Chinese Crested Dogs

Hairless Breed Has Mysterious History

Chinese Crested Dog

The Chinese Crested dog received a great deal of fanfare when “Sam,” a Hairless variety, won the distinction of being the World’s Ugliest Dog from 2003 to 2005.

Sam may have had a face only his mother could love, but love for the breed is what made it thrive when near extinction more than 100 years ago. The breed has a very interesting background that may surprise many, including the fact that it’s not always hairless.

Chinese Crested Dog History

One would think—due to the breed’s name—that the Chinese crested dog was Chinese. In fact, while the first mention of the breed appears in early 13th century writings in China, historians speculate that the dog actually originated from Africa.

Commonly referred to at the time as the “African hairless terrier,” the breed also appears in early 19th century texts, with references that it made its way from Africa to China where it was traded by British, Portuguese and French explorers to help hunt vermin on board ships.

To complicate matters, a similar-looking hairless dog breed was discovered during the mid-15th century in Mexico. Known as the Xoloitzcuintli, the presence of this dog had historians wondering: Which came first? The Chinese crested dog or the Xoloitzcuintli? Did the Chinese introduce the breed to the Mexicans or vice a versa?

Chinese Crested Dog

According to an in-depth report published by Discover Magazine in 2008, DNA evidence indicates that the Chinese crested dog and the Xoloitzcuintli are, in fact, related. Until new information reveals the true origin of either, the mystery prevails.

The Chinese crested dog eventually made its way to England, where it appeared in a zoological show in the early 1800s. In 1881, the first Chinese crested was registered in England’s kennel club, although, without a breeding program, it failed to prosper in Great Britain and essentially disappeared from the public eye.

At that time, the breed was making its way to the United States, where it was introduced to Ida Garrett, a well-known New York journalist. She took a serious interest in the breed, writing extensively about the Chinese crested and ultimately breeding the line for the following 60 years. In the process, she began to collaborate with another woman named Debra Wood, who, in 1950, created the Crest Haven Kennel to ensure proper breeding of the Chinese Crested dog. By 1960, Wood also founded the American Hairless Dog Club, later merging with the American Chinese Crested Club.

Bringing more attention to the breed was the well-known burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee, famous for her innovative striptease act, and whose life was made into the long-running Broadway show, Gypsy, as well as a 1962 movie starring Natalie Wood. Lee had received a Chinese crested from her sister, actress June Havoc, who found the dog abandoned at a Connecticut shelter. Lee went on to breed the dogs herself, working with Garrett and Wood to establish a strong lineage of dogs in North America.

When Lee died in 1970, her Chinese Crested kennel, “Lee,” was sold to Garrett and Wood, who, by all accounts, are responsible for creating the modern-day Chinese Crested dog. The lineage from the combined Lee and Crest Haven Kennels are thought to be the foundation for all existing Chinese Crested dogs today.

Chinese Crested Appearance

Chinese Crested Dog

The Chinese Crested dog isn’t always hairless. In fact, the breed can be one of two types: Hairless or Powderpuff.

Born at times in the same litter, each type has a distinctive difference: the Hairless is born with an incomplete dominant gene which makes it hairless. The Hairless Chinese Crested dog is probably the better recognized of the two, with its hairless body topped off by a tuft of fur on its head (crest), paws and tail. Some Hairless types have fur on its muzzle, too.

The Powderpuff variety, also known as a “Puffs,” is born without the incomplete dominant trait and therefore has a long, soft double coat, sometimes resembling a terrier. Its fine coat sheds very little, therefore requiring frequent grooming to avoid matting.

The typical colors of the breed include a pale, skin color to charcoal and black. One unique characteristic to the breed: it changes colors as it matures. For example, a black puppy may ultimately have a silver, white or tri-colored coat once it matures.

This is a small bred dog, weighing on average between 10 and 13 pounds.

Chinese Crested Personality

Chinese Crested DogDue to its small size, the Chinese Crested dog is classified in the “toy” group (as compared to a Labrador retriever in the “working” group).

Despite its small stature, this breed is very playful, alert and intelligent. It excels at agility courses, for example, and loves a challenge. Considered excellent therapy dogs, the Chinese Crested are easy to train and respond well to children under a controlled environment.

That being said, this small breed is not a “rough and tumble” type of dog. It thrives on TLC, loves to cuddle and usually doesn’t leave its owner’s side. With that in mind, the Chinese Crested dog does not like to be left alone for long periods of time and can become anxiety ridden if so.

Chinese Crested Health Concerns

While these medical conditions are generally uncommon they are known to occur in the breed. Your Chinese Crested dog will not necessarily develop any of the conditions listed below. Choosing a reputable breeder from which to purchase your pet will help minimize the risks.

Chinese Crested Dog
  • Hare foot: The Chinese Crested dog is born with elongated toes (most dogs are born with “cat foot”). Due to this distinguishing characteristic, the dog’s nail quicks run deep into the nail bed. As a result, caution is advised when trimming your Chinese Crested’s nails; trimming them too short can cause bleeding and pain.
  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca causes dry eyes, chronic conjunctivitis and corneal vascularisation.
  • Patellar luxation is caused by anatomical defects of the bones that make up the knee joint. It is manifested by the kneecap (patella) slipping in and out of its normal location in the knee. Mildly affected dogs may carry the leg for 2 or 3 steps while walking. Severely affected dogs may become severely lame and refuse to use their rear legs. Surgical correction of this condition is very rewarding.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy  (PRA) is an adult-onset condition which gradual degeneration of the retina leading to blindness.
  • Skin conditions: The Hairless Chinese Crested dog can be susceptible to skin conditions due to its lack of hair and its lack of sweat glands. Potential issues include sunburn, acne and dry skin. In addition, some Chinese Crested dogs have an allergic reaction to Lanolin (and therefore other products containing wool, such as dog beds and dog clothes). It is best to discuss the best way to protect your dog’s skin from these potential conditions and treat accordingly. Do not use a sunscreen on your Chinese Crested until you have discussed with your veterinarian which one is appropriate to use on your dog.

As with any pet, be sure to regularly consult a veterinarian for routine care and medical advice for your four-legged friend.


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