Information about the Shar Pei

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 probably derived from British spelling of the Cantonese equivalent, sa- 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 loosen and spread out as they “grow into their skin”. Shar Pei were named in 1978 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.

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). As puppies, Shar peis are a lot more wrinkly than adults and, although some adults can be wrinklier than their puppy self, an adult pei should have wrinkles mostly on the face, a few on their shoulder and at the base of the tail.

Their pigmentation resemble the Chow Chow as they’ve been crossed before, probably giving them the same blue-black tongue. There are over sixteen recognized colors in AKC. The coat must be solid in color, 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.

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 behavior 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.

This breed sheds normally twice a year.

The Chinese Shar-Pei is a unique and intelligent dog most often recognized for its wrinkles. Initially developed as a Chinese farm and hunting and later 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, deep-set eyes and rising top-line.

All Shar-Pei, 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.

Any coat longer than one inch at the withers is called a “bear coat” and is not considered breed standard, as it only occurs when both the male and female carry recessive coat genes. This coat length resembles the coat of the Chow Chow and was probably inherited from the chows. The personality of the bear coat is very much like that of a brush coat.

There is a type of Shar Pei called “traditional” that is most popular in china and that is more faithful to the history of the breed (taller, less wrinkly, flatter mouth and nose, horse coated).

If a Shar Pei is being attacked the wrinkles will allow the dog to move and strike back while being bitten and keep the internal organs from being injured badly. Scientists from the Department of Genome Sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle, announced in January 2010 that they had analysed the genetic code of 10 different pedigree dog breeds. In the Shar-pei they discovered four small differences located in the gene HAS2 which is responsible for making hyaluronic acid synthase 2. That enzyme makes hyaluronic acid, which is one of the key components of the skin. There have been rare cases in which a mutation of the same gene has caused severe wrinkling in humans as well.

The Shar Pei is often suspicious of strangers, which pertains to their origin as a guard dog. It is 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. The breed is amenable to training but can get bored from repetition. Overall, the Shar Pei can be a dog that is loyal and loving to its family while being very protective and independent.