Chinese Crested Dog

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Chinese Crested Dog

The Chinese Crested Dog is a toy breed that turns heads wherever it goes. It is one of several hairless breeds, and in common with the others, comes in two varieties: true hairless and “powderpuff”. Although many theories abound about its origin, it seems this unusual dog was first bred in China at least 2,000 years ago, and was introduced to the rest of the world by merchant seamen, who used it as a means of controlling rodents on board their ship.

While the powderpuff Chinese Crested has a long, soft double coat, even some “hairless” individuals can have a surprising amount of hair, and both need careful grooming and have unique skincare requirements. This is not a very sociable breed, and although it bonds with and is very affectionate toward its own family, does not always enjoy the attention that its unusual appearance can draw from strangers, and may bite if provoked. This is not always a huge problem, as many Chinese Cresteds lack teeth!

As might be imagined, they do not tolerate the cold, and should be considered indoor dogs, and do need constant company, or they will become distressed and anxious. Though it can be difficult to source Chinese Crested puppies due to the rarity of the breed, many owners become lifelong devotees, as these are unique dogs, unlike any other one is likely to encounter. Despite particular care requirements, they have relatively few significant health problems, and many live very long lives, with an average life expectancy for the breed of 13–15 years.

About & History

Until recent times, the unusual appearance of the Chinese Crested Dog was taken as evidence that the breed had not, in fact, originated in China, but that it was first bred in Mexico, Turkey, or somewhere in Africa. However, modern scientific techniques, including genetic analysis, have proven that this is indeed a Chinese breed, and an ancient one at that. Seemingly larger specimens that otherwise closely resemble the modern breed feature in artwork from the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), ranking them amongst the oldest breeds still in existence. It is believed that these early dogs were used for hunting, which may seem hard to believe given the small size of the breed today.

It is believed the first Chinese Crested Dogs may have reached America in the late sixteenth century, possibly via Mexico, as animals used for vermin control on board Chinese trading ships. Later, many of the Chinese Cresteds in Europe were bred in Belgium, from stock imported from Afghanistan. Despite its long history, the breed was not formally recognised by the Kennel Club until 1981, and by the American Kennel Club in 1991. It remains something of a rarity, and although it ranks as the 77th most popular pedigree in the United States, anecdotally, it is far less commonly encountered in the British Isles.

Appearance

Chinese Crested Dog Large Photo

There is quite a bit of variation between individual Chinese Crested Dogs in terms of appearance, with the Kennel Club recognising two distinct body shapes, referred to as “racy” and “cobby”, as well as both hairless and powderpuff varieties of the breed. Racy individuals are light and very fine-boned, while cobby dogs are those that are heavier-set and have stronger bone structure. Regardless of shape, the Chinese Crested is a graceful and elegant dog with an air of refinement. It has a rounded skull that tapers into a slender muzzle, with tight, clean lips. Many true hairless individuals lack some or all of their teeth, or may exhibit dental overcrowding: this is not considered a defect, as it is associated with the genes governing hairlessness. The breed has very dark almond-shaped eyes, and large forward-facing ears that are usually held erect and are set low on the skull.

The neck and back are lean and graceful, and the breed has laid-back shoulders, meaning the upper forelimbs are well angulated. Both upper fore- and hindlimbs are well muscled, leading to slender lower limbs, and the breed’s distinctive “hare feet”, which have elongated central toes and hairy socks. The tail is set high, is slender, and tapers noticeably to a point.

In all Chinese Crested Dogs, the crest of hair should extend from the stop of the forehead down along the top of the neck. Other plumes of hair are expected on the feet and tail of true hairless individuals. In these dogs, the coat is single-thickness, and some may also have variable, sparse hair growth in other areas: this accessory hair is generally trimmed short. Powderpuff dogs, in contrast, have a more “normal” coat that covers the entire body. This is a soft double coat that is more durable than the growth on hairless dogs, and can be allowed to grow quite long. Any colour, or combination of colours, is permitted for all Chinese Crested Dogs.

Though classified as a toy breed, male dogs average 28–33 cm (11–13 in) tall at the withers, with females also relatively tall at 23–30 cm (9–12 in). However, most are very light, with body weights ranging anywhere from 3.4 to 5.4 kg (7.5–12 lb).

Character & Temperament

The Chinese Crested is an unusual breed in many ways, not least in some of its similarities to a cat. Though they are very alert and can be quite active for spells during the day, most are at their happiest when curled under a blanket, on their owner’s lap, or on the back of a sofa. They are sensitive dogs that bond strongly to their family through almost constant physical contact – and usually lots of licking!

They take any criticism to heart, and can become anxious and withdrawn in response to any strife within the home. They also do not respond well to isolation, and are not suitable for a home in which there is nobody present for hours during the day. Most are not keen on the company of strangers, something which can be helped with socialisation training, but even with the best efforts, many remain fearful or reticent about being approached by non-family members.

Trainability

Photo of Chinese Crested Dog puppy

The breed is alert and intelligent, and responds very well to training. In the United States in particular, Chinese Cresteds are favoured by many for competitive sports, such as flyball, agility, and obedience trials, all of which they excel at.

In the home, they will easily pick up the basics of good behaviour and enjoy learning tricks to amuse both themselves and their people. As mentioned above, socialisation, especially with people, should be considered a basic part of training for this and any other breed.

Health

Though it may appear delicate in its semi-naked state, the Chinese Crested Dog is a very healthy breed, with few of the common inherited disorders that decades (or centuries) of irresponsible breeding have produced in some other breeds.

  • Atopic Dermatitis – This is a form of allergic skin disease that develops as a sensitivity to inhaled or transdermally absorbed allergens. Common triggers include dust mites, pollens, and moulds, and the condition may develop at any age, often manifesting in young pups from 3 months old. The most common signs include reddening and infection of the ears, paws, and perineum, with affected dogs spending much of their time licking, chewing, or scratching the irritated areas. Secondary skin infections are common as a result, and treatment involves trying to eliminate causative allergens where possible, and anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial medications. These may be in the form of tablets or topical treatments. Some dogs may also respond to treatment with tailored immunologic vaccines.
  • Comedones – Comedones, or blackheads, very commonly form in the skin of the Chinese Crested, and most of the grooming efforts described below relate to trying to prevent and clear these clogged pores. Left untreated, they result in skin irritation and infection in sensitive areas, such as the groin.
  • Cerebellar Ataxia – This is a congenital condition that affects coordination, and although it is present from birth, it can take a progressive form in some dogs. Affected individuals exhibit an awkward goose-stepping gait, and may be unsteady or weak on their limbs. While some can live long, if somewhat restricted, lives in spite of the disorder, other severely affected dogs may need to be euthanised because of frequent injuries and poor quality of life.
  • Diabetes Mellitus – More common in the Chinese Crested Dog than in many other breeds, the inability to absorb blood glucose in diabetes can cause characteristic signs of increased appetite, weight loss, and excessive thirst in middle-aged dogs. It occurs as a result of autoimmune damage to the pancreas (a gland in the abdomen), and requires regular insulin injections for successful management.
  • Haemangiosarcoma – A cancerous growth of blood vessels, which usually occurs on the surface of the spleen, and so is often without noticeable symptoms in its early stages. When large, these growths are quite fragile, and the first sign is often dramatic weakness or fainting as a result of significant internal blood loss. Surgical removal of the spleen may be curative in some cases.
  • Hypotrichosis – While not necessarily a medical condition, hypotrichosis describes the genetic feature of reduced hair growth seen in the breed. There are two copies of every gene encoded within each cell of the body, and all hairless Chinese Crested Dogs have one copy of the hypotrichosis gene, and one long-haired gene. Powederpuff dogs have two long-haired genes. A proportion of embryos are conceived with two hypotrichosis genes, but this is a lethal combination, and all are resorbed in the womb and do not develop to full term.
  • Patellar Luxation – Like many fine-boned small breeds, the Chinese Crested may suffer problems with the alignment of the muscles and bony prominences of the hindlimbs, and thus develop patellar luxation, where the kneecap slips out of its normal position, causing intermittent lameness or a skipping gait.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The breed is very adaptable in its activity levels: while it is energetic and active enough to participate in competitive events, as described above, most will happily live indoors with only around thirty minutes’ exercise per day. Given access to a garden, they enjoy digging and searching out insects, which is perhaps because of their background in vermin control. However, they are said to be very capable climbers, and should not be left unsupervised lest they scale the garden fence.

Grooming

Despite their relative hairlessness, Chinese Crested Dogs do shed, and are not considered hypoallergenic for allergic owners. Powderpuff individuals have very fine hair, and need regular brushing, at least every other day. This needs to be done on a wet coat, so the hair must be washed or at least dampened with a spray bottle to prevent breakage.

For hairless dogs, the main concern is the prevention and clearance of blackheads, and so regular bathing and cleaning with follicular cleansers, for example mild benzoyl peroxide preparations, is essential. Any sparse hair growth over the body should be clipped short to facilitate this cleansing. For either variety, the services of a professional groomer are likely to be required every few weeks, not least to clip the dog’s nails, as these have very long sensitive quicks due to the hare-foot conformation of the paw.

Famous Chinese Crested Dogs

Being easy to train, and fun to look at, Chinese Crested Dogs have frequently featured in movies and television shows:

  • Fluffy in the film 102 Dalmations
  • Giuseppe in the film Marmaduke
  • Halston a regular in the TV series, Ugly Betty
  • Reinaldo seen in New York Minute
  • Bobby star of The Young and the Restless

Cross-Breeds

The following are some of the better-known of the mixes that have been developed from the breed:

  • Chin Crested – Cross between a Chinese Crested Dog and Japanese Chin
  • China Jack – Cross between a Chinese Crested Dog and a Jack Russell Terrier
  • Chinese Cocker – Cross between a Chinese Crested Dog and a Cocker Spaniel
  • Chinese Frise – Cross between a Chinese Crested Dog and Bichon Frise
  • Crested Malt – Cross between a Chinese Crested Dog and Maltese

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