Are you thinking of bringing a Shar Pei puppy into your home?
Do you love their wrinkles, or want to find out more about their fascinating history?
In this article we bring you a complete guide to the Shar Pei breed.
From their personality, temperament and characteristics. To an important guide to the potential health problems that can come with their unique look.
Let’s find out more about the what it means to be a Shar Pei. And the implications of welcoming this breed into your family.
Shar Pei History
You might have heard that the Shar Pei history is long and interesting history. And you would be right!
The Shar Pei dog breed is thought to have originated around the small village of Tai Lin in the Kwangtung Province, China.
The first references to the Shar Pei 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 Chow’s is still a matter of debate.
We don’t know very much about the Shar Pei during the medieval period. Emperor Yuan destroyed around 140,000 ancient books during the Mongol Dynasty. However, references to a ‘wrinkled dog’ that sounds quite similar to the Shar Pei breed have recently been found in a 13th century Chinese manuscript.
20th Century Shar Pei History
Things took a turn for the worse for the Shar Pei during the 20th century.
More ferocious dogs started to be imported into China from Western countries. As the Sharp Pei 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!
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 Shar Pei 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 the Shar Pei. It described the dog as ‘one of the last surviving specimens of the breed’.
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 Shar Pei dogs. Soon the orders were pouring in.
Shar Pei Breed Clubs
The new American Shar Pei owners decided to set up a special club for the breed and the ‘Chinese Shar-Pei Club of America, Inc. was established in 1974.
The breed was accepted in to the American Kennel Club in May 1988.
The Shar Pei is currently the 50th most popular dog breed in the USA.
How The Shar Pei 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.
The Shar Pei’s wrinkles did historically serve a purpose. It is thought that 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 Shar Pei dogs you’ll find in America are a far cry from the original Chinese Shar Pei.
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 the Shar Pei’s 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.
The original Shar Pei had only has small wrinkles around the face. Barely recognisable from the Shar Pei we know, it is not predispose 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.
Even if the second dog is actually healthier.
Shar Pei Breeders
In the case of the Shar Pei western breeders still tend to focus on producing the wrinkliest dog possible. But you can tell just by looking at these creatures that they are not natural or healthy.
In some cases a dog breeder may actually interbreed their dogs with members of the dogs own family in order to ‘keep the gene pool pure’.
We know that inbreeding can cause significant health problems. Unfortunately, part of the reason why pedigree dogs tend to suffer from ill health is because of ever shrinking gene pools. If you are interested in buying a pedigree dog it is essential that you check the dogs ancestry to make sure that they have been bred responsibly.
Types of Shar Pei
There are three main types of Shar Pei 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 coat Shar Peis are fluffy little creatures with a top coat which is longer than 1 inch. These dogs are not currently recognised by the British Kennel Club, but they are probably the cutest type Shar Pei you will ever find.
Shar Pei Colors
These dogs can be found with a variety of different coloured coats. Including red, black, cream, apricot, chocolate, brown and blue.
Shar Pei Characteristics
The Shar-Pei has a very unique appearance. The name ‘Shar-Pei’ translates into ‘sand skin’ and this makes sense because the Shar Pei’s coatis 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’ Shar Pei is much less wrinkled, 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.
The Shar Pei also has a thick, short, curled tail.
The Shar-Pei is a ‘brachycephalic’ breed and that means that it has a small nose and is likely to suffer from breathing difficulties.
Are Shar Pei Good Pets?
We have looked at the Shar Pei’s characteristics and some Shar Pei care considerations. But do Shar Pei make good pets?
To make a decision on this front we need to look at several different factors. Including their temperament, training, socialization and exercise needs.
Shar Pei Temperament
The Shar-Pei may have altered in appearance over the years, but thy have not lost their natural guard dog instincts.
This is good in the sense that the Shar Pei will be protective of their owner and they are often very loyal pets.
It is very important to socialise them as early as possible because they can be aggressive both towards strangers and other dogs.
The Shar Pei is independent and confident. You will need to give them lots of positive reinforcement and establish a mutually respectful relationship early on.
Shar Pei Training
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 Shar-Pei is naturally independent and you will need to start training and socialising 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.
Shar Pei Socialization
Shar Pei are are not the friendliest of beasts and, unless they are socialised well from an early age, they can be aggressive towards other pets.
A good way to ensure your Shar-Pei grows 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 enrol your Shar Pei in a training class where they will be around new dogs and new humans at the same time.
Shar Pei dogs 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 the Shar Pei won’t put up with it.
Have guests over regularly.
Shar Pei Exercise
The Shar Pei needs regular moderate exercise, but this involves a few brisk walks rather than hours of running around the park.
The Shar Pei 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.
Shar Pei Health
The Shar Pei, like most pedigree dogs, is prone to a wide variety of health problems.
Joint Problems In Shar Pei
The Shar Pei 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, which 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 Shar Pei’s wrinkles and so, whilst the correlation has not been confirmed, if you buy the less wrinkley ‘bone-mouth’ Shar Pei you may have less health concerns to worry about.
Shar Pei Eye Problems
The Shar Pei is known to suffer from a variety of eye problems. These include chemosis (which involves puffiness of the white area surrounding the eyeball), cherry eye (which results in the dog experiencing red and inflamed eyes),and entropion (where the dogs eyelids seem to roll into the eye for particularly painful and sometimes blinding results).
If your Shar Pei has difficulty opening their eyes then you may need to take them to the vet for a temporary ‘eye tacking’ procedure.
Shar Pei Wrinkles
The Shar Pei’s 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 demodetic mange which is caused by mites. All dogs have mites living in their skin and it is normally harmless, but if the dogs immune system because weak the demodetic 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 your Shar Pei’s skin very carefully, especially within the loose skin folds, because if regular grooming is neglected it can result in irritations, sores and even mould.
Shar Pei Ear Problems
The Shar Pei 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 Pei Breathing Difficulties
The Shar Pei 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.
Shar Pei 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
The Shar Pei has a heightened risk of blood clotting, bone inflammation, arthritis and certain cancers.
Shar Pei Life Expectancy
Shar-Pei dogs will normally live for around 8-11 years depending on their health.
The Shar Pei breed is very prone to health difficulties and this is will effect the dogs quality of life as well as their longevity.
Shar Pei Size
The Chinese Shar-Pei is a medium sized dog which is typically around 18-20 inches (45 to 50) cm tall. A Shar Pei weight will usually be around 21 to 28 kg (45-60 pounds).
The Shar Pei is a sturdy dog, but they are normally more stocky then fat.
Shar Pei Price
These pups don’t come cheap. Depending on where you are buying from you could be looking at well over $1,000 USD per puppy.
Shar Pei Puppies or Shar Pei Rescue
If you would like to own a Shar Pei dog you should look into adoption.
There are many dog rescue homes which take in dogs for a multitude of reasons (the dogs may be strays, they may have been abandoned, or their owners circumstances may have changed) 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 (i.e. compatibility with children and other pets), and they will have had their shots and will already be neutered.
The one thing that may turn someone off adopting a Shar Pei 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.
The pedigree breeding industry does not always operate in the dogs’ best interests and over breeding can be very detrimental for the dogs in question.
It is better to adopt a dog in need instead of promoting the dog breeding industry and encouraging more breeding as a result.
Shar Pei Mix
Shar Pei rescue dogs may also be mixed breeds. This will potentially decrease the health problems they have relating to their skin, as they will tend to be less wrinkly.
If you buy a Shar Pei mix puppy, you still need to ensure that both parents are health tested for every potential breed related problem.
You will also need to consider the implications of whether you are happy to have a puppy with even a single parent that has such worrying health problems bred into them.
Should I Buy A Shar Pei Puppy?
Buying a dog is a big commitment and should not be rushed into.
Shar Pei dogs are loyal, clean and can be fantastic companions.
But they are also stubborn and have aggressive tendencies. They are likely to suffer from a multitude of health problems. And in addition to this they are not great with young children.
If you have your heart set on a Shar Pei then you’ll need to seriously think about vet bills. It is likely that the dog will experience serious health problems at some stage.
I would recommend looking into adoption rather than buying a puppy outright.
Further Reading & Resource
- 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
- Shar Pei – Will Wrinkles Have To Go?
- 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 Grea Britain
- Familial Shar Pei Fever