This fascinating but challenging breed of ancient pedigree is steadfastly loyal to family, but standoffish with strangers. The Chinese Shar-Pei has physical characteristics that make him a one-of-a-kind companion and guardian dog. The compact, medium-sized Chinese Shar-Pei is an amalgam of odd physical traits: a broad ‘hippopotamus’ muzzle; a blue-black tongue; small, sunken eyes with a scowling expression; tiny triangular ears; abundant folds of loose skin about the head, neck, and shoulders; the tapered high-set tail’ all blanketed by a harsh, sandpapery coat. (A literal translation of Shar-Pei: ‘sand skin.’) Shar-Pei are strong, regal, independent guardians famous for intelligence and loyalty. They are suspicious of strangers and other dogs. Shar-Pei are serene dogs, but they will meet a perceived threat with tenacity and vigor. Early training and socialization are essential’ a dominant adult Shar-Pei without them is a serious problem waiting to happen.
For much of its long history China, vast and impregnable, was a closed society immune to outside influences. As such, China developed a culture unique to itself. This singularity is clearly seen in Chinese dog breeds. From the clownish Pug to the dignified Chow Chow, China’s dogs are breeds apart, with their own look and feel. Among this ancient canine clan, perhaps none is as uniquely Chinese as the Shar-Pei.
Native to China’s southern provinces, the Shar-Pei goes back more than 2,000 years to the Han Dynasty. It was believed to have been a peasant’s dog, and in the manner of peasant’s dogs in all times and places, the Shar-Pei was expected to be versatile. Chinese farmers employed these rugged, intelligent dogs as hunters, herders, and guardians of livestock against predators and rustlers.
The People’s Republic of China was established in 1949. The Communist regime frowned on dog ownership and systematically slaughtered much of the mainland’s purebred dog population. A few good specimens of the Shar-Pei were preserved, however, in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The breed’s documented U.S. history began in the mid-1960s, but American interest in the breed truly began in 1973. In that year, a Hong Kong breeder named Matgo Law appealed to the U.S. fancy to save the endangered Shar-Pei from extinction. The enthusiastic response from American dog lovers ensured the breed’s survival. The AKC recognized the Chinese Shar-Pei in 1992.
Temperament: Independent / loyal / calm
Height: 18-20 inches
Weight: 45-60 pounds
Life expectancy: 8-12 years
There are some unusual and specific health concerns in the Chinese Shar-Pei breed. One of the major problem areas is the eyes; eye disorders including entropion, glaucoma, retinal dysplasia, and SARDS are known to occur in the breed. Other conditions that can occur include respiratory, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, immune-mediated, skin, and gastrointestinal disorders, and certain cancers. The website of the breed’s national parent club, the Chinese Shar-Pei Club of America, provides detailed breed-health information for owners.
Recommended Health Tests From the National Breed Club:
- Patella Evaluation
- Hip Evaluation
- Elbow Evaluation
- Ophthalmologist Evaluation
- Thyroid Evaluation
The Chinese Shar-Pei requires only minimal grooming. They need a bath only every month or so. Nails should be trimmed once a week, ideally using a grinder. The ears should be cleaned weekly, but don’t overdo the products. The pup should be accustomed at a young age to having his ears cleaned regularly. Do not use cotton swabs, and do not use hydrogen peroxide. The best way to clean the ear canal is to “float’ debris out of the canal using an ear-cleaning solution. A wide variety of good solutions are available on the market and from the veterinarian.
Individual dogs Shar-Pei vary in their exercise needs. This is a very adaptable breed. They can do well with a very active owner, walking every day, or living in an apartment with a few short walks. The breed also exercises mind and body by participating in obedience, tracking, agility, rally, and other activities that can be enjoyed by dog and owner.
One breed expert says, ‘Get a jump-start on basic obedience, and don’t let the dog be the boss!’ Shar-Pei are smart and willing, but sometimes they are stubborn and a bit too smart, thinking of new ways to do things you may not be thrilled with. If you teach them with love and consistency, however, they are a joy. Early socialization and puppy training classes are recommended and help to ensure that the Shar-Pei grows into a well-adjusted, well-mannered companion.
A high-quality dog food appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior) will have all the nutrients the Chinese Shar-Pei needs. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Give table scraps sparingly, if at all, especially avoiding cooked bones and foods with high fat content. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet.