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Chinese Shar Pei Dog Breed Info: Pictures, Personality & Facts

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By Nicole Cosgrove

Chinese Shar Pei Dog

Height: 18–20 inches
Weight: 40–60 pounds
Lifespan: 8–12 years
Colors: Cream, red, black, fawn
Suitable for: Experienced owners, those wanting a capable guard dog
Temperament: Intelligent, dominant, playful, stubborn, devoted

There are few animals as instantly recognizable—or as adorable—as the Chinese Shar-Pei. They have big, wrinkly faces that you just want to bury your own face in, and those wrinkles extend down the length of their bodies as well.

Unfortunately, their history isn’t quite as family-friendly as their appearance. They were bred for hunting and fighting, and they retain dominant personalities that require a competent trainer. If you know what you’re doing, though, these dogs can make wonderful companions (and amazing watchdogs).

Chinese Shar-Pei are a well-known breed, but they’re not that common, so you may have never seen one in person before. If you’re thinking about getting one and would like to know more about these pups, this article will clue you in on all the information you need to know.

divider 10Chinese Shar-Pei Puppies

Chinese Shar pei puppy portrait at garden_Waldemar Dabrowski_shutterstock
Image Credit: Waldemar Dabrowski, Shutterstock

Shar-Pei have been around for a long time, as their existence can be traced back at least 2,000 years. They were originally a peasant’s dog, but once their incredible watchdog abilities became known, they were conscripted to guard emperors and their families.

They were used as hunting dogs as well, and their wrinkles were developed to help them fend off wild boar. Sadly, though, many people used them for dogfighting as well, and the wrinkles proved just as useful in protecting them in that regard.

It’s thought that the ancient Shar-Pei bore only a passing resemblance to their modern forebears. This is because of centuries of breeding them to exaggerate their wrinkles; it was first done to make them better hunters and fighters, and now it’s done to make them more adorable to prospective buyers. The breed was almost completely relegated to China for most of its existence. When the Communist Revolution occurred, the dogs were systematically slaughtered, almost to the point of extinction.

Their popularity has rebounded, though, and while they’re still not common, they’re in no danger of going extinct anytime soon.

Divider 83 Little-Known Facts About the Chinese Shar-Pei

1. The Breed Was Saved from Probable Extinction by Life Magazine

The breed wasn’t terribly popular outside of Hong Kong for most of the 20th century. It was feared that if Hong Kong returned to China, the breed would be subject to severe restrictions, which would no doubt finish them off.

One breeder named Matgo Law appealed to the outside world for help, and Life magazine answered the call. In 1979, they put a Shar-Pei on their cover, exposing the dog to millions of people who had never seen one before. Demand for the pups exploded, and they stopped being concentrated in one particular location, likely sparing their existence.

2. They Have Blue-Black Tongues

Chow-Chows are the most famous dogs to have blue-black tongues, but Shar-Pei do as well. This would make sense, given that both breeds originated in China, but there’s no known genetic link between the two animals.

It’s thought that ancient breeders thought that the tongues made these dogs look more ferocious or that they helped ward off evil spirits. Whatever the reason, it’s just one more thing that makes these dogs unique.

3. Shar-Pei Is Its Own Plural

Like moose, bison, or fish, the plural form of Shar-Pei is the same as the singular.

Of course, this fact won’t help you raise one of these dogs, but it will at least give you a little sense of superiority if you hear someone else use it incorrectly.

shar pei side
Image Credit: Pickpik

Temperament & Intelligence of the Chinese Shar-Pei 🧠

Beyond their blue-black tongues, Chinese Shar-Pei have at least one thing in common with their Chow-Chow countrymen: They’re lavishly devoted to their families but suspicious of strangers.

This makes them excellent guard dogs. It also makes them a poor choice for families that like to have guests over frequently, as they’ll view every new face as a potential evildoer. They tend to be easygoing and calm for the most part, and they’re not a dog that will annoy you with excessive barking or need for attention.

Socialization is extremely important for these dogs. If properly socialized, they can be playful, loving members that fit right into your family and the neighborhood. If not, they can become aggressive, in which case, they’ll need serious rehabilitation before they’re suited to be pets for anyone.

They’re fairly intelligent dogs, although they’re not geniuses like Border Collies or Poodles. They learn quickly, and training them is a breeze—provided that they respect you. Earning that respect can take time, however.

Are These Dogs Good for Families? 🏡

This question is difficult to answer without knowing how well the dog will be socialized. If that part is handled well, they can make great family pets, and they’re the type of dog that will literally defend your family with their lives.

If not, though, they’re completely unsuitable for homes with kids present. Their placid demeanor disguises their true intentions, so they give little warning before defending themselves. Again, though, they’re much more likely to attack someone whom they perceive as a threat to your children than your children themselves. Of course, that does you little good when your kid wants to have friends over.

Regardless, children should be taught how to behave around these dogs. They need to learn how to handle them and what not to do around them. This is true for all dog breeds, of course, but it’s especially important for Shar-Pei.

They are fairly relaxed and almost completely silent, only barking when they perceive a threat. As a result, they can be perfectly suitable for apartment living.

Does This Breed Get Along with Other Pets? 🐶 😽

Shar-Pei don’t have a strong prey drive, and they tend to be accepting of cats and other small animals as long as they were raised with them. We wouldn’t recommend bringing a new cat into a home with an adult Shar-Pei, though.

Dogs, on the other hand, are a completely different story. Shar-Pei are extremely dominant by nature, and they will immediately try to bend the new animal to their will. This often ends poorly. You can mitigate this somewhat through socialization, especially while the Shar-Pei is young. Be sure to spay or neuter your dog as soon as possible too. Ultimately, though, we would strongly encourage you not to bring a Shar-Pei into a multi-dog household. These dogs were bred for fighting, and that instinct hasn’t completely left them.

It’s entirely possible that you could have a Shar-Pei around other dogs with no issues whatsoever, but we wouldn’t recommend taking the chance.

shar pei tongue out
Image Credit: Peakpx

Divider 4Things to Know When Owning a Chinese Shar-Pei

There’s a good chance that you’ve never spent much time around one of these dogs, so you may not know much about caring for one of them. The information below will tell you everything you need to know about raising a Shar-Pei properly, but it still may not be easy.

Food & Diet Requirements 🦴

Shar-Pei look bigger than they are, thanks to all those wrinkles, but they still have a formidable appetite. You need to be careful not to overfeed them, though, as obesity is a huge problem for this breed. We recommend giving them a high-protein kibble that uses quality meats rather than animal by-products. Also, beware of ingredients like corn, wheat, and soy, as these are filled with empty calories.

These dogs are extremely vulnerable to bloat, so be careful about letting them eat too quickly. You may want to invest in a special bowl that makes it difficult for them to scarf their food down. Otherwise, just be sure not to let them get too active immediately after eating.

Don’t go overboard with treats or scraps either. You may be tempted to use them as rewards during training, but that’s often unnecessary. If your Shar-Pei respects you, it will follow your commands, and if not, the treats aren’t likely to help.

These dogs have a variety of health issues, like food allergies and joint conditions, that can either be exacerbated or alleviated by their diet. You may need to experiment with different foods before finding one that works, and you should consider giving your dog a glucosamine supplement as well.

Exercise 🐕

A healthy, happy Shar-Pei is likely to be extremely playful, and a little bit of playtime in the backyard may be all the activity they need. These animals don’t have high exercise needs.

That doesn’t mean that you can neglect their fitness, however. They’ll need at least a daily walk, but you may need to restrict it to early morning or late at night, times you aren’t likely to encounter other dogs. They’re not good fits for off-leash dog parks or for living unfenced in rural areas. Beyond their issues with their fellow canines, they may try to hunt larger animals if they come across them. Once they’re gone, they’re unlikely to come back.

They can have joint and spinal issues, so high-impact exercise is a bad idea. That makes them poor candidates for things like agility training, but they’re unlikely to need that much activity anyway. These pups were bred as guard dogs, so they’re perfectly happy sitting still for hours, keeping a watchful eye on things. Just be sure they get at least half an hour of moderate exercise every day.

Training 🦮

There’s no middle ground when it comes to training a Shar-Pei. If they respect you, they’re one of the easiest dog breeds to train. They soak up commands in an instant, and they’re extremely eager to please. If they don’t respect you, though, it will be like talking to a wall. They won’t do a single thing you ask of them. That’s why you need a firm, confident hand.

They respond best to positive reinforcement and consistency. They need to see that you know what you’re doing and that the rules won’t change for them. That’s how you earn their respect—you can’t buy it with treats or intimidate them into submission.

It’s not unusual for Shar-Pei to follow the commands of a single family member and ignore everyone else in the household. In that case, you’ll either need to train your family to be more forceful or make peace with the fact that only one family member will get anywhere with the dog.

This also makes outsourcing training difficult. You can hire a professional trainer to guide you through the process, but you’ll have to do everything yourself. Otherwise, you’ll have a dog that only listens to the trainer.

Grooming ✂️

Shar-Pei aren’t heavy shedders; in fact, they only shed a few times a year. Don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a low-maintenance breed, however. They require daily brushing, with no exceptions. The reason has nothing to do with keeping their fur under control, but rather to prevent skin infections, which are a major problem for these dogs.

They also need to be bathed every week, preferably with an allergy-friendly shampoo. This can be a rodeo, as these dogs hate to get wet, so prepare for a battle every time. It’s extremely important that you dry them thoroughly, being sure to get in between every single wrinkle.

Shar-Pei are prone to chronic yeast infections in their ears, so you’ll need to be completely sure that they’re dry as well, and that’s no easy feat given their tight inner structure. Ultimately, you’ll have to make peace with the fact that you’ll have to go to the vet for ear drops a few times during the dog’s life.

They still need all the other basic grooming too. Trim their nails as needed and brush their teeth every day. Pay attention to their eyelids as well, as they often suffer from entropion, which is a painful condition in which the eyelashes curl inward.

Health and Conditions ❤️

There’s a huge problem that often occurs whenever a breed gets prized for a single characteristic, such as the Shar-Pei’s wrinkles: Breeders try to exaggerate that characteristic. This leads to poor breeding habits, and the animal’s health often plummets as a result.

That’s what happened after the Shar-Pei’s popularity took off in the 1980s. Breeders wanted to make sure every dog had as many wrinkles as possible, and in their attempts to make that happen, they saddled the dogs with a whole host of chronic conditions. This makes the Shar-Pei one of the most expensive dogs to own. In fact, if you only have to shell out for one major surgery during your dog’s life, consider yourself lucky.

Here are just a few of the issues that these dogs often have.

Minor Conditions
  • Skin allergies
  • Demodectic mange
  • Heat sensitivity
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
Serious Conditions
  • Entropion
  •  Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Patellar luxation
  • Mast cell tumors
  • Chinese Shar-Pei fever
  • Kidney problems

Divider 5Male vs. Female

There’s little difference in terms of size between the two genders. Temperamentally speaking, males tend to be a bit more playful and less aggressive than females. They’re also clingier, although that’s a relative term when it comes to Shar-Pei.

While we recommend not having any other dogs if you decide to own a Shar-Pei, it’s imperative that you do not mix a female Shar-Pei with another female (of any breed). That’s a recipe for a ruthless rivalry.

Divider 3Final Thoughts

Shar-Pei are adorable, distinctive dogs and their loyalty is limitless. They will do anything in the world for a family they love and respect.

They’re definitely not for everyone, though. They’re one of the most expensive breeds to own, and they can be standoffish at best toward outsiders. They’re a poor fit for multi-dog households as well.

If you believe that you have what it takes to successfully train a Shar-Pei (and you have deep pockets), then you’ll likely enjoy one of the closest companionships of your lifetime.

Featured Image Credit: style81, Pixabay

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