Best in show: How the Pekingese breed earned 'Lion Dog' nickname
Best in show honors at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday night went to Malachy, a Pekingese who did proud a truly ancient breed. Dating back to the 8th century and the Tang Dynasty, the breed once held court as the lapdog companion of emperors.
Do not be fooled by the teeny tiny dog that rarely hits 15 pounds. The Pekingese breed is actually quite muscular, and its regal bearing and fierce loyalty helped earn it the nickname Lion Dog.
Legend has it that a long, long time ago in "the mists of time," a lion fell in love with a tiny marmoset monkey. But such a love was impossible. The lion begged the deity that ruled the animal kingdom to shrink him down to size so he could marry his true love. But his heart remained its original size, according to Asian History.com, and it is from this union that the Pekingese, or Fu Lin -- Lion Dog -- was born.
In reality, the site says, DNA studies show that the Pekingese breed closely mimics the genetic composition of wolves and is among the purest breeds of dogs on Earth, making it a very ancient breed indeed.
The dogs' appearance is marked by a long-haired coat and ears that lend a heart-shaped look to their otherwise wide, flat head. They may look dainty and delicate, but they're surprisingly muscular and stocky, according to the American Kennel Club.
"Pekingese possess a regal dignity, intelligence and self-importance, making them good-natured, opinionated and affectionate family companions," according to the American Kennel Club.
Some other facts about Lion Dogs: They are front heavy. They can be any color. They are difficult to housebreak. They are relatively "inactive," which makes them ideal for indoor or apartment living. They're also prone to developing Small Dog Syndrome, that human-induced disorder that allows small dogs to think they run the joint. And those coats, as you might imagine, need plenty of brushing.
Pekingese get their name from the ancient Chinese city of Peking, now known as Beijing. Chinese art through the centuries -- ink drawings, bronze figures, clay sculptures and the like -- often celebrated the Pekingese. At one point in history, Lion Dogs could be owned only by royalty and were rarely seen outside the emperor's palace. (Stealing such a dog resulted in death.)
That changed when the British invaded in 1860, according to Pedigree UK. Upon entering the Forbidden City, troops found Empress Tzu'Hai dead on the floor after committing suicide rather than submit to invasion of the West. Guarding her body were five Pekingese dogs. When the British returned home, they took the breed with them.
-- Rene Lynch
Photo: Yep, I'm top dog: Malachy poses for photos moments after winning best in show at the Westminster Kennel Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Credit: Michael Nagle / Getty Images