The Chinese Shar-Pei, shortened to Shar-Pei for ease, is one of the oldest dog breeds in the world. And it’s safe to say that he is also one of the most unique breeds. His gorgeous hippopotamus face paired with his roly-poly body makes him appear soft, cuddly, and very teddy-bear-like.
But don’t be fooled! Because this guy is a tough Chinese cookie who is definitely not suited to inexperienced dog owners. There’s plenty to learn for potential owners of this breed, as they definitely aren’t well suited for every family.
In this breed guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about this legendary pup. You’ll learn about his history that created his somewhat unfair reputation to what his personality is really like. You’ll also learn about his grooming and training needs, to his health and puppy costs. Think you and this sandy-skinned pup are destined to be with one another? Let’s dive into the details.
The Chinese Shar-Pei dates back to the Han Dynasty in China. Which, for those of us who aren’t au fait with Chinese history, was about 2,000 years ago. The discovery of statues resembling Shar-Peis and manuscripts describing ‘wrinkled dogs’ led us to this fact.
It is also believed that the Shar-Pei was a peasant dog used as a versatile farmhand to hunt, protect, and herd. Unlike the flat-faced Pug or the charming Shih-Tzu, the breed didn’t hit it off with royalty.
He remained in his post as a top farm dog and family protector for centuries. That was until the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949. The Communist regime frowned upon dog ownership and slaughtered as many dogs as they could.
This led to the near-extinction of the Shar-Pei and many other dog breeds in China. As well as the rise in the dog meat and dogfighting trade. Thankfully, good specimens of the Shar-Pei were found in neighboring Hong Kong and Taiwan.
It is believed the breed first made its way to America in the 1960s. But it wasn’t until 1973 that the general public took an interest in the breed. A breeder from Hong Kong appealed to Shar-Pei lovers in America to help him save the breed. Fifteen individuals set up the Chinese Shar-Pei Club of America in 1974, and the breed was ultimately saved.
His near extinction is why this ancient breed wasn’t recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) until 1992. Today, the Shar-Pei is still a relatively rare dog breed in America. According to the AKC, he regularly ranks between the 60th and 70th most popular dog breed. Paddington the Shar-Pei is a famous Instagram star who is possibly one of the most photogenic pups in the world!
The Shar-Pei is first and foremost a sweet dog who adores his family very much. His total devotion to his human pack means that this squishy hippo is never far behind. Because he spends so much time with his humans, most will develop a deeply intuitive connection with their favorite people. This means they can be clingy with their favorite folks.
This devotion makes him a dependable guard dog. He is very standoffish with strangers and will not appreciate living with a family forever inviting outsiders into their home. He will stand in the face of danger to protect his pack and will be the last to back down. You can’t do much better than this breed if you are looking for a guard dog! But he isn’t a brute just looking for a fight. He is a regal and relatively serene canine most of the time.
His aloofness and protective nature fool most people into thinking that he can be a bit of a snob! But far from it. With his family, he lets loose and can be a very fun and dopey dog. He loves interactive play with anyone in his family willing to give him the time. But he also has moments where he wants to be left in peace, and you should respect that. This pup doesn’t like to be fussed over or smothered. Some people love this independent characteristic, but others don’t.
The Shar-Pei is a dominant dog breed that needs an experienced owner. His character is tough, and this can make living with them tricky for some. He always thinks he knows better, even the most well trained dogs. To tame this pooch, he needs a fair but strict master who puts a lot of effort into lifelong training. We’ll get into that more later on in this guide.
Another of his ‘quirks’ that many families struggle to accept is that most Shar-Peis do not appreciate other dogs. Even with early socialization, some will display aggressive tendencies towards other dogs. This means that you might not be able to enjoy the fun to be had at your local doggy park. Of course, all dogs are different, but this guy is one of the least compatible canines with other dogs.
Size & Appearance
The Shar-Pei is a medium to a large-sized dog who typically weighs between 45 and 60 pounds. Males tend to be larger and stockier compared to females. Generally, he is square and compact in appearance, and his head is slightly larger than it would be if proportionate. If you want to show your Shar-Pei in the conformation ring, he’ll need to conform to the breed standard.
The breed is best known for its uniquely shaped muzzle that is always compared to that of a hippopotamus. His ears are tiny in comparison and point towards his darky beady eyes.
Another distinctive feature is that his tongue and the inside of his mouth are bluish-black. Except in dilute colored dogs who should have a lavender pigment. It’s such an important feature in the breed that any pink on the tongue will be penalized or disqualified in the show ring.
Their tail is another important feature of the breed. It should be set high, and be thick around the base, and tapering to a fine point at the end. It will curl over or to either side of the back. And last but not least is his wrinkly skin folds across his entire body. These are more prominent when he is a pup, and he’ll try his best to grow into them as much as he can.
Coat & Colors
The name ‘Shar-Pei’ translates directly into ‘Sandy-Skin.’ So, it’s easiest to describe his skin as sandy and coarse in texture. His hair is straight and stands outwards off his body but tends to lie closer to his limbs. His hair is not shiny, but it should always look healthy and lush.
There are different coat lengths in the breed, but it should not exceed one inch in the show ring. An extremely short coat is known as a ‘horse coat,’ and a longer coat is known as a ‘brush coat.’
With this being said, there are some Shar-Pei’s out there who sport a coat longer than one inch. Some also have soft and wavy coats. Much like a fluffy English Mastiff, Fluffy Shar-Peis are much rarer than the standard coat. Some breeders might charge a premium for this longer, softer coat. But it does not affect his personality in any way.
Like other purebred dogs, these pups have a fantastic array of coat color choices. These include black, blue, brown, chocolate, cream, apricot, fawn, isabella, lilac, red, and sable. Some of these colors can be bold or dilute in color and with different patterns too. But generally, all Shar-Peis should be a solid color, not a mixture of colors. The most common color is fawn, and many have a black facial mask.
The Shar-Pei is sometimes considered a low-energy dog breed, which is a huge appeal for many families. But he still needs between 30 to 45 minutes of outdoor exercise a day. If you don’t give him this, he will become bored and restless. And ultimately destructive and behaviorally problematic. He’ll be grateful for the leg stretch. Plus, it’s also important for him to interact with the outside world to prevent him from becoming overprotective.
Thankfully, he doesn’t need constant mental stimulation compared to many other dogs. He is happy to kick back and chill for most of the day. His laid-back demeanor in the home is what many families love about him. Still, we would suggest investing in a few dog toys to entertain himself for when he’s feeling perkier or frustrated.
This is a brachycephalic dog breed that’s known to struggle with his breathing when exercising. For this reason, we would suggest using a harness for exercise rather than attaching the leash to his collar. And because some Shar-Peis are known to be aggressive towards other dogs, a harness with a handle can give you more control should something happen.
Although the Shar-Pei is a medium to large-sized breed, he is more than happy to live in an apartment. His low energy and laidback nature in the home means he is a top choice for city dwellers who like larger pups. Equally, he is also happy to live in larger homes. If he has access to a yard, it must be secure and escape-proof. He will chase things that come into his yard and protect his space. So, it’s for both his and everyone else’s safety.
No dog should be left at home alone from 9 am to 5 pm. But, this tolerates being home alone for longer than most other pups. This is all part of his laid-back attitude and low energy. If you need to hire a dog walker, you will need to choose carefully. Shar-Peis need an experienced handler, and he will only accept someone they trust.
The Shar-Pei needs to be homed with a family who is experienced with dominant dog breeds. As long as they have experience, families can be any shape or size. They can live happily with children, but only older kids who understand how to treat a dog with respect. This guy will not appreciate young kids smothering him. So this is something to consider if you are thinking about starting a family.
If socialized well and brought into a family as a puppy, he might get along well with other dogs and animals. Much like Paddington, the famous Instagram star mentioned above adores his new canine brother and feline siblings. But this is not guaranteed! Shar-Peis are one of the least compatible dogs for multi-pet environments. For this reason, if you are a multi-pet household, you need to consider looking at another dog breed that is more susceptible to multi-pet living.
The Shar-Pei is an intelligent dog, but he is also one of the most headstrong dog breeds on the planet. Which can make training difficult. This is why he should only be taken on by an experienced dog owner!
Sadly, many people take this guy on because of his cute face and cuddly appearance, only to surrender him to rescue shelters because they cannot handle this pup. Please don’t make this mistake, and be honest with yourself about your capabilities!
Those who are comfortable and experienced will still find a challenge in him, but he can be managed. Firstly, training needs to start from day one. Establish the rules and make sure the whole family is on board with them. Secondly, you need to be consistent. For once you give in, you’ll find it a struggle. This guy needs to work for everything, otherwise, he’ll become a spoilt and obnoxious pup.
Positive reinforcement training is the only way to train this guy. If he isn’t rewarded for his good behavior, he probably won’t repeat it. And if you are too harsh, he will ignore you or react negatively. Most Shar-Peis are motivated by food, so be sure to keep training treats to hand to encourage good behavior. But all dogs are different, so it’s important to learn what works for your pup.
Socialization is crucial for the potentially aggressive Shar-Pei, and the optimum window for socialization is 3 to 12 weeks. So, it’s important to work with a responsible breeder who will start the process, and it’ll be your job to continue it.
For the overprotective pup, socializing your pup and reminding him of his manners will be a lifelong commitment. Mixing him with as many dogs, animals, humans, and new environments as possible will determine how polite or unruly he will be as an adult.
The Shar-Pei’s health is lower than the average dog breed. But he still enjoys a lifespan of 8 to 12 years. Like all dog breeds, he is prone to certain health problems more than others because of inherited disease. Work with a reputable breeder who will do everything they can to produce healthy pups. Be sure to keep up to date with health checks and exercise regularly.
Below are the most common health conditions that affect the breed. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it gives you somewhere to start your research. Learn what symptoms to look out for and how to deal with them should they occur.
Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
Joint dysplasias are a common health concern in medium to large dog breeds. It occurs when the sockets and bones do not meet properly, causing reduced mobility, pain, and joint dislocation. It can be inherited from parents or as a result of rapid growth as a pup. For this reason, it is important to work with a breeder who tests for good joint scores. Symptoms include exercise intolerance and struggling to lay down, stand, or climb the stairs.
The Shar-Pei suffers a wide variety of eye concerns. The most common are progressive retinal atrophy, entropion, glaucoma, retinal dysplasia, and sudden acquired retinal degeneration (SARDS). So, it’s important to monitor the health of his eyes and eyesight. Breeding dogs should undergo an ophthalmologist evaluation.
This is another joint condition, but it is specific to the kneecap. Essentially, the kneecap doesn’t sit correctly and floats in and out of position. It can be a painful condition that prevents normal mobility. If your pup cannot walk on his leg properly or kicks it out in apparent discomfort, it’s time to get him to a vet.
This is a disorder of the thyroid gland that causes an imbalance of hormone production. In turn, this leads to a variety of other health concerns. Symptoms include hair loss, weight gain, lethargy, and sometimes seizures. Once diagnosed, it can be managed with daily medication.
This is also known as swollen hock syndrome, and it causes the hock joints to swell. Sometimes it can also affect the muzzle. It swells so much that it sends the body into a fever, and some dogs cannot move until the fever passes. Scientists do not know what causes it, and it usually lasts 24 to 36 hours. It usually starts from 18 months old, and your pup will need pain management.
As you might have guessed, this wrinkly dog suffers from various skin conditions. The most common concerns to be aware of are pyoderma, demodectic mange, seborrhea, and cutaneous mucinosis. If you notice any hair loss in patches, sore, itchy, or inflamed skin, severe dandruff, or a strong odor, your pooch will need to see the vet for treatment.
Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome
Also known as BOAS, this affects flatter-faced breeds. It causes problems with their airways and can cause them to overheat quickly. Thankfully, the breed doesn’t suffer as badly compared to completely flat-faced breeds, but it is something that you need to be aware of. Use a harness instead of a collar, avoid exercise when it’s hot, and be extra vigilant.
The average Shar-Pei will consume around two cups of kibble every day. Of course, this is different for every dog. And it will depend on his age, size, energy levels, and the brand of kibble that you feed him. They are also prone to weight gain, so it’s important to follow the package instructions to avoid overfeeding him. Free feeding should be avoided with this hungry hippo!
Considering his weight range and various joint conditions, it’s advised to feed your Shar-Pei a kibble designed specifically for large breeds. These help to stabilize bone growth which can lower the chances of him developing such conditions. A high-quality kibble will provide a nutritionally balanced diet, and it’ll please his fussy taste buds too.
The breed is prone to gastric torsion. This is a life-threatening condition that is also known as bloat. Feed your Shar-Pei his food allowance across several different meal sittings. And never feed him immediately before or after exercise. If you notice excess drooling, restlessness, a swollen abdomen, rapid heart rate, or fainting, you need to seek immediate veterinary assistance.
The Chinese Shar-Pei’s grooming schedule can be both easy and difficult, so you need to be prepared for both. They are considered relatively clean dogs, who are described as being fastidious when it comes to self-grooming. Meaning he rarely smells.
Plus, he sheds minimally too. He only needs brushing once or twice a week with a rubber mit or curry brush to remove dead hair and dirt. Plus, it will encourage blood circulation, which will improve the condition of his skin.
That’s the easy part! The difficulty comes with his abundance of folds. If he is super wrinkly, and pups are more wrinkly than adults, you’ll need to clean between each fold several times a week. Skin folds can be a breeding ground for bacteria, which will cause infections. Wipe each fold with a specific doggy skinfold cleaning product.
Another difficulty that comes with the breed and their grooming schedule is bathing and cleaning. He only needs bathing once every two to three months (unless advised otherwise by your vet). You may need to choose a specific medicated shampoo to soothe his skin, depending on his skin history.
It’s extremely important to dry him thoroughly after each bath. This means in between every.single.skin.fold! Otherwise, it’ll become sore, leading to infections and open wounds.
Breeders & Puppy Costs
This is a rarer dog, meaning you might have to travel far depending on where you live. But it’s super important to work with a reputable breeder! Especially for a dominant dog breed like this guy who is also prone to poor health. Otherwise, you risk inheriting a pup riddled with health concerns and who has missed out on crucial socialization. A great place to start your puppy search is with the AKC’s Chinese Shar-Pei breeders page.
The average puppy price ranges anywhere between $1,200 and $2,000. This can be slightly less or more than this price. It all depends on the reputation and experience of the breeder, location, and pedigree of the pups. A good quality breeder will expect you to meet them and the pups in person at their home. They will have experience in breeding Shar-Peis and will provide you with health certificates.
Sadly, there are also many irresponsible breeders out there who will put profit over puppy health. They will breed sick dogs because they are cheaper to purchase and ‘run’ and will not provide their pups with any health checks or support. They will not raise these pups with love or socialization, which can produce unruly and dangerous dogs. So, please avoid them at all costs!
You also need to consider the ongoing costs that come with dog ownership. You need to purchase everything that a puppy needs, including all the extras that you want to spoil him with. There are also insurance and medical costs to consider. Which are usually more costly than the average canine considering his poorer health.
Rescues & Shelters
Some families might prefer rescuing a Shar-Pei instead of buying a brand new pup, and there are many reasons for doing so. Not least because rescuing a pooch is an incredible thing to do!
As you might have guessed, many families take this guy on without much prior research, only to find out that they are not well matched. Meaning that there are quite a few dogs out there who are waiting for their furever home.
Check out your local rescue shelter. If you cannot see a Shar-Pei, be sure to speak to the staff as they might know of one in a neighboring shelter. Plus, they can talk you through the rescue process. Alternatively, there are also rescue organizations that are dedicated to only rehoming this breed. The Chinese Shar-Pei Rescue Trust has details of breed dedicated rescues.
As Family Pets
- The Shar-Pei is a medium to large-sized dog breed.
- They can live in small apartments and larger homes.
- This is a dominant dog breed that needs a strict and experienced owner.
- Without proper leadership, this breed can become challenging to own.
- He is a low-energy dog breed who only needs around 30 to 45 minutes of exercise every day.
- The breed makes a brilliant watchdog and guard dog.
- He’ll protect his family in the face of danger without any worries.
- He is independent and happy to relax in his own company.
- This breed enjoys having its own space to be independent.
- He is very aloof with strangers and is known to display aggressive tendencies towards other dogs.
- This means he’s recommended in single pet households.
- With his family, he is fun, affectionate, and a little bit goofy.
- The Shar-Pei does much better in a family with older children who will respect his boundaries.
- His training is a lifelong commitment.
The Chinese Shar-Pei is one of the most unique-looking dogs in the world, and he is also unique in his personality. Some say that he is more cat than dog, in that he isn’t needy and likes to chill in his own company.
He is a dominant dog breed that needs an equally strong-willed and experienced master to bring the best out of him. But if you can tame the beast within him, you’re sure to find a lifelong friend in this gorgeous hippopotamus hound.