The Shar Pei might not be the most traditionally attractive dog breed out there, but there’s something about the wrinkled face and droopy eyes that just melts your heart. Which makes it hard to believe that in the 1970s this quirky-looking breed was facing extinction due to extermination.
This sad chapter in the Shar Pei’s over 3000-year history started when the Communist Party came into power in the 1940s in China, the breed’s original home. They saw keeping pets as a bourgeois past time and a sign of capitalism. They also considered dogs a threat to public health and a luxury that people couldn’t afford during times of food shortages. These ideals led to the implementation of the mass extermination of dogs in Chinese cities and the countryside in the 1950s.
By the early 1970s, the Shar Pei was considered dangerously close to extinction. It was a fact that did not escape Matgo Law, a Hong Kong business man, who appealed to Americans to help him save the breed. Law eventually managed to smuggle 200 dogs out of China to America, a move which proved to be vital for the breed’s survival.
Probably the most defining feature of the Shar Pei is its large, hippo-like face, which is covered in wrinkles. It is also known for its blue-black tongue, small triangular ears and thick tail that curls over its body.
Shar Peis are considered large dogs, with both males and females reaching a height of between 46-51cm when fully grown. In terms of weight, adult males come in at between 25-29kg, while females are about 4kg lighter.
The breed is also known for its short, harsh coat. In fact, its name means “sand skin” in Cantonese. The coat is usually a solid colour and comes in 16 officially recognised hues.
Shar Peis are very loyal to their owners and bond easily with their family. They are an intelligent breed and get along great with children and other animals should these be introduced when the dog is still a puppy.
Shar Peis are very easy-going animals and have a bit of an independent streak, which can make them difficult to handle if their owner is not firm or strong willed. They are also very protective of their owners and a bit standoffish with strangers, all of which makes them excellent guard dogs.
Shar Peis are an active breed and will need regular physical exercise to become well-adjusted pets. They do not cope well with heat, however, and owners will need to ensure they don’t overexert themselves on hot days.
These dogs are not too active indoors and don’t bark much, which makes them ideal for apartment living or homes with a small yard.
Shar Peis don’t like grooming too much, so owners are advised to introduce them to it from an early age. A weekly bath and regular brushing should be enough to rid them of dead hair.
Owners should also be aware that the Shar Pei’s rough coat can sometimes cause problems for people with sensitive skin and those who suffer from allergies.
Shar Peis are generally very healthy dogs, but over-breeding in the 1980s have left them prone to certain health issues, like skin allergies and irritations. They are also prone to kidney failure, mast cell tumours and Familial Shar Pei Fever, a condition that causes short fevers that last from 1 to 3 days.
In terms of life expectancy, your Shar Pei should be part of your family for around 10 years.