Fu Dog Ancestor | Dog Breeds

In China-heavy posts, Home Page posts on May 2, 2009 at 2:35 pm

I have covered the Guardian Lion aspect of Fu Dogs in previous posts (the historic interpretation originating from the Persian Lion and the subsequent stylizations that became prominent in Fu Dog representations) and am now going to briefly present some findings for the ‘dog’ origins for the Fu Dog.


First, let me present some dogs that are not the inspiration behind the merger of lion and dog – that is to say originally. Now that the breeds to be mentioned have been around for centuries artists have and do borrow from their features to create current Fu Dog images. The Shih Tzu is probably not a forbearer.

shihtzu1 shihtzu2 shihtzu3

The three images are from here, here, and here. This breed’s name (and this information is from wikipedia specifically, but can be found on almost any website that is discussing Shih Tzu history or origins) “translates as Lion Dog, so named because the dog was bred to resemble "the lion as depicted in traditional oriental art," such as the Chinese guardian lions.” Obviously, this means the dog breed came ‘after’ the Fu Dog was already established as a Chinese icon. Still, a pretty breed. I don’t really see too much of a resemblance to Fu Dogs, personally, but maybe if I squint and use my imagination it almost works. Please visit AKC – Shih Tzu for more information on the breeds specifics.


Another breed that is similar to the Shih Tzu and sometimes mentioned in the same breath as Fu Dogs is the Lhasa Apso. From Wikipedia, “The Lhasa Apso is called the Tibetan Lion Dog after its resemblance to the Snow Lion, however it is unknown whether the dog was bred to resemble the Snow Lion or if the artistic design was influenced by the features of the dog.” (I know I haven’t covered the Snow Lion yet, but, it is a Guardian Lion interpretation of the Fu Dog that is most prominent in Tibet – I’ll cover it in a post one of these days.) As the following images show, it has a look that is like that of the breed above.

lhasaapso1 lhasaapso2 lhasaapso3

The three images are from here, here, and here. Don’t the two breeds look similar? I would say so. Please visit AKC – Lhasa Apso for more information on the breeds specifics. I also have difficulty viewing the Lhasa Apso as a Fu Dog; again, maybe if I squint.


The next breed, the Tibetan Spaniel, is also probably not a precursor or inspiration for the Fu Dog. From Wikipedia, “Small monastery dogs, thought to be early representatives of the Tibetan Spaniel, loyally trailed behind their Lama masters and came to be regarded as "little Lions" owing their resemblance to the Chinese guardian lions, thus giving them great value and prestige.” I say they are probably not because they are named as ‘Tibetan’ and my readings lead me to believe that Fu Dogs evolved in China first as they traveled from India and, in the form of Snow Lions evolved slightly later in Tibet.

tibetanspaniel1 tibetanspaniel2 tibetanspaniel3

The above images are from here, here, and here. Still, maybe it’s the shorter hair, but, I think I can see a tiny bit of Fu Dog in the features and body styling of the Tibetan Spaniel. The ears kind of have the same ‘droop’ as some of the Fu Dogs I’ve seen, the tail is similar in it’s ‘puffiness’ and the snout or muzzle of the dog is vaguely in the proportion to the body as some Fu Dogs, and do I see a little bit of ‘wing’ action coming off the animals elbows – I think so. I might be imagining these similarities, forcing the comparison perhaps in a way I did not do for the first two breeds. Is this an example of an animal that has, over time, been bred for traits that have resulted in this Fu Dog-ness that I see; perhaps. Please visit AKC – Tibetan Spaniel for more information on the breeds specifics.


Since mentioning Tibet, another country with a Fu Dog interpretation, and a dog breed to match, is Japan – the breed is the Japanese Chin. However, this breed may not have originated in Japan, per Wikipedia, “The true origin of the Chin remains a matter of controversy. It is widely agreed that these dogs originated in China. Some maintain the ancestors of these dogs first appeared in Japan around the year 732, as gifts from the rulers of Korea, while others maintain that they were given as gifts to the Empress of Japan as early as the mid-6th century to 7th century, and even some saying they came to Japan as recently as around the year 1000.” (Korea also has a Fu Dog interpretation!) These dogs have similarities to the Tibetan Spaniel and may be more closely related (but that’s just my opinion). Since it is most probable they originated in China, I think it likely they have some Fu Dog history attached.

japanesechin1 japanesechin2 japanesechin3

The above images are from here, here, and here. I see a little resemblance to the previous breed and so too is there a little bit of Fu Dog present. In this case I think it may be likely that this breed was further bred to have traits that reinforce a Fu Dog look and probably not an inspiration for artists Fu Dog representations. I could be mistaken since Emperors and Empresses may have said to an artist “make a Fu Dog that has characteristics of little Fluffy-Flower or we’ll cut off your funding” – it’s possible I guess. Please visit AKC – Japanese Chin for more information on the breeds specifics.


Another breed with a long history in China is the Pekingese. Wikipedia points out “For centuries, they could be owned only by members of the Chinese Imperial Palace.” This is one of those dog breeds, that I’ll say is similar to the last one above, that it is possible could be a precursor to some of the features of the Fu Dog. The expense of having Fu Dog sculptures created could be afforded by the ruling class and that class very well could say to the artist, use the nose of Pitty-Pat and the muzzle or snout of Butterfly-Leaper, etc, etc.

pekingese1 pekingese2 Pekingese3

The above images are from here, here, and here. Like all of the breeds presented so far, there are many current ‘stylings’ that can be applied to the animals’ coats, so, with the hair flowing and present perhaps the resemblance to a Fu Dog is less than with the hair trimmed. I can see a look of Fu Dog ancestry in the breadth of the head, the snout or muzzle, the shape of the ears and fluffiness of the tail and somewhat the proportion of body to legs. Please visit AKC – Pekingese for more information on the breeds specifics.


The next breed is one that is much less hairy than those already shown. It is the Pug. Wikipedia has this to say: “This breed may also be referred to as a "Lion Dog" or "Foo (or Fu) Dog" due to its resemblance to Chinese guardian lions (just like the Pekingese dog breed from China, of similar origin and resemblance, to Chinese guardian lions which are considered a guardian spirit).” I too see a slight resemblance to the Pekingese breed, perhaps the similarities would increase if the Pekingese were ever shorter haired.

pug1 pug2 pug3

The above images are from here, here, and here. It’s easier to imagine this short-haired breed having a ball underfoot like a Fu Dog (I wouldn’t be surprised to find a Pug decked out like a Fu Dog – I looked for one, certainly – the Pug sure is a ‘decorated’ breed; so many people play dress-up with it). The Pug also looks ready to be merged with a Persian Lion and have a mane attached, elbow featherings, a puffy tail – it looks a whole lot to me like a shaved down Fu Dog, except, that is, for the snout/muzzle – it is just too short, too pushed in toward the face. Still, the body shape/proportions, the toes, the wide head the ear shape – it’s so close. Please visit AKC – Pug for more information on the breeds specifics.


I think it is pretty obvious that, so far, all the breeds presented are small and short on stature (but big on personality and appeal – don’t get me wrong). It is possible, as I speculated about already, that the owners of these smaller dogs were also the ones with the funds to have Fu Dogs created and thus Fu Dogs were designed by their artists to purposefully to take features from these smaller breeds and incorporate them into the larger statuary. There are, however, two larger breeds I’ll present that have some Fu Dog associations reported.

The first of these larger dogs is a hairier breed, the Chow Chow. Wikipedia presents the following: “Chow Chow, or Chow, is a breed of dog that was first developed in Mongolia about 4,000 years ago and was later introduced into China, where it is referred to as Songshi Quan (Pinyin: sōngshī quǎn 鬆獅犬), which literally means "puffy-lion dog."” Similar to the first breed in this post, the Shih Tzu, this breed has the reference for being a Lion-Dog. The difference in this case is that the Chow Chow probably (just conjecture here) was interpreted as a lion-dog because it already had the descriptive elements of a Persian lion already – the mane, the big paws, the snarling lips-effect, the strong chest – and these elements weren’t subsequently bred into the Chow Chow like they most likely were for the Shih Tzu.

chow1 chow2 chow3

In the same fashion that I see elements of the Fu Dog in the earlier breeds discussed, I too see elements of the Fu Dog in the Chow Chow. Please visit AKC – Chow Chow for more information on the breeds specifics.


The last breed I’ll include today is the Shar Pei. From Wikipedia: “The ancestry of the Shar-Pei is uncertain. It may be a descendant of the Chow Chow, however, the only clear link between these is the blue-black tongue. However, pictures on pottery suggest the breed was present even in the Han Dynasty (206bc).” This breed, similar to the Pug, has an appearance that, for me, immediately looks ready to take on the trappings of Fu Dog stylistic representations.

Shar-Pei1 sharpei2 sharpei3

The wide face, the whole image almost speaks to me of a Persian Lion without the hairier aspects. It could be just me and the style of Fu Dog I’m drawn to, but I think this is a stripped-down Fu Dog. Please visit AKC – Shar Pei for more information on the breeds specifics.


Now, having looked at all these breeds, is there one that is definitely the ancestral parent of the ‘dog’ portion of the Fu Dog? Not in my opinion – The Fu Dog has some parts of most of these breeds, either after the fact or bred directly to imitate the Fu Dog, or perhaps both where an artist uses and exaggerates features for their own purposes. I do think the historically older breeds are more likely to have had a hand in the later appearance of Fu Dogs, certainly. Probably those that could afford to have a Fu Dog created would have wanted it to look like one of their dogs (if they had dogs) and those artists who were making art for the masses may have incorporated some features of one of the larger or more commonly available breeds to appeal to those having that type of animal. So, I can definitively say, it’s up to you to pick your own breed as the ‘dog’ ancestor portion of the Chinese Fu Dog.

  1. Gratsi!, the information was very usefull considering that I own a Pekignese, and I once read that she was a direct representation associated with the Foo Dog, now I know the truth.

  2. Your information is great and very thorough. I always thought my Lhasa apso breed was most related to the Foo Dog and am a little disappointed that the evidence doesn’t show that. I shall now be a little more careful when I buy Foo Dog ornaments (for my all dog Christmas tree!)

  3. Don’t be disappointed! The Lhasa is a beautiful dog and I do believe some sculptors (when they showcase a Foo Dog with longer and elaborate hair hanging from their tails and undersides) are partaking in the representational freedom to pull from your lovely breed!
    Thanks for reading – I hope to post more pictures and facts in the coming year!

  4. I have three Christmas trees just with dog ornaments. One is only Lhasa Apsos and the Foo
    Dog is hanging with them. I am very interested in your facts . By the way is the Chinese New Year dog a Fudog? No I guess not. I just looked at my Beanie Baby Zodiac dog. and he has not got “long and elaborate hair.” He looks more like a Chow Chow! There is no Beanie Baby Lhasa or Fudog. I have tjhem all.

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