Popular Asian dog breeds

The phenomenon of domestic dogs has been a controversial topic amongst the scientific community, as they can never quite agree when dogs first became pets.

Asia, it seems, might be the best answer. Genome sequencing of grey wolves, primitive dogs from Africa and Asia, and a collection of diverse dog breeds found across the globe have found an ancient origin in domestic dogs in Southeast Asia around 33,000 years ago.

With tens of thousands of years of dog culture, its no wonder the Asian continent has bred some of the most interesting and highly-prized dog breeds still around today. 

Tibetan Mastiff

Historically, the Tibetan Mastiff was so highly regarded in Tibet because it was believes their souls were the reincarnations of monks. Today, this breed is known as the gold standard of guard dogs in China. In Tibet, they’re called Do Khyi, which translates to “tied dog.", because they’re usually chained most of the day and allowed to roam free at night. 

A Tibetan Mastiff sold for US$2 million in 2014 | Photo: Getty


Akita Inu 

Originally bred to hunt elks, boar, and bears in the mountainous Akita region in Japan, the Akita Inu, or simply Akita,  is a powerful and dominant dog breed. Today, the dog breed is considered a Japanese national treasure. However, during WWII the Akita had a lack of nutritious food and was on the brink of extinction. After the war, however, the breed began to thrive under the efforts of a breeder names Morie Sawataishi.  Akitas gained popularity among US soldiers deployed to Japan, and eventually made their way Stateside. 

The Akita Inu, originally a hunting dog, now two breeds - the Japanese Akita and the American Akita | Photo: Wikimedia



Bred for centuries for the imperial family in China, these dogs used to be sacred. According to one legend, a Pekingese dog is a lion shrunken into a miniature size by the Buddha (the Shih Tzu, another toy dog, attracts a similar legend). They were unknown in the Western world until the 1860s when British colonialists brought them back to the UK from China. Now, they are famous for their performances in dog shows - particularly in "conformation"; the show act of conforming closely to the standard of the breed. 

A breed of toy dog, Pekingese were favoured in the Chinese imperial court as lap dogs | Photo: American Kennel Club


Shar Pei 

In New Zealand we know them as the "Rolly Dog". The Chinese name Shar Pei simply means "sand skin", however, in reference to its coat. Originating in Southern China, the Shar Pei is bred for its deep wrinkles in Western countries, but in Hong Kong, the ideal Shar Pei is actually bred without many skin rolls. There are no records indicating how old the Shar Pei is, although the unrolled breed closely resembles a type of un-wrinkled guard dog kept during the Han dynasty circa 2 AD. 

The "Rolly Dog" has been used by Purex toilet paper advertisements in New Zealand for decades | Photo: Cornell


Chow Chow 

Records of the Chow Chow date back to the Han Dynasty in China, but some historians claim these dogs actually came from Mongolia. Others think they are from even further north and they are Far North Artic dogs. As such, genome sequencing has found the Chow Chow is quite close to the wolf. The name Chow Chow is apparently derived from an English term for "cargo from the Orient", according to Britannica. Chinese names for the Chow Chow include “Lang Kou” (Wolf Dog), “Hsiung Kou” (Bear Dog), “Hei Shet Kou” (Black-tongued Dog) and “Kwantung Kou” (Dog of Canton).

The Chow Chow differs from other dogs by having a blue-black tongue | Photo: Wikimedia


Shiba Inu 

A "spitz" dog is one characterised by fox and wolf-like features, and Japan is home to six breeds of them. The smallest is the Shiba Inu. Alert and agile, this breed was originally bred for hunting in Japan and is often mistaken for the Akita Inu or Hokkaido, but it's a different dog altogether with a distinct blood line. Dogs with similar appearance to the Shiba Inu were represented in dogū (animal figurines) in the prehistoric Jōmon period, dated between circa 14,000-300 BCE. 

Shiba originally lived in the mountainous areas of the Chūbu region in Japan | Photo: Wikimedia



Few people know the Pug is an Asian dog breed. Specifically, one from China. Pugs were brought to Europe from China in the 16th Century and popularised by the House of Orange of the Netherlands, the royal House of Stuart in Britain, and later Queen Victoria. Originally, Pugs were known as the lo-chiang-sze, or the foo dog. Favoured by Chinese nobility, many early emperors kept pugs - Emperor Ling of Han was said to have given his female dogs the same rank as his wives. 

The pug most likely shares a common ancestor with the Pekingese | Photo: Wikimedia

Thai Ridgeback 

Only three breeds of dog are born with a ridge of hair down their back in the opposite direction of the rest of their coat. One of them is the Thai Ridgeback. A primitive guard dog dog once used in Thailand to pull carts, this dog was also used to hunt vermin and dangerous prey such as cobras and wild boar. There are archeological documents in Thailand from around 360 years ago, but still today, Thai Ridgebacks aren't popular outside of Thailand. In Western countries like New Zealand, the Rhodesian Ridgeback is a common alternative. 

A Thai Ridgeback in Auckland | Photo: Instagram/ra_and_john_thairidgebacks


Korean Jindo

Not just the national dog of Korea, but also the most famous breed to come out of Korea, is the Jindo. Born out of its namesake Island  on the southwest coast of South Korea,  only dogs born on Jindo Island can officially be registered as a Jindo by the Government of South Korea. The breed managed to survive Korea while under Japanese rule between 1910 and 1945 when other Korean dogs did not. This is because scientists from Japan saw similarities between the Jindo and native Japanese spitz dogs. 

The Jindo is also called Jindo Dog, Chindo, Jindo Gae, JindoGae or Jin Dog in Korea | Photo: Shutterstock

- Asia Media Centre