The Chinese Shar Pei is a very old breed of dog: Its likeness has been depicted on pottery as long ago as 206 BC. The Shar Pei was mostly used as a hunting breed and a general worker around the farm. Their role included ratting, hunting, guarding farm animals, and protecting the family home.
The Shar Pei also has a long history as a fighting dog. Their loose skin and wrinkles protected the underlying muscles from injury, as their opponent usually couldn’t get a good grip on them.
When communism took over the People’s Republic of China at the end of World War II, China’s dog population was all but eliminated. Fortunately, some Shar Pei were taken to Hong Kong and Taiwan, and from there they made their way to the United States in 1966. After it was declared one of the world’s rarest dog breeds in the mid 1970’s, dedicated breeders revived this ancient breed. They were registered with the AKC in 1991.
The Shar Pei is a most unusual looking dog. Their head is described as being like that of a hippopotamus, they have tiny triangular ears held close to their head, and they have varying amounts of wrinkling over their head and body. They have a blue tongue; the ancient Chinese felt that their dark mouth and scowling expression would scare away evil spirits.
Puppies are born very wrinkly, but these often disappear as the dog gets older. Their coat is short and rough and in fact the name Shar Pei means “sand coat”. The coat comes in any solid color, including black, red and sable. Because they have such a short coat and no undercoat, they can look quite moth eaten when they are moulting.
These are not a big dog, and only grow to a height of 20 inches (50cm) and a weight of 55lbs (24kg) when fully mature.
Any owner of a Chinese Shar Pei will admit that their dog can be stubborn! These intelligent and brave animals need a strong leader, or they will assume that position themselves. They must be socialized well when they are young, and their training should be continued through adulthood.
While they are very affectionate and devoted to their family, they can be aloof and arrogant with strangers. They do retain some of their fighting tendencies, and if not socialized properly, they can be aggressive to other dogs. In China, the Shar Pei is still regarded as a fighting breed.
Although they sound like a solemn breed, they still enjoy a game and will delight their family with their clown like antics. They are a great watchdog and will warn you if there are people or other animals approaching.
This breed does have certain health issues that a potential owner needs to take into consideration before deciding that a Shar Pei is the right dog for them.
Familiar Shar Pei fever is a congenital condition that causes intermittent fevers and swollen joints. These fevers only last a day or so. Dogs with this condition should not be bred. The gene responsible for the condition has been identified, and it seems to be closely related to the gene that causes extreme wrinkling of the skin. Dogs with Familiar Shar Pei fever are at increased risk of developing kidney disease.
The Shar Pei has extremely straight hind legs, which can predispose to luxating patellas, or slipped kneecaps. They may also develop hip dysplasia.
The breed’s characteristic wrinkles can affect their eyes. Shar Pei can suffer from entropion, where the eyelids roll inwards, allowing the eyelashes to rub on the front of the cornea. This is very painful, but can be corrected with surgery.
These dogs appear to be more susceptible to heat stress, so keep an eye on them if you are out walking in warm weather.
The most common health issue in this breed is skin complaints and allergies. Many Shar Pei need ongoing treatment for itchy and infected skin. The cost of medication and veterinary care can have a big impact on their owners’ family budget.
Responsible breeders must let potential puppy buyers know about any health issues in their lines.
The short Shar Pei coat is not very labor intensive. These dogs don’t shed much, and just need a thorough brushing every now and again. However, they will need grooming more frequently when they are moulting, to avoid an untidy mottled appearance.
These dogs are moderately active. They enjoy daily walks and regular playtime. It is imperative that the owner of a Shar Pei invests time and energy in training their dog. They are not the easiest dogs to train, but they still need to be taught how to behave properly in your home and when you are out and about.
Be prepared to care for your dog’s skin should they develop allergies and inflammation. This can involve bathing them frequently, applying skin ointments and lotions, and even giving tablets to keep their skin in good health. Low allergy diets may also be necessary. This is costly both in dollars and in time.
The Shar Pei is not considered to be a good breed for an inexperienced dog owner. They can be willful, stubborn and difficult to train. They can also have aggressive tendencies if not properly socialized and trained from a very young age. However, in the right hands, they are a loyal and protective companion.
They don’t need a lot of exercise, and this coupled with their compact size means they are very suitable for apartment living. However, they do still enjoy a regular walk around their neighborhood. Not all Shar Pei are good with other dogs, so be cautious if you like to take your dog to the off leash dog park.
The Shar Pei can be a challenging breed to own, but with obedience training, firm leadership and plenty of affection, he will be a much loved member of your household for around 10 years.