Chinese Shar-Peis are compact, medium-sized dogs with an abundance of wrinkles and a hippopotamus-shaped head. The breed's name "Shar-Pei" means sandy coat and refers to the sandpaper texture of their coat. The coat is extremely harsh and straight and stands off the trunk and body. It comes in all solid colors and sable. Shar-Peis have loose skin over their body and head. Their ears are small and their tail is high set. These dogs have small, dark, almond-shaped eyes that appear sunken. Chinese Shar-Pei dogs measure 18 to 20 inches tall at the withers and weigh 45 to 60 pounds. With proper care, they live up to 10 years.
The Shar-Pei was originally a multipurpose farm dog in China, and the breed worked as perimeter guard dogs, vermin catchers, trackers, and herders.
These intelligent dogs often have a scowling and sober appearance. They may look sad, but they are actually very fun and goofy animals. Shar-Peis are fiercely devoted to their family, and they strongly bond to one special person. However, these dogs have no interest in hugging or cuddling.
The Shar-Pei's full muzzle is often described as being very similar to that of a hippopotamus. Many people find this trait interesting and endearing, and it may help explain the breed's popularity.
Intelligent and stubborn dogs, Chinese Shar-Peis make devoted and protective family pets. They are self-assured, serious, independent, and devoted, and they are good with older children and with other household pets. These dogs can be reserved toward, or even suspicious of, unfamiliar people. Additionally, the Shar-Pei breed is highly territorial and can be aggressive toward unknown dogs.
This breed needs daily exercise. Long daily walks and frequent play and games can stimulate these dogs both mentally and physically. They love to run and spend time outdoors, but they are fine in apartments and urban settings, provided they get plenty of time outside. Shar-Peis are often exhibited in conformation, tracking, obedience, and agility rings.
Anyone interested in adopting a Shar-Pei should understand that these dogs require a lot of training to become lovable family pets. Once they bond with their human family members, however, they remain devoted for life.
As a breed, Shar-Peis are prone to a variety of health conditions. These dogs are known to be affected by congenital hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, elbow dysplasia, demodectic mange, ciliary dyskinesia, renal amoidosis, entropion, skin allergies, and ear infections. Additionally, their padded heads are sensitive to heat, and it's essential to make sure they get plenty of water and shade to prevent overheating and related complications. Also, the folds around the eyes of these dogs mean poor peripheral vision, and this can lead to injury if care is not taken.
Shar-Peis are also prone to hypothyroidism, retinal dysplasia, and glaucoma, and the breed is known to suffer from fevers of unknown origin. These fevers, dubbed "Shar-Pei fevers," are accompanied by swelling of the hock joints. Lethargy, diarrhea, vomiting, and breathing changes may also be present, and temperatures may elevate to 107 degrees F.
It is common for Shar-Peis to live 10 or more years, provided they receive routine veterinary care, get plenty of exercise, and eat a healthy diet.
Shar-Peis are very bright and learn quickly, but their stubbornness may make them difficult to train. Additionally, they bore easily with too much repetition and can be choosy about which commands they want to follow. Because of this, they need frequent, firm, and loving reminders of who the boss is in the relationship. These dogs respond well to clicker training and positive reinforcement.
The breed has a reputation for being aggressive toward humans. Early training and socialization can help with this. Shar-Peis were bred to fight and hunt, and these instincts will continue to resurface throughout life without extensive training. Socialization throughout life will help prevent these dogs from becoming overly suspicious.
Training can also help manage other bothersome behaviors, such as the breed's tendency to chase small animals. The good news is that Shar-Peis generally house-train early and easily, and that once they learn a rule or command, they never forget it.
Shar-Peis are very clean dogs that require very little grooming, and a weekly brushing is usually sufficient for most. However, the breed is prone to certain skin problems that will improve with daily brushing and weekly bathing.
The Shar-Pei's wrinkles need regular attention to check for and deal with irritation in the skin folds. The wrinkles must be wiped daily with a damp cloth and then dried well to prevent skin infections. It's important not to oil the skin, as doing so can worsen problems. Bathing is only necessary should the Shar-Pei become dirty, although more frequent bathing with a gentle canine shampoo is acceptable, if desired.
The nails should be clipped regularly and the teeth should be brushed as often as possible to prevent dental problems. Shar-Peis have small, tight ears that predispose them to ear infections and other problems. Because of this, it is very important to clean the ears regularly to prevent yeast and bacterial infections.
The Shar-Pei may have existed in the southern Chinese provinces since the time of the Han Dynasty, or around 200 B.C. Writings and other evidence point to the breed's existence leading up to the 13th century, so it's clear the breed existed at least as early as this time period. Although the breed's line is unclear, it is likely the Chinese Shar-Pei shares common ancestors with the Chow Chow as both come from China and have blue-black tongues.
The Shar-Pei was originally a multipurpose farm dog in China, and the breed worked as perimeter guard dogs, vermin catchers, trackers, and herders. They were beloved for their scowl and black pigmented mouth, as the Chinese believed these features would scare off evil spirits.
When China became communist, most of the nation's dogs were eliminated. A few Shar-Peis were bred elsewhere, including in British Hong Kong and Taiwan. During the late 1960s, a few of the breed turned up in the United States. Thanks to a 1973 article that pointed out the rarity of the breed, fanciers brought the breed back from extinction. It is now one of the most recognizable dog breeds in America.
The American Kennel Club officially recognized the Chinese Shar-Pei in 1992.