The Chinese Shar-Pei, also known as the Chinese Fighting Dog or simply the Shar Pei, is an ancient breed that has existed for centuries in the southern provinces of China. "Shar-Pei" literally translates as "sand skin" but more loosely means "rough, sandy coat" or "draping sandpaper-like skin." In addition to their strange wrinkled appearance, they have a characteristic solid blue-black tongue, a feature shared only with another ancient Chinese breed, the Chow Chow. The Chinese Shar-Pei was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1988 as a non-sporting dog and fully approved in 1992.
The average Chinese Shar-Pei stands 18 to 20 inches at the withers and weighs between 45 and 60 pounds, with females typically being smaller than males. Their extremely rough, short, wrinkled coat is unique to the breed. It should be neither shiny nor lustrous and comes in solid colors and sable. It should be brushed regularly, and the folds of skin should be cleaned and checked frequently to avoid moistness, irritation and infection. Shar-Peis are compact and sturdy, and they normally do not bark unless they are threatened or feel the need to alert their owners.
The Chinese Shar-Pei is a very old breed. Unfortunately, due to the absence of a documented history of dogs developed in China, much of what is known about the Shar-Pei is conjecture and speculation. It is thought that the Shar-Pei was a peasant's dog for centuries, bred to hunt, herd and protect given its versatility and intelligence. It is also thought that the breed was developed in China specifically for use in organized dog fights for "entertainment," with its loose skin making it difficult for opponents to gain a tight grip and thereby helping to protect it from injury. Apparently, several misfortunes befell the breed. First, the dog-fight organizers began importing much larger and more vicious dogs from Europe, with which the smaller Shar-Pei could not compete. In addition, after the People's Republic of China was established, the Communist rulers opposed ownership of domestic dogs, seeing them as a sign of Western decadence, and set about slaughtering virtually any dog they could find. This led to the barbaric destruction of thousands of beloved pets and the eradication of most of the Chinese dog population. A few Shar-Peis survived and were bred and shown in British Hong Kong and in Taiwan (the Republic of China).
The breed was first recognized by the Hong Kong Kennel Club in the 1960s. However, registrations were discontinued in 1968, only to resume twenty years later when the Hong Kong and the Kowloon Kennel Association established a new dog registry in 1988. A few Shar-Peis were imported to the United States from stock registered with the Hong Kong Kennel Club. The American Dog Breeders' Association registered the first Chinese Shar-Pei in October of 1970. In 1973, a breeder in Hong Kong appealed to fanciers in America to "save the Chinese Shar-Pei," because he feared that the Communist government would entirely eradicate the breed during its attempt to eliminate companion dogs. As a result of this plea and the breed's uniqueness, a number of Shar-Peis came to the United States in 1973. The Chinese Shar-Pei Club of America was organized in 1974 and held its first National Specialty show in 1978. The Shar-Pei was accepted into the American Kennel Club's Miscellaneous class in 1988, was admitted to the AKC Stud Book in June 1992, and became eligible for full competition in the Non-Sporting Group two months later.
In 1978, the Guinness Book of Records called this the rarest breed in the world, with only 60 Shar-Peis still known to be alive. Today, it is well-established in the United States and appears safe for the foreseeable future. In his book called "Dogs," author Desmond Morris summarizes the Shar-Pei as follows: "It must have a head like a Wu-Lo melon, ears like clamshells, a nose like a Guangzhou cookie, legs like Pae Pah musical instruments, a back like a shrimp, a tail like iron wire, a face like a grandmother, a neck like a water buffalo, a body like a wun fish, an anus that faces the sky, a rump like a horse, feet like garlic, toenails like iron and a mouth like a mother frog or a roof tile."
The average lifespan of the Chinese Shar-Pei is between 9 and 10 years. The deep skin folds of this breed can become infected, and the heavy skin around the eyes can require surgical correction. Breed health concerns may include generalized demodicosis, allergies, congenital idiopathic megaoesophagus, hiatal hernia, hypothyroidism, patellar luxation, pyoderma, amyloidosis, hip dysplasia, mast cell tumors, entropion (upper and lower eyelids; very common and very severe), "cherry eye", cataracts, renal and urinary infections, and a number of other eye and skin disorders.
The large head and wrinkled face of the Chinese Shar-Pei has oven been compared to the head of a hippopotamus. They are independent and willful dogs, but when exposed to confident, consistent leadership are respectful companions and clean housemates. Their ever-present scowl coupled with their alert nature, makes them an imposing looking guard dog. The Shar-Pei's tenency toward independence them good companions for single people or working families with older children. They don't require much attention or exercise to keep them happy, and can entertain themselves with lots of chew toys or sun to bathe in.
Despite their large size, the Chinese Shar-Pei does not need a lot of vigorous exercise to maintain good health. Several walks a day will suffice, making them good city dogs. It is recommended Shar-Peis, despite their watchdog capabilities, not be raised on a farm. Their natural instinct to hunt means they can take off into the wild blue yonder after deer or other wild animals.
The main ingredient needed when training a Shar-Pei is patience. They are willful creatures who don't like to be told what to do, and they naturally assume they are in charge. Consistency, positive reinforcement and lots of treats will garner response from a Shar-Pei, but only when he's ready to respond. They will take a mile if given an inch, so rules and boundaries need to be reinforced at all times. This breed is not for the first-time owner, and even experienced owners have confessed to finding working with a Shar-Pei a challenge.
House training a Shar-Pei is a completely different story, however. Despite their aversion to obedience training, Shar-Peis have been known to house train themselves. They are naturally a very clean dog and instinctively they will not relieve themselves in their home area.
This breed is a natural guard dog and aggression toward other animals and people can be a common problem with Shar-Peis. Early socialization is imperative in the development of a healthy dog. They are naturally wary of strangers, so they must learn early on the difference between a welcome visitor and an unwelcome stranger, otherwise the Shar-Pei will naturally assume all strangers are bad. Dog aggression can be severe, so males should always be neutered, and as puppies they should be exposed to other friendly dogs as often as possible.
Homes with small children are not the best environment for a Shar-Pei. He won't be patient enough to tolerate a child playing roughly and will define his boundaries by snapping or biting.
Shar-Peis are noisy – they snort, snore, grunt and gurgle all day and all night. They also have a tendency to slobber and drool when they are excited.
An alert, compact dog of medium size and substance; square in profile, close coupled; the well-proportioned head slightly, but not overly large for the body. The short, harsh coat, the loose skin covering the head and body, the small ears, the "hippopotamus" muzzle shape and the high set tail impart to the Shar-Pei a unique look peculiar to him alone. The loose skin and wrinkles covering the head, neck and body are superabundant in puppies but these features may be limited to the head, neck and withers in the adult.
Size, Proportion, Substance
The height is 18 to 20 inches at the withers. The weight is 45 to 60 pounds. The dog is usually larger and more square bodied than the bitch but both appear well proportioned. The height of the Shar-Pei from the ground to the withers is approximately equal to the length from the point of breastbone to the point of rump.
Head and Skull
The head is large, slightly, but not overly, proudly carried and covered with profuse wrinkles on the forehead continuing into side wrinkles framing the face. Eyes--Dark, small, almond-shaped and sunken, displaying a scowling expression. In the dilute colored dogs the eye color may be lighter. Ears-- extremely small, rather thick, equilateral triangles in shape, slightly rounded at the tips; edges of the ear may curl. Ears lie flat against the head, are set high, wide apart and forward on the skull, pointing toward the eyes. The ears have the ability to move. A pricked ear is a disqualification. Skull--flat and broad, the stop moderately defined. Muzzle--one of the distinctive features of the breed. It is broad and full with no suggestion of snipiness. (The length from nose to stop is approximately the same as from stop to occiput.) Nose large and wide and darkly pigmented, preferably black but any color conforming to the general coat color of the dog is acceptable. In dilute colors, the preferred nose is self-colored. Darkly pigmented cream Shar-Pei may have some light pigment either in the center of the nose or on the entire nose. The lips and top of muzzle are well-padded and may cause a slight bulge above the nose. Tongue, roof of mouth, gums and flews--solid bluish-black is preferred in all coat colors except in dilute colors, which have a solid lavender pigmentation. A spotted pink tongue is a major fault. A solid pink tongue is a disqualification. (Tongue colors may lighten due to heat stress; care must be taken not to confuse dilute pigmentation with a pink tongue.) Teeth--strong, meeting in a scissors bite. Deviation from a scissors bite is a major fault.
Neck, Topline, Body
Neck--medium length, full and set well into the shoulders. There are moderate to heavy folds of loose skin and abundant dewlap about the neck and throat. The topline dips slightly behind the withers, slightly rising over the short, broad loin. A level, roach or swayed topline/backline shall be faulted. Chest--broad and deep with the brisket extending to the elbow and rising slightly under the loin. Back-- short and close-coupled. Croup-- flat, with the base of the tail set extremely high, clearly exposing an up-tilted anus. Tail--the high set tail is a characteristic feature of the Shar-Pei. A low set tail shall be faulted. The tail is thick and round at the base, tapering to a fine point and curling over or to either side of the back. The absence of a complete tail is a disqualification.
Shoulders--muscular, well laid back and sloping. Forelegs--when viewed from the front, straight moderately spaced, with elbows close to the body. When viewed from the side, the forelegs are straight, the pasterns are strong and flexible. The bone is substantial but never heavy and is of moderate length. Removal of front dewclaws is optional. Feet--moderate in size, compact and firmly set, not splayed.
Muscular, strong, and moderately angulated. The metatarsi (hocks) are short, perpendicular to the ground and parallel to each other when viewed from the rear. Hind dewclaws must be removed. Feet as in front.
The extremely harsh coat is one of the distinguishing features of the breed. The coat is absolutely straight and off standing on the main trunk of the body but generally lies somewhat flatter on the limbs. The coat appears healthy without being shiny or lustrous. Acceptable coat lengths may range from extremely short "horse coat" up to the "brush coat," not to exceed one inch in length at the withers. A soft coat, a wavy coat, a coat in excess of one inch at the withers or a coat that has been trimmed is a major fault. The Shar-Pei is shown in its natural state.
Only solid colors and sable are acceptable and are to be judged on an equal basis. A solid color dog may have shading, primarily darker, down the back and on the ears. The shading must be variations of the same body color and may include darker hairs throughout the coat. The following colors are disqualifications: Albino; Not a solid color, i.e.: Brindle; Parti-colored; Spotted; Patterned in any combination of colors.
The movement of the Shar-Pei is to be judged at a trot. The gait is free and balanced with the feet tending to converge on a center line of gravity when the dog moves at a vigorous trot. The gait combines good forward reach and strong drive in the hindquarters. Proper movement is essential.
Regal, alert, intelligent, dignified, lordly, scowling, sober and snobbish essentially independent and somewhat standoffish with strangers, but extreme in his devotion to his family. The Shar-Pei stands firmly on the ground with a calm, confident stature.
Deviation from a Scissors Bite.
A soft coat, a wavy coat, a coat in excess of 1" in length at the withers or a coat that has been trimmed.
Solid pink tongue.
Absence of a complete tail.
Albino; not a solid color, i.e.: Brindle; Parti-colored; Spotted; Patterned in any combination of colors
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Sources: American Kennel Club