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Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography
Tetsu Yamazaki, Animal Photography
The quiet and confident Chinese Shar-Pei is intelligent, stubborn, and devoted to his family. He needs an experienced, assertive owner who can train him without letting him get bored. This powerhouse watchdog housetrains easily and early, and only barks when worrying or playing.
After teetering on the brink of extinction, the Chinese Shar-Pei made a comback: in 1983, the Neiman Marcus catalog chose the dog as its his-and-hers fantasy gift, offering a pair of Shar-Pei puppies for $2,000 each.
The Shar-Pei stands out for his wrinkled face and body, which give him the appearance of wearing an ill-fitting suit, and his blue-black tongue and mouth, shared only by his compatriot the Chow Chow. He was probably developed in southern China, where he was used to guard property and to hunt. Some Shar-Pei were fighting dogs. The Shar-Pei is a medium-size dog, weighing 45 to 60 pounds. He has a broad, full muzzle that is described as resembling that of a hippopotamus, small triangular ears that lie flat, and a rough coat that feels like sandpaper.
There are few animals cuter than a Shar-Pei puppy, but that cuteness belies the breed’s proud, independent nature. The Shar-Pei is a one-man dog, although he will extend his protection to the entire family, including other pets. Highly territorial, he is distrustful of strangers and may be aggressive toward dogs he doesn’t know. Anyone who has not been approved by the Shar-Pei’s owner will be warned off with a deep growl and perhaps something a little more physical if they don’t take the hint.
All too often, Chinese Shar-Pei have a reputation for being aggressive toward people, which is not acceptable. Early and frequent socialization is essential to helping them develop the confidence and discrimination they need to recognize what is a threat and what is normal. Buy a Shar-Pei only from a breeder who raises puppies in the home and has exposed them to many different people, sounds and experiences before they go to their new homes.
When he comes from such a background and continues to be socialized after going to his new home, a Shar-Pei can be a good family dog, ideally with older children who understand how to treat him with respect. Keep in mind, too, that children may be disappointed in the Shar-Pei’s complete lack of interest in cuddling or being hugged.
The Chinese Shar-Pei has a low to moderate activity level and can live happily in any home, including an apartment or condo. A 20-minute walk daily will satisfy his exercise needs.
This intelligent but sometimes stubborn dog can be a challenge to train. He responds well to clicker training and positive reinforcement techniques such as play, praise and food rewards, but he also likes to do things his own way. To be successful, you must be patient and you must be willing to try many different methods to see what works. Find a trainer who has an extensive bag of tricks and is experienced with spitz breeds. Keep training sessions short and fun so the Chinese Shar-Pei doesn’t get bored.
Last but not least, the Chinese Shar-Pei needs to live in the house. It’s an unhappy Chinese Shar-Pei who is relegated to the backyard with little or no human companionship.
Dogs like the Shar-Pei breed have existed in southern China for centuries, perhaps as far back as the Han Dynasty around 200 B.C. Statuary from that period showing a dog similar to the Shar-Pei has been found by archaeologists. Later evidence includes a 13th-century document that refers to a wrinkled dog.
Early Shar-Pei were all-around farm and working dogs. They guarded property and livestock, hunted game, and herded flocks. The Shar-Pei was a household guardian in another way, too. His purplish tongue, shared with only one other breed, the Chow Chow, and his wrinkly skin were thought to frighten away evil spirits. In addition to being working dogs, Shar-Pei were also popular fighting dogs. Their loose skin and rough coat made it difficult for the other dog to grab onto them.
Life has always been harsh in China, but for the Shar-Pei it became downright dangerous after the Communist takeover early in the 20th century. In the People's Republic of China, dogs were a symbol of a decadent past and they were practically eliminated in the 1950s. Only a few remained in rural areas, as well as in Hong Kong (still under British rule at the time) and Taiwan, plus a few that had been exported to the United States in 1966.
In 1973, a Hong Kong breeder named Matgo Law appealed to Western dog fanciers to help him save the breed, which was nearing extinction. The unusual wrinkled dogs elicited an enthusiastic interest from Americans and quickly became “the” dog to have. Shar-Pei were fully recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1992. After that first burst of popularity, they have achieved a moderate level of interest, currently ranked at 50th, down from 37th a decade ago.
The Shar-Pei is a bit of a snob. He is naturally reserved around people he doesn’t know and remains aloof once they are introduced. Extensive socialization at an early age is necessary to prevent him from becoming too territorial or aggressive. Only family members receive the overwhelming devotion of this independent, alert and intelligent dog who watches the world go by in a calm and dignified manner.
A Shar-Pei is quiet in the house. He is a remarkably good watchdog and rarely barks unless in play. If you hear him, it would behoove you to go see what has caught his attention. A short, brisk walk satisfies his exercise needs.
This is a strong, confident dog who learns quickly, so don’t put off training. The Shar-Pei is independent and strong willed. Be firm but never harsh or physical with him. Teach him early on to accept grooming procedures such as nail trimming, ear cleaning and teeth brushing. You never want your Shar-Pei to learn that he can physically intimidate you into stopping those procedures.
Like most dogs, Shar-Pei dislike having their feet touched and dislike having their nails trimmed. That applies to other procedures, too.
The Shar-Pei is a guard dog who has hunted and fought other dogs. Most Shar-Pei don't care for the company of other dogs, and they are easily aroused to aggression. A securely fenced yard will prevent him from engaging in conflicts with other dogs or trying to expand his territory to include the whole block.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Shar-Pei, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
The Shar-Pei has many health issues, and Shar-Pei owners may develop a close relationship with their veterinarian. Concerns include hip and elbow dysplasia; patellar luxation; hypothyroidism; eye problems such as entropion, retinal dysplasia and glaucoma, allergies; and skin fold infections.
A singular problem is an illness called Shar-Pei fever, a condition in which the dog experiences periodic fevers and his hock joints become swollen. Accompanying signs may include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and shallow breathing. The dog’s body temperature can rise to 107°F (the upper range of normal for a dog's temperature is 99.5 to 102.5°F). One of the possible treatments can be expensive, but at least one manufacturer allows qualifying Shar-Pei owners to participate in their “patient assistance program."
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The Chinese Shar-Pei Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC). For a Shar-Pei to achieve CHIC certification, he must have OFA evaluations for hips, elbows, patellas (knees) and thyroid, plus an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been "vet checked," then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Shar-Pei at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
Grooming requirements depend on the individual Shar-Pei. Weekly brushing can meet the needs of both the “horse-coated” (shorthaired) variety and the “brush-coated” type (slightly longer), but some Shar-Pei of either type can be prone to skin problems. Shar-Pei with skin problems may need weekly bathing and daily brushing.
All Shar-Pei need regular wrinkle care. The wrinkles must be wiped out with a damp cloth and then dried thoroughly to prevent infection. Do not oil the skin.
Shar-Pei have small, tight, triangular ears that predispose them to chronic ear problems because there isn’t enough air circulating in the narrow ear canal. Although it’s not as easy to clean the ears of a Shar-Pei as it is for most breeds, regular cleaning should be done to help prevent recurrent yeast or bacterial infections.
Bathe the Shar-Pei as you desire or only when he gets dirty. With the gentle dog shampoos available now, you can bathe a Shar-Pei weekly if you want without harming his coat.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every few weeks. Brush the teeth for overall good health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as is possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than in making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems.
Find a breeder who is a member in good standing of the Chinese Shar-pei Club of America, Inc. and who has agreed to abide by their Breeders Code of Conduct, which includes screening all dogs being bred for genetic diseases, selling only with a written contract, not selling puppies to or through pet stores, and guaranteeing a home for any dog they breed if the owner becomes unable to keep him.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Many reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Shar-Pei puppy varies depending on his place of origin, whether he is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Shar-Pei might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult Shar-Pei may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Shar-Pei in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Shar-Peis available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Shar-Pei. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Shar-Peis love all Shar-Peis. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Chinese Shar-Pei Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Shar-Pei rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Shar-Pei home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Shar-Pei, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Shar-Pei to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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