The Shar pei is a breed of dog which originates from Southern China, its best known for its deep wrinkles and its dark blue tongue. The name shar pei translates into English as ‘sandy skin’, which refers to the short rough texture of the breeds coat.
The shar pei is thought to come from the Guangdong province of China, the Guangdong province was a popular trading place during the Han dynasty, so it is unclear if the Shar pei was brought to China or if it was originally bred there. The original Shar pei from China, may have looked very different to the breed now popular in the west.
Bred for hunting, the Sharp pei’s loose skin and prickly coat were originally developed to fend off wild boar. Later the breed was used for dog fighting, the Sharp pei’s skin made it difficult for an opponent to grab and hold on, if they did manage it the Shar pei would still have room to maneuvre and bite back. A Sharp pei can actually twist in its skin and face its opponent, giving it the opportunity to bite back.
During the Communist revolution the Shar pei population dwindled dramatically, on the verge of extinction, the dogs were rescued by a Hong Kong businessman named Matgo Law, who appealed to Americans through a dog magazine to save the breed. In 1973 around two hundred Shar pei’s were smuggled into America, the current Shar pei population stems mainly from these original two hundred.
Small and triangular ears and a cylindrical body shape give the Shar pei its unique look. For show the tail is thick, round at the base, tapering to a point. Shar pei puppies are usually more wrinkly as puppies, although occasionally adults can be wrinklier than their puppy selves, Shar pei’s should have wrinkles on the face, a few on the shoulders and at the base of the tail. The male Sharp pei should weigh between 35 and 65lb, (16 to 29kg), the female 40 to 55 lb (18 to 25kg), and they should stand 18 to 22in (46 to 56cm) at the withers.
The shar pei resembles the Chow Chow in its pigmentation, as they have been cross-bred before, probably giving the Shar pei its dark blue tongue. There are a number of recognised colours in the American Kennel club standard, these include, black, brown, blue, red, fawn, cream, and various sables. The coat must be solid in colour, and any Shar pei with a ‘flower coat’ ( white with either black or blue patches), is automatically disqualified.
The breed suffered from rushed or inexperienced breeding due to its popularity in America in the 1970s. This resulted in a dramatically different look for the Shar pei ( most distinguishing features, including wrinkles and rounded snout were greatly exaggerated) and also a number of health problems. The American breed club states that very few Shar pei make it to ten years old, and it has a longevity program, that records those dogs that live for ten years or more.
Compared to other breeds, Shar pei have an increased risk of developing skin diseases, such as Atopic dermatitus (a chronic allergic skin disease) and Demodicosis, which happens when Demodex canis mites proliferate and cause skin irritation.
Another common problem is a painful eye disease called ‘Entropion’ in which the eyelashes curl inwards, irritating the eye, if untreated it can cause blindness, this condition can be fixed by surgery. The Shar pei are also prone to chronic yeast problems in its ears, this is due to the inner ear having a wrinkled appearance, making cleaning very difficult.
Most Shar pei puppies need early socialisation with children, strangers and other animals. The Shar pei can often be suspicious of strangers, which goes back to its early days as palace guards in China, given time and proper introduction, most Shar pei can be amendable to accepting strangers.
Very independent and reserved, the Shar pei is also loyal, devoted and affectionate. Shar pei do not like to be alone, preferring instead to be close to their owners, often lying nearby in the same room.