such studies as most genetic traits are difficult to identify immediately, while the difference between a hairless and non-hairless dog are most certainly not. In a grossly simplified way, every trait is caused by a pair of genes, one from each parent. Researchers have concluded that the form of hairlessness found in these three breeds is a dominant trait, meaning that only one copy of the hairless gene is necessary to create a hairless dog. This also means that a dog must have two copies of the Powderpuff gene in order to have hair. However, having two copies of the hairless gene is fatal before birth. Dogs which are homozygous for hairlessness (those with two copies of the hairless gene) all die prenatally. This means that all living Hairless Chinese Crested Dogs are heterozygous for hairlessness (they have one hairless gene and one non-hairless gene). Due to the rules of inheritance, when two Hairless Chinese Crested Dogs are bred, one in four puppies will be homozygous for hairlessness and will die prenatally, two will be heterozygous for hairlessness, and one will be homozygous with the Powderpuff gene. What this means is that there will always be approximately one Powderpuff born for every two Hairless puppies. This is why it is impossible to eliminate the Powderpuff from the Chinese Crested Dog lines. On the other hand, the offspring of two Powderpuffs will all be Powderpuffs. It would therefore be possible to eliminate the hairless gene from the breed; although it is highly unlikely breeders would ever choose to do so.
Although most breed fanciers will tell you how beautiful their dogs are, most observers find this to be the ugliest of all dog breeds, or at least tied with the other hairless breeds. This breed has become a regular in ugly dog contests, and almost certainly holds the record for the most wins. This is especially so if Chinese Crested Dog/Chihuahua mixes are counted. Perhaps the most famous of these ugly dog contest winners was Sam, who was crowned the World’s Ugliest Dog three times between 2003 and 2005. Same regrettably passed before he was able to defend his title for a fourth time. The unique appearance and perceived ugliness of the Chinese Crested Dog has made it a regular performer in Hollywood in recent years. This breed has appeared in such films as Cats & Dogs, Cats & Dogs: the Revenge of Kitty Galore, 102 Dalmatians, Hotel for Dogs, Marmaduke, New York Minute, and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, as well as the television show Ugly Betty. In recent years, the Chinese Crested Dog, particularly the Hairless variety, has become popular in the creation of designer dogs. The Chinese Crested is most frequently crossed with the Chihuahua, resulting in a mix known as a Chi-Chi.
Despite the negative reaction that most have upon first seeing a Chinese Crested Dog, this breed earns a dedicated following wherever it goes. Although most see ugliness, the breed has a unique charm that captivates followers. As a result, the Chinese Crested Dog has steadily moved up in popularity since the 1970’s, especially by those who want a unique pet. In recent years, the breed has even become somewhat fashionable. In 2010, the Chinese Crested Dog ranked 57th out of 167 total breeds in terms of AKC registrations, a huge increase for a breed which was eliminated due to rarity less than 50 years earlier. This breed has occasionally been seen in agility and obedience competitions, much to the surprise of audiences. However, the vast, vast majority of Chinese Crested Dogs in the United States are companion animals, a task which the breed would almost surely prefer to any other.
The Chinese Crested Dog is perhaps more known for its appearance than any other breed. This dog certainly is one of the most unique looking of all dogs. As one would expect from the breed’s placement in the toy group, this is a very small dog. This breed is somewhat larger than most other toy breeds, however. The ideal height for both male and female Chinese Crested Dogs is between 11 and 13 inches tall at the shoulder, although dogs which are slightly taller or shorter will be given full consideration. Breed standards do not define an ideal weight, but most Chinese Crested Dogs weigh less than 10 pounds. This is a very thin dog, almost to the extent of a sighthound such as an Italian Greyhound, but not quite to that extent. The legs look relatively long in comparison to the body, though they are also thin. This breed has a long tail, which tapers slightly towards the end. This tail is carried either relatively straight or slightly upraised when the dog is moving, but is held straight down when the breed is at rest.
Although the coat or lack thereof is what most observers notice about the Chinese Crested Dog, the breed also has a very distinctive face. The Chinese Crested Dog has a face which is akin to a Pariah dog type such as a Canaan Dog, although somewhat more refined. The muzzle of a Chinese Crested Dog is quite distinct from the face, and doesn’t smoothly transition into the head as is the case with most breeds. This muzzle is somewhat wide and almost rectangular. Hairless Chinese Crested Dog’s have teeth which are described as primitive, and are almost all sharp and pointy. These teeth regularly fall out and missing teeth are not to be faulted. Such teeth are to be faulted in the Powderpuff variety. This breed has medium-sized almond shaped eyes which give off an inquisitive expression. The eyes are typically dark, but lighter colored dogs will have lighter colored eyes. This breed should never have blue eyes or eyes of two different colors. The ears of the Chinese Crested Dog are large and naturally erect. Many Chinese Crested Dogs have ears that are placed on their heads at a slight angle, giving them an appearance reminiscent of a Pappillon.
The Chinese Crested Dog comes in two coat varieties, the Powderpuff and the Hairless. The Hairless variety is nearly twice as common and many times as well known. The Hairless variety is not completely hairless. These dogs usually have a patch of long hair on the tops of their heads and necks. This hair often stands almost straight up, giving the breed the crest for which they are named. Some hair may flow to the sides, making the breed look almost human. The Hairless Chinese Crested Dog also has long hair covering the final two thirds of its tail, known as a plume. There is also typically hair on feet, making it appear as though the dog is wearing some sort of hairy boots. Hairless Chinese Crested Dogs also frequently have sparse hair on their faces and occasionally a few hairs randomly placed on the rest of their bodies. What little hair these dogs have should have only one coat, and be very soft. The exposed skin should be smooth.
The Powderpuff Chinese Crested is covered in very long fur. This fur does not grow continuously as is the case with many toy breeds, but it does reach great lengths. The Powderpuff actually has a double coat. The undercoat consists of short, silky hair, while the outer coat is long and moderate density. The tail of these dogs is completely covered. Many Powderpuffs have hair which stands up to form a crest, but it is considerably less noticeably than on Hairless dogs. The hair around the face is generally shorter than that found on the rest of the body, but many owners choose to trim it for neatness.
Having the proper coat is of the utmost importance to Chinese Crested Dog breeders and exhibitors. However, the color and pattern are of little to no importance. Any coloration or pattern is acceptable. Most Hairless dogs are either brown or grey with white or pink patches and white or grey hair. Most Powderpuff dogs are primarily white with grey or brown markings. However, these are only rough generalizations.
The Chinese Crested Dog is a companion animal through and through. This breed has not been bred for any purpose other than companionship for well-over a century. The Chinese Crested Dog forms very close bonds with its masters. This breed is known for being one of the most attached of any dog and is intolerant of being left alone for any length of time, especially from its favorite people. This breed is often fawningly affectionate with those it is familiar. This breed is naturally suspicious of strangers, and will rarely greet them warmly. They can also take quite awhile to warm up to someone new. Unfortunately, many owners do not properly socialize these dogs. This is highly problematic as an unsocialized Chinese Crested Dog is very likely to become timid or fearful, sometimes to the point where this fear is mistaken for viciousness or aggression. Potential owners should carefully select a breeder as irresponsible breeders often have lines which are prone to extreme shyness.
The Chinese Crested Dog tends to get along better with children than most toy breeds as it is generally less snappy and friendlier. However, this is an extremely fragile breed and is definitely not advisable to keep around very young children, no matter how good their intentions. Some Chinese Crested Dogs will alert their owners to the presence of someone at the door, but the breed is not known for its watchdog skills. This breed hates to be left alone, and is known to suffer from terrible separation anxiety. If you have to leave a dog at home for extended periods of time, this is most certainly not the right breed for you.
The Chinese Crested Dog for the most part gets along well with other dogs if properly socialized. This breed is not known for aggression issues. However, some Chinese Crested Dogs, particularly unneutered males, may be somewhat territorial and possessive. The biggest problems that develop with Chinese Crested Dogs in relation to other dogs are either jealousy or fear related. These dogs crave attention and affection and may not appreciate having to share it with another canine. Unsocialized Chinese Crested Dogs are often fearful of other dogs, especially larger ones. It is important to get your Chinese Crested accustomed to other canines from a young age. It is probably not advisable to keep a Chinese Crested Dog in a home with a significantly larger dog as this breed tends to be fragile and may be easily injured by a dog that either wants to play or merely does not see a Chinese Crested Dog when it is walking.
Although originally kept as a ratter, these instincts have largely subsided in the modern Chinese Crested Dog. This breed tends to get along better with small animals and cats than is the case with most dogs. It goes without saying that this is only the case with properly trained and socialized Chinese Crested Dog’s, as any breed has some natural hunting instincts.
Chinese Crested Dogs tend to be of average difficulty to train. Many breed members are somewhat obstinate and stubborn, but not nearly to the extent which is common among terriers or scenthounds. You will have to work a little bit harder than you may want to in order to get a Chinese Crested Dog trained, but these dogs are bright and will generally learn well. The trick is to make it worth the dog’s while, so a heavy dosage of rewards and positive reinforcements are a must. The Chinese Crested Dog is capable of learning a variety of complex tricks and when well-trained is a better than average competitor in obedience trials. This breed has been a regular performer in the entertainment industry for most of the last century, and not only due to its appearance. That being said, most breed members have a lower ceiling for their maximum task learning potential than a breed such as a Border Collie or Poodle, and are probably less well-suited to the most complex canine tasks.
There is one training area in which the Chinese Crested Dog does pose a serious training challenge. This breed is infamously difficult to housebreak. Most trainers will say that it is in the top ten most difficult breeds to housebreak, and some have claimed that it is the most difficult of all. This breed combines the small and weak bladder of a toy dog with the natural resistance to housebreaking of a primitive breed. It takes many months, and sometimes years, to fully housebreak a Chinese Crested Dog. Some owners are incapable of ever fully housebreaking this breed and resort to the use of litter boxes. Unneutered male Chinese Crested Dogs are virtually impossible to housebreak. These dogs have the primitive instinct to regularly mark their territory and will lift their leg over almost everything in a home.
Perhaps the most common description of the Chinese Crested Dog is to say that they are lively. These dogs love to climb, dig, and bounce around. This breed tends to be active indoors, and it is fair to say that it has a relatively low exercise requirement. This does not mean that they don’t need any exercise. This breed needs a lengthy daily walk at the very least, and loves to be allowed to run around in a safe, warm area. While the Chinese Crested Dog does not crave a job in the same way that a Border Collie or a German Shorthaired Pointer does, this breed does enjoy having a task to complete. Much to the surprise of spectators, the Chinese Crested Dog both enjoys and successfully competes in a number of canine sports ranging from agility to flyball.
The Chinese Crested Dog is one of the most likely breeds to suffer from a condition known as Small Dog Syndrome, and this breed also tends to suffer from cases which are more severe and difficult to overcome. Small Dog Syndrome occurs when owners do not discipline a small dog in the same way that they would a larger breed, because a negative behavior is seen as cute, funny, or not dangerous. This frequently leads to dogs which think they are in charge of the entire world. Dogs suffering from small dog syndrome are often dominant, aggressive, and out of control.
There are a few other aspects of the Chinese Crested Dog’s temperament which potential owners must be aware. This breed is known for being an escape artist. They are able to climb over or escape much more easily and frequently than is the case with most toy breeds. Owners who are accustomed to keeping other toy breeds will have to learn to take extra precautions with Chinese Crested Dogs. This breed is somewhat unpredictable when it comes to barking. The Chinese Crested is known for being a very quiet breed which rarely barks. If you are looking for a small breed that is not yappy, this may be an excellent choice. However, poorly bred dogs may be considerably more vocal. Additionally, Chinese Crested Dogs which are suffering from a lack of exercise, Small Dog Syndrome, or separation anxiety may become vocal.
The two different coat varieties of the Chinese Crested Dog have dramatically different coat care requirements. The Hairless Chinese Crested Dog obviously requires little to no brushing or professional grooming. However, these dogs must be bathed very frequently. Additionally, this breed requires its skin to be regularly oiled as it is incapable of producing some of the natural oils found in most breeds. This breed also may require sunscreen and a number of other special skin considerations. Owners who are willing to take these special considerations will be rewarded with a dog that sheds little to no hair making them ideal for allergy sufferers or those who hate the thought of cleaning up dog hair. This breed suffers from flea infestations at significantly lower rates than almost any other breed as they cannot hide in the dog’s fur. Additionally, this breed is almost entirely devoid of the doggy odor that many find offensive.
The Powderpuff has a grooming requirement which is substantially higher than most breeds. This dog needs to be thoroughly brushed almost daily to prevent hair from matting. Most owners choose to have their Powderpuffs professionally groomed, although this is done more to relieve the dog in the heat of summer or reduce brushing requirements than anything else. The Powderpuff does shed, although even this variety is considered a very light shedder.
Both varieties of Chinese Crested Dog have elongated toes. This means that the quick of their nails extend farther than is the case with most breeds. Owners must be extra careful to avoid causing pain and injury to the Chinese Crested Dog when trimming their nails.
The Chinese Crested Dog is a generally healthy breed. The life expectancy of these dogs is between 12 and 14 years, and this breed commonly exceeds this by several years. Additionally, this breed is considerably less likely to suffer from most inherited disorders that are common among other toy breeds. However, a number of health problems are common to the Chinese Crested Dog, and this breed has significantly greater special care requirements than most breeds.
Chinese Crested Dogs, particularly the Hairless variety, are extremely sensitive to cold. These dogs have almost no protection from the elements and must be protected. This breed definitely needs to wear a sweater and booties when the temperature drops, and should be brought inside as quickly as possible. The Hairless variety also requires a great deal of skin care. These dogs should have sunscreen or a shirt on when outside for anything longer than a few minutes to prevent sunburn. Additionally, they need to have their skin regularly oiled and moisturized to keep it supple.
The Hairless variety of Chinese Crested Dog suffers from a number of tooth problems. Primitive looking teeth which are all sharp and pointy is a trait which is linked to the gene responsible for hairlessness. Almost all Hairless Chinese Crested Dogs have fairly severe dental issues, and most loose at least a few of their teeth at a very young age.
Both varieties of Chinese Crested Dog are highly vulnerable to weight gain. These dogs have a tendency to overeat and gain weight quickly. The sedentary lifestyle lived by most breed members exacerbates this problem. This breed can be difficult to get to lose weight once they have put it on, particularly in winter when they cannot be let outside for any length of time. Owners must carefully regulate the diet of their Chinese Crested Dogs, and should seriously consider higher quality dog foods.
Chinese Crested Dogs suffer from a unique condition known as Canine Multiple System Degeneration, which is only known from this breed and the Kerry Blue Terrier. This condition is characterized by the progressive degeneration of movement. Symptoms begin at 10 to 14 weeks of age with Cerebral Ataxia. Eventually, afflicted dogs experience increasing difficulties in moving and frequently fall down.
It is always advisable to get your pets tested by either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and/or the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, particularly if you intend to breed. The OFA and CERF test for various genetically inherited disorders such as blindness and hip dysplasia that may impact either your dog or its descendants.
A list of health problems experienced by the Chinese Crested Dog would have to include: