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Pronounced 'shah pay', this dog's name means 'sandy paper' or 'sand skin' and should have a bristle feel to its
coat. Affectionately called 'Mr. Wrinkles', the Shar-Pei has been likened to a dog wearing very baggy clothes.
Regardless of whether one is referring to one dog or to several, the word is still the same 'Shar Pei' since the
Chinese language has no plurals.
Known in China for the past two thousand years, the Shar Pei is a hunting and watchdog, originating in a region
near Guangzhou (Canton) in the village of Dai Lek. It is interesting to note that the Chinese call any dog which is
used to protect property or people as 'fighting dogs' unlike the UK or US designation as 'working dogs'. These
dogs were, however, at one time bred and used mainly by the working class Chinese and gamblers for the
fighting ring. This was, fortunately for the breed, eventually ceased after other fighting breeds were brought into
China from the West. Prior to the mid-1960's there were sufficient numbers of the traditional type of Shar Pei in
Hong Kong. Because Hong Kong is the first and only place of origin from which these dogs were originally
shipped to other parts of the world, the Hong Kong Kennel Club has a natural desire to protect and promote this
The Chinese describe the Shar Pei head as "Wo Lo Tau" or "Calabash"-shaped head. The wrinkles on the
forehead form a marking which closely resembles the Chinese symbol for Longevity. While the marking of
'Longevity' appears in the large cat family such as tigers and lions, it only appears in the mastiff breeds of
canines. The mouth when viewed from the top should either be in the shape of a roundish roof tile, commonly
known as "Roof Tile Mouth" or should be shaped with a wide jaw in the shape of a toad's mouth, known
appropriately as "Toad Mouth." Both types of mouths were developed to give the dog a firm bite. Since 1949, the
traditional Shar Pei has lost its size, becoming smaller in stature. The Cantonese still prefer the larger size dog
which they call "High Head Big Horse
Over 2,000 years ago the Shar-Pei was prized as the all-purpose, general utility dog kept by peasant farmers in
the southern Provinces of China, bordering the South China Sea. The Shar-Pei was used for hunting wild boar,
and protecting the livestock from predators, but mostly he served as guardian of his master's home. He was bred
for intelligence, for strength, and for the valued "Warrior Scowl" that increased his menacing appearance and
helped to frighten the barbarian thieves, against whom the farmers were always at war.
The Shar-Pei was used at one time for dogfighting in the gambler's haven in one of the villages, Dai Lek, near
Canton in Southern China's Kwantung Province. Because the Shar-Pei had strength, stamina and determination,
they were frequent favored contestants. Given alcohol and other stimulants, the dogs were pitted against each
other as a popular sport. Fortunately for the breed, some of the gamblers and fight promoters brought in dogs
from the west, including Mastiffs, Bulldogs and other similar breeds. They selected dogs with vicious
temperaments and crossbred these dogs to produce bigger, stronger and more ferocious dogs. Since the native
Shar-Pei proved to be no match for these fiercely aggressive dogs, breeding of Shar-Pei was neglected and their
numbers decreased rapidly.
The following excerpt from the book The Chinese Shar-Pei by Paul Strand and Eve C. Olsen, in 1980
has this to say about the history of the Shar-Pei:
"During the Han Dynasty (202 B.C.-A.D. 220), artistic fired-clay statues and statuettes depicting the life of the
era were very popular, and the dog was a favorite subject. Fortunately, many of these Han statuettes have
survived to this day and may be seen in such places as the Louvre and the British Museum. One such statuette
is on display in the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, Avery Brundage Collection, as the "Chinese Tomb
Dog." And there are others in private collections. Anyone who harbors a tendency to doubt the antiquity of the
Shar-Pei has but to examine the Han dog figurines. These dogs portray, unmistakably, the same breed we know
today. Although then not quite so wrinkled as now, the rugged, foursquare look, the tail wheeled over the back,
and the celebrated warrior scowl are lifelike to an amazing degree.
It is interesting to note that the time of the Han Dynasty in China corresponds rather closely to the time of the
Roman Empire in Europe. Under the Romans, European dogs were often trained as fighters, matched either
against others of their kind or against bears and lions. But in China there is no record of the dogs of the Han
Dynasty ever being used in such fashion.
Jean Yu, Orientalist of Washington, D. C., has researched ancient Chinese manuscripts and insists that the
Sharp-Pei's original purpose was for use as hunting dogs and that their principal quarry was the mongoose.
Nevertheless, because of their strength and appearance, these dogs were introduced to a combat role at a later
time in history. The village of Dah Let, in Southern China's Kwangtung Province near Canton, was at one time
known as a gambler's haven. Betting on dog fights was a popular pastime and the Han dog became a favorite
contestant. Dah Let dog breeders, anxious to improve the breed's ability and its chances in the ring, set out to
perfect some of the main characteristics we know today. The bristly coat was developed to make it distasteful in
an opponent's mouth; the very loose skin to enable a dog to turn and twist in the grasp of his opponent, making it
difficult for the enemy to get to the Sharp-Pei's flesh; and their curved canine teeth to provide a hook-like hold on
the antagonist. He possessed stamina and determination, but before a battle, the canine contender was given
wine and stimulating drugs to heighten his aggressiveness.
But while these developments were taking place in our breed, other fight promoters and gamblers were
proceeding along a different line. Mastiffs, Bulldogs, and other breeds were brought to China from the West,
crossbred, and selected for vicious temperament. The native fighting Han dog of Dah Let proved to be no match
for these bigger, stronger, more ferocious dogs. No longer in demand, their breeding was neglected and the
numbers of the Dah Let fighting dogs rapidly decreased. But what was to be the near fatal blow to the breed
occurred when the Chinese Communists came to power. One of their first moves was to impose such a heavy
tax on dogs that only the extremely wealthy could afford the luxury of canine companionship. And then a further
edict declared dogs a "decadent bourgeois luxury" and banned dog breeding. In 1947 the tax on dogs that still
survived was sharply increased. As a result of all this Communist Party pressure, by 1950 only scattered
specimens of the noble dog of the Han Dynasty were left. From isolated South China villages, fanciers in Macao
(Portuguese China) and Hong Kong were able to secure an occasional specimen, but the breed was on the brink
of being lost forever."
The South African Shar Pei Clubs have this to say about the re-emergence of the Shar-Pei:
"Just how close the Shar Pei came to losing its battle for survival is mirrored in the May 1971 issue of the
magazine "DOGS" (published in New York). This issue carried an article on rare breeds and included a picture of
a Shar Pei, describing it as "possibly the last surviving specimen of the breed".
The article came close to the truth and if a copy of the magazine had not accidentally fallen into the hands of a
Mr. Matgo Law in Hong Kong, the Shar Pei might well have been lost forever.
Matgo Law, a young, energetic Hong Kong dog fancier owned several Shar Pei. He and Mr. Chung Ching,
another fancier, had already conceived the idea of a rescue operation. They feared that Hong Kong might
someday become a part of the People's Republic of China and that the wholesale destruction of dogs would be
repeated in Hong Kong. The odds seemed hopeless, but reading the "DOGS" article gave Mr. Law an idea.
With the typical Hong Kong flair for intelligent planning and superior execution, Matgo Law composed a letter to
Margaret Fansworth, editor of "DOGS". In his letter Law outlined their plans and enclosed pictures of the few
Shar Pei they had been able to rescue. He ended with a plea for help and co-operation from interested American
Publication of his letter in the April 1973 issue rocketed the Shar Pei from obscurity and possible oblivion to
instant fame and star-status. More than 200 letters poured in - most from buyers anxious to obtain puppies or
breeding stock. But, the entire number of Shar Pei known to exist at that time totalled only a dozen or so
individuals and it was some months before any orders could be filled.
Matgo Law managed to discover a few more isolated dogs in Macao and Taiwan and eventually American
enthusiasts began to receive a trickle of pups from him. Within a couple of years of the Shar Pei's premature
obituary, kennels had been established in various parts of America and today the breed is loved and owned
In the early years of the Chinese Shar-Pei Club of America, secretary of the club Shirley Rafferty sent out the
"A few years ago these dogs were listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's rarest breed, and
in 1975 there were less than forty in the United States. The Hong Kong Kennel Club, affiliated with the London
Kennel Club, registered Shar-Pei as late as 1966. The Shar-Pei is certainly the world's most extraordinary dog,
the press has dubbed him Mr. Wrinkles. The head is deeply furrowed, and the back and sides are more or less
pleated with loose skin which often extends down the legs, giving a droopy-drawers effect on the hindquarters, or
that of oversize pantyhose. Puppies are more wrinkled than adults. The skin tightens up over the lower half of the
body as a pup matures, with full size being reached at six to eight months. The Shar-Pei is strongly built, the
body is short-coupled and well-balanced, with a broad, deep chest giving the dog a strong solid, square
appearance. Colors range from light to dark fawn, red fawn, cream, black, chocolate and sable. The coat is not
slick or glossy and should have a gritty feel because of its stiff and bristly texture. Coat types are the very short
bristly harsh coat and the brush coat which is not over one inch in length and stands off from the skin at 90
degrees over the wrinkle. The name Shar-Pei means sandy coat.
The tongue has the distinction of being either all blue-black or flowered, meaning one with spots of various sizes.
Also many have black flews and roof of mouth. Because of the profuse skin above the eyes, eyes have to be
watched closely for any turning or rolling in of eyelashes which can irritate the cornea. This condition is treatable
with little effort on the part of the owner. The distinctive head displays a blunt muzzle, even more so in the males,
a description which accurately applies to no other breed. The ears, small and triangular, lay tight to the head and
point toward the eyes.
The average size is 18 to 20 inches at the shoulder with weight from 40 to 55 pounds. Shar-Pei puppies
housebreak themselves at a very early age, which adds to their list of desirable qualities as house companions.
They are devoted to the owner who really loves them, and they want to please and to be close to their master
whenever possible. As watchdogs they are outstanding, as their sense of smell and sight are superior to most
breeds. Grooming is no chore either, for they are very clean dogs. Their average life-span in China is 12 to 14
years, with the oldest known Shar-Pei living to be 18. They have not been in our Country long enough for owners
to see if better foods and medical attention will lengthen the life-span.
Being sturdy, compact, active and intelligent the Shar-Pei is perfectly suited to city, suburban or country living.
The dog is outgoing by nature and happy indoors or out. The Shar-Pei loves to ride in cars, and is not a barker.
They are homebodies and do not like to stray. Because of his stay-at-home nature and his deep loyalty to family
and friends, the Shar-Pei makes a natural watchdog. Being both calm and obedient, he does not tend to
overreact. The Shar-Pei is an enchanting creature, possessing so many qualities sought after in an all-around
dog for security as well as companionship."
In 1978, listed in the World Book of Guinness, the Shar Pei fortunately no longer holds the dubious
honor of being designated as the world's rarest breed.
The following text is provided by Chinaman Chinese Shar-Pei Kennel:
Care and Training The Chinese Shar-Pei is a low maintenance dog. If they are provided a clean environment they
will take little upkeep to maintain. An occasional bath, perhaps every 8 to 12 weeks (or per your veterinarian's
instructions if there is a problem), routine coat brushing, ear cleaning, nail clipping and cleaning of the face and
eyes with a damp cloth will keep them looking good. Their exercise requirements are usually provided for by
following family members around in the daily activities of the household, but a fenced yard or turnout area is
essential for good health if regular daily walks are not scheduled. Any dog needs time to attend to his toilet
needs and some dogs also like a little time on their own. All dogs, including Shar-Pei, need good nutrition and
preventive health care by a qualified veterinarian, with regular check-ups to insure that no problems go
Crate training is important for safe travel and can keep your Shar-Pei out of harms way when some event or
activity in the home might interrupt his regular routine or access to the run of the house. Properly done, crate
training produces a personal space for the dog that he will seek out to get some peace and quiet.
The Shar-Pei, just like any other dog, should receive basic obedience training that will make him a good
companion for the whole family and a joy to have in your home. Shar-Pei learn quickly and are easy to train, but
they often do not appreciate being drilled on a task that they already are proficient at. Attendance in dog training
classes with your Shar-Pei is an excellent way to get help with training problems and to continue the
socialization of your Shar-Pei to include new dogs and people outside your home.
Shar-Pei Health The Shar-Pei can fall prey to all the health problems that are found in dogs of all breeds. Many
other breeds of dogs have some of the health concerns that have unfairly been labelled "Shar-Pei Problems." An
example is entropion of the eyelid, which does occur in the Shar-Pei, but is also found in other breeds.
Entropion, which is the turning in of the eyelid, should be diagnosed and treated by your veterinarian. Skin fold
dermatitis is just what it sounds like, the wrinkles overlap and create an environment that can cause irritation of
the skin. See your veterinarian for any suspected problems. For the Shar-Pei, choosing your veterinarian can be
especially important. Look for a veterinarian that has a number of years experience with the Shar-Pei and treats
your breed with the same concern as all other breeds, without blaming the breed for every problem that your
Shar-Pei might have.
Living With Your Shar-Pei Shar-Pei are focused on their owners. Their life revolves around you, not hunting or
retrieving. They are finely tuned to your moods and adjust themselves to your needs, but they are individuals and
some are more laid back, while others are more outgoing and active. Getting started with a Shar-Pei that suits
your personality and lifestyle will make the best foundation for your future. If you are considering the purchase of
a Shar-Pei, consult breeders about their bloodlines and tell them honestly what you would like in a dog.
Reputable breeders will give you sound advice and are able to help you select a dog from their breeding program
that will suit you. Buying from a pet shop, puppy mill, or backyard breeder does not offer the advantage of
experience and advice that the knowledgeable breeder can provide. Many breeders advertise in breed
publications, such as The Barker, which is published by the Chinese Shar-Pei Club of America.
The South Africa Shar Pei Club assesses the Shar Pei's character and inherent traits as follows:
The Shar Pei is regal, aloof, dignified and essentially a very independent dog that is stand-offish to strangers.
However, some Shar Pei love everyone!! Generalization as to temperament is difficult as each is an individual,
molded by it's own heritage and environment, much as humans are.
In general the breed has proved itself to be a loving, devoted family dog. Shar Pei are often described as "people
dogs", preferring human companionship to that of other dogs. Their quick intelligence may play a part in this.
Perhaps they sense our own intelligence and prefer the inventiveness and creativity we bring to situations. Or
maybe they just prefer their master's love and attention!
Most often the Shar Pei owner will find his dog by his side - wherever he may be. Shar Pei seem to be "in tune"
with their owners - sometimes sensing our innermost thoughts. The breed is quite capable to use this gift to the
point of manipulation!! With this in mind Shar Pei owners must be at least a little more intelligent than their dogs.
Once the proper hierarchy is established, there is no better canine companion. A mutual understanding matures
into a loving relationship in which verbal communication seems unnecessary.
Those who have lived with and loved a Shar Pei know that they are indeed very special dogs. They are
super-intelligent, intuitive and deserving of the opportunity to take their rightful place in the canine society.
One of the best qualities of the Shar Pei is that they are very easy to housetrain. By nature they are very clean
and will prefer to "go" outside in a private place, leaving your garden and lawn "mine" free!
Shar Pei Dominance
Shar Pei are very dominant and protective and may get along only with other dogs who will not challenge their
dominance. Females seem to be even more dominant than males and the ideal is to have one male and one
female. Three or more dogs tend to gang up in fights. Like many fighting breeds Shar Pei lock their jaws making
it very difficult to separate them if and when they fight.
Mixing Shar Pei with other breeds can be difficult and should only be done by owners that have a good
knowledge of dominance, pack order and general canine behavior. It is of the utmost importance to socialize
Shar Pei - not only with people, but also with other dog breeds. If socialization and training is neglected a Shar
Pei may become over-protective of their owners and property.
While they have the reputation as being an 'unhealthy' breed, this reputation may be unjustly earned. During the
1970's because veterinarians began to see these dogs for the first time in many cases, they began to diagnose
exotic and wild ailments. These ailments were often published in journals on regular basis due, in part, to a
readership interest in "new" breeds ailments and diseases. In general, the Shar-Pei is no more 'unhealthy' than
many breeds. It is a fallacy that the folds between the wrinkles have to be dried out with a cotton swab after
baths or that they must be powered after bathing. Like any dog, they require a good drying, but no other special
care. Because of the folds in the facial area, there can be eye problems and dermatitis if not properly kept.
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History of the Shar-Pei