Breed of the Week: The Shar Pei - Simply For Dogs
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Breed of the Week: The Shar Pei

This week’s spotlight is on the Shar Pei, a popular breed with distinct rolls of skin and a broad head that many refer to as a “hippopotamus muzzle”. This breed originates in China, but has become a favorite among dog owners thanks to its tough-yet-cute appearance. Originally bred for fighting, Shar Peis can be reserved around strangers and need a little bit of a firmer hand when it comes to training; but with the right owner, they can be sweet and loyal pets.


Shar Peis are unique dogs in that they don’t tend to have boisterous, happy-go-lucky personalities. They can be very sweet and devoted, don’t get me wrong – but a Shar Pei is more likely to be a quiet, stoic observer of life. Often described as serious and independent, these are great dogs for someone who enjoys long, introspective hikes with an equally self-possessed companion.

Bred for dog fights and hunting originally, the Shar Pei’s distinct looks are a calling card to their background. The wrinkled skin helps them to slip out of the jaws of an opponent, while the small ears make it harder for an opponent to get a hold. They also have sunken eyes and very powerful jaws, both indicators of a fighting breed.These dogs live an average of 12 to 14 years.

Shar Pei Owner’s Guide Books On Amazon

Click Below To Go To AmazonRatingPrice
Shar-Pei: Complete Pet Owner’s Manual
The Chinese Shar-Pei: An Owner’s Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet
Shar Pei: The Owner’s Guide from Puppy to Old Age


The name Shar Pei means something like “sand paper skin”, due to the short and bristly fur that this breed is known for. This breed dates back to the 13th century, although some historians think that a reference to a wrinkled dog from 200 B.C. could be the Shar Pei. In any case, this is a dog with a long history!

The very first Shar Peis were farm dogs, helping to herd and protect animals. However, they quickly gained popularity as fighting dogs, due to their characteristics. During the 20th century, Shar Peis faced a rapid decline in population, becoming all but extinct by the 1950s. It was in the 1970s that a breeder from Hong Kong worked to save the breed with breeders in America, and the breed later become recognized by the AKC. Now Shar Peis are ranked in the top 50 most popular breeds to own in America.


Shar Peis typically stand between 18 and 20 inches tall, and adults weigh between 45 and 60 pounds. There are no major differences in size between male and female Shar Peis. Just like Chows, Shar Peis have blue tongues that many owners find irresistibly adorable.


Words that describe Shar Peis include: independent, stubborn, serious, intelligent, and protective. These are very smart dogs that can be trained very easily, but you’re going to need patience because the Shar Pei likes to learn things at his or her own speed. It is very important that a Shar Pei is socialized early, to reduce the chance that the dog becomes aggressive towards strangers. Even a very well-trained Shar Pei can be suspicious of strangers, especially if their owner is not around. Many people describe these dogs as “snobby” because they choose to associate with just one person or family, and can be standoffish towards others.

Shar Peis need to be given their space at times – they aren’t likely to be a lap dog or a snuggly friend. However, they are great dogs for people whose schedules aren’t set in stone, because they can be happy with both a higher and a lower level of activity. Just a quick walk around the block daily is all they really need, though they will also be happy with lots of intense and mentally challenging play time.

Shar Peis are known for being very clean dogs who are easy to house train, so despite their stout appearance, they are actually very well suited to apartment or condo dwelling. Shar Peis are not good pets if your dog must be outside for most of its time; their flat faces mean they overheat quickly, and while independent, Shar Peis do like to be around “their person”.

These are very quiet dogs that are not prone to barking except during play, another reason why they are perfect for apartments and condos. Because Shar Peis were used as watchdogs since the 1200s, it’s typically a very good idea to check out whatever they bark at if they do; chances are, your pup is trying to tell you something!


Just like all breeds, Shar Peis are susceptible to certain hereditary diseases. Because of their skin and muzzle shape, Shar Peis often need a close eye on their health to ensure that no problems are developing. While their short and bristly hair doesn’t require much care, owners should inspect the skin folds regularly for any sign of infections, sores, or rashes.

Shar Peis can also develop hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, eye problems, and allergies. It’s very common for these dogs to overheat quickly because they don’t have a long muzzle to assist with panting like most breeds. Allergies are a common concern for dogs with shorter muzzles as well.

Shar Peis are also at risk of a particular condition called “Shar Pei fever”, in which the hips become swollen and the dog runs a fever, vomits, is lethargic, and has shallow breathing. These are periodic spells that can be treated by a vet, but there is no “cure” for the condition if the dog has it.


Shar Peis are considered medium-sized dogs and should be fed a diet that is formulated for both their size and their activity level. Depending on the health issues that your dog faces, you may need to consider an allergen-free diet for Shar Peis, particularly if they frequently get skin rashes. Your vet can help you decide the best diet, but for the most part, a healthy Shar Pei should be fed just like any other medium-sized dog.

Coat and Grooming

There are two types of Shar Pei coats: “horse-coated”, which is very short, bristly hairs, and “brush-coated”, which is slightly longer but still just as bristly. Both types require minimal grooming or care for the coat itself. They don’t typically need regular bathing because they are naturally very clean dogs, but if you do want to give them a bath, go with a gentle shampoo to protect their sensitive skin.

All Shar Peis need regular skin care. The wrinkles of skin around their body, particularly on the head and neck, must be checked for sores, rashes, infections, and other issues. Cleaning in these wrinkles, and drying thoroughly when done, should be a weekly event. While some owners may think oiling the skin helps it stay more comfortable, this is a big no-no for Shar Peis.

Another thing that Shar Peis require is regular ear cleaning. They have short, triangular ears that are predisposed to infections. When the ears are tucked so close to the skull, air can’t circulate within the ear canal, so it is harder for the body to keep the ears healthy naturally. A regular weekly cleaning at home, and an inspection to be sure the ears aren’t getting yeast or bacterial infections, is important.

Just like all dogs, trimming the nails and brushing the teeth is very important for good health and hygiene.

Kids and Other Pets

It is important for potential Shar Pei owners to understand that even the best training can’t change a dog’s base personality. Shar Peis can be very loyal family dogs, but they aren’t likely to want small children climbing all over them. If you have older children, or quiet and reserved children, who will respect the Shar Pei’s need for space, then you likely have a good match.

When it comes to other pets, Shar Peis are usually not recommended as companions. Because they were bred for fighting, and because they can be so possessive of “their person”, Shar Peis can become aggressive towards other animals. If a Shar Pei pup is raised alongside another dog and given excellent and consistent training, however, they can be perfectly comfortable. If you aren’t 100% sure that you can give a Shar Pei a lot of patient and experienced training and guidance, then it is probably best to avoid mixing them with another pet.

It is important to note that Shar Peis are known for chasing livestock and cattle, an old instinct from their farming origins. If you live near farmland, you may need to invest in a very sturdy leash and a solid fence to keep your dog away from any herds.

Resources for Shar Pei Owners

Because the Shar Pei is such a unique breed, with such an independent personality, owning one takes plenty of effort and education. An ideal owner for a Shar Pei would be someone with plenty of experience training dogs, lots of patience and time, but who won’t be offended when your dog isn’t interested in cuddles. A single person, a couple, or a family with older children, would make good potential owners for a Shar Pei.

In order to understand this breed better, you may want to read up on all their unique characteristics. “Shar-Pei: Complete Pet Owner’s Manual” by Tanya Ditto and “The Chinese Shar-Pei: An Owner’s Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet” by Jo Ann Reddit are two books that are filledwith great information for beginners who want to learn more about these dogs. These are good choices for dipping your toe in the Shar Pei information pool, to determine if you and the breed may be a good match.

If you are looking for a book with more in-depth information, Alex Seymour’s “Shar Pei: The Owner’s Guide from Puppy to Old Age” includes everything from how to choose a Shar Pei puppy, how to care for and groom them, how to keep an eye on their health, how to properly train them, and how to truly understand your Shar Pei. This book features tips and information from 18 Shar Pei breeders recognized as experts on this breed, so you’ll find out exactly how to spot health and behavior issues in the parents when you visit a breeder to choose a puppy.

It’s also an excellent idea to talk to your vet or breeder about the breed, to get some first-hand information about their temperament, health, and other concerns.

Shar Pei Owner’s Guide Books On Amazon

Click Below To Go To AmazonRatingPrice
Shar-Pei: Complete Pet Owner’s Manual
The Chinese Shar-Pei: An Owner’s Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet
Shar Pei: The Owner’s Guide from Puppy to Old Age

The Final Word

There are many things about the Shar Pei breed that are very charming. The independent yet intelligent nature makes this breed perfect for dog lovers who can’t have a typical bouncing bundle of energy in their home. Their undeniably cute appearance makes them easy to love, and the way they can adapt to a variety of activity levels makes them one of the easiest dogs to care for on a day-to-day basis.

However, there are some things to keep in mind when considering a Shar Pei. If you have young children, or plan to have children in the future, these may not be the best dogs. If you have pets already, or live near livestock, a Shar Pei may become aggressive. You also need to be able to provide firm, loving, and patient training for a Shar Pei to ensure they aren’t a danger to strangers.

Additionally, their potential health concerns may be off-putting for some potential owners. You can expect to spend a little more time at a vet with a Shar Pei than with other breeds, but choosing a puppy from a reputable breeder is always a good way to avoid many of those concerns.

So, what’s the final word? For the right owner, a Shar Pei is a fantastic choice. But owning this breed comes down to knowing yourself. If you know that you wouldn’t be able to provide a Shar Pei with the kind of care and attention they need, then you may be better suited for another dog. But if a quiet and loyal companion is what you need, then you and the Shar Pei could be made for each other.