The Shar Pei’s unique looks make it easily identifiable from a mile away. This dog is easily recognisable by its deeply wrinkled skin and blue black tongue. Native to Canton, China, the name of the breed was acquired as the British equivalent of the traditional Cantonese name. Shar Pei translates to “sand skin,” which is a basic description of the dog’s rough coat texture filled with wrinkles all round. They generally have even more wrinkles as pups, but the older and more developed they get, the less, but more pronounced the wrinkles become. In 1978, they were named by Time magazine as the world’s rarest dog, but before they became so popular, Shar Peis have a history of near extinction.
The Shar Pei is as ancient as their name sounds, and were first recognized in a similarly ancient land. They were originally used by chinese farmers as working dogs, to herd cattle, guard property and help when it was time to go hunting. This same skin that people marvel at today, was what made it one of the most popular fighting dogs, because of its purpose in preventing them from getting hurt during fights. All this changed almost 2000 years ago, when China began trading with the Western world, causing an influx in many other types of dogs, rendering the Shar Pei virtually useless.
When World War II ended and communism began, dogs became much more expensive and were considered to be more of a luxury item than a necessity. This caused a reduction of dog ownership, leaving the Shar Pei to be abandoned. By the mid 20th century, the breed became significantly reduced and Shar Peis could barely be found. Fortunately however, some of these dogs found their way to the British Colony in Hong Kong, and these foreigners were so fascinated with their looks that they decided to start a campaign helping to prevent the extinction of these dogs.
This campaign caused Shar Peis to be sent to many different countries in the west, leading to them becoming a phenomenon in America. To this day, they remain a fascination to many who see them, and are officially recognized as their own dog breed, which gained entrance into the American Kennel Club in 1988. It is important however, not to make your decision to adopt a Shar Pei solely based on looks, but to take into account all their needs and characteristics. That being said, here are the main factors to consider before you make your decision.
Shar Pei Appearance and Characteristics
Their wrinkly skin are a given, but Shar Peis have many different physical attributes that people never see based on their fascination with the rough wrinkly skin. What many fail to realise is that their peculiar coat comes in three main types, bear, brush and horse. The bear coat is generally the longest, but it is harsh and rough. The brush follows the bear, being a little shorter but just as harsh and rough. The horse coat is the shortest of the three, with a rough straight haired coat, known for causing allergic reactions in many people. These coats come in a variety of colours including fawn, sable, apricot, black, cream and red among others. Shar Peis are generally one solid colour but there are exceptions, with some being piebald.
They are very sturdy and muscular dogs, weighing 40 to 55 pounds and standing 18 – 20 inches tall when fully grown. They have tiny ears, a blocky head and a deep chest which helps to maintain their muscular stature. They have pretty thick tails, which are round at the beginning and come to a tapered point at the end. They are often related to and mistaken for the Chow Chow, which shares a similar wrinkly texture and distinct resemblance.
Personality and Characteristics
Shar Peis are generally well poised, calm and very self confident. They can get a bit stubborn and hard to train but once they understand their position in the household, they will adapt accordingly. They generally are not aggressive towards strangers, despite being used as a guard dog, but instead, they are watchful, alert and very aware of their surroundings. They are normally very affectionate and devoted to their owners, and naturally become loyal to you as long as you treat them with care. They can also be a bit arrogant and cocky, but this demeanour can be adjusted with proper socialization and training.
They are very people oriented dogs, and they tend to get along with almost everybody. They should not be left alone for long periods of time, instead, keep them as close to you as possible. Though somewhat stubborn, they respond well to fair, reward oriented training, and generally understands a command after being walked through the training process. Overall, Shar Peis are a great addition to most families, but ensure she is properly socialised and people oriented before adopting.
Health Care and Lifespan
Shar Peis generally don’t live as long as other dogs, but they have an average lifespan of 9 – 11 years. Their wrinkly skin does have some cons, as it makes them susceptible to different health issues including ectropion and entropion, two different issues of malformation of the eyelids. Entropion is a condition which causes the eyelids to roll inwards, causing hair to rub on the surface of the cornea resulting in pain or corneal erosions and ulcers, while ectropion causes lower eyelids to roll out or droop, exposing the eye to injury.
Apart from these two, your Shar Pei is also at risk of developing a number of other health issues. These are:
- Atopic Dermatitis – an allergy induced skin infection
- Demodicosis – a specific mite infestation caused by demodex canis mites, resulting in skin infection, inflammation and irritation.
- Familial Shar Pei Fever (FSF) – a disease causing short fevers, usually for 24 hours, but it can go up to three days, and be followed by a deposit of fluid specifically around the ankles.
- Chronic Yeast Infection (in the ears)
- Allergic Reactions
The truth is that the pros of the Shar Pei far outweighs any con you might have noticed, so why not take a chance and make this wrinkly hound your new best friend.