The dog breed Shar Pei originated in China and has the distinctive features of deep wrinkles and a blue-black tongue. The name (pinyin: sha pí) translates to “sand skin,” not because of color but because of texture. As puppies, Shar Pei have lots of wrinkles, but as they mature, the wrinkles disappear as they “grow into their skin”. The American Kennel Club did not recognize the breed until 1991.
Shar Pei come in many colors but have the same characteristic blue-black tongue of the Chow Chow. Superabundant loose skin and wrinkles cover the head, neck, and body of puppies, but adult Shar Pei should grow into their skin so that these features are limited to the head, neck and withers. Improper breeding (detrimental to the health of the Shar Pei) produces adult dogs with wrinkles all over the body. Small ears, a hippo muzzle shape, and a high set tail also give the Shar Pei a unique look..
While it is not very demonstrative, the Shar-Pei is a devoted and protective dog. It is considered to be serious and independent, and it is known to have a stubborn streak. It is generally reserved with strangers, and it can be aggressive toward other dogs. It has been known to chase livestock and other animals, but it is usually good with other family pets if raised with them. Despite its frowning expression, the Shar-Pei is surprisingly easy-going and calm. Firm, gentle, and consistent training is needed to handle this independent breed. The Shar-Pei is usually good with children despite its tendency to be aloof and independent.
It is said that the name Shar-Pei comes from a word meaning sandy coat, which aptly describes the gritty, sandpaper texture of this dog. If the coat is rubbed backward, it is prickly and uncomfortable to touch. Grooming, however, is fairly minimal. The coat should be brushed on a regular basis, but it does not need to be trimmed. The “bush” length sheds a little throughout the year, but the “horse” coat usually only sheds during molting periods, which at times can leave the dog shabby. This can be avoided by bathing the dog weekly and brushing it daily during these periods. This removes the old dead hair and allows the new coat to grow in. Pay extra attention to the folds of the skin to make sure the dog is free from irritations. Regular massaging and brushing with a bristle brush is recommended to keep the coat looking healthy. The teeth need to be cleaned on a regular basis, and the toenails of this breed should be clipped every ten days or so. The Shar-Pei should be provided with frequent exercise, preferably walks on a leash or play within a fenced-in yard. This breed will do fine in an apartment dwelling as long as sufficient exercise is provided. Shade and water must always be at hand as this breed is sensitive to heat.
A common problem caused by irresponsible breeding is a painful eye condition, entropion, in which the eyelashes inward, irritating the eye. Untreated, it can cause blindness. This condition can be fixed by surgery (“tacking” the eyelids up so they won’t roll onto the eyeball for puppies or surgicaly removing extra skin in adolescent and older Shar Pei). Allergy-induced skin infections can be a problem in this breed caused by poorly selected breeding stock. Shar Pei fever is also a serious problem for the breed. The 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.
Recently, dry foods have been formulated that are specifically made for breeds such as the Chinese Shar Pei that are prone to skin allergies or sores. Shar Pei whose food intake is restricted to these allergy-free dry foods and receive an antihistamine or two daily will enjoy much healthier lives with little or no skin irritation, itching, or sores common to the breed.
Many believe that the origin of the Chinese Shar-Pei began in the southern provinces of China during the Han Dynasty (around 200 B.C.), because of pictures found on pottery made at that time. Writings from the 13th century provide evidence of the breed’s existence during that period. Many feel that the Shar-Pei shares its ancestry with the chow-chow because of the common trait of the black tongue and because it is believed that both breeds hailed from China. Others claim that the Shar-Pei is somehow related to the Thai Ridgeback. But the true history of the dog is difficult
to investigate due to the loss of the breeding records when China became communist. The Shar-Pei worked for peasants and farmers as guard dogs, boar hunters, and fighters, but many were eliminated during the Communist Revolution. Those few remaining were bred in British Hong Kong and Taiwan and a few came to the United States. It was in 1973 that Matgo Law, a business man from Hong Kong, wrote an article outlining the plight of the breed. He appealed to Americans to rescue the Shar-Pei from extinction. It is now one of the most recognizable breeds in the United States.