Also called the Chinese Shar-Pei, the Shar Pei dog breed is known for its distinctively wrinkled face. Though this breed existed as long ago as 206 BC, the Shar Pei was only recently recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1991. These dogs were originally bred by the Chinese as farm dogs and were prized for their skills in agility, obedience and tracking.
Today, however, this breed is more commonly kept as a family pet. Shar Peis can be somewhat aloof around strangers but once they become comfortable they can be very devoted, family-loving dogs.
The name "Shar Pei" means sandy coat and it refers to the color and texture of the Shar Pei's coat. The coats of Shar Peis are notoriously harsh and the fur is completely straight, standing out from the body in some places.
Western Shar Peis come in three coat types including horse, brush and bear coats. The horse coat is the most dominant type and it most closely resembles the rough, prickly coat of the traditional Shar Pei. The brush coat is often a bit longer and a little smoother than the horse coat. Bear coats are not a breed standard - this term is used to describe coats that are more than one inch long at the withers.
The most distinguishing characteristics of this breed are the hippopotamus-shaped head and the wrinkled face. Most of the wrinkles on a Shar Pei are concentrated in the face, but they may be present on the shoulders and at the base of the tail as well.
These dogs have triangular ears and a high-set tail which gives them a unique appearance. Most Shar Peis grow to between 18 and 20 inches at the withers and may achieve a healthy mature weight between 45 and 60 pounds. These dogs come in several colors including black, cream, chocolate, apricot and sable among others.
Because they were once bred as guard dogs, Shar Peis can be very suspicious and aloof toward strangers. Once they get comfortable, however, this breed is often very loyal and affectionate. Proper socialisation is extremely important for this breed because if these dogs are not trained or socialized they may become territorial or aggressive.
Another unique characteristic of this breed is that they tend to be fairly quiet - Shar Peis do not bark often except during play and when exercising their watch dog duties. In general, these dogs are intelligent and dignified while also maintaining a fierce devotion to their families.
Caring for Shar Peis
Though Shar Peis make devoted family dogs, their stubbornness can make them somewhat difficult to care for. Because these dogs are very intelligent and learn quickly, however, they typically respond well to training, especially when it is started at a young age.
Daily exercise is very important for this breed and regular socialisation with other dogs and people will help to prevent aggression and territorial tendencies. The Shar Pei is an especially clean breed of dog which requires little grooming and these dogs are very easy to housebreak.
Their thick coats stay naturally short so trimming is generally not necessary, but a daily brushing will help to remove dead hair and make room for new growth. Though they do not shed as much as many breeds, the harsh coat of the Shar Pei dog has been known to bother people with allergies.
Because their wrinkles tend to hold in heat, Shar Peis are particularly sensitive to warm weather. These dogs are also prone to a congenital disease called Familial Shar Pei Fever (FSF) which causes fevers and the accumulation of fluid in the ankles. Eye conditions such as entropion and ear infections are also fairly common in this breed.
There is a common misconception that these dogs experience frequent skin problems due to their wrinkled skin. While some Shar Peis do suffer from hereditary skin conditions as a result of rushed breeding, dogs purchased from reputable breeders should not experience these problems. Proper care and exercise will also help to keep these dogs healthy and will help them to reach their average life expectancy which is ten years or longer.