In the 1930s during the Great Depression, any sort of entertainment that offered a distraction from the grim realities of life was welcome. For the people of New York City, hard hit by the stock market crash in 1929, Minsky's Burlesque offered a rare form of escapism as few could afford to attend expensive Broadway shows yet many craved entertainment. For several years during the depths of the depression, the star performer at Minsky's was the famed stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.
But Lee, in contrast to her often racy and risqué public persona, had a serious side. In addition to being an author of several novels and one autobiography that eventually became the basis for the musical "Gypsy," she was a serious lover and breeder of Chinese Cresteds. Along with Ida Garrett and Debra Woods, she had a major influence on the development of the breed in the United States. Indeed, to this day, many Crested breeders all over the world trace the ancestry of their dogs to Wood's and Lee's bloodlines. However, despite its name, exactly where the breed itself originated is anybody's guess.
The breed appears in Chinese written history as far back as the 13th century. But a type of hairless dog existed in many ports of call that Chinese seamen and traders visited. British, French and Portuguese sailors found hairless dogs in various parts of Africa and Asia during the 1700s. Spanish explorers found a type of hairless dog in Mexico and Central and South America during the 1500s. The conquistadors called this hairless breed the Xoloitzcintli. In other parts of the world, what ultimately became the Chinese Crested was called Pyramid or Giza Hairless in Egypt, Japanese Hairless, Mexican Crested and South African Hairless. While there is no irrefutable historical evidence that the breed actually originated in China, breeders at that time settled on the name Chinese Crested because of the belief that there were no dogs native to the Americas and all dogs found in North and South America were simply imported from Asia. The name stuck despite modern archeological and genetic findings which have debunked that theory.
The breed is often described as a prancing pony in miniature with its graceful and elegant way of moving. This also makes it suitable for several performance activities, according to the people who participate in dog sports with their Cresteds.
"Chinese Cresteds are very strong and agile dogs. This makes them perfect specimens for any sport," said Wendy Ryan DVM who owns five Cresteds with two, Teddy (Ch Paradice's Mystic element RN TDI CGC) and JoJo (Paradice JoJo's China Bistro RE NAJ TDI CGC) having titles in more than one activity.
"Cresteds have normal canine structure and are built to run and jump. It is really important to show the public how intelligent and versatile the breed really is. Not many people have ever heard of a Chinese Crested especially the Powderpuff variety which means not many people know how wonderful this tiny, smart, funny toy breed is to live with and own."
"Chinese Crested are very bright, interactive, athletic and healthy but most of all they WANT TO PLEASE. However, they are also opportunistic and will quickly figure out what you want and how to get what they want.
They are versatile, brilliant, and talented and they have a sense of humor. They love the challenge of new activities. They learn very quickly which means you can't overdo training on an exercise until it is no longer fun. They also do not respond to harsh training. Positive reinforcement with clear leadership will get you what both you and the dog want with a Chinese Crested," said Patty Wiedeman who owns MACH14 China Road Taylor Made RA MXB5 NF T2B THD.
"Chinese Cresteds have a desire to be with whoever they have bonded with. They typically want to be where you are at all times. They are very sturdy physically and have few, comparatively speaking, health problems. I have yet to see a Crested that is not somewhat aggressive, curious and on-the-ready at all times. 'Submissive' is not a word you would use to describe most Cresteds.
Most Cresteds seem to enjoy working at something and working with someone," said Dick Cicone who with his wife Susan owns four Chinese Crested that have multiple titles including Moby (Int'l Ch Ch Gemstone's Wudnshu Polaris CD RAE AX AXJ OF NAP NJP CGC THD UCD PJ1 PR1 PS1 CL3-R CL4-H CL3-F TD Inc.), Tally (Int'l Ch GCh Ch Gemstone's Wudnshu Talladega RE AX AXJ NF NJP CTC AJ AS AR CL-3-R Cle-H CL3-S CL3-F TDI) and Booh (Cinondra N Gemstone's Bat Out of Hell OA AXJ CGC CL30R CL2-H CL2-S CL2-F).
"Cresteds are smart, agile and willing to please the person they love," said Sharon Frampton who owns Elvis (GCh Belews Natural heartbreaker RN NAJ CAA CGC TDI) and Smooch (Ch Wickhaven-MTO Addicted to Love RN.)
"They are much more than just a companion. But, I did have some difficulty finding a training school and instructor that was capable of providing a good foundation to whatever sport we were doing so there wouldn't be any major setbacks in training.
One obstacle that we have had some real difficulty overcoming, however, has been in the show ring. While the Powderpuff and hairless are the same breed except for coat type, preference is almost always given to the hairless in the show ring no matter what the quality. It's important that conformation judges recognize what the proper qualities of the breed should be whether they're looking at a puff or a hairless specimen."
Many dogs are skeptical of the teeter-totter in agility, according Ryan. "The teeter-totter moves out from under a dog and that can be very disturbing to some dogs. So, if any of my dogs show hesitancy about that obstacle, I start with it very low to the ground so it only moves a few inches until the dog is comfortable with that movement. Then, I gradually raise the fulcrum higher and higher until it is at its full height.
Weave poles are also a challenge because the movement is not natural to dogs. What dog in its right mind would weave around poles in a straight line to get to the end of that line? So, what I do is start with them not lined up in a straight line but off-center. This way, the dog can move between the poles without bending their body very much at first. Then I slowly move the poles closer and closer to a straight line as the dog learns to weave and bend his body until they are eventually lined up as they are in competition."
"We have also had issues with the teeter. We had one dog become unreliable on this obstacle in competition. He would do the teeter in practice but we couldn't depend on him to do it when the judge was in the ring. What we did was continue to have him do the teeter in practice and we just keep adding people to the practice course in order to make practice more like a trial environment.
We use a lot of high quality treats for the correct action when we are training," said Cicone. "If you give them a high value treat immediately as part of the positive reinforcement, it helps overcome the dog's problems. Then, it's a matter of practice, practice, practice along with carefully watching the dog's reaction to know what works best. This is where a good trainer can be a major benefit. We have often had a trainer or even several different trainers observe us in action with the dog and then make suggestions on how and what we need to improve.
Another issue is safety around other dogs, according to Wiedeman. "As is the case with most smaller breeds, safety is an issue. I think that sometimes other dogs don't see a Crested as a dog the first time they encounter one. Crested are quick to correct that misunderstanding. At dog events, I always keep my dog in a crate usually at eye level with the larger dogs. I also do not compete in activities where I believe my dog will be in danger. In a class that I was attending, there was a very ugly dog fight and it set my dog back for months. In order to restore that dog's confidence, I had to absolutely stress safety. If a Crested decides it doesn't want to do something, other than situations where that resistance is a result of trauma, it usually occurs because something has been overdone or repeated too much."
An irritant among Crested fanciers is the fact that the breed is often the dubious "winner" of the annual "Ugly Dog Contest." "This is one honor we could happily forego," said Cicone. "Far too many people only think of a Crested in this regard. They are great companions, they are rugged for a toy breed, they have fewer health issues than many other toys and they are versatile. These are the characteristics for which they should be known."
Contributor: M.J. Nelson