The shar-pei is an ancient, unique, and once very rare dog breed developed in China. It is known for its wrinkled skin, blue-black tongues, and bristle-like coat, all of which makes it stand out from the crowd. The breed isn't best for novice owners, though. This very intelligent dog is independent, aloof, and guarded with strangers. The breed can also be prone to several health conditions. But the shar-pei can also be a fiercely loyal and protective family companion who loves to snuggle.
HEIGHT: 18 to 20 inches (to the withers)
WEIGHT: 45 to 60 pounds
COAT: Short and bristly
COAT COLOR: Various solid color shades include black, chocolate, blue, and cream; mixed coat colors are not accepted as a breed standard
LIFE SPAN: 8 to 12 years
TEMPERAMENT: Devoted, loving, affectionate, reserved, independent
Characteristics of the Shar-Pei
The breed can vary greatly in appearance. Although the American Kennel Club does not recognize two distinct varieties, they are distinguished by some other International Kennel Clubs. The older, traditional shape from China is referred to as the "bone-mouth" variety. They are taller, slimmer and have much fewer wrinkles. The Westernized variety is referred to as the "meat-mouth" and is much stockier, has more wrinkles, and a wider, fleshier head.
|Tendency to Bark||Low|
|Amount of Shedding||Medium|
History of the Shar-Pei
The shar-pei has a very ancient history. It is not known quite how far back this goes, but some statues have a strong resemblance to the breed that date back to the time of the Hang Dynasty in China, over 2,000 years ago.
They are thought to originally have been bred for their hunting and fighting prowess, and the wrinkles in their skin and roughness of their coat would have helped to prevent their opponents from getting a grip. The name shar-pei is derived from the Cantonese translation of the words "sand skin."
During the communist revolution in China in the mid 20th century, their numbers dwindled so drastically that they almost became extinct. In the 1970s, a Chinese breeder sent an impassioned plea to American dog enthusiasts asking for help to save the breed. As a result of this, a select few dogs were sent over to the States and the breed had a resurgence in popularity.
They were then featured on the cover of LIFE magazine and were involved in many high profile ad campaigns. The demand for shar-peis during the 1970s and 1980s was so great from all of this attention that the breed suffered as a result of unscrupulous overbreeding.
The breed was officially recognized by the (AKC) in the late 1980s. Since then, while still cherished by enthusiasts, their popularity has waned somewhat and this has been of benefit to the breed in terms of responsible breeding programs being more common, but the fallout from that time is still apparent.
Caring for a shar-pei is somewhat simple. It does not have the exercise requirements of many other breeds of its size, and it is not known for being vocal. The dog is a naturally clean one and it often has an aversion to water, so you are unlikely to find your pup enjoying a romp in muddy puddles. The breed is known for its stubborn and willful nature, and patience and commitment will be required to guarantee success when it comes to training.
The shar-pei is not known for being a high-energy breed. It would be rare to see them taking part in agility. Providing they get good daily walks totaling about an hour a day and are kept appropriately enriched in the house, they are often regarded as dogs suited to apartment living.
The shar-pei grooming regime is relatively straight forward. Their coats do not require much maintenance, usually just a weekly brush out to remove dead hair. They do shed, but it is not excessive.
If they do need a bath, the biggest concern is ensuring that, if they are particularly wrinkly, you properly dry in between the folds. They can be prone to skin infections. They may also need their mouth cleaned after eating.
Their very small ears can also be prone to developing infections. Making sure that they are cleaned with a high-quality cleanser is often recommended.
A shar-pei must receive appropriate socialization and training from the beginning. They are often wary of other dogs and strangers and can have a high prey drive. For these reasons, they can do better as the only pet in the household.
They are not keen on roughhousing and it is important that training is done using positive reinforcement methods. Trying to force a shar-pei to comply will usually not end well.
Common Health Problems
The shar-pei can be prone to many different health conditions. Many of these are likely attributable to the irresponsible overbreeding that occurred when their popularity exploded in the 1980s.
They are also classed as a brachycephalic, or flat-faced, breed and this can mean that they are less tolerant of heat and great care should be taken when they are exposed to hotter weather and when exercising.
Making sure that you find a responsible breeder will decrease the risk of developing genetic conditions, but some of the potential problems that you should be aware of include:
- Skin Problems: Issues, such as pyoderma (a bacterial skin infection), can occur as a result of the breed's excess skin folds.
- Ear Problems: The breed often has a very narrow ear canal and can lead to yeast and bacterial infections.
- Eye Problems: Conditions can include entropion (rolling in of the eyelids), glaucoma, and cherry eye.
- Luxating Patella: This condition happens when the dog's knee caps slip out of their grooves and cause walking problems.
- Hip Dysplasia: The abnormal development of hip joints may result in the instability and degeneration of the joints.
- Hypothyroidism: A common condition in dogs, this occurs when your dog's thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones.
- Shar-Pei Fever: This breed-specific condition causes the dog to develop a high fever, swelling of the hock joint, become lethargic, and experience bouts of vomiting and/or diarrhea.
- Gastric Torsion/Bloat: The condition occurs when the stomach expands with gas, fluid, or food and then rotates in the abdomen, causing a medical emergency.
Diet and Nutrition
As with any dog, it is important to feed them a high-quality, carefully portion-controlled diet and that they always have access to a fresh water source.
Because the shar-pei is more prone to bacterial skin conditions, if you are feeding a wet or raw diet, extra care should be taken to ensure that any residue is cleaned away from the mouth area after eating.
Because they are also known for being prone to gastric torsion, it may be worth feeding them from a slow feeding bowl if they tend to guzzle their food quickly.
Where to Adopt or Buy a Shar-Pei Dog
A shar-pei is not the easiest of dogs in terms of potential health problems and trainability, so it is important to consider your lifestyle, experience, and motivations before offering one a home.
If you are buying a puppy, it is always important to do your research to ensure you find a reputable and responsible breeder. This is all the more important with a shar-pei given their potential health and temperament issues. Expect to pay a breeder between $1,000 up to $2,500 for a champion blood line puppy.
Make sure that you select a registered breeder, that keeps both mother and pups in a nurturing home environment, that has made appropriate health checks, and that has not separated pups from their mother before they reach eight weeks old.
Because this breed is not generally suited to new dog owners, it does, unfortunately, mean that shar-peis can frequently end up in rescue. There are some breed specific rescues out there, but don't forget to also enquire with your local shelter. Offering a forever home to a rescue dog can be a hugely rewarding experience.
Below are some useful breed and adoption links to begin your search:
Low energy breed suited to apartment living
Loyal to its family, but not needy
Distinctive look that requires minimal grooming
Prone to a number of health conditions
Requires patience when training
Not very sociable breed, reactive towards strange dogs
More Dog Breeds and Further Research
While the shar-pei is a unique dog, you may also be interested in a similar breed such as the following:
There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!
Why do shar-pei dogs have blue-black tongues?
No one really knows why this breed has a blue-black tongue. But, just like the chow chow with its blackish-purplish tongue, it is likely because it contains more localized pigmented cells. Not every shar-pei, however, has a colored tongue.
Why are some shar-pei dogs more wrinkled than others?
Some shar-peis have few wrinkles while others are very wrinkled. It all has to do with their genes, and how much hyaluronic acid is formed in the tissue of the dog based on the genes. The more hyaluronic acid in the dog's tissues, the more wrinkles it will have.
Are shar-pei dogs aggressive?
A shar-pei may be a bit aggressive towards other dogs, but not to its family. Shar-peis are bred as farm dogs, not fighting dogs. With that said, unfortunately, many unscrupulous owners use shar-peis for illegal dog fights, which is why the perception still exists that this breed is aggressive.