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All about the history of the Shar Pei

Pottery remains from the Han Dynasty of China (about 206 BC) show a wrinkly big dog. Could this be a representation of one of the earliest Shar Peis? It is unknown for certain exactly when the Shar Pei popped into its wrinkled existence, but it is known that they are distinctly Chinese.

For centuries Shar Peis were strictly Chinese. They were not allowed outside of the borders. The first Shar Pei did not reach Western shores until 1966.

Like Chow Chows, Shar Peis are big, solidly built dogs. Chow Chows come in very long fluffy coats, which are not accepted under American Kennel Club regulations. However, bear coated Shar Peis with coats similar to Chow Chows, pop up occasionally in both China and North America. The breed standard of today emphasizes both horse coated and brush coated Shar Peis. And the two breeds also share the same blue-black tongue, which happens only in these two breeds.

It is thought that Shar Peis were bred to be strong all purpose farm dogs. They were to have a fierce appearance, could work all day and guard both master and property from man or beast. It is unknown when the emphasis on wrinkles developed. This was most likely when Shar Peis became star performers in another field – the dog-fighting pit. Wrinkles and loose skin meant another dog couldn’t get a good grip and, even if they did, the loose skin could help protect vital organs. Even today, Shar Peis are not great around other dogs.

Sadly, the dog-fighting pit is responsible for the development of many breeds especially bulldog types being developed in England about the same time Shar Peis were being honed to their current look in China. Unlike Shar Peis, the bully breeds in England (including the Old English Bulldog and the much-maligned Staffordshire Bull Terrier) were selected to be aggressive with other dogs but be eager to please any person.

Today, the Shar Pei is bred to be a companion and show dog, although they do often work as guard dogs and sometimes farm dogs. It is now known that they need special consistent training from puppy-hood in order to be socially acceptable canines.

It is harder, but training a Shar Pei is possible. However, only those experienced in training and living with large, active dogs like Rottweilers or Boxers should attempt to take on a Shar Pei.

Although there are an estimated 70,000 Shar Peis today, that still is not considered a diverse enough gene pool to ensure the breed’s survival. They are prone to many health problems, including inverted eyelids. Sometimes their wrinkles become so deep, the dog is effectively blind and needs cosmetic surgery in order to see. Perhaps it is best if this breed was left to history, since they do not have much of a promising future.

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