Shar Pei

chinese shar-pei dog breed laying on a sunny deck

Shar-Pei dogs may seem lost within their wrinkles, but their story is one of a bold presence in history. Loyal, hard-working, and determined, Shar-Peis have all the characteristics of a dog with a duty. It so happens that, nearly 2,000 years ago, this unique breed served their owners as loyal hunters, herders, guards, and (sadly) fighters.

There’s nothing a Shar-Pei dog won’t do for their human best friend. Well, except coming when called, as Shar-Peis may be somewhat stubborn. Training and socializing these wrinkly pups from a young age is essential.

Besides being determined and devoted pets, they have a fascinating history that lays out some harsh realities that filter into present-day concerns for their pet owners. 

Sand skin: like passing your fingers through the sand

One of the main characteristics of these dogs is their coat. Their name is derived from the sensation one feels while rubbing their unique fur. Their short hair’s bristles feel like passing your fingers through the sand. In Chinese Cantonese, the word Shar-Pei (pronounced shah-peh) means “sand skin.” It’s believed this is what their first owners felt as they pet their dearest bundles of wrinkles.

Characteristics of the Shar-Pei

Shar-Peis weigh 45-60 pounds and are 18-20 in height. Their manner is loyal, adaptable, protective, and independent. They’re very intelligent and can get bored quickly. They’re also very territorial and may be wary of people and dogs they aren’t familiar with. Developing trust with them may take some time and tactics, they’re not a dog that will necessarily trust strangers right away.

They prefer a one-owner family, which might make them develop a greater sense of loyalty to one member of the family members. Though they will protect the entire family, including family cats if needed. 

They’re divided into three main types.

  • Horse-coat Shar Peis: With short hair and more wrinkled skin.
  • Brush-coat Shar Peis: With longer hair and less wrinkled skin.
  • Bear-coat Shar Peis: Longer and softer coats and even fewer skin wrinkles.

Their colors can be:

  • Blueishblack
  • Black
  • Beige

The rise of the Shar-Pei dog

Southern China, at about 200 B.C. (give or take), as the Han dynasty comes to power, bringing China a renewed sense of unity and identity, somewhere in a small village stands a puppy whose skin is loose, shaping many wrinkles throughout his body.

This puppy will grow to become a loyal guard to their peasant family, warding off their livestock and hunting. Their determination, along with the excess of their coat, will prove the perfect defense mechanism during dog fights, unfortunately making them a favorite breed for dog fights. 

The Fall of the Shar-Pei Dog

The West introduced to China new, bigger breeds of dogs, making the Shar-Pei fall out of popularity. The world underwent essential changes, and the Chinese Communist Party began setting high taxes on dogs, finally banning dog breeding in the early 1940s. By 1978s, Shar-Pei was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the rarest dog breed in the world.

The return of the Shar-Pei dog 

On the brink of extinction, the Shar-Pei managed to survive. In May of 1978, an issue of the magazine DOGS published a piece titled “Possibly the Last Surviving Specimen of this Breed,” referencing the Shar-Pei and a picture of a beautiful Shar-Pei. This piece prompted a man called Matgo Law, a Shar-Pei breeder from Hong-kong, to write a letter to the magazine offering a rescue plan for that cute bristly wrinkle fest. 

The magazine then published this letter, bringing instant fame to Matgo Law, as hundreds of readers began asking for Shar-Pei puppies, eager to embrace that adorable and exotic draped puppy. This boosted breeding, and the Shar-Pei’s popularity was back on track.

The Shar-Pei dog today

Today, the Shar-Pei’s wrinkles are no longer used as defense mechanisms, but as canine love handles. Shar-Peis are a common breed and excellent companions. They love their families and are very intelligent. They’ve never lost their loyal nature, always ready to defend those they love. The same goes for their stubbornness, which requires some patience on the part of their owners. 

Health Concerns

Although Shar Pies are adorable for their wrinkles, this characteristic brings some health concerns. Due to poorly selected breeding, some dogs may develop breathing problems because of the size of their nose. Also, their wrinkles may collect unwanted bacteria and humidity, creating undesirable infections. Another concern is the build-up of hyaluronic acid (H.A.), which may result in mucinosis and eye injuries from their eyelashes growing too long and curling into their sockets.

Caring for your Shar-Pei

Shar-Peis are moderately energetic and curious. It’s important for them to have daily moderate walks and plenty of play time. They’re eager to go wherever their canine sense tells them to, so they should always be on a leash as they may be aggressive to other dogs. To be safe, only unleash them in fenced areas. They’re very smart and do recognize their names, whether or not they respond may depend on the level of their stubbornness. 

A Wrinkled Ray of Sunshine

Shar-Peis have gone through a lot, but that doesn’t keep them from waking up every morning with an energetic drive for life next to their families. They’re devoted to their family, but also very independent. They may seem undemonstrative, but they aren’t excessively needed and don’t suffer from much separation anxiety. And they’re also very clean, always preferring to go outside.

They have a history of exploitation and unethical breeding, making the sought-after characteristics a menace to their health. That’s why it’s recommended that dogs be rescued or only purchased by an ethical and informed breeder. It’s important that breeders make sure they select only healthy dogs, with tighter coats and less wrinkles.

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