Within the FCI, this rare Chinese pedigree breed belongs to the molosser group and as is typical for these dogs, mainly exudes friendly calm and composure. The Shar Pei is loyal and loving towards its family and especially its main caregiver, with whom it shares a close connection. Although they are not very playful, they can also cope well in a family with children thanks to their good nature and stoic composure.
Strong-willed to dominant
In contrast, the Shar Pei is less tolerant towards other dogs or animals. When encountering other Shar Peis, these otherwise peaceful dogs forget their composure and at times show very strong dominant behaviour, which coupled with their courage and strength of will can result in unpleasant consequences for other dogs, especially if they are generally inferior on a physical level. Early and comprehensive socialisation as well as intuitive and consistent training are therefore highly necessary. With the right training, these intelligent and proud Chinese dogs learn to control themselves and not to let themselves be provoked.
Pedigree dogs with family values
These individual and sensitive pedigree dogs need a close family connection along with training in order to become agreeable family dogs. Living in a kennel is out of the question for these stubborn but people-minded dogs – especially since if marginalised in this way, they would soon seek out their own ways and means of behaviour that certainly wouldn't be in line with their owner's wishes. These dogs show their appreciation for proximity to their caregiver and family with great loyalty. Now and then, these extremely serious dogs show themselves to be fun and affectionate in the family unit.
In addition, the Shar Pei is considered a reliable watch dog that always attentively and self-confidently protects its family. Although they initially encounter strangers in a cautious, reserved manner, they are courageous and self-confident enough to fully defend their family should the situation require it. It's down to the owner to show the Shar Pei when such danger is afoot and when it can relax. Certain knowledge and sufficient authority are definitely an advantage in this respect. What's for sure is that things won't be boring with these multi-faceted individualists.
Not just the apparent contradictions in the Shar Pei's character make it a very special dog. Purely in terms of appearance, these pedigree dogs are highly unusual. The Chinese standard expresses this accurately: “Ears like shells, nose like a butterfly, head large like a melon, face of a grandmother, throat like a hippo, rear end like a horse and legs like a dragon.”
Wrinkly dog with few wrinkles
The wrinkles on the head and back that give these dogs the epithet “Chinese dogs with wrinkles” are most eye-catching of all. However, this characteristic formation of wrinkles should be not bred in an “artificial” manner, as happened often in the past. After all, the Shar Pei is originally a working dog and its range of motion should not be limited by too many flaps of skin. Nowadays, mainly only the puppies have too many wrinkles, whereby their fur still appears too large for their small bodies. They won't have grown into their coat until reaching adult age and by this point will only have a few wrinkles on their head and withers.
How big will the Shar Pei become?
Males reach up to 51cm in height, whilst females are slightly smaller at a maximum of 48cm. Regardless of the height, an adult Shar Pei should weigh between 18 and 25kg. Overall, today's pedigree dogs appear somewhat bulkier than their ancestors. This image is reinforced by the very large head. In contrast, the typically close-set, shell-shaped ears appear extremely small.
The curled tail and blue tongue, suggesting a close relation to the Chow Chow, are also characteristic of the Shar Pei.
Rich variety of colours
The Shar Pei also proves diverse in terms of colour. Apart from white, all fur colours are permitted and monotone fur ranging from dark black, soft grey, bright reddish-brown to light sand and cream tones. Dark hues both along the back and on the ears and tail are allowed. In any case, the fur is short, coarse and bristly with no undercoat to give warmth. Hence, the Shar Pei does not have good tolerance of cold or wetness.
The special feature of this Chinese breed is proven on a biological level too. As a result, the Shar Pei is one of the so-called “ancient breeds” that genetically differ greatly from other dog breeds. Dogs of this type were found around 2,000 years ago in China's southern provinces. Although the exact origin has not ultimately been clarified, the breed can be traced back to the Han dynasty (206 B.C. until 220 A.C.) thanks to findings and reproductions.
Is the Shar Pei a poor man's dog?
In contrast to the pug, which also originates from China and has a similarly long history, the Shar Pei's natural habitat isn't the emperor's palaces, but rather land belonging to poor farmers and fishermen. They were deployed for tasks ranging from guarding the farm and herding animals to hunting rats and small game. Even nowadays, this versatile farming breed shows a certain hunting instinct, which demands appropriate caution from the owner, particularly when running off the lead.
Popularity thanks to an American marketing campaign
Despite its long history, the Shar Pei is still a rare dog breed that was unknown outside of China, its country of origin, for a long time. Even in China itself, the Shar Pei would have already become extinct several decades ago had the Hong Kong native breeder Matgo Law not made a huge effort to rescue the breed. The emergence of communism, which dismissed owning a Shar Pei as an unnecessary luxury, absolutely decimated the breed population. In 1976, there were only 145 Shar Peis worldwide, making it the rarest breed in the word. Alarmed by these statistics, the Shar Pei fan Law turned to American colleagues. Thanks to a big marketing campaign by the Americans, the Shar Pei became known and loved in the US. Successful breeding programmes commenced and the population of this Chinese dog breed slowly recovered.
Breeding and Health
Breeders of these charismatic dogs can now connect in Europe too. However, the choice of suitable dogs for breeding remains small. Hence, careful checks through clubs and associations and a great sense of responsibility from the breeder are required in order to avoid breed-related illnesses.
The battle is mainly against genetically-determined skin problems (e.g. idiopathic mucinosis) and Familial Shar Pei Fever (FSF).
Familial Shar Pei Fever and amyloidosis
Familial Shar Pei Fever is similar to Familial Mediterranean Fever for humans and remains widespread amongst Shar Peis. The recurring episodes of high fever that come with FSF, which are frequently accompanied by swollen joints and a thickened snout, cause so-called amyloidosis amongst many affected dogs and can lead to an early death due to kidney failure.
Necessary examinations for the breeder
Before purchasing a Shar Pei puppy, you should therefore get the breeder to guarantee that the parent animals and puppies are free of genetic defects and hereditary diseases. Reputable breeders mainly belong to an association, breed according to the FCI's applicable standard and continue to have their dogs tested for numerous diseases. These include skeletal problems, such as hip dysplasia (HD), elbow dysplasia, kneecap dislocation (patella) and a genetic tendency to develop skin disorders and FSF. With the help of DNA typification, possible hereditary diseases can be recognised early on and documented. Litters are generally inspected and assessed by independent breeding wardens.
How much does a Shar Pei puppy cost?
It's self-explanatory that a healthy, well-monitored puppy can't be purchased at a bargain price. Consequently, the former “poor man's dog” can easily cost upwards of 2,000 euros from a reputable breeding lineage. Although the cost of a puppy is very high compared to “more common” dog breeds, you are making a crucial contribution to keeping this rare and unusual dog breed in good health.
A puppy that has passed all the required examinations and is free from hereditary diseases certainly has a good chance of living a long and healthy life. However, your Shar Pei's lifespan and agility will be doesn't just depend on its DNA, but also on the housing conditions, care and diet it receives. As with all other dogs, the Shar Pei's food should be balanced and of high quality. Above all, the correct quantity of protein should be ensured. Proteins are the most important source of energy for dogs and must definitely be present in their food. However, too much protein can lead to joint and kidney problems for the Shar Pei, since its body cannot excrete excessive protein. Hence, you should choose high-quality and easy-to-digest meat and fish as sources of protein and supplement them with plenty of vegetables.
What does the Shar Pei need?
Your Shar Pei's exact nutritional requirements depends on its age, state of health, weight and level of activity. This means a food that is ideal for one Shar Pei may be inadequate for another. If in doubt, take advice from your vet, breeder or an expert in canine nutrition on which mix of nutrients is right for your dog. Since Shar Peis are generally considered lazy dogs that don't need much exercise, some have a tendency to gain weight, which can lead to serious health problems. As a result, you should feed an adult dog a maximum of two times per day and avoid “dog snacks” between meals. In addition, ensure that you provide enough fresh drinking water. This allows food to be better digested and means toxins can be excreted.
In contrast, the Shar Pei is undemanding in terms of grooming. They can generally clean their short, coarse fur themselves and only every now and then need to be brushed or wiped down with a flannel. Contrary to popular belief, the Shar Pei's wrinkles generally don't prove problematic, provided that the wrinkles – as required by the standard – aren't too prominent and are only slightly discernible on the head and back. Excessive folds of skin on overbred Shar Peis need to be constantly checked and cleaned, since infections can easily develop underneath.
How much exercise does a Shar Pei need?
The Shar Pei is similarly undemanding when it comes to physical exercise. These relaxed molossers reject excessive exertion and are therefore only rarely found doing dog sports. Nevertheless, your dog should have the opportunity to do sufficient exercise on a daily basis – not least to avoid weight gain. If the daily walks offer some variation and you give them enough time to calmly “sniff out” the environment, Shar Peis can be motivated to go on long walks, as long as it isn't raining or snowing too heavily, since these pedigree dogs don't like wetness or the cold whatsoever.
What you need to consider when owning a Shar Pei
Consequently, being kept in a kennel is not suitable for these weather-sensitive dogs. This isn't just due to their aversion to wetness and the cold, but primarily due to their people-focused and sensitive nature, which requires them to be kept indoors. Shar Peis need proximity to their owners and don't like spending time alone. In order to avoid them suffering greatly from separation anxiety, you should teach your puppy to stay alone for short periods of time during training. Incidentally, keeping a second dog or other pets is unhelpful as a means of combatting loneliness. After all, Shar Peis have a strong sense of self-will and can easily be provoked by other animals.
A dog for experienced owners
Comprehensively socialising puppies is absolutely advisable in order for encounters with other dogs to pass off peacefully. The earlier your dog comes into contact with other humans and animals, the less this will perturb it later on as an adult dog. It's important for you to proceed with caution and not to overwhelm the Shar Pei with training. An experienced dog owner who strikes the right balance between empathy and consistent training can ultimately make a pleasant and loving partner of these stubborn dogs that watch over their family loyally at all times.