The Shar-Pei is compact and square, with a head slightly large for their body. The coat can be of either brush (not to exceed 1 inch) or horse (very short) types, both it should be extremely harsh, straight, and stand off the body. The gait is free, with good reach and drive. The wide jaws, scowling expression, and hippopotamus muzzle create a look unique to the breed.
The Chinese Shar-Pei may have existed in the southern provinces of China since the Han dynasty (around 200 b.c.). Certainly by the thirteenth century strong evidence in the form of writings describing a wrinkled dog point to the breed’s existence. Its origins are unknown, but because only it and the Chow Chow have blue-black tongues, and both come from China, it is likely that they share some common ancestry. The Shar-Pei’s history is difficult to trace because most records relating to its past were lost when China became communist. At this time Shar-Peis were the working breed of peasant farmers, fulfilling roles of guard dog and wild boar hunter.
After the nation became communist, most of China’s dogs were eliminated, with only a few remaining outside of the cities. A few Shar-Peis were bred in British Hong Kong and Taiwan, and the Hong Kong Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1968. Around this same time, a few specimens came to America, but the turning point occurred with a 1973 article alerting American fanciers to the breed’s perilously low numbers. Touted as the world’s rarest dog, fanciers vied to obtain the few available Shar-Peis. The breed has since been brought from the brink of extinction to the height of popularity, and it is one of the most recognizable breeds in America. Though known for its loose skin and profuse wrinkles, which are superabundant in puppies, the wrinkles of adults may be limited only to the head, neck, and shoulders.
The Shar-Pei can be self-assured, serious, independent, stubborn, and very much self-possessed. Although not particularly demonstrative, he is devoted and may be very protective of his family. He is reserved, even suspicious, toward strangers. He can be assertive toward other dogs and may chase livestock and other animals, although he is generally good with other family pets.
The Shar-Pei needs daily mental and physical stimulation, but his needs can be met with lively games throughout the day or a good long walk. The coat needs only weekly brushing, but wrinkles need regular attention to ensure that no irritations develop within the skin folds. The name Shar-Pei means sandy coat, referring to the gritty sandpaper texture of the coat. When rubbed backward, the prickly coat can be uncomfortable, and even cause welts on the skin of an occasional sensitive person.