The Shar Pei is a medium sized breed. The breed is well known for their extreme wrinkled skin, which comes in a variety of colors. The Shar Pei is a loyal and confident breed, which stems from their guard dog origins. They need regular moderate exercise, but can make good pets for city dwellers.
What’s In This Guide
- Shar Pei At A Glance
- In-depth Breed Review
- Shar Pei Training And Care
- Pros And Cons Of Getting A Shar Pei
Shar Pei FAQs
Check out the answers to our readers’ top questions about the Shar Pei.
- Are Shar Pei dogs aggressive?
- Is a Shar Pei a dangerous dog?
- How much does a Shar Pei puppy cost?
- Do Shar Pei make good family pets?
Breed At A Glance
- Purpose: Guard dog
- Weight: 45 – 60 lbs
- Temperament: Loyal, confident, stubborn
- Lifespan: 6 – 7 years
Shar Pei Breed Review: Contents
- History and original purpose
- Fun facts about Shar Pei
- Shar Pei appearance
- Shar Pei temperament
- Training and exercise
- Health and care
- Do Shar Pei make good family pets
- Rescuing a Shar Pei
- Finding a Shar Pei puppy
- Raising a Shar Pei puppy
- Popular Shar Pei breed mixes
- Shar Pei products and accessories
History and Original Purpose
The breed is thought to have originated around the small village of Tai Lin in the Kwangtung Province, China.
The first references to them can be found in the form of tomb statues and clay figurines.
These date back to the Han Dynasty period (roughly 200 B.C).
Although whether the dogs are Shar Peis or Chow Chows is still a matter of debate.
We don’t know very much about the Shar Pei during the medieval period.
However, references to a ‘wrinkled dog’ that sounds quite similar to the breed have recently been found in a 13th century Chinese manuscript.
20th Century Shar Pei History
Things took a turn for the worse during the 20th century.
More ferocious dogs started to be imported into China from Western countries.
As the breed was smaller and less aggressive by comparison, their breeding was neglected and their numbers began to decline.
Then in 1949 Mao Zedong and the communist party took over China.
Then in the early 1950s they began to round up and exterminate pet dogs as well as strays!
World’s Rarest Dog
In the late 1970’s the Shar Pei was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the ‘world’s rarest dog’.
It was estimated that very few of these dogs were still alive in China and there were only around 30 living in the USA and Canada.
The breeds plight was not well known until it was illustrated in an American magazine entitled ‘Dogs’ in May 1971.
They published an article about rare dog breeds.
This included a photograph of one. It described the dog as ‘one of the last surviving specimens of the breed’.
On the Rise
This article caught the attention of a young man called Matgo Law.
He was a Shar Pei collector and enthusiast.
Law went on to write a letter to ‘Dog’ magazine, in which he stressed the need to ‘Save the Chinese Shar Pei.’
His letter was published in April 1973 and it was a big success.
Over 200 people wrote letters to the magazine, most of which came from people who wanted to buy these dogs.
Soon the orders were pouring in.
How The Breed Has Changed
It is a sad but true fact that dog breeding is not always in the dog’s best interest.
With the rise of dog shows and certain ‘breed standards’, many people have chosen to breed for appearance rather than health.
Sadly, it is the dogs that suffer as a result.
This is quite obvious in the Shar Pei because they have significantly exaggerated features.
Did Their Wrinkles Have a Purpose?
Their wrinkles are thought to have historically served a purpose.
The loose skin enables the dog to keep fighting even if another animal has grabbed hold of their skin.
But it is undeniable that the dogs you’ll find in America are a far cry from the originals.
Original ‘bone-mouth’ Chinese Shar Peis were less wrinkly (especially in the face), they were also more athletic.
They had a narrower head, and their eyes were mostly unobstructed.
In contrast, American bred Shar Pei’s have very wrinkly faces, they have a distinctively large ‘hippopotamus head’.
They also tend have obscured eyes, and they are heavier and stockier.
Increasing Shar Pei Wrinkles
When the breed first became popular in America it was subjected to inexperienced breeders.
They were focused on making their dogs as wrinkly as possible rather than concentrating on the dogs quality of life.
In 2011 scientists found a link between their wrinkles and Shar Pei fever.
This is a condition that causes up to one in five dogs to develop kidney, liver, spleen and/or intestinal problems.
Did Original Shar Peis Have the Same Health Issues?
The original had only has small wrinkles around the face.
Barely recognizable from the dog we know, it is not predisposed to Shar Pei fever.
It has a lower risk of developing serious health problems.
One of the biggest problems with pedigree dogs is that they tend to have a small gene pool which allows hereditary health problems to thrive.
Selective breeding encourages people to breed the dogs with the ‘best’ physical characteristics multiple times.
Without allowing dogs with less exaggerated characteristics to breed at all.
What do Shar Peis look like?
This breed has a very unique appearance.
The name ‘Shar-Pei’ translates into ‘sand skin’ and this makes sense because the Shar Pei’s coat is coarse and prickly to touch.
They are normally medium sized dogs, they have a large flat heads, they will have a wide muzzle and a blue-black tongue.
They also have small and sunken dark eyes, and little high-set triangular ears.
Shar Pei puppies tend to be very wrinkly, but as they get older their skin straightens out somewhat.
The ‘bone-mouth’ Shar Pei which is also known as the ‘original’ is much less wrinkled.
They are taller and generally more ‘normal’ looking than more exaggerated examples of the breed.
The western Shar Pei’s may have wrinkles around the face, legs and arms and skin folds on the stomach, chest and back.
Shar Pei Size
The Chinese Shar-Pei is a medium sized dog which is typically around 18-20 inches tall.
Their weight will usually be around 45-60 pounds.
A sturdy dog, they are normally more stocky then fat.
Types of Shar Pei Coat
There are three main coat types which you are likely to come across.
Horse-coat Shar Pei
These dogs have a harsh, ‘horse hair style’ coat.
These dogs are very wrinkly as puppies, but as they get older the wrinkles largely disappear apart from around the face.
Brush-coat Shar Pei
These dogs retain their ‘puppy-ish look’ into adulthood and they tend to keep more of their wrinkles.
They are normally a little less active than horse-coats.
Bear-coat Shar Pei
The Bear coats are fluffy little creatures with a top coat which is longer than 1 inch.
These dogs are not currently recognized by the Kennel Club, but they are probably the cutest type you will ever find.
These dogs can be found with a variety of different colored coats.
Including red, black, cream, apricot, chocolate, brown and blue.
Shar Pei Temperament
The Shar-Pei may have altered in appearance over the years, but they have not lost their natural guard dog instincts.
Are Shar Pei Dogs Aggressive?
Shar Peis were bred at one point to be aggressive, to other animals and even to people.
Their role as a watch dog and pit fighter meant that it was beneficial to have a strong temper and a confident demeanor.
Is the Shar Pei a Dangerous Dog?
Any dog improperly raised or handled has the potential to be dangerous.
A dog with a guarding and fighting background, who is confident and independent, is going to be a higher risk.
Not every Shar Pei will be dangerous, but the odds may be worse than with other breeds.
Despite their relative rareness the breed still comes up in studies looking at facial bites in children, for example.
They have also been classified by veterinarians as ‘very aggressive’.
Training your Shar Pei
It is refreshingly easy to house-train a Shar-Pei because they are naturally clean animals and they are unlikely to relieve themselves in their home environment.
In fact, they have been known to train themselves!
The breed is naturally independent and you will need to start training and socializing the dog as soon as possible.
Make sure there are plenty of positive interactions with other dogs and humans.
Practice positive reinforcement rather than punishment-based training.
Sharpei dogs can be a handful and they are not recommended for first time dog owners or those with young children.
They are not the friendliest of breeds and, unless they are socialized well from an early age, they can be aggressive towards other pets.
A good way to ensure they grow into a well adjusted adult is to take them outside as much as possible.
Ensure they can interact with other dogs of various shapes, sizes and breeds.
Try to enroll your puppy in a training class where they will be around new dogs and new humans at the same time.
Your dog should also be introduced to a variety of humans at an early age including men, women and children.
Although make sure that the children don’t become too boisterous as they won’t put up with it.
Have guests over regularly.
Shar Pei Exercise
This dog needs regular moderate exercise, but this involves a few brisk walks rather than hours of running around the park.
He is perhaps better suited for city living.
Due to their hunting instincts it’s not a great idea to let them run wild in the country, unless they have great recall.
Health and Care
This breed is prone to a wide variety of health problems.
The breed often suffers from problems in their joints, especially their hips and elbows, and this may develop into hip or elbow dysplasia.
Dysplasia will cause the dog to have problems with movement and tends to be quite painful, and it may require surgical treatment.
Hip and Elbow dysplasia are hereditary conditions.
If you are looking to buy or adopt a Shar Pei it is important that you have access to their ancestry records so you can check to see if dysplasia runs in the family.
Joint problems will normally become apparent by the age of two years old.
If they don’t seem to have it by then, they are unlikely to develop dysplasia or related conditions later in life.
Ensure that both parents have good hip and elbow scores.
Shar Pei Fever
Shar Pei fever is normally a short lives inflammatory condition which can cause high temperatures and aching joints.
This fever is not normally life threatening, but it can be the first step towards the dog developing amyloidosis.
This refers to a build up in the dogs liver, kidneys, spleen and/or gastrointestinal tract, and this can prove fatal.
This condition is linked to the same gene which causes the wrinkles.
So, if you buy the less wrinkly ‘bone-mouth’ variety you may have less health concerns to worry about.
Shar Peis are known to suffer from a variety of eye problems.
- Chemosis – puffiness of the white area surrounding the eyeball)
- Cherry eye – red and inflamed eyes
- Entropion – eyelids seem to roll into the eye
If your dog has difficulty opening their eyes then you may need to take them to the vet for a temporary ‘eye tacking’ procedure.
Shar Pei Wrinkles
Their loose and wrinkly skin may be one of their biggest selling points, but it can also cause a multitude of problems.
They often suffer from a condition called demodectic mange which is caused by mites.
All dogs have mites living in their skin and it is normally harmless.
However, if the dog’s immune system becomes weak the demodectic mange can result in hair loss, itchy skin and sometimes even total baldness.
This is a treatable condition, although it can be hard to fully eradicate, and treatments involve shampoos, ointments, antibiotics and other forms of medication.
It is very important to clean and dry his skin very carefully, especially within the loose skin folds.
If regular grooming is neglected it can result in irritations, sores and even mold.
The breed typically has narrow, folded-over ear laps and thick ear canals which limit air circulation and typically result in excessive wax and ear infections.
Shar Peis typically has a small, squashed and tightly pinched nose which means that not only will they get out of breath easily but it may be hard for them to breath in general.
Brachycephalic problems are not as extreme as the Pug or other breeds with smaller noses, but it is still a valid concern.
Other Health Concerns
This dog also has a heightened risk of blood clotting, bone inflammation, arthritis and certain cancers.
How long do Shar Peis Live?
This breed’s average lifespan is reported as 8 to 12 years. Sadly, this is not backed up my scientific research.
Do Shar Peis Make Good Family Pets?
It is possible to have one make a good family pet in certain scenarios.
However, they aren’t ideally suited to the role. Especially when kids are involved.
This is a dog that is fiercely loyal and bold.
And that has been known to be aggressive if improperly socialized.
You can improve your odds by picking a puppy from two friendly parents, and devoting yourself to socialization from the day you bring your puppy home.
However, they are still not the best candidate for those with young families.
If you would like to own a Shar Pei dog you might want to look into adoption.
There are many dog rescue homes which take in dogs for a multitude of reasons and all of these dogs need a secure and loving home.
The dogs will normally have fairly detailed personality charts which will help you determine whether that particular dog is right for you.
The one thing that may turn someone off adopting is that the dogs are likely to be adults rather than puppies.
But this does mean you may not have to train them as intensively and you’ll be more aware of any potential health concerns.
In some cases it is better to adopt a dog in need instead of promoting the breeding of a type of dog that has severe health problems.
You will find a list of rescues at the bottom of this page.
Finding a Puppy
If your heart is set on a this breed, then find a puppy from bone mouth parents. With a narrow muzzle and minimal loose skin folds.
Make sure you meet both parents, and that they are confident and at ease around strangers.
How Much Does a Shar Pei Puppy Cost?
These pups don’t come cheap.
Raising a Shar Pei Puppy
Caring for a Shar Pei puppy comes with a lot of responsibilities.
Socialization and special care of their skin are vital.
They also come with the some training needs as any other breed.
Fortunately, there are some great guides to help you with all aspects of puppy care and training.
Here are a few to get you off on the right foot:
- Puppy potty training
- How to stop a puppy biting
- Puppy training stages
- Positive puppy training
- Puppy Development Stages
Popular Shar Pei Breed Mixes
Love the breed, but want to dampen down some of their health problems? Then a possible approach is to look at a mix.
Although mixes don’t guarantee less loose skin, if you pick the right one then the likelihood is reduced.
Just make sure both parents are health tested for conditions relevant to their own breed.
Sadly, the severe structural health problems mean that many owners consider alternative breeds.
Here are some with similar personalities but better structural health.
Pros And Cons
Let’s break down the pros and cons of bringing home this distinctive dog.
- Skin infections
- Eye problems
- High maintenance care routine
- Guarding tendencies
- Not well suited to young families
- A distinctive appearance
Products and accessories
This is a heavy set, medium sized dog. Here are some products that suit him well:
- Best Dog Ear Cleaner
- Dog Dandruff Treatments
- Best Dog Beds For Chewers
- Best Shampoo for Wrinkly Dog Breeds
Many potential owners worry about buying a puppy that is bred to have conformational problems.
Thus encouraging an industry around breeding puppies that aren’t in the best health.
However, there are lots of Shar Pei and their mixes waiting for homes already, in shelters around the world.
References And Resources
- Gough A, Thomas A, O’Neill D. 2018 Breed Predispositions to Disease In Dogs and Cats. Wiley Blackwell
- O’Neill et al. 2013. Longevity and Mortality of Dogs Owned In England. The Veterinary Journal
- Schalamon et al. 2006. Analysis of Dog Bites In Children Who Are Younger Than 17 Years. Pediatrics
- Duffy D et al. Breed differences in canine aggression. Applied Animal Behavior Science 2008
- Strain G. Deafness prevalence and pigmentation and gender associations in dog breeds at risk. The Veterinary Journal 2004
- Packer et al. 2015. Impact of Facial Conformation On Canine Health. PlosOne
- Chinese Shar-Pei Club of America, Inc
- Cunliffe J, Chinese Shar Pei: A Comprehensive Guide to Owning and Caring for Your Dog, i5 Publishing 2012
- Ernest Albright’s Chinese Shar-Peis Are the Rare New Wrinkle in Watchdogs
- Chinese Shar Pei History
- New Hope For Shar Pei Coming Soon
- Shar Pei Wrinkles Have To Go
- Metzger, J and Disl, O. 2014. A study of Shar-Pei dogs refutes association of the ‘meatmouth’ duplication near HAS2 with Familial Shar-Pei Fever. Animal Genetics Journal.
- Narojek et al. 2008. Canine elbow dysplasia in different breeds. Bull Vet Inst Pulawy
- North American Shar Pei Rescue
- Olson et al. 2011. A Novel Unstable Duplication Upstream of HAS2 Predisposes to a Breed-Defining Skin Phenotype and a Periodic Fever Syndrome in Chinese Shar-Pei Dogs. PLOS Genetics.
- Rettenmaier, J et al. Prevelance of canine hip dysplasia in a veterinary teaching hospital population. Veterinary Radiology and Ultrasound.
- Royal Shar Pei Website
- Tellier, LA. 2001. Immune-mediated vasculitis in a shar-pei with swollen hock syndrome. The Canadian Veterinary Journal.
- The History Of China’s Anti Dog Campaigns
- The Shar Pei Club of Great Britain
- Familial Shar Pei Fever