Though it is a well-known fact that dogs have ancient origins, few people are aware that some of today’s most popular breeds once graced the palaces and humble abodes of Asian countries. From the small comical Pug to the flowing tresses of the Afghan Hound, these beloved breeds found their way into North American culture where they enjoy immense popularity as pampered house pets and even prominence in the show ring. Some of the oldest dog breeds known to man, it certainly looks like these cute canines are here to stay!
The 5 Most Popular Asian Dog Breeds
Though many breeds can trace their roots back to a variety of Asian countries, certain canines of Asian descent have become the “in vogue” dogs to own in North America today. Many are highly prized for their distinctive, elegant looks while others are known for their comedic nature and silly ways. They all contribute something wonderful to the dog landscape and are among the most popular pets available today.
A breed believed to have been in existence for over 1,000 years, the Lhasa Apso originally found its home in the Himalayan Mountains. History indicates that this breed was developed by Buddhist monks and was intended to serve as a guardian breed. A favorite breed of the revered Dalai Lama, this well-respected Buddhist master is credited with continuing the tradition of breeding this distinctive canine and giving some of his puppies as gifts to North American friends to bring recognition to his beloved breed in the western world.
Ancient Tibetan legend teaches that the Snow Lion was granted the position of protector of the country. Since the Snow Lion is a character that exists only in folklore, Lhasa Apsos, who are considered “bearded lion dogs,” have been considered the earthly representatives of the Snow Lion, sent to serve as sentinels of the home and hearth.
This breed’s name is derived from the name of Tibet’s city of religious importance by the name of “Lhasa” with Apso meaning “longhaired dog.” Characterized by a long flowing coat, the Lhasa Apso has high grooming requirements. The typical Lhasa Apso is a fearless, happy little dog, but in keeping with their original purpose as guardians of the home, they are also cautious and naturally suspicious of those they are not familiar with.
A noble dog of Japanese heritage, the Akita is a member of the Spitz family and traces its roots back to the 17th century. The Akita was developed by a banished aristocrat who sought a breed that possessed the stamina and heart of a true hunter. At one time, only the elite were permitted to own an Akita, and they graced the homes of Imperial royalty throughout Japan.
Akitas are the subject of a longstanding legend which indicates the gift of an Akita statue to a child at birth is a guarantee of a future life of happiness and longevity. Hachiko, an Akita from the 1920’s known for his incredible display of family loyalty, is a well-loved and respected symbol in Japanese culture.
Helen Keller is believed to have brought the first Akita to North America. She was given the dog as a gift during a visit to Japan. Today, the Akita is prized for its fierce loyalty and is often used as a guardian breed. Though protective of its family, the Akita can be unfriendly to strangers. A dog characterized by courage, the Akita carries himself with the dignity afforded to royalty. A breed known for its alert nature, Akitas are often not well-suited to life with other dogs and are best as only pets.
Many experts of canine history claim that the Afghan Hound is the oldest of all dog breeds. Some speculate that it was the Afghan that travelled with Noah as the canine species representative on the ark. Because of its ancient history which predates written and published records of the time, we can only estimate that the Afghan originated in the Middle Eastern portion of Asia, likely around Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
This highly elegant breed found its home with many members of the nobility including people of royal heritage, aristocrats, and tribesmen of high ranking. A member of the sighthound family, Afghan Hounds are renowned for their speed, grace, and hunting prowess.
Known for their long, flowing, silky tresses, the Afghan is one dog breed that requires a great deal of regular grooming. A dog in possession of an aloof nature, the Afghan carries itself with an air of dignity and is filled with joy and a spirit of adventure.
An extremely active breed, the Shiba Inu has been in existence since 300 B.C. The Shiba Inu found its original purpose as a hunting dog alongside its master in the mountainous regions of Japan. The name “Shiba” means “brushwood.” It is unknown if this name is in reference to the dog’s natural coat color or the type of terrain found in the mountain areas indigenous to this dog’s home. The word “Inu” is simply translated to mean “dog.”
A breed that nearly became extinct around the time of World War II, they survived as a tribute to their tenacity and are now considered Japan’s #1 choice of family dog. Though not as popular in the United States, the Shiba Inu is becoming more widely recognized in North American circles as well.
Described as both bold and of an independent spirit, the Shiba Inu is a breed of great courage and sweet disposition. A loyal family dog, the Shiba Inu can be reserved around strangers and does not always get along with other dogs, making them better suited to life as an only pet, a trait they shares in common with the Akita.
One of China’s most easily recognized breeds, the Chinese Sharpei enjoys a rich heritage that is over 2,000 years old. A breed distinctly identified with its native country, the Chinese Sharpei was in existence at the time of the Han Dynasty and originated in the Southern provinces of China. A dog appreciated for its ability to adapt to any circumstance, the Sharpei was originally a working dog who shared its life and home with the peasants of China. From herding to hunting and even livestock guardianship, the Sharpei was a dog that could do it all!
With the 1949 establishment of the Communist regime, most companion animals and working dogs were destroyed, leaving behind a threat of the extinction for this beloved breed. However, several Sharpeis remained in Hong Kong and Taiwan which allowed for its continuance. With an interest in the breed coming from America, dedicated Sharpei breeders were able to re-establish a bright future for this beloved dog worldwide.
The Sharpei is known for its royal disposition. An intelligent dog, the Sharpei is very independent and can appear indifferent. Known for its confident nature, the Sharpei is very self-assured and possesses a calming presence.
One of the Sharpei’s most distinctive features is its blue black tongue which it shares in common with another Chinese breed known as the Chow Chow. The Sharpei’s signature wrinkles make it easy to recognize in a crowd!
Thinking of adding an Asian dog breed to your family?
There are many great dogs to choose from. Whether you’re looking for a loyal family companion, a working dog, or just a pooch to make you laugh, you’re sure to find an Asian dog breed that is the perfect fit for your family!