Chinese Shar-Pei

PetMD Editorial
Written by:
PetMD Editorial
Published: February 23, 2009

The Chinese Shar-Pei's uniqueness is derived from its appearance. Noted for its cuddly wrinkles -- similar to the skin rolls on a chubby baby -- bluish-black tongue, and unusual head shape, the Shar-Pei is as loyal as it is independent, in spite of its frowning gaze. Although it is generally obedient, the breed must be trained by a consistent and confident handler, for fear that its intelligent, bold, and stubborn nature will prevail. If that occurs, it will be showing you who’s boss.

Physical Characteristics

The Shar-Pei may have an extremely short "horse coat" or a "brush coat"; both, however, are straight, harsh, and stand away from the dog's body. The name "Shar-Pei" roughly translates into "sand-skin," a reference to its sandpaper-like texture. When rubbed backward, this prickly coat, which can be seen in various solid colors, is quite uncomfortable and may cause welts on a sensitive person’s skin.

Although it is popular for its profuse wrinkles and loose skin, only puppies possess this feature while in adults, the wrinkles are limited to the shoulders, neck, and head.

Compact and square-bodied, the Shar-Pei has a slightly large head, a hippo-like muzzle, powerful and broad jaws, and what some might describe as an angry expression. Many of its other features, such as its close and small ears, sunken eyes, and stiff, stubbly coat, are attributed to its ancestry as a fighting dog. It also has good drive and reach, and a free gait.

Personality and Temperament

Even though it is not very affectionate, the Shar-Pei is protective of and dedicated to its human family. The serious, self-possessed, and self-assured Shar-Pei is both independent and stubborn. It is wary and reserved towards strangers, jittery towards animals and livestock, and aggressive towards other dogs. However, it is generally quite nice around other family pets.


The Shar-Pei's coat only requires weekly brushing, while its wrinkles require daily attention to ensure irritation does not occur within the dog's skin folds. Daily physical and mental stimulation are also important for the Shar-Pei. This can be easily accomplished by taking it on a long walk or by setting up active play sessions for the dog throughout the day. The Shar-Pei should be allowed to spend time both indoors and outdoors, but should not be considered an "outside dog."


The Chinese Shar-Pei, which has an average lifespan of 8 to 10 years, suffers from minor health issues like lip and skin fold pyodermas, otitis externa, hypothyroidism, patellar luxation, allergies, and amyloidosis, and minor problems such as entropion and canine hip dysplasia (CHD). To identify some of these issues, a veterinarian may run hip, eye, knee, elbow, and thyroid tests on the dog.

Megaesophagus is sometimes seen in this breed. The Shar-Pei is also prone to fevers, and although its cause is unknown, it often occurs with Shar-Peis suffering from swollen hocks (roughly equivalent to a human ankle).

History and Background

This breed’s origin is not precisely known, although it is believed that the Chinese Shar-Pei ancestors may have come from the southern regions of China during the Han Dynasty (c. 200 B.C.). Some statues have even been discovered in this area bearing a strong resemblance to the Shar-Pei.

Soon after the establishment of the People's Republic of China, many records about the breed's background were lost during the social upheaval. It is known that the breed was used by peasant farmers as a working dog, and later serving as wild boar hunter, a property guard dog, and a fighting dog.

As time passed, the Chinese Shar-Pei lost its allure and many of the dogs were removed, leaving just a handful of dog that remained along the city outskirts. In 1968, the Hong Kong Kennel Club recognized the breed and a resurgence of the Chinese Shar-Pei occurred in Taiwan and British Hong Kong. Many of these specimens would eventually make their way to the United States.

In 1973, a news article alerted U.S. Shar-Pei fanciers to the breed's dangerously low numbers; determined to be the rarest dog in the world, the dog lovers worked quickly to protect the remaining dogs. Since then, the breed has become very popular and is among the most recognizable breeds in the U.S. The Shar-Pei was accepted into the American Kennel Club's (AKC) Miscellaneous Class in 1988, and in 1992, it was officially accepted into the AKC's Non-Sporting Group.

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