During his visit, Monroe tried to get the country and city breeders together to discuss their different dogs, and learn from one another. No such luck – the two groups refused to meet, each saying the other’s style of dog was not the true Chongqing Dog.
Demographic trends are likely to undo some of that chauvinism. Today, China is undergoing an intense urbanization, with 400 million people – more than the entire population of the United States – expected to move from its villages to cities in the next 15 years. Not surprisingly, this has had an impact on the Chonquing Dog. “A breeder from the city told me that in the last 10 years, a lot of people from the villages have come to the city and are bringing their dogs,” Monroe explains. “And there has been a lot of crossbreeding.”
What both the country and city breeders share, however, is their mutual devotion to the breed. “All the breeders, from the city or outside, they love these dogs,” Monroe says. They also all maintain that the Chongqing Dog is an original, natural breed, untainted by any influence from other Chinese breeds outside the region.
Demand for Chongqing Dogs outside of China has increased exponentially in recent years.
Regardless of provenance, the dogs are also incredibly long lived. “I saw a lot of dogs that were 17, 18, even 19 years old,” Monroe says. Temperaments were uniformly friendly: Even the city guard dogs, while they barked ferociously at Monroe, permitted themselves to be petted once they were unchained by their owners and properly introduced to him.
Squabbles among their own kind are another matter, however. When a fight begins between two Chongqing Dogs, “they don’t stop,” Monroe says simply. “It’s like terriers. When two Cane Corsos start fighting, and one goes down, the other realizes it is over and stops. With these dogs, if they start to fight … it’s a disaster.”
After two years of planning on Monroe’s part and three weeks in quarantine, six Chongqing Dogs – two from the hunter-focused Conservation Center and the other four from city breeders – arrived in Austria. His breeding partner in Serbia has four dogs, all from the Conservation Center.
“I have both hunting and city types, and right now I want to see how they develop,” Monroe explains, adding that he was careful to choose puppies from different families and bloodlines. “I’m studying right now, trying to understand everything about the dogs.”
Chonqing Dogs come in a variety of colors, including cream white with orange points and pure black, though a combination of orange and black is most common.
The Chongqing Dog is not recognized by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale, and if and when it is, there will be some difficult questions at hand, which Monroe is obviously contemplating: Should the breed continue to maintain its different function-based styles and sizes? Should one type prevail, to the exclusion of the others? Or is there a more homogenized middle ground that synthesizes the best of each?
Those looming questions aside, Monroe thinks the dogs have an intrinsic appeal, especially among Cane Corso fanciers. “In Russia there are already five Chongqing Dog breeders,” he says. “Just like me, they were breeding Cane Corsos, and when cropping ears became banned in much of Europe, they started looking for another breed.”
He has also fielded a number of queries from Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Denmark, where many of the bullie breeds, such as American Pitbull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers, are no longer permitted to be bred. “A lot of people want to buy a similar-looking dog, with ears that are up,” he explains. Even the larger Chongqing Dogs top out at about 20 inches tall, and 70 or so pounds. What remains to be seen is how successful Western breeding programs will be. Some earlier, albeit smaller-scale exports of Chongqing Dogs to North America fizzled in the whelping box.
“When both dogs came over, they had virtually no hair and looked more like Chihuahua-sized, hairless Shar-Peis than anything else,” remembers Laura Kelsch of Schomberg, Ontario, Canada, who imported a male named Dai Wei’s Huo Long (“Fiery Dragon”) and a female, Dai Wei’s Huo Feng Huang (“Fiery Phoenix”), from the Chongqing Dog Conservation Center in 2008. Like others who imported early dogs, she found poor nutrition to be an issue, and home-cooking augmented with some kibble soon had them thriving.
Kelsch’s two Chinese-bred dogs, from left: male Dragon and female Phoenix, who has a heavier, more Bulldog-like head and build.
An accidental breeding between Dragon and a female Bulldog yielded a litter of puppies who retained many of their Chongqing characteristics, including the signature prick ears.
Kelsch bred the pair twice, with disappointing results. All the litters had disproportionately high numbers of cleft palates – more than half the puppies – all accompanied by hare lips, and there was nothing to go forward with. An “oops” breeding with one of her Bulldogs yielded a litter of uniformly red puppies with the same prick ears; they were a bit larger and beefier, thanks to their Bulldog mother, and they all lacked the bald patches and sparse coats of their Chongqing father.
While there is still much to learn about the Chongqing Dog, this much is clear: For having been bred solely for function and very minimally for aesthetics, these dogs are remarkably consistent and identifiable as a breed. As Kelsch’s Bulldog cross showed, they breed true, retaining many of the characteristics that presumably took centuries, if not millennia, to fix. And, as feisty, unflappable mini-Molossers, they have an undeniable visual appeal, from their squelchy faces to their unusually thick, almost shimmering skin.
Today, the Chonquing Dog is said to be as rare as another local species, the panda bear. But now that the breed has landed, with a flutter of bamboo leaves, on the international stage, that’s very likely to change.
Primitive and otherworldly, the Chongqing Dog has a magnetic appeal that is difficult to describe.
Chongqing Dog fanciers say that theirs is an ancient and natural breed, depicted in excavated statues from the Han dynasty that date back almost two thousand years.
Ceramic dog from the late Han dynasty excavated near Chongqing.
But Hing Chao, a cultural preservationist and columnist for Hong Kong’s Tatler magazine, goes back even further, positing an ancient connection between the Chongqing Dog and the Molosser breeds so familiar to us in the West.
Chao notes that an early, warlike tribe called the Xirong, who settled in the western province of Sichuan around 1765-1122 BCE, could very well have traveled with dogs of this type. He also compares photos of the Chongqing Dog and the Alano Español, an ancient bulldog brought to Spain by the Alani, nomadic pastoralists from 5th Century Iran. Like the Chongqing Dog, the modern-day Alano Español has high-set ears (albeit cropped), slightly undershot bite, short muzzle and sometimes a black mask, and is only a few inches bigger than the tallest Chongqing Dog.
“As far as I am concerned, their phenotypical resemblance is remarkable and bespeaks of a common ancestry in the distant past,” Chao writes. “If I may take a further leap of faith, by postulating a connection between the ancient Xirong and Scythians – two of the oldest nomadic groups in the world – may we perhaps even hypothesize an ancient dog breed of the Molosser type originating in northwestern China/inner Asia which eventually spread to Europe through the trading and warlike activities of the ancient nomads?”
Was there a long-ago genetic link between the Chongqing Dog and the Spanish Alano (at right)?
As hypotheses go, it’s a probably bit out there to suggest that the Chongqing Dog is some kind of ancient proto-Molosser, just as others credit yet another Asian breed, the Tibetan Mastiff, as the forebear of so many Western Molossers. In truth, getting to the bottom of this canine Big Bang theory is just as daunting as the cosmological version – and just as speculative. What is fascinating, though, is how the Molosser motif – short faced, thick skinned, heavy boned and big headed – echoes throughout the millennia.