The Shar-Pei: A Complete Guide

The Chinese Shar-Pei is known for its wrinkled appearance and independent nature. In the right households, they make excellent family pets and guardians.

Feb 24, 2024By Thalia Oosthuizen
the shar pei complete guide

With its distinctive wrinkled skin and unique head shape, the Shar-Pei is unlike any other breed. They've captured the hearts of dog enthusiasts worldwide because of their distinctive look and calm temperament. So maybe you're considering bringing a Shar-Pei into your house, and you're wondering what you should be looking forward to. We've got you covered in this breed profile!

From Ancient China to Your Home: Shar-Pei Dogs

Brown Shar Pei Dog Lying on Deck
Image credit: Pexels

Come with us all the way back to ancient China, where the Shar-Pei was originally bred. The name itself translates to “sand skin” in Chinese. Clearly, this is a little nod to their distinctive wrinkled skin and saggy jowls. Uniqueness was the name of the game with them, though, in every aspect of their breeding and history.

When it came to work, they were honored workers used in hunting, herding, and guarding things. But like most breeds, the Shar-Pei has evolved over the centuries, adapting to the needs of their human companions. The wrinkled skin that these pups come with serves a functional purpose as it would help them wiggle out of an opponent's grasp during confrontations.

Light Shar Pei Dog Being Rubbed
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As China began to change culturally, so too did the role of this pup. They became less of utilitarian working dogs and more of beloved companions. But even though they transformed into beloved companions, they were still highly regarded for their instincts when it came to protection and guarding.

Their intense loyalty makes them ideal companions for just about anyone, especially those with family. Today, though their roles may have shifted, the historical significance of the Shar-Pei still remains embedded in its makeup.

Exploring the Unique Look of the Shar-Pei

Shar Pei Standing on Muddy Path
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These may be one of the most recognizable pups in the world. And the most recognizable feature that comes with these adorable dogs is their wrinkled skin. This gives it a unique and enduring appearance.

Although the wrinkles were a practical element in their past, today, they're there to add a little bit of charm to them. In fact, owners often find joy in gently rubbing and playing with the Shar-Pei’s wrinkles, and that, in turn, creates a strong bond between them and their pups.

Shar Pei Dog Lying on Garden Pathway
Image credit: Pexels

Though the wrinkles may be the most iconic feature of this pup, it’s by far not the only. The unique hippopotamus-shaped head is also a definite feature that many dog owners gravitate toward. With a broad and distinct muzzle, the Shar-Pei has a great sense of smell and a very strong jaw.

The last main feature that's really iconic to them is their short, bristly coat. The good thing about this is that, unlike other pups, it requires minimal grooming. This coat comes in a wide range of colors, including fawn, red, black, cream, and blue. The diversity of colors adds to the visual appeal of these dogs, making the Shar-Pei a one-of-a-kind companion that many people fall for.

Unveiling the Personality of Shar-Pei Companions

Two Shar Pei Dogs Standing Together Outside
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Their adorable look isn't the only thing that has made the Shar-Pei more than just a companion but a cherished family member. Maybe one of the most obvious is the character that they’ve got. These pups are well known for their self-sufficient and independent nature.

This trait sometimes can come off as being a little aloof but also highlights their ability to think for themselves. Many people who own Shar-Pei are astounded by the resourcefulness and intelligence that these pups have. Whereas this is an asset in a lot of ways, it can also cause a little bit of problems when training.

Other than their intelligence and independence, these cat-like pups are also loyal and protective. This extends to the people that they hold close to them, making them natural guardians. Of course, it does take early socialization to ensure that the protective instincts are balanced, making them a more well-rounded companion.

Guarding Their Well-Being: Health Considerations in Shar-Pei

Shar Pei Running on Grass in Garden
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If you choose to have a Shar-Pei companion, you want to make sure they stay healthy for as long as possible. To do that, you must:

Understand Common Health Issues

Among the common health issues that Shar-Pei have is entropion. This is a condition where the eyelids roll inward and cause eye irritation. This is sometimes called “cherry-eye” because it causes the trademark “cherry” in the corner of the dog’s eye.

Other unique health concerns with this breed include:

  • Respiratory issues. The Shar-Pei isn’t a brachycephalic dog breed. Yet, it may experience many of the same respiratory issues, such as shortness of breath. Luckily, the Shar-Pei doesn’t need much exercise, making it a great apartment-dwelling dog.
  • Hip dysplasia. This is a condition where the hip joint becomes fully or partially dislocated, impeding mobility. This is common in many large dog breeds, like Irish Wolfhounds.
  • Bloat. This is an often fatal condition where the stomach fills with gas, then flips over on itself, preventing adequate blood flow. There are some tips for preventing this condition, such as making sure your dog uses a slow feeder.

Only Adopt From Responsible Breeders

Brown Shar Pei Dog Looking Up at Owner
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Responsible breeding is one of the key things to really consider when looking to bring one of these pups into your family. Breeders look to focus on distinctive appearance, but good breeders do that as well, as well as getting their dogs’ health and temperament right.

This involves screening for potential health issues before mating two Shar-Pei together. There is a lot of education and experience that goes into being a successful breeder.

Reputable breeders stick to high standards aiming to enhance the overall well-being of the Shar-Pei breed, not just their wallets. By supporting responsible breeding practices, individuals contribute to the preservation and betterment of the Shar-Pei breed.

Schedule Regular Veterinary Visits

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Maintaining the health of any pup involves making sure you’ve got a consistent and regular veterinary care routine. This means having regular checkups and vaccinations as well as dental care. Having these in place will allow for a happier, healthier, and longer-living pup.

Keep Up with the Dog’s Grooming

Shar-Pei have sensitive skin, so owners should be very vigilant of their grooming. Though they don't need to be brushed, they do need to be cleaned on a regular basis so that they can prevent skin irritation and infections. Special attention to the folds helps mitigate dermatological issues.

Success Tips for Owning a Chinese Shar-Pei

Shar Pei Dog Running Along Garden Path
Image credit: Pexels

Every dog owner wants a well-behaved pup. When it comes to Shar-Pei, because of their independent nature, the training process could be a little more challenging. So, if you incorporate some of these tips that we're about to give you into your training routine, you could enjoy easy training sessions.

Your pup could benefit from:

Early Socialization

Exposing your pup to all kinds of different people, places, and situations is very important. Socializing them early will leave you with a better-behaved and adjusted pup. That’s because they’ll learn how to deal with strange situations early on.

Positive Reinforcement

Who doesn’t like treats and praise? No one, that’s who! But dogs like the Shar-Pei really appreciate them, especially when they are training. A reward-based training system will help keep your pup on track and build a better bond between the two of you. But remember, the Shar-Pei is a little stubborn, so be consistent and patient with them.

Moderate Amounts of Activity

Shar Pei Lying on Ground Sleeping
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Shar-Pei aren’t as high-energy as other dogs, but that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate a little exercise. So, incorporate daily walks and playtime into their training sessions. But don’t focus just on their physical health. Try to challenge them a bit. They need that mental stimulation, too!

Your Shar-Pei could get a kick out of various puzzle games. For many dogs, this is just as good (if not better) than outdoor activity.

Patience and Calmness

Be patient and calm with your Shar-Pei pup. They’re relatively calm dogs and won’t react well to frustration from their humans. Stay positive, so that the training environment is more conducive to their learning.

Firm Leadership

While we do suggest you stay patient and positive, it's also important to establish yourself as the leader. Shar-Pei respect a confident and consistent human. So, set clear rules and boundaries with them, but be firm and fair.

Shar-Pei Are Aloof, Special Companions

Shar Pei Standing By Tree in Garden
Image credit: Pexels

From its ancient Chinese origins to its distinctive personality and physical appearance, the Shar-Pei has found its way to being one of the most cherished breeds in the world. In fact, those who truly take the time to get to know them know they’re some of the most loving and devoted companions you can find.

By understanding their personality and their history, owners of these pups can truly experience unparalleled joy and build a deeper bond with their furry four-legged companion. Especially with a Shar-Pei! After all, who doesn't want to squeeze those adorable wrinkles and cuddle up with this quirky little pup?

Thalia Oosthuizen
By Thalia Oosthuizen

Thalia has been a freelance writer for over a decade and a dog (and animal) lover for over 30 years. She grew up on a farm where, at one stage, she had 15 dogs. She currently has one dog, Avery - an adorable pavement special with an extra toe on each foot, and two rescue cats - Boris and Mango. In her spare time, Thalia enjoys running, cycling, swimming, and reading