Chinese Shar-Pei

Breed Group: Non-Sporting

Temperament and Behavior

A Chinese Shar-Pei (Shar-PAY), with its black tongue and hippopotamus-like appearance, is a great conversation starter. It's not unusual for members of the breed to vary considerably from each other. Some are good with children, others are not. Many are good around non-canine pets but some are not. Most but not all will challenge strange dogs. There are several things a Shar-Pei owner can count on. First, they are a vocal breed. This trait, when combined with their aloofness with strangers results in a top-notch watchdog. Although not demonstrative with affection, they are devoted to their family. This results in a good guard dog as well. Although not a playful breed, they still need a reasonable amount of exercise. If you don't make sure they get it, you will likely have a dog that has problems with their weight. But if allowed to run, you may find he has killed the neighbor's cat and, although not in the Herding Group, they have also been known to run deer and molest livestock. Fortunately, they are adaptable. They are happy to either lounge next to their owner on the sofa or go for a hike. Although their tendencies can be tempered with socialization and training, they tend to be independent. Finally, they are likely to challenge each family member for dominance, filling in any leadership gap they find.

Physical Characteristics

Typical height for this average size dog breed is 18-20 inches at the withers, with a weight of between 45 and 60 pounds. There are two accepted coat types – the horse-coat and the brush-coat. Horse-coats feel rough and prickly and are known to cause itching in people with sensitive skin. The brush-coat is smoother with longer hair. Coat colors include all solid colors and sables. Their coat is easy to care for with only routine brushing needed two to three times a week, but shedding is still apt to be at least a little more than an average dog. There are three other grooming tasks that need regular attention with a Shar-Pei. First, their ears need frequent cleaning. Second, their toenails grow quickly, especially the nails on their front feet; keeping them clipped is a never-ending job. Finally, the folds of there skin should be kept clean to prevent infections. They do reasonably well in cold weather, less well in heat. Two final physical characteristics worth mentioning are first, similar to the Chow Chow, the Chinese Shar-Pei has a black tongue. Second puppies have many more wrinkles than the adults on whom the wrinkles are limited to their head, neck, and front legs.

Trainer's Notes

The Chinese Shar-Pei must be well socialized. In spite of being quite intelligent, they are not easy to train. They can be stubborn and bold; a firm, but gentle, consistent training regime is needed for the owner to establish leadership. The breed is notorious for refusing commands from anyone who has not established control over them. They are an especially clean breed, with little effort need to housebreak them. With their subdued inside activity level, they make a reasonable candidate for apartment living. But with their dominance seeking nature, they are not for an owner who is inexperienced with dogs.

Photo © by Mpeinadopa available under the CC BY 2.0
Chinese Shar-Pei

Chinese Shar-Pei


Chinese Spar-Peis have a lifespan of between 8 and 12 years. About 1 in 4 suffer from Elbow Dysplasia with another about 13% suffering from Hip Dysplasia and Patellar Luxation. Entropion also occurs relatively frequently and Mange is sometimes seen in the breed. Shar-Pei breeders frequently suggest feeding a low (below 17%) protein diet as a precaution against Amyloidosis, a hereditary disease in the Shar-Pei where abnormal deposits of a protein called amyloid occurs. The cause is poorly understood. Amyloid deposits are most common in the kidney but may also occur in the liver, spleen, and pancreas, causing the organ effected to malfunction. The breed also experiences fevers of unknown origins, frequently occurring with swollen hocks, which may be the early sign of kidney failure. This is a breed that requires a good veterinarian who is familiar with their health issues.


In the 1980’s and 90’s the Chinese Shar-Pei became a fad breed. To meet the demand, unknowledgeable breeders produced many poorly bred dogs. The breed is now suffering the consequences of that breeding activity. Currently ranked 45th in popularity by the AKC, there are between 3,000 and 4,000 dogs registered each year.

Breed History

The origin of the Chinese Shar-Pei is unknown. With it and the Chow Chow being the only two dogs with an all black tongue and with both coming from China, it stands to reason they are related. There are several pictures on ancient pottery that imply the breed was present in the Han Dynasty (about 200 B.C.) Centuries ago, this breed was used in dog fighting; its loose skin allowing the dog to continue fighting even if grabbed. The breed was maintained as a farm dog in the Chinese countryside, and used generally for hunting, protecting livestock, and guarding the home and family.

Additional Information

Chinese Shar-Pei owners of note include Freddie Gershon, the producer of both Grease and Saturday Night Fever. The National (US) Breed Club is the Chinese Shar-Pei Club of America.