The Breed

Cresteds make excellent family pets, when introduced at an early age to well-mannered children
It is unlikely you would get much argument from anyone involved in Chinese Cresteds that the defining characteristic of the breed would be its hairlessness. And, not merely its hairlessness, but its accompanying flowing luxuriant furnishings on its head, feet and tail. A Crested makes a striking picture, particularly when it is on the move with its crest blowing like a super model's hair behind it. It is truly a unique breed among the hundreds found worldwide. So, it is no surprise that as dog people of all sorts are increasingly looking into the history of their breeds, into what makes them unique, Crested people are no exception. Among the questions still to be settled by Crested fanciers worldwide: How did the Crested get here? Is it really Chinese? Why is the Crested the only modern hairless breed with a long coat? Is it related to the other known hairless breeds? What causes the hairlessness? Can we breed away from some of the related issues that accompany hairlessness – e.g. irregular dentition, and extra body hair?

Breed Genetic Origin and Relationship to Other Breeds

As with many breeds there is some dispute over the origins of the Chinese Crested Dog. However, it is almost certain that despite its name, the Chinese Crested Dog did not originate in China. Until very recently the two most popular theories had the Chinese Crested originating in either Africa or South America. On both continents there are similar primitive type dogs. In South and Central America in particular there are a couple of hairless breeds (the Peruvian Inca Orchid and the Xoloitzcuintli) that share very similar morphology to the Chinese Crested, and it is not inconceivable that the Crested and these other two breeds share a similar ancestry. In fact, recent genetic research supports this view.

This research by a team of European scientists, led by Tosso Leeb of the University of Berne in Switzerland, has isolated the mutation responsible for the hairless characteristics in the three identified hairless breeds where the inheritance pattern is dominant (not surprisingly they are the Chinese Crested, Peruvian Inca Orchid, and Xoloitzcuintli). The research revealed that the hairless mutation was the same in all the hairless specimens and results from the insertion of genetic code, named FOXI3 (the protein encoded by this mutation activates development of hair and teeth), into a gene on chromosome 17. This turns a coated dog into a hairless. Using specimens from all three breeds noted above, they analyzed DNA samples from 140 hairless dogs and 87 coated dogs. The results confirmed that every coated dog in the study lacked the mutation, and every hairless dog possessed one copy. Read more about this research ⇒

These results have led researchers to conclude that these breeds likely share a common origin, in fact they indicate these breeds likely go back to the same ancestral dog. And, as secondary sources indicate that there are ancient artefacts in Mexico that date back at least 3,000 years that depict hairless dogs looking remarkably like modern Xolos, it would be hard to argue that Mexico is not the wellspring for the hairless family of dogs including the Crested.

Chinese, Mexican, European or American?

So why not the Mexican Crested? A great question. While it is now clear that the Xolos, Inca Orchids and Cresteds share a common genetic inheritance from a common source, it has been unclear where the breed we know as the Chinese Crested was developed in its modern form. There are unsubstantiated stories that indicate hairless dogs were not uncommon on board early Chinese merchant trading vessels where they are said to have functioned as ship ratters. In addition, Chinese records apparently mention crested-like dogs in a 13th century description of one hairless dog's jewellery and coat (some things never change!) and in a 15th century inventory of gifts at a wedding, five crested-like hairless dogs were itemized. These dogs, if real, are unlikely to be related to the meso-american hairless breeds as these dates pre-date the Spanish conquest, and the subsequent opening up of trade routes into Central America in the early 16th Century. And given that the above noted genetic research puts the likely origin of the gene in Central America, then these Chinese specimens can not have been ancestral to the modern Crested dog.

Christ Nailed To The Cross,
The recent attribution of the Crested to Chinese origin can be traced back to England, as it appears that in the late 19th Century hairless dogs resembling our modern Cresteds were first identified there and were said to be from China. Secondary sources indicate that it was in 1881 that a crested-like dog named “Chinese Emperor” may have been exhibited at Maidstone, England. Other secondary sources indicate that early records referencing potential Chinese origin may include the 1882 edition of "Dogs of the British Islands" where the "Edible Chinese Dog" is apparently mentioned as having a hairless variety; the 1894 edition of the Kennel Gazette apparently identifies a hairless "Chinese Terrier" in its foreign dog section; and secondary sources again indicate that in 1901 a "Crested North Chinese" hairless bitch was the first such dog to be registered in the Kennel Club stud book. In addition, it must be mentioned that it appears that hairless dogs were around long before the 19th Century in Europe, as evidenced in a 1481 painting by Gerrard Davis called "Christ Nailed to the Cross" in which what looks to be a hairless toy spaniel type dog appears in the foreground sniffing a skull (note the date on the painting – it also predates the European discovery of the new world).

On this side of the pond secondary sources indicate that a Crested was exhibited in 1885 at Westminister and again in 1926 and 1932, and "Pongo" a very Crested like dog appeared in a number of publications in the 1920's.

Despite the impressive list, in regard to the modern breed we know as the Chinese Crested, all of these early British, European and American hairless dogs must be seen as mere curiosities, as we do not have records of their progeny. And, as such, these dogs can not be seen as ancestors of the modern breed, nor can they be seen as evidence that the modern Chinese Crested can claim a long lineage in its current form back to China. However, it is not to say that these earlier dogs were not in some way related to the modern dog, but we must be careful here, as breeding records for the modern dog do not go back very far. Also, it is important to note that hairless specimens of all mammals do show up on occasion (as recent arrivals on the hairless pet scene including the American Hairless Terrier, the Sphynx cat, and the hairless mice, rats and guinea pigs available at your local pet store can all attest, as can arguably those early pre-Columbian Chinese & European specimens). These other hairless examples are often the result of recessive inheritance mechanisms – quite distinct from the Crested's dominant gene. What we can say for sure is that a number of dogs of a similar crested-type seemed to exist in Britain and America in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries and that at the time they were considered to be of Chinese origin.

When we dig deeper, the story of the modern Chinese Crested breed is really a relatively recent one, and one rooted in the USA. Like many modern breeds the Crested is the result of the dedicated work of a very small number of fanciers who crafted their dogs based on their vision of what the breed should be, using various specimens of indeterminate origin to create over time, and through great effort, a recognized breed. Rather than Chinese or Mexican, the breed could rightly be called the "American Crested" if we are being honest about its origin.

Modern Development and Recognition

The story goes that in the 1880's a young New York newspaperwoman, Ida Garrett, became interested in the breed and was involved in breeding, exhibition and writing about the Chinese Crested for over sixty years. In the 1920's she is said to have introduced Debra Woods to the breed. Debra established Crest-Haven kennels in Florida, and apparently started recording breedings in the 1930's, but it was not until 1959 that she established a registration service for Chinese Cresteds under the new American Hairless Dog Club. Following her death in 1969 these stud book records, we are told by secondary sources, passed to the hands of Jo Ann Orlik of New Jersey. In 1978 the American Chinese Crested Club was formed and took control of the stud books. In the 1950's another influencial breeder of Chinese Cresteds came on the scene: Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous burlesque performer. She was apparently introduced to the breed by her sister June Havoc, who, it is said, had rescued a Crested type hairless dog from a Conneticut animal shelter. Ms Lee went on to become a great popularizer and dedicated breeder of Cresteds under the Lee kennel name.

The question of what dogs were used in these early breeding programs are apparently as open to debate as is the origin of the dogs from 13th century China. It is not really until the stud book records of the 1950's that the picture clears up a bit. There is some controversy over what went before, such as hairless circus dogs being the foundation of Crest-Haven, and stories of cross-breeding traditional shorter coated hairless dogs with long coated toy breeds to create the flowing crests and puff coats. However they got there, it is clear that by the late 1950's the early breeders, Crest-Haven and Lee, had a pool of dogs from which they were producing recognizable Chinese Crested dogs with modern attributes.

It is purported that all modern Cresteds can trace their ancestry to foundation dogs from these two kennels. And, a quick search of some on-line pedigrees of random modern Cresteds bears this out, as at least 75-80% of the original dogs in their pedigrees are identified as Crest-Haven or Lee, but virtually none of these pedigrees go back further than the mid to late 1960's. That means that while this is most definitely a breed with ancient genetic roots in meso-america, and a fanciful mythic history tracing the breed's supposed development back in time to Chinese merchant seamen of the 12th century, we are actually looking at a breed developed in the somewhat less romantic world defined by the suburban landscapes of post-world war II America.

By the 1960's the breed's development started to accelerate as its popularity grew. In 1967 the first modern Cresteds were born in England from dogs apparently imported from Crest-Haven and Lee Kennels. In 1981 the Chinese Crested was recognized by the Kennel Club, and by 1982 the first Crested CCs were awarded at Crufts. Recognition followed in 1987 by the FCI, the American Kennel Club in 1991, and the Australian National Kennel Council in 1995.

In Canada, Mrs. Glenna Fierheller of Four Halls Kennels was instrumental in getting the Chinese Crested recognized by the Canadian Club. In 1987 while on a trip to England, Glenna attended a Crufts dog show and fell in love with the breed. She acquired her foundation dogs from Amy Fernandez of Razzmatazz Kennels and after dedicating her efforts to popularize the breed, in 1992 the CKC agreed to recognize the Chinese Crested in Canada.

The Future

The long-term prognosis is excellent for the Chinese Crested. It has emerged from its early days as a curiosity, and the Crested community has taken big strides in recent years to create a healthy gene pool of more consistent dogs. More and more health tests are being made available, and that is contributing to the health of the breed. There has been a slow steady growth in the number of fanciers and in pet demand, allowing dedicated breeders to be the primary source for this market. Some of the questions surrounding the breed's origin may always challenge us, and while it appears breeders may never be able to address the effects of the hairless gene, they will certainly continue to value the effects the hairless bodies have on their souls, just like the ancient Mayans, Aztecs and Inca's did, and they wouldn't change that for anything.