Chinese shar pei – dog with “skin of sand”

Shar pei dog isn’t just an unusual and funny looking dog with a wrinkled skin, it’s a true hero who fearlessly survived middle-age Chinese wars, hunger and communist repressions during the 40-th of the last century.

Several times the breed has almost disappeared, but due to the breeders efforts it was brought back to life and became surprisingly popular.

Shar pei dog is clever, calm and loyal. As it is peculiar to real Asians these dogs like order, discipline and they are used to control their emotions.

They are tender and attentive to their owners and mindlessly brave when it comes to protection of their home and loved ones.

Short description

Chinese shar pei was always known for its perfect guard characteristics, bravery and strength. Despite its size, the dog will be an ideal guardian for your family and home.

It’s a calm, slow, self-sure, noble, clever and unusually loyal dog. Talking about skin wrinkles it can be said that due to them this dog is considered to be the most unusually looking one. However, these wrinkles aren’t all beauty, the dog needs them to protect itself during sever fights.

Shar pei is a fight dog, you know. From Chinese “shar pei” means a skin of sand. In other words, the breed name means that the dog has crisply textured and short fur, which together with its subcutis makes a good and reliable protection from any enemy attack.

We should give the credit for these numerous skin wrinkles to Chinese breeders who wanted to create a guardian dog which would be capable to protect houses and pastures and also to participate in dog fights, where its wrinkled skin would act like a kind of armor.

If earlier the breeders tried to make the breed more aggressive and fighting-like, nowadays dog breeders prefer to raise a calm companion dog. Despite the fact that they are middle sized dogs, they still have perfectly developed characteristics of a guardian and keeper.

They actively protect their territory and owner’s family. Shar pei surely can replace any security system, since due to its sensitivity and unique hearing the dog can recognize the smallest danger.

The history of the breed

Very little is known about how this ancient Chinese dogs breed appeared. Possibly, the breed description and stud books which were always kept in Asian countries were destroyed by the emperor Qin Shi Huang in 213 B.C.

There is also a though that dog appeared simultaneously from breeding of short-furred chow-chow and ancient mastiff dogs. Anatomical likeness and lots of character patterns of shar pei dog speak for this.

Anyways, genetic studies and DNA analysis have proved that the breed is at least 3000 years old. Species of the breed are direct offsprings of one of the four basic primitive dog types, this is where all human’s canine companions come from.

For ages shar pei dogs have lived in South provinces of China on the beach of South China Sea. This breed was already quite popular during Han dynasty reign in China (202-220 B.C). Clay figures of furrowed dogs with wrinkled skin that were found during archaeological diggings in ancient Chinese tombs speak for this. It’s known that Chinses shar pei dogs were used for fights.

It’s seen from their balanced blockiness and strong jaws. Besides, their rough fur and thick skin perfectly protect the dog from injuries. There’s a hypothesis that first Chinese shar pei fight dogs lived in city – local peasants were known to be gambling fans.

Many researchers of the breed say that sailors invented dog fights, because they used to spend a lot of time in ports waiting for cargo and they invented such an entertainment for themselves.

However, as the time passed by dogs stopped participating in dog fights, since their larger rivals Molosser dogs appeared in China due to Roman sailors.

Still the breed kept being popular despite changing its main specialization – shar pei from a fighting dog has turned into a favorite peasants’ dog which could protect the house and help while hunting. Later, due to efforts of dynasty founder Han, Emperor Gao the wellness of the poorest peasants became essentially better, so there was no longer any necessity in universal and not demanding helper about the house.

Therefore, the dog became more popular among Chinese governing noblemen who were attracted by its appearance and their effectiveness when hunting. In spite of the dog seemingly heaviness it’s very fast, with a strong clutch, also it could resist even large animal unlike greyhound dog, for example.

Wars started in China again when Han dynasty was followed by Min dynasty (1368-1644). Hunger followed promptly, so the interest in dogs decreased.

Up till the middle of the last century the breed continued developing, raising and loosing its popularity. In the 30-th these dogs were possibly on the peak of their popularity.

But it 1940s everything changed. China communist party got the power. Politicians thought that pets are signs of luxury, which isn’t acceptable for communists. New taxation rules were created for cats and dogs owners, which made people pay huge monthly payments.

Mao Zedong made a special decree in which pets were named as “a symbol of privileged class useless”. Pets were destructed in large numbers and dogs were also almost eliminated. At the beginning of 1950s there were only a few offsprings of this breed.

In 1965 Chinese breeder Chen succeed to get an ideal male name Lucky. Later, the dog was bought by an American breeder and stock-breeder German Smith. In 1970 Lucky became the first representative of the breed brought to USA.

In a year in a professional American journal Dogs there was published an article about the history and modernity of breed with Lucky’s photo in it.

The text under the photo said: “This may be the last live shar pei dog in the whole world”. Another dog breeder Matgo Law has noticed the article and he turned to American dog breeders asking for help to save dogs breed and rebirth of the breed.

For 5 years the activists have been looking for puppies and dogs in Chinese villages. The dogs they’ve found (less then a dozen) have become the founders of renewed Chinese shar pei dogs breed – our contemporaries.

However, the breed existence was still in danger and because of that the decision was made to breed dogs with all dogs that have any blood connection with the disappearing breed.

Eventually stock-breeders succeeded to bring genetic pool to its normal state. Species from first offsprings differed a bit from modern shar pei dogs – they were slimmer and taller. It took several years to make the dogs get their classical appearance – middle sized and massive.

Shar pei dogs breed was acknowledged by specialized associations in 1973. Three years later the breed standard was confirmed and first breeding record was introduced.

Today’s dog may by almost of ant color except completely white (the latter is considered as a defect). In 1978 Chinese shar pei dog was put into Guinness Book of World Records as the most rare dog breed in the world. Shar pei puppy from the first breeding record may be up to 10.000 US $

Breed description and standard

The last changes into the breed standard were made in 1999. The general description says that is a very active and strong built dog, middle sized, square shaped.

It’s body skin is wrinkled. Male is rather bigger than female. The dog’s head should appear a bit larger than its body. The skull is flat and wide.

There are wrinkles even on its head, cheeks and forehead. The nose should be wide and big with large, wide open nostrils. The color may be black or in tune to the main dog’s coloring. The dog’s face should be wide but never sharpened. Lips and nose are pronounced. A small mount is allowed on its nasal planum.

The breed hallmark and compulsory character is dark blue colored tongue, palate, gingiva and lips of the dog.

But some shar pei dogs may have a spotted pink tongue, however completely bright pink colored tongue isn’t acceptable according to the breed standard. The dog’s jaw is very strong with a scissorsbite. Eyes is another its distinctive feature – they have almond dark eyes.

The most important thing is the dog’s glance – it is always frowned. The ears are small, compact and delta shaped, they are put rather high on the skull.

Their endings are a bit rounded and slightly turned in the direction of the dog’s eyes. The ears are put rather widely, however they tightly adjoin the dog’s skull. Stand-up ears are considered an aberration.

Shar pei dog’s tail has to be round and thick with a bit contracted ending. Another hallmark of the breed is that the tail is put rather high on the dog’s back.

The tail may be curved or crumpled, or it may be turned and lay on the dog’s back or hip. Complete or partial absence of the tail is an essential defect from the POV of the breed standard. Fore and hind limbs of the dog are equable, they are spraddled and parallel to each other.

The dog’s paws and limbs shouldn’t have any skin wrinkles. Also no wrinkles on hips, shins and huckle bone are allowed.

Shar pei dog should trot as it moves, at that all dog’s movements should be smooth and free. When the dog is running one can notice a strong push of hind legs.

Fur is its armor, it should be very hard and bristly. Also it’s another breed’s hallmark. The fur is short and straight. This kind of dogs doesn’t have any underfur.

Fur length shouldn’t exceed 2-2.5 cm. The coloring may be of all types except white. Dog’s weight may vary from 18 to 25 kg; height varies from 45 to 50 cm. Male dog is usually larger than female, lifespan is about 9-10 years in average.


Shar pei dogs require early socialization otherwise they may become too aggressive. In general this dog gets on well with other pets in the house, but some species may be too aggressive with other dogs.

Though the dog looks like a perfect companion, still initially it’s an aggressive dog. In all existing descriptions of the breed there is an emphasis on shar pei dog’s intellect and acuteness. Let’s mention, that combination of its delicate, calm, but determined character with its intellect makes incomparable with other dogs.

Also the dog is very loyal to its owner and his family, that why it barely stands the presence of strangers on its territory.

Due to this character dogs became ideal guardians and keepers. There is a stereotype that these dogs are very slow and indecisive ones, but it’s not true.

They are brave and courageous, in a second the dog makes an independent decision and starts acting. Self-control is another character that makes the dog different from others and allows to keep it in an apartment. If the dog is left alone in a room, it surely won’t eat your furniture or shoes.

Despite that the dog needs communication a lot and doesn’t like to be alone, it’ll wait for your return and won’t do any damage in the flat. Their independence is the main source of their acuteness. Therefore, it won’t be a good idea to close this dog in a small cage or etc., since the dog needs to feel its importance and responsibility.


It’s recommended to take dog as a pet only for people with strong and determined character, since the dog loves to command and rule. If you timely don’t show the dog who is in charge here, it will surely take the advantage of this and control everything including its owner.

But despite all above mentioned, still all the dog’s actions are totally deprived of any aggression. The dog is obedient, patient, loyal and intelligent.

In spite of the dog’s frightening and frowned appearance, it’s a kind, communicative animal that needs care and kindness. These dogs love company and kids, they are kind to them. But it doesn’t mean that the dog will do everything you command.

Due to its independent temper the dog will always act according to its own preferences and thoughts. Because of that it may seem that the dog is very stubborn, unsociable and disobedient.

Chinese shar pei are usually very suspicious to strangers, they won’t even allow to get close to them, no to mention touching them. Therefore, dog’s timely socialization is very important.

The training process must start from the first day the puppy appears in your house. The only thing that can be an obstacle in successful socialization of the dog is its modesty and desire to stay in a quiet place.

Just like all Asian dog breeds, dogs have a perfectly developed intuition. They can be even called psychologists. They can feel their family or the danger coming from another person or animal.

You just have to remember that this dog will be testing your patience and self-control all the time and you’ll have to show yourself as a real cool headed, steady handed and iron willed chief. In this case you’ll have a loyal and faithful dog companion.


Shar pei is a good breed for a family. These dogs are very faithful to close people and they can learn their family characters and preferences, so they are good companions for children and elderly.

But parents still must be very attentive to their dog and children relationship st least for the first time. Another good feature of the dog’s character is its stable psychology, they have very good influence on people with some nervous breakdowns.

As we’ve already mentioned, these dogs are very incredulous to strangers and if the person behaves too active and intrusive, protective instincts will turn on. Besides, these dogs have rather poor peripheral vision, therefore any twitching of strangers disturb them.

As all dominant dog breeds this one tends to show aggression towards other animals. This peculiarity may be neutralized in case of early socialization and training of the dog.

If your shar pei dog is trained properly it’ll quite peacefully coexist with other pets in the house.


Training of shar pei dog isn’t a simple task for the beginning dog breeder. This dog can be very stubborn and show its temper at a very wrong time.

However, this is the dog which easily remembers new commands, but it can also refuse to obey them. Start training ans socialization of puppy as early as possible. So, by the time it’s an adult dog it becomes more obedient and responsive. At the age of 3-4 month it’s quite possible to start a general course of training the dog. Early socialization softens dominating temper of the dog.

To make the dog treat other animals properly, you should teach it to games with them from its early days. It’s better be not only species of the same breed, but others, too.

If in the dog’s early days it meets a cat, later it’ll be more tolerate to cat’s family and this will make your walks outside more pleasant.

Needs basic training and classical basics of obedience. You can conquer the stubborn temper of your Chinese pet only with sober severity. First commands to be trained are – “come!”, “Off!”, “Down!”. Any aggression is prohibited during training. At that you still have to be a leader (strict, sever, but fair) during the training process. So, this way the dog’s training will be a result of trust not fair.

Shar pei care

Dogs are rather easy to keep and they won’t give their owner much trouble: the dog don’t shed much and don’t have any peculiar smell. The most vulnerable and sensitive body part is its ears. The thing is that auditory channel of these dogs is very thin and poorly ventilated, so the smallest water drops in the ear may cause serious problems.

These dogs refuse from washing themselves, it looks like they know that it may cause trouble. Still, once in a month you have to wash your dog.

At that avoid any ingress of water on your dog’s head surface and just in case put cotton wool balls in its ears. Use only specialized shampoo for dogs, because very often this breed species suffer from chafe.

To remove loose fur while washing the dog use the brush with which you usually comb the dog. Remove shampoo very throughly from the skin wrinkles. After washing dry the dog’s fur and again pay attention to the wrinkles. You can use fan for more through drying, but don’t use hot air.

You should comb out the dog several times a week with a quality brush with short teeth, it’s better be a rubber one also combining massage function in it.

Chinese shar pei doesn’t have any underfur at all, so its seasonal shedding passes rather noteless. During this period you have to comb the dog every day.

Shar pei has quite long claws, so to make the fingers form properly you should cut the claws regularly. If you look at your pet’s claws in the light, blood vessels should be seen. To avoid bleeding cut the claws without crossing this line.

The dog’s eyes should be frequently checked for excretions presence and if any – they should be removed with a wipe.

Shar pei and your apartment

When preparing a place for your dog try to avoid open spaces and draughts. The air shouldn’t be too dry, if so make sure that you have air humidifiers. The dog’s sleeping place has to be spacious, made of natural fabric and not too soft, since the dog’s back needs comfortable hardiness to have full-fledged rest.

From its place the dog should be capable to see all other rooms and the entrance to perform its guardian task. Without this possibility the dog will be always nervous.

The dog’s bowl has to be cleaned after each meal and have supports that allow adjusting their height.

Your pet’s toys must be made of strong rubber and be of appropriate size, so the dog won’t swallow them.

Purifying bones for the pet’s teeth should be in a special bowl near the dog’s sleeping place.


There are some peculiarities as for shar pei diet. The thing is that some species of this breed have poor appetite and some refuse to eat at all.

You can improve their appetite by walking and physical loads. But sometimes the pet refuses from feed despite it is hungry. In this case change the feed type, since shar pai dogs are rather sensitive to the feed quality and composition.

They mustn’t be overfed, because the dog may turn into lazy and clumsy animal and it can also affect the dog’s kidneys. This breed tends to have dietary allergy so don’t change the dog’s feed type too often and change its diet significantly.

Till dog becomes 1.5 years old it’s recommended to feed it with specialized dry feed with some additions, vitamins and minerals. And only after this age and when its appetite starts to become worse you can switch to common natural feed.

Ideally the dog’s diet can consist of 2 types of meat (beef and chicken), several types of vegetables and groats. Note, that all feed should be thick or dry. You mustn’t feed shar pei with thin soup or just broth.

To make your pet’s meal more balanced feed it with eggs, fish or butter milk several times a week. There should be two meals a day. These dogs tend to overweight, so if you’ve noticed that your dog has some excess weight, decrease the amount of starches in its diet.

Of course, dry feed is considered more practical and balanced, but shar pei may get bored with unvaried diet.


In general all shar pei dogs have perfect immunity and get sick rather seldom. But there are some cases when even experienced vets can’t define the reason of some symptoms. Healthy dog shouldn’t have a scent of dog’s smell, its skin wrinkles should be dry and clean, eyes should shine, the nose should be wet.

As we already mentioned, ears may cause some problems. So, as a preventive care examine your dog’s ears 2-3 times a week, clean them with cotton wool balls and cover when washing the dog.

If shar pei meal wasn’t balanced properly it may cause dietary allergy. It shows in eye redness, sore ears, diarrhea, dacryorrhoea and hypersalivation.

Also there may appear eczema, skin blisters, dog’s fur may fall-off, its face becomes dropsy, the temperature rises, the dog becomes sleepy.

If the dog’s skin doesn’t get proper care, a number of microorganisms and fungus may appear in its wrinkles. You shouldn’t clean the skin every day, you just have to wash the dog timely and clean thoroughly.

Often skin wrinkles are above the dog’s eyelids and rub the cornea. In this case special brackets are used to rise slightly the skin wrinkle. Also quite often shar pei dog has an eyelid wrapped inside, and here a timely surgery may help.

There’s one more specific illness that is called “shar pei fever”. It is peculiar only to this breed species and it’s characterized by abrupt rise of dog’s temperature, all body shivering, arthrophyma. If this happens, give the dog an analgin, diphenhydramine hydrochloride and drotaverine injection.

How to choose puppy and where it’s better to buy a dog

At first find a reliable and tested breeder who can provide you with all necessary documents and certificates. After that, when you’ve met a family of small wrinkled puppies it’s time to use the following useful advices:

  • puppy’s age 1.5-2 month;
  • average size (not too smal and not the largest one);
  • clean ears and eyes, wet nose;
  • bright fur;
  • well-heeled appearance;
  • active;
  • good appetite;
  • absence of obvious defects and limp;
  • no exomphalos (soft node on a belly);
  • square shaped head and dark blue tongue.

However, of course, the most important here is mutual attraction and affection. Puppy shouldn’t be aggressive to its future owner.

About author: Sergey Schulz

Sergey is a founder and author of He’s been fond of aquarium husbandry since his early childhood. His favorite aquariums are biotopes (Amazon River), with Echinodorus and freshwater angelfish. However, through the years he’s had experience of keeping almost all types of freshwater fish and shrimps.