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A Dragon-Dog with Wrinkles

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As a breed, the Shar Pei, which hails from southern China and is very much a newcomer to the rest of the world, does have some things going for it that may appeal to a potential pet purchaser. First, you are bound to be asked what kind of dog it is, and where it is from. It looks like almost no other breed around, so it will get attention when you take it for walks. And you can almost always be sure that you will have the only one in your neighborhood; it was once listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's rarest dog.

Here is the Shar Pei at a Glance
Name Shar Pei
Other Names Chinese Fighting Dog
Nicknames None
Origin Guangdong Province, southern China
Average size Medium large
Average weight 45-60 pounds
Average height 18-20 inches at the shoulder
Life span 9-11 years
Coat type Dense, short, coarse, bristly
Hypoallergenic No
Color Typically black, blue or red
Popularity Not high
Intelligence Fairly high
Tolerance to heat Poor
Tolerance to cold Good
Shedding Minimal
Drooling Minimal
Obesity Some tendency
Grooming/brushing Minimal
Barking Seldom barks
Exercise needs Average
Trainability Okay, requires consistent approach
Friendliness Not the most friendly, aloof
Good first dog No
Good family pet Not the best
Good with children Not great
Good with other dogs Okay
Good with other pets Okay
Good with strangers Shy, wary
Good apartment dog Yes
Handles alone time well Okay
Health issues Hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, entropion, ear infections
Medical expenses $260 annual average
Food expenses $235 annual average
Miscellaneous expenses $75 annual average
Average annual expense $570
Cost to purchase $1150
Biting Statistics Child Victims: 6 Adult Victims: 0 Deaths: 0

The Shar Pei's Beginnings

In the world of recognized purebred dogs, the Shar Pei is a newcomer. It was not recognized by the American Kennel Club until 1991. But in the world of dogs, the Shar Pei is one of the oldest. It comes from the Guangdong Province in southernmost China, the land bordering the South China Sea, and has been a recognized breed in that part of the world since at least 200 BC.

The Shar Pei began its existence as a farmer's hunting dog, bred and raised mainly to fight wild boars. Over time it also became popular among Chinese who raised dogs to fight. One of the secrets of its success as a hunter and fighter was its wrinkly skin, which is extremely loose on the body. If another dog managed to get a firm grip, the Shar Pei could literally twist around inside its loose folds of skin to grasp some vital part of the other dog. The Shar Pei's skin offered protection as well. It is very tough and durable, and its rough texture gave rise to the Shar Pei's name, which translates as "sandy skin."

The end result was a medium large dog that was stocky and heavy-boned, muscular, strong jawed, fearless and ferocious. Those characteristics guaranteed that the Shar Pei would not become a widely popular member of Chinese doggie society, but those people who valued its hunting and fighting skills were devoted to it.

New Lease on Life

The Communist revolution in China almost marked the end of the Shar Pei's existence. In the early twentieth century, if not before, China was overrun by stray dogs. They actually formed a major food source for the people, but they were also a health hazard, and the Chinese communists decided to take action. The first step was to go after the strays canines, killing as many as possible. At the same time, the government mandated that all pet dogs, which of course included the Shar Pei, be registered and licensed. Failure to do so was punishable by fines or worse. Then, within another year, the government ordered that all pet dogs be taken in and put to death. This was presented as part of the public health campaign being waged against dogs generally, but there was a political factor as well. The communists did not approve of pets in general. They were seen as bourgeois, and therefore not acceptable in the brave new proletarian world the communists were trying to create.

As Shar Pei were not that plentiful to begin with, this could have spelled the end of the line for the breed, but a businessman in Hong Kong, which was under British, not Chinese, control, came to the rescue. The businessman, whose name was Matgo Law, found the means to smuggle two hundred Shar Pei out of China and eventually into the United States. Today, almost all of the Shar Pei alive in the U.S. are descendant of those two hundred dogs.

The Dog You See Today

The contemporary Shar Pei is a medium-size dog with a flat face and nose, eighteen to twenty inches high at the shoulder and weighing in a between forty-five and sixty pounds. The expected life span is nine to eleven years. The skin is famously wrinkly, with folds of skin around the body especially pronounced during puppyhood. U.S. breeders in many cases have bred for that effect, with the result that the contemporary dog is more wrinkled than its native Chinese forerunners. Some breeders, however, are moving back toward the Shar Pei's original appearance. The dog's head is very large, and in fact is sometimes referred to as a "hippopotamus head."

The Shar Pei's ears are quite small and triangular, and are tucked close to the side of the head. The tail is thick, round at the base and tapering to a point, and typically held high. The dog's most common colors are solid black, blue or red, but some are a lighter color-fawn, sand, cream, or sometimes lilac. The face usually sports a black mask.

A striking feature is the Shar Pei's tongue, which is dark blue or black. Only one other dog in the world, the Chinese Chow Chow, has a tongue like this.

The Inner Shar Pei



It is important to remember that the Shar Pei was bred to protect, to hunt large, dangerous animals, and to fight. All of that is still very much a part of its makeup. The Shar Pei is very affectionate and loving with its family, but not so much with others. The Shar Pei is a natural guard dog. It is close and protective of the people it was raised with, and wary of strangers. It is not a barker by nature, so when it does bark, it is not likely offering a friendly hello, and the people around it need to listen and take heed. But while not all that sociable, it prefers to be physically close and rubbing shoulders with its owner. It is not a dog that tolerates long periods of alone time, and so it is not the pet for someone who has to be away for extended periods of time. It also is not a dog you can turn over to a dog sitter.

Living with a Shar Pei

What will training a Shar Pei require?

The Shar Pei is a breed to which dominance is important. If, as new owner, you don't establish early on that you are the boss, you may never be able to. That obviously would not make for a happy family. Early obedience training is vital, and it definitely should be with someone who has experience dealing with Shar Pei, or at least with dogs like it. After that, continued training and discipline is necessary. The discipline and training should emphasize positive reward and reinforcement; this is definitely not a dog that will respond well to punishment, verbal or physical.

Shar Pei's need early socialization with people, pets and children. They need to get to know the people they will be living with, and to spend plenty of time with them. At the same time, they won't be interested in frolicking around. They are not physically playful, but they do like and need to be physically close to their people.

How active are they?

They do enjoy taking hikes, but they won't play fetch with a ball or a stick. The Shar Pei can be a good dog for someone living in an apartment. It is not extremely active and does not need huge amounts of exercise. It is happy living in a small space, and does not have a huge need to roam. It is quiet, doesn't howl, and seldom barks. It is a good and active watch dog and guard dog. Once again, though, it needs to know who is the boss, and needs consistent discipline.

Caring for the Shar Pei

Grooming requirements

The SharPei has a bristly coat that varies in length from very short to medium in length and it sheds a minimal amount. This means brushing can be done a couple of times a week to be sufficient using a grooming mitt or rubber curry to remove dirt and loose hair. It should not be bathed too often as that can affect it's skin. You will need to pay attention to the folds and wrinkles in its skin making sure to keep them dry when they become wet, whether it is from sweat or water. The ears should be examined for signs if infection and then wiped clean once a week. The teeth should be brushed to prevent bacteria and tartar at least two to three times a week. The Shar Pei's nails will need to be clipped when they become overly long, this can be done by a professional groomer. If you begin handling its paws, touching his teeth and ears from a young age a dog is more likely to accept it as part of its normal weekly grooming routine.


Feeding a Shar Pei

It will need to be fed a high quality dry dog food as this is more nutritional and better for it. It will eat around 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups a day but that should be split into a minimum of two meals for health reasons.

How they get on with children and other animals

Children need to understand that they must not roughhouse with the dog, try to take its bowl away, or otherwise cross its emotional boundaries. For the children's visiting friends, this goes double.

The Shar Pei has a strong prey response. If it is living in a rural area, near deer or livestock, it is important that it not be allowed to run loose.

The Shar Pei is usually fairly friendly, or at least tolerant of, other pets, but is not playful. It can also be highly territorial, and may be aggressive about protecting what it sees as its turf.

What Might Go Wrong

Health Concerns

Shar Pei are strong, tough and hold up pretty well. They are not, however, trouble free, and there are some medical issues that they are vulnerable to.

A common problem with this breed is hip dysplasia, where the hip essentially become dislocated from the socket and has to be put back in place. This is not an uncommon problem among larger dogs, and the Shar Pei is no exception. A similar problem Shar Pei are prone to is patellar luxation. In this case the kneecap becomes dislocated and has to be repositioned. This is something more often found in smaller dogs, but Shar Pei appear to have a genetic predisposition for it. If it is going to happen, it will usually be within the first four to six months. If it is frequent, surgery is usually the course of preference.

Another problem fairly common with Shar Pei is a problem called entropion, where the eyeled curls under, so that the eyelashes get caught inside the eye and cause irritation and inflammation of the cornea. This usually needs to be treated surgically, otherwise it can cause damage to the cornea.

Finally, because of the tight way the Shar Pei's ears tuck up against the head, ear infections are fairly common and need medication or other treatment. It is also important that the Shar Pei's ears be kept washed out and clean.

Biting statistics

Over the last 34 years of data on biting amongst dogs the Shar Pei has been reported to have 6 human attacks linked to it. This puts it in the top third of dogs linked to attacks. Attacks are ranked from fatalities to maiming to other injuries that required treatment by a medical professional. All 6 of the attacks by the Shar Pei were maimings, meaning there was permanent scarring, disfigurement or loss of a limb. All six of the victims were children. Keep in mind that this is 6 attacks over 34 years. This means most years there are 0 attacks. As long as you take the training and socialization seriously for the Shar Pei there is no need to be overly cautious.

Your Pup's Price Tag

You won't find this dog in a bargain basement. The Shar Pei will cost anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500, with the average price around $1,150. You may find one through a rescue organization, the main one being North American Shar Pei Rescue. The odds of locating one at your local animal shelter are slim to nonexistent, given that the Shar Pei is such a rare breed. There just aren't that many around.


After the purchase, you will need to have your Shar Pei spayed (female) or neutered (male) for something in the neighborhood of $220, along with puppy shots, worming, and other incidental expenses for another $70 or so.

Obedience training is especially important with this breed, which will cost at least $110, and possible more, as training may go slow in this case. Then there will be other initial expenses such as a license, collar and leash and such, for probably another $75.

Going on from there you have to feed the dog, which is likely to run you, if you get quality food, about $235 a year for a dog this size. Average ongoing medical expenses for the Shaar Pei typically run about $260 a year barring major problems. Some owners these days purchase veterinary insurance, which can run $200 or more a year.

Overall, you can expect the expense for a Shar Pei to be on the order of $570 a year.

day one who the boss is. This is not a dog to be bought on a whim, or just as a playmate. It doesn't play well. But if you treat it right, it will be loving and fiercely loyal.


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  • The Shar Pei is an unusual and interesting dog. It is extremely rare to see one, which is something that appeals to some potential owners. It has very distinctive looks, and certainly won't be mistaken for any other dog. It is affectionate with the people in its life, and tends to bond very closely with its owner. It is quiet, reserved, and very protective. It can also be aggressive, and has a strong prey instinct. It is a dog that requires consistent and strong discipline, and has to be taught from day one who the boss is. This is not a dog to be bought on a whim, or just as a playmate. It doesn't play well. But if you treat it right, it will be loving and fiercely loyal.

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