How Much Have They Changed?
In my efforts to find out how much various breeds have changed over time, I was delighted to get help from several breed specialists. The following procedure worked quite well for the first breed I am looking at — Pekingese — and I plan to continue in the same vein in later articles.
First, I asked a few different breed specialists — at least one AKC judge among them — to look at a number of photos of top winners from the distant past (1920s or '30s) up to the early 2000s. For obvious reasons, no photographs of dogs still living were used. This is what I ask the breed specialists: "… I want to hear whether you think the breed is changing, and if so in what specific respects. Would any of the old dogs have ANYTHING to contribute today? Would they even get looked at at a current AKC show?"
There are several problems with this, of course. Photographs are notoriously unreliable, and for practical reasons I had to limit them to just one per dog instead of several. Even in that case, photos are just that — one-dimensional, often black-and-white (usually until the 1960s), and not necessarily indicative of a dog's real quality.
Photos are not always reliable. David Fitzpatrick submitted this in his opinion much more flattering photo of Ch. Dan Lee Dragonseed from the late 1960s.
Also, you tend to naturally compare these dogs with the BEST of today, instead of with what's currently winning, whether you like them or not. I have included only photos of dogs that won a lot in their day, which basically just means that many AKC judges pointed to them in Group or BIS competition. Whether that is really indicative of a dog's quality or if we should have focused on, for example, Specialty winners instead I'll leave to others to decide.
It may be impossible to accurately compare dogs from the past with those today, but — if nothing else — I think you will learn a lot from the breed specialists. The reason I turned to them was of course that nobody has similar credentials in all breeds. (For the record, I'm approved by FCI to judge Pekingese, I have followed them since the early 1960s and think they are fascinating, but I am certainly not a breed specialist.)
Pekingese have won more than most, earning many hundreds of Best in Show wins since the competition for this award first became official in 1925. The oldest one, Ch. Cherub of Theldon, won as least four BIS in California in the late 1930s and reportedly had an unbroken sequence of 21 Toy Group wins. A few years later, Ch. Che Le of Matson's Catawba was the first really heavily campaigned winner of the breed, taking more than 20 BIS at a time when there were only about 200 all-breed AKC shows per year. (Now there are more than 1,500 in a normal year, which of course doesn't include 2020.) As a side note, Che Le was owned by Madeleine Austin, wife of the man who owned the even more famous Smooth Fox Terrier Ch. Nornay Saddler. Apparently they maintained separate his-and-her kennels.
In 1956 the official ranking system was used for the first time, and for the three following years a Pekingese, the great Ch. Chik T'Sun of Caversham, was #1 All Breeds — a triple victory that has never been repeated. He won more than 100 BIS and crowned his career by going BIS at Westminster in 1960.
Only a few years later another Pekingese was Top Toy and high in the all-breed rankings: Ch. Coughton Sungable of Perryacre (shown by professional handler Elaine Rigden, later an AKC multi-group judge) was #2 All Breeds in 1965 and #4 in 1966. Sungable was co-owned by Mrs. Rigden with Amanda West, for a long time the first lady of French Bulldogs and owner of at least two Frenchies that placed among the Top Ten All Breeds in the 1950s and '60s.
All the dogs mentioned so far were English imports; by the end of the '60s the first great American-born winner came to the fore. Ch. Dan Lee Dragonseed was shown by his owner and breeder, David Brown, to BIS at Santa Barbara in 1967. I was actually there and I watched BIS, but I don't remember much, except of course that I was tremendously impressed. Dragonseed was #1 Toy in 1968, among the Top Ten All Breeds for two years and a Top Ten Toy for four, with 26 BIS during those years.
Many Pekingese won BIS over the next few years, but none was Top Toy until 1982: Ch. Mike-Mar's China Dragon, who also made the Top 10 All Breeds, shown by his breeder Michael Wolf. Incidentally, Mike Wolf acquired Dragonseed and showed him for a while at the end of his career. (I have not been able to establish if there was a closer relationship between Dragonseed and China Dragon other than the fact that they were not father and son.)
Only a few years after China Dragon there was Ch. St Aubrey Bees Wing of Elsdon, Top Toy in 1985, who was bred by the famous partnership of Nigel Aubrey-Jones and Bill Taylor in Canada. Bees Wing was handled by Luc Boileau, now an AKC multi-Group judge, and he also showed the next big Pekingese winner, Ch. Wendessa Crown Prince, Top Toy of 1989 and BIS at Westminster in 1990.
All the above won at least 20 BIS each, but Ch. Briarcourt's Damien Gable – Top Toy in 1992 and 1993 and among the Top Ten of All Breeds – won twice as many, and Ch. Linn-Lee's St Martin took more than 70 BIS during the years he was campaigned from 2001 to 2003. He placed twice among the Top Ten All Breeds without ever being #1 Pekingese, which tells you how competitive the breed had become.
The reason was mainly the "Yakee invasion" - the Scottish kennel of that name exported dogs that were among the top dogs of all breeds in the U.S. for four years running. First came Ch. Yakee Leaving Me Breathless at Franshaw, shown by Hiram Stewart to #3 All Breeds in 2002, and #1 Toy and #2 All Breeds in 2003. He was followed by Ch. Yakee If Only, who was #2 All Breeds in 2004, Top Toy and #1 All Breeds in 2005. There were other BIS dogs from Yakee, but these were the most successful, each with well over 100 BIS.
The breed specialists I asked to comment included three AKC judges. One of them was impossible to even get hold of, but I am grateful to Dr. Steve Keating and Don Sutton, longtime Pekingese breeders under the Sutton Place prefix, for their response. I also wanted to hear what a current breeder and exhibitor thought, and who better to ask than David Fitzpatrick, who is the breeder of numerous BIS winners under his Pequest prefix (and some others with other kennel names)? Of course he handled several of the dogs mentioned from the past, but that didn't stop him from casting a sometimes critical eye on them. I also wanted a foreign opinion and turned to Andrew Brace in the U.K.: He has showed Pekingese himself in the past, is an international judge and very familiar with the AKC breed standard for Pekingese. And, of course, Andrew is an excellent writer and contributed some "Reflections on the Modern Pekingese" that are well worth reading by anyone with the slightest interest in the breed.
The verdict on then and now? Dr. Steve Keating and Don Sutton note that all the dogs pictured here could win in the show ring today.
“Before the 1940s many Pekingese were ‘shelly in body,’ small-boned, with a longer neck, low tail-set and were of Tibetan Spaniel type in appearance,” they write. “The Pekingese has not changed very much in the last 80 years. In the breed, you have more coat today, but the standard calls for ‘a long and profuse coat is desirable providing it does not obscure the shape of the body …’”
Over to our breed specialists …
Ch. Cherub of Theldon, 1933-1934
Dr. Steve Keating and Don Sutton: This dog of the 1930s is high on leg and a little bit too long in the neck. This is an example of when the dogs started to appear as they do today. Could still win in the ring today.
David Fitzpatrick: I like this dog. Cherub has what appears to be a correct head shape, good nose-size and placement with a broad, undershot jaw. His body is well balanced with a high tail carriage, heavy bone, short neck, coat short, too, as was common in the 1930s. If he had modern coat and conditioning he would be a handsome dog. Perhaps Cherub was ahead of his time.
Andrew Brace: In this article Bo asks if the breed has changed over the years and whether any of the dogs of yesteryear would have anything to contribute today. I believe that the Pekingese has changed far less than many other numerically strong breeds, other than the amount of coat that is now bred for. If we look at the first of Bo’s pictures, Cherub from the ’30s, when you examine the dog in detail, its head, body shape and structure, this is not too different from the modern Pekingese, if you can visualize it with a profuse mane, glamorous trousers and a little more density of body coat. In particular the head has much to commend it with pleasing facial qualities, typical eye, firm underjaw and no excessive wrinkle.
Ch. Che Le of Matson’s Catawba, 1939-1942
Dr. Steve Keating and Don Sutton: This dog appears to be on the smaller size but correct in proportions. On most small dogs you tend to lose substance; they generally have tiny heads and less bone, but not in this case. When you get a Pekingese that is the same all over, however, just reduced in size. you have something very special in the Pekingese breed.
David Fitzpatrick: "The Duck," as he was called, was one of the first big-winning Pekes. He was handled mostly by Ruth Sayres, who coined the phrase that to win big "they have to walk, and they have to talk." I think he's a very handsome dog; his facial features are well laid out with a good-size nose with open nostrils; that said, the head shape leaves much to be desired. The heads of today are shallower, meaning they have a lower forehead with a flatter top skull, helping to create a rectangular-shaped head. The body type looks quite good, stocky, well boned, short neck and tail carried high. I would have loved to see a video of The Duck in action, as I heard he carried himself with great importance.
Andrew Brace: Moving on a few years to Che Le, we see a dog that has a little more “glamour” but still has a coat that is entirely manageable. The head is “massive” with open features, a large nose leather and clearly wide nostrils. On the subject of head size, I believe it was a huge mistake on the part of the British Kennel Club (when they were busy sterilizing breed standards and removing any requirement that could lead to exaggeration) to change the word “massive” to “large.” The word “massive” conveys a totally different meaning to “large,” and as a consequence we do tend to see more smaller heads in the breed than in the past. Another area where I believe heads have changed is the over-nose wrinkle, which is sometimes far too obtrusive. When viewing the Pekingese head in profile, the wrinkle should never be apparent, but today we often see winning dogs whose wrinkle obscures part of the nose … no matter how much hair is scissored off it!
Ch. Chik T’Sun of Caversham, 1957-1960
Dr. Steve Keating and Don Sutton: This is a very famous dog and was the top-winning Pekingese for many years. He has the perfect upside-down V-wrinkle that the breed is noted for. Again, this dog is of small size but very well balanced overall.
David Fitzpatrick: The legendary Chik T'Sun. "Gossie," as he was called, held the record as Top BIS Dog of All Breeds at least into the 1970s and the top BIS Pekingese of all time until the early 2000s. I think he's very beautiful. I've seen hundreds of his photos and do feel he could hold his own today. His head is broad with a well-cushioned muzzle. In this photo he appears to have caught his lip, so his mouth-finish is not as pretty as in some photos. His head also appears square, which in most photos it does not. I have seen the video of him winning the Garden and he's full of character and style; with his handler Clara Alford adorned in turquoise jewelry they were quite a pair. I have his red crate and his homemade wooden ex pen in my collection of memorabilia.
Andrew Brace: Chik T’Sun was, of course, something of a turning point in the breed’s history, and when Nigel and Bill Taylor brought him across the Atlantic he was an instant head turner. The photo illustrates why, even though it isn’t the most flattering I’ve seen of his face. (His finish of mouth was considerably tidier than this photo suggests.) A small, heavy dog who was very much “all of a piece,” his show record in the hands of Clara Alford was phenomenal. Chik T'sun was imported to the U.S. as a 3-year-old in 1957 and shown by Nigel to several Bests in Show before he decided to place him in the ownership of the Venables, who supported him throughout a distinguished career that included 14 consecutive Bests in Show and the top spot at Westminster in 1960. I wonder how many 6-year-old Pekingese you will find in the show ring today.
Ch. Coughton Sungable of Perryacre, 1965-1966
Dr. Steve Keating and Don Sutton: Appears to be another small dog with lots of coat and a small face. The dog does look balanced. However, he does not have as broad a muzzle as you would like to have in order to finish off the facial expression and appearance.
David Fitzpatrick: I don't think this dog could compete today with his small, round head, dish face with tilted-back, small nose, combined with too strong a jaw. The combination of these faults is most unattractive. Today's judges are looking for some resemblance to a rectangular-shaped head. I can't tell much about the structure from this photo.
Ch. Dan Lee Dragonseed, 1967-1970
Dr. Steve Keating and Don Sutton: This dog’s head appears small and out of balance to the entire dog. The dog has so much coat that the head looks too small and toyish. Nice overall body proportions.
David Fitzpatrick: This is a bad photo of Dragonseed. I've seen some lovely ones. Dragonseed looks like a modern-day Pekingese that could win today. I love his head shape, wide, flat, great nose, pretty eye, good, broad underjaw, a little heavy in wrinkle, as was the trend. Perhaps he could be lower to the ground. Good, thick coat of the correct texture. I knew this dog in the early 1970s, and he was still a very handsome Pekingese. He won the Toy group at the Garden in, I believe, 1968.
Ch. Mike Mar’s China Dragon, 1981-1983
Dr. Steve Keating and Don Sutton: Nose placement looks a little low and, as pictured with the tongue protruding, perhaps a wry mouth. Wry mouths in the Pekingese breed are not always a genetic issue, but rather an issue with the fragile and brittle bones of the jaw as the dog ages gracefully. This dog looks long and big in the picture.
David Fitzpatrick: This dog had a lot of good about him structure-wise. I believe he was a grandson of Dragonseed. However, he would be coarse by today’s standards. In this photo the low-set nose placement, coupled with the exaggerated wrinkle, would not please. You can’t tell about the finish of the mouth with the tongue out. He was a good-moving dog and a showman.
Ch. St Aubrey Bees Wing of Elsdon, 1984-1986
Dr. Steve Keating and Don Sutton: Nice proportions with large, bold eyes, nose placement in the correct place. Nice tail set. This dog displays true Pekingese type in balance and symmetry.
David Fitzpatrick: Thirty-five years ago, this little dog was typical of the St Aubrey type. He was compact and shapely with a high-set tail. He carried a modest patterned coat of good texture. From my memory he was a worthy dog for his day.
Andrew Brace: Some of the following pictures illustrate how the obsession with coat was taking hold of the breed, until we come to the exquisite Bees Wing. When visiting one of the London-based Pekingese Specialty shows Nigel had found an uncooperative nine-months dog puppy who totally bewitched him, and a phone call to Bill in Canada assured him that Nigel was not leaving the U.K. until he had bought Bees Wing's sire, Laparata Dragon. Nigel arrived at breeder Lilian Snook’s home unannounced and after several hours the deal was struck.
Dragon crossed the Atlantic, and the rest is history. He really is the father of the modern Pekingese and can be found in the pedigrees of so many top-winning Pekingese worldwide. He has been linebred and inbred to with notable results, and virtually all of his get carried the “Dragon look.”
Bees Wing was the result of mating a Dragon granddaughter back to her grandsire. He is a dog who radiates quality, whose face simply screams his sire/great-grandsire, and although he was around at the time when hair ruled, the photograph shows that he has a correctly textured coat that fitted him well, emphasizing his body shape. Put in the ring today, I am confident that he would be a tough dog to beat.
Ch. Wendessa Crown Prince, 1988-1989
Dr. Steve Keating and Don Sutton: This picture makes the dog look high on leg, which he was not. Very nice tail set. Nose placement correct. A wonderful breed specimen at the time.
Andrew Brace: A few years after Bees Wing’s time, I judged Crown Prince at Bucks County in 1989 where he was my Best of Breed winner, handled by Luc Boileau. The following year he won Best in Show at Westminster under Frank Sabella, no less. He was a majestic little dog with a very pleasing face; maybe he had more than enough neck, but the overall picture was such that he too could hold his own today.
Ch. Briarcourt's Damien Gable, 1992-1993
Dr. Steve Keating and Don Sutton: Massive head with correct, inverted V nose wrinkle. A balanced dog and an outstanding breed specimen of the time and era.
David Fitzpatrick: This dog was bred by me, but didn’t carry my prefix. He was an exquisite type with a head to die for. Broad, flat, rectangular head and a very shapely, balanced body. He could have stood stronger on his legs, but used them very well in motion. I thought he might be too typey for the majority of judges to appreciate him. I was wrong, and he was winning groups as a puppy and ended up a double Garden group winner. He would still win today.
Andrew Brace: I think it was when he was handling Damien that I first really noticed David Fitzpatrick and realized what a genius he was when it came to presenting and handling Pekingese. Damien had a stallion quality that shone through, yet coupled that with an intense quality that is hard to find. Few judges could resist those eyes, and I am sure many wish they could have him in their ring today.
Ch. Linn-Lee’s St. Martin, 2001-2003
Dr. Steve Keating and Don Sutton: Big winner … BIG dog. Any dog 14 pounds and under is correct in the Pekingese breed, as long as the dog is balanced and proportioned correctly.
David Fitzpatrick: "Marty" was a strong, handsome type of a dog. With his sound construction and showmanship he earned many wins. His head-shape is correct, but I’d prefer a more refined wrinkle. He won well, and I think today’s judges would still value him.
Andrew Brace: I never judged St. Martin.
Ch. Yakee Leaving Me Breathless at Franshaw, 2002-2003
Dr. Steve Keating and Don Sutton: This dog is an example of an abundance of coat, and that is what it takes today to become a top winner in the Pekingese breed. Excellent dog of proper type and structure.
David Fitzpatrick: "Less," as he was called, was offered to me, but I didn’t think he had the substance judges would look for. Obviously I was wrong, as he did please most, as his record states. He was another with that quality look that while you could change many things the look was lovely. Eighteen years later I think the breed might be expected to move a bit more. His breeder in Scotland has done much to keep the breed in the forefront.
Andrew Brace: See below – Ed.
Ch. Yakee If Only, 2004-2005
Dr. Steve Keating and Don Sutton: This dog is probably the MOST CORRECT Pekingese, in our opinion, that you can get today in a breeding program. Again, the dog has an abundance of coat, perhaps a little long in body, but his head is MAGNIFICENT. This dog is used as the symbol of our breed in the Pekingese Club of America study guide as an example of "very close to perfect."
David Fitzpatrick: "Jeffrey" had a total of 129 BIS, making him the top Peke of all time, besting Chik T’Sun’s record. Jeffrey was a head-turner of the highest quality and the most beautiful red color (color doesn’t matter). Beautiful head, shapely body, not always a giving showman, but he could win on his beauty. Could have been a tad shorter in loin, but his overall look was WOW.
Andrew Brace: I knew both the Yakee dogs featured firsthand. Bred at one of the last bastions of Pekingese breeding in Scotland, they crossed the Atlantic within a few years of each other and both created amazing show records. Each excelled in different ways with If Only possibly being a shade smaller and more compact than Breathless, and he is one of the finest of the breed I ever saw. I think I’m right in saying that Bill Taylor made him BIS every time he had him in the big ring, something that says it all.
Reflections on the Modern Pekingese
Andrew Brace provided this British perspective on the Pekingese and its evolution:
When I was growing up in the Valleys of South Wales in the early ’60s, one of the most popular companion breeds was the Pekingese. They were tough little dogs with great character and not excessive hair; I vividly recall the two who lived next door to my paternal grandmother. These little dogs invariably lived into their teens, and when they passed on they were always replaced with another Pekingese.
Sadly the breed’s popularity has plummeted in recent years – both as a companion and a show dog – but possibly for different reasons. As far as the pet market is concerned, l believe that the main reason for the decline is the obsession with show breeders for hair, and more hair. The excessive coats seen on some of today’s Pekingese do not make them ideal companions, unless an owner wishes to commit to a daily thorough grooming session. Consequently more “wash and go” breeds tend to have more appeal.
When it comes to exhibition breeders, the drop in numbers is mainly due to the natural demise of many of the old fanciers who are not being replaced by a younger generation who have commitment to the breed. Many of the large kennels have disappeared, and nowadays it is hard to find a Pekingese breeder who keeps 20 or more dogs and has a concentrated breeding program.
I first began showing Pekingese in the ’70s and have enclosed a photograph of my first winner to illustrate the coat pattern that was common at the time. It complied with all the essentials of the breed standard but had no exaggeration. Whilst he never became a champion (in those days the breed would regularly attract 200 Pekingese at a U.K. Championship show), he won well at top level and was a very good dog to start with. Notably he won Best of Breed at a small Open show under Nigel Aubrey-Jones whilst still a puppy, long before Nigel and I became friends, which was obviously a win to be treasured. One of his main virtues was his beautifully open face with large, expressive eyes and a perfect over-nose wrinkle. If he were in the ring today he would probably be dismissed for a lack of coat; however, when I am judging the breed I would be perfectly happy to give top honors to a similarly coated specimen.
Andrew Brace’s first winning Pekingese, The Sheik of Wei Sing Prai, born in 1971.
So, in conclusion, has the breed changed so dramatically over the years? Not really, apart from coat quantity in my opinion. It would be an interesting exercise to get some technical whiz kid to busy themselves with Photoshop and coat-up some of those early dogs, and I think the point would be proved.
It is sad that the breed has come in for so much criticism and ridicule from the vocal and aggressive animalrights lobby, led by people who have never lived with the breed and never appreciated how healthy and long lived it is, even now. There may not be the number of large-scale breeders around today, but there are enough, committed to maintaining ype in this most complex of breeds, to ensure that the Pekingese will continue for many generations to come.