The Shar-Pei, an ancient breed from China, is a dog with many distinctive physical characteristics. While they are easily recognized for their loose wrinkles, square stance and broad muzzle, they are also known for being loyal, devoted members of the family who can exhibit a tenacious stubborn streak. The Shar-Pei was once considered the rarest breed in the world, but it has become more common in the United States and throughout the world.
History of the Breed
Experts have speculated that these dogs were first bred during the Han Dynasty and might share a common ancestor with the Chow-Chow. Many of the documents that might have recorded a specific history of the Shar-Pei were destroyed for various reasons, or did not survive shifts of political power. The breed itself was threatened in its native homeland with the rise of the People's Republic of China, when dogs were seen as pests within cities and the government made efforts to eliminate them. The Shar-Pei was saved by people who continued to breed them in places like Hong Kong and Taiwan in the late 1960s. Shar-Pei dogs began to be exported to the United States at that time. The Shar-Pei was accepted into the American Kennel Club in 1988, and today these dogs are bred and registered worldwide.
The Shar-Pei possesses a number of features that make the breed immediately identifiable. They have a square profile, with a "hippopotamus" muzzle shape and an abundance of wrinkles all over the body. Puppies have more wrinkles than adults, but grown dogs retain the characteristic loose skin and many wrinkles, specifically concentrated around the head, neck and withers. The name Shar-Pei can be roughly translated to mean "sandy coat," which is a direct reference to the coat's texture. The short hairs have a gritty, almost sandpaper-like feel. The coat is extremely harsh and stands straight out from the body. This medium-sized dog should stand about 20 inches at the shoulder and weigh around 50 pounds. The head of the Shar-Pei is large and square, but proportional with the rest of the body. The hippopotamus muzzle, so named because it is broad and flat, gives the dog a look unlike any other breed. Other distinctive physical breed standards include small, thick, triangular shaped ears that lie flat, small, almond-shaped eyes and a blueish or black tongue.
Characteristics and Traits
Generally speaking, the Shar-Pei is a smart, "serious" dog that forms strong bonds with individuals. While they are loving companions, they can also be stubborn and may require training from someone who is both knowledgeable and experienced. Because they are so devoted to their families, they are often protective of family members and may not tolerate strangers well. Shar-Peis can be anywhere from shy to suspicious and even aggressive towards strange people. They may also chase or show aggression towards unfamiliar animals. When proper introductions are made, Shar-Peis are usually not aggressive toward family pets or other people. This breed also needs plenty of exercise, both physical and mental. Human interaction and playful games, along with daily walks, will keep a Shar-Pei engaged and healthy.
The wrinkles of the Shar-Pei are not just for looks. When the dog was used for fighting in China, before the rise of the People's Republic, the loose skin and many wrinkles helped the dogs to twist away from opponents in a fight. The small, flat ears and deep-set eyes were also better protected than dogs with large eyes not set into the head or floppy and pricked ears.