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The Shar Pei or Chinese Shar-Pei is a breed of dog known for its distinctive features of deep wrinkles and a blue-black tongue. The breed comes from China. The name (沙皮, pinyin: shā pí; English name probably derived from Britishmarker spelling of Cantonese equivalent sā pèih) translates to "sand skin," and refers to the texture of its short, rough coat. As puppies, Shar Pei have numerous wrinkles, but as they mature, these wrinkles disappear as they "grow into their skin". Shar Pei were once named as one of the world's rarest dog breeds by Time magazine and the Guinness Book of World Records, and the American Kennel Club did not recognize the breed until 1991.

History and origin

The origin of the Chinese Shar-Pei can be traced to the province of Kwun Tung (present day Guangdong) and has for centuries existed in the southern provinces of China. These dogs helped their peasant masters in various tasks such as herding cattle, guarding the home and family, and have proven themselves to be qualified hunters of wild game, usually wild pigs, and, of course they were used for generations as fighting dogs, by the Chinese nobility, although the practice became rarer after the people's Revolution when such activities were seen as the preserve of the decadent classes.

The Shar-Pei is believed to have shared a common origin with the smooth-coated Chow-Chow because of the blue-black mouths and tongues, possibly the Great Pyrenees, a source of the double dew claws, and the Tibetan Mastiff. It was believed in ancient times that the dark mouth of the Chow-Chow, exposed when barking, helped to ward off evil spirits. The Shar-Pei when translated means "sand-skin" or "shark skin." This uniquely rough, loose, prickly coat enabled the Shar-Pei to wriggle out of its opponents grasp while fighting in the dog pits. The coat when stroked against the grain may be abrasive, producing a burning, itching sensation. Their tail is carried over their backs on either side exposing the anus. The first tail set is a tightly curled tail, a "coin" tail. The second tail set is the loose curl, and third is carried in an arch over the back. The Shar-Pei with his tail sticking out straight or between his legs was thought to be cowardly. The tail should denote bravery.

While viewing the body head on, if the toes were slightly turned out this was thought to help the dog with balance according to old-time dog-fighting fanciers. The Chinese crawling dragon with his feet pointed east and west was considered a sign of strength. Because of these poor breeding practices many of the Shar-Pei have bad fronts. A dog with straight forelegs is correct.

Incidentally, Western breeders maintain that any dog in China that protects property is called a fighting dog, whereas in Canada and the United States they are referred to as guard dogs. This is still a moot point. Up until the introduction of Breed Specific Legislation, designed to target breeds alleged to be "more likely" to attack and largely aimed at criminalising the American Pit Bull Terrier. Shar Pei were regarded as a breed designed, bred and selected for dog-fighting, after the introduction of various BS legislation, many breeders started to deny the fighting ancestry and concocted fanciful tales of a hunting heritage. It is worth mentioning that the Chinese and Taiwanese still regard the Shar Pei as a dog-fighting breed, although the prohibitive cost of the breed has done much to discourage such abuse.

Following the establishment of the Peoples' Republic of China as a communist nation, the dog population was virtually wiped out . If not for the efforts of Matgo Law of Hong Kong, the Shar-Pei would not be here today. Due to his dedication to the breed, a small number of Shar-Pei were brought to the United States in the 1960s and early '70s. In 1974 American and Canadian fanciers answered Matgo's appeal for help and in 1976 the first Shar-Pei was registered. The foundation stock brought over from Hong Kong were of poorer quality than the Shar-Pei we see today. In August 1991 the Shar-Pei officially completed the requirements for recognition by the American Kennel club and was placed in the Non-Sporting Group. In 1992 the Canadian Kennel Club also officially recognized and grouped the Shar-Pei in group 6, Non-Sporting n g events. Since that time several Shar-Pei are now andcontinuing to become CKC and AKC champions.

Over 100,000 Shar Pei exist in the United Statesmarker and Canadamarker. This unique breed is also recognized by the FCI, HKKC, and the CSPCGB. The CSPCGB operates independently receiving no input or influence from the UKmarker Kennel Club. The FCI recognizes the HKKC standard which is a standard based on the traditional type and not the AKC's western modified type at this time, as per its general policy of using the standard from the country of the breed's origin.


Shar Pei have a thick, curled tail


Small, triangular ears, a muzzle shaped like that of a hippopotamus, and a high-set tail also give the Shar Pei a unique look. For show standard, "the tail is thick and round at the base, tapering to a fine point" (AKC standard February 28, 1998). This is one of the most important feature of Shar-pei. So bushy thick tail is incorrect but very commonly seen in most western Shar-pei today.


Western Shar Pei come in many different colors such as fawn, red (rose), sand, cream, black, lilac and blue. They resemble the Chow Chow due to having the same blue-black tongue. There are over sixteen recognized colors in AKC. The coat must be solid incolor and any Shar-Pei with a "flowered coat" (spotted) or black and tan in coloration (i.e. German Shepherd) is a disqualification. Colors include black, cream, fawn, red-fawn, red, sable, apricot, chocolate, isabella, and blue. The nose may be black or brick (pink with black), with or without a black mask. A Shar-Pei can also have what is called a "dilute" coloration. Meaning the nose, nails and anus of the dog is the same color as the coat, (i.e. chocolate coat with chocolate nose, nails and anus). All of these color variations are acceptable and beautiful, but the coat color must be solid and well blended throughout the whole body of the dog.


A Shar pei which shows the breed's compact body, curled tail, and small ears.
Shar Pei puppies, showing the greater number of wrinkles.
Western Shar Pei comes in three different coat types; horse, brush and bear coat. The unusual horse-coat is rough to the touch, extremely prickly and off-standing and is closer to the original traditional Shar Pei breed in appearance and coat type than the Brush or Bear Coat. This coat is fairly prickly, and can be rough or irritating when petting in the opposite direction of the fur. The Horse Coat is generally thought to be more active and predisposed to dominant behaviour than the Brush Coat.The brush-coated variety have slightly longer hair and a smoother feel to them. The Brush Coat is generally considered to be more of a 'couch potato' than the Horse Coat.

Unlike the two coat types above, the Bear Coat does not meet breed standards and therefore cannot be shown. The coat is much longer than the Brush and Horse Coat, so much so, in most cases you can't see the famous wrinkles. A Bear Coat can occur in any litter.

This breed has little to no shedding (see Moult).

The Chinese Shar-Pei is a unique and intelligent dog most often recognized for its wrinkles. Initially developed as a Chinese fighting dog, the breed does well today in obedience, agility, herding and tracking, with skills that would have been needed on the farm. Because the name "Shar-Pei" means "sand coat", harshness is a distinctive feature in its two accepted coat types, either horse (short) or brush (up to an inch long). Other unique qualities include black mouth pigment, a slightly "hippo-like" head shape, small ears, deepset eyes and rising topline.

All Shar-Pei, but especially the horsecoat need early socialization with children, strangers, and other animals. Like other fighting breeds they can be stubborn, strong willed and very territorial. Early training can help control these traits before they become problem behaviors. Some people may experience a sensitivity to the harshness of the coat of either length. This is a mild, short lived rash, that can develop on the skin that has been in contact with the coat, most commonly on the forearms.

The brushcoat matures early to be a stocky strong dog, therefore early socialization and training are essential in order to have a dog that is a good family member as well as a welcome member of society. The brushcoat is not always as active as the horsecoat and are often more content to laze around the house. Like their horsecoat brothers they are strong willed, stubborn and territorial but, these are often exhibited to a lesser degree. Both coat types, brush and horse, are true Shar-Pei.

There is another length of coat that a Shar-Pei can have. When both the male and female carry the recessive gene for this coat type, it can occur. It is any coat that is longer than 1 inch at the withers. This coat length is commonly called a "Bear Coat." This coat length resembles the coat on a breed of dog called a "Chow Chow." The personality of the bear coat is very much like that of a brush coat.


Shar Pei usually come in two varieties: one is covered in large folds of wrinkles, even into adulthood (the Western type and mainly Brush Coat). The other variation has skin that appears tighter on its body, with wrinkles just on the face and at the withers (the original type and Horse Coat).


The Shar Pei is often suspicious of strangers, which pertains to their origin as a guard dog. In general the breed has proved itself to be a loving, devoted family dog. They are also a very independent and reserved breed. Nevertheless, the Shar Pei is extremely devoted, loyal and affectionate to its family, and is amenable to accepting strangers given time and proper introduction at a young age. If poorly socialized or trained, it can become especially territorial and aggressive. Even friendly and well-socialized individuals will retain the breed's watch dog proclivities (such as barking at strangers). It is a largely silent breed, barking only when playing or when worried. The Shar Pei were originally bred as palace guards in China. While this breed is adorable it is also very protective of its home and family, a powerful dog that is willing to guard its family members. The breed is amenable to training, but can get bored from repetition. Overall, the Shar Pei is a dog that is loyal and loving to its family while being very protective and independent.


Because of its fame after being introduced to North America in the 1970s, the breed suffered much inexperienced or rushed breeding. Many genetic problems arose as a result. Allergy-induced skin infections can be a problem in this breed caused by poorly selected breeding stock. This actually has become more and more rare over the years with responsible breeders and lines. Familial Shar Pei fever (FSF), and swollen hock syndrome, (SHS), are also a serious problems for the breed. The FSF disease causes short fevers lasting up to 24 hours, after which there may be no recurrence or they may recur at more frequent intervals and become more serious. A possibly related disease is called amyloidosis, and is caused by unprocessed amyloid proteins depositing in the organs, most often in the kidneys or liver, leading to renal failure. At this time there is no test for these seemingly prevalent diseases.

A common problem is a painful eye condition, entropion, in which the eyelashes curl inward, irritating the eye. Untreated, it can cause blindness. This condition can be fixed by surgery ("tacking" the eyelids up so they will not roll onto the eyeball for puppies or surgically removing extra skin in adolescent and older Shar Pei).

Chinese Shar Pei can be notoriously allergic to food products that contain soy, corn, wheats, glutens and sugars (or can develop these allergies without proper care early on). It is recommended in the breed now to use a completely grain-free food to offset and try to prevent these allergies. Often the consumption of these types of poor quality foods result in allergic skin reactions. Shar Pei whose food intake is restricted to better quality foods free of corn/soy/wheats and glutens, will enjoy much healthier lives with little or no skin irritation, itching, or sores.

Responsible breeders work to reduce the frequence of these genetic problems, and so finding an experienced, well-established Shar-Pei breeder is important. Some problems (ie, the need for eye-tacking) can be virtually eliminated from experienced breeders' litters. The breeder will also give the best and most detailed diet information specific to their Shar-Pei.


The Shar Pei breed comes from the Guangdongmarker province of China. The original Shar-pei from China looked very different from the breed now popular in the West. People in southern China, Hong Kong, and Macau differentiate the Western type and the original type by calling them respectively "meat-mouth" and "bone-mouth" Shar-pei.
Traditional Shar-Pei.

The ancestry of the Shar-Pei is uncertain. It may be a descendant of the Chow Chow, however, the only clear link between these is the blue-black tongue. However, pictures on pottery suggest the breed was present even in the Han Dynasty (206bc). For many years the Shar-Pei was kept as a general-purpose farm dog in the Chinese countryside, used for hunting, protecting & herding stock and guarding the home and family. During that time the Shar-Pei was bred for intelligence, strength and scowling face.

Later, it was used for dog fighting. The loose skin and extremely prickly coat were developed originally to help the Pei fend off wild boar, as they were used to hunt. Dog Fighters used these enhanced traits to make the Shar-Pei difficult for its opponent to grab and hold on to and so that, if it did manage to hold on, the Shar-Pei would still have room to maneuver and bite back. The Shar-Pei's most intriguing feature, in this respect, is that if you grab them by any loose wrinkle they can actually twist in their skin and face in your direction. This trait was used in fighting as a means for them to fight back, they would be bitten and twist in their skin to bite back at the offender. During the Communist Revolution, when the Shar Pei population dwindled dramatically, dogs were rescued by a Hong Kong business man named Matgo Law, who appealed to Americans in 1973 through a dog magazine to save the breed. Around 200 Shar-Peis were smuggled into America. The current American Shar Pei population stems mainly from these original 200.

DNA analysis has concluded that the Shar Pei is one of the most ancient dog breeds

Famous Shar-Pei

  • Lao-Tzu, Martin Prince's dog in The Simpsons, appeared in two episodes; "Bart's Dog Gets an F" and "Two Dozen and One Greyhounds".
  • Fu Dog from the Disney cartoon American Dragon: Jake Long is a Shar Pei.
  • Satchel, from the syndicated comic strip Get Fuzzy, is half yellow lab and half Shar Pei.
  • Malcolm and Derek, from the TV version of Creature Comforts.
  • A Shar Pei appears in the television show Lost as character Sun Kwon's pet, Bpo Bpo.
  • In a British television advert for a Garnier anti-wrinkle cream, a Shar Pei puppy is featured.
  • New Kids on the Block member Jonathan Knight had a Shar Pei named Nikko that went on tour with him and appeared in many magazine articles and pictures focused on the group.
  • In Australia and New Zealand, a Shar Pei puppy named Roly has been used for many years in television commercials for Purex toilet paper.
  • Popeye, a Shar Pei dog that appeared in Hong Kong TVB comedy shows.
  • Zac Lichman from Big Brothermarker had a Shar Pei named Molly, who undertook a task on Day 55, and was also reunited.
  • Alfie, a Shar Pei from Essex. Owned by the Seaton-Collins family. Best known for winning the Crufts 2006 gold show dog award.
  • G-Dragon from the popular Korean hip-hop group Big Bang has a Shar Pei puppy, named Gaho. Gaho is featured several times in a documentary, GDTV, from Mnet.

See also


External links

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