Chinese Shar-Pei

It wasn’t so very long ago that the Chinese Shar-Pei was considered to be the rarest dog in the world, wobbling on the edge of extinction in 1973. Just 10 years later, a pair of the wrinkly pups was being offered for $2,000 apiece in the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog, a lure to those who want the latest in expensive playthings. But the Shar-Pei is no cuddly canine or exotic dog to be displayed and then ignored. He is a complex dog with special grooming, health and socialization needs. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering bringing a Chinese Shar-Pei into your home.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

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.

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. These dogs may need weekly bathing and daily brushing. And all Shar-Pei need regular wrinkle care. The wrinkles must be wiped out with a damp cloth and then dried thoroughly to prevent infection. Like all dogs, Shar-Pei also need regular nail trimming, ear cleaning and dental hygiene.

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.

Health Issues Common to Chinese Shar-Pei

All purebred 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 Chinese Shar-Pei has some health problems that can be a concern, especially if you aren't careful whom you buy from. They include hip and elbow dysplasia, patellar luxation, autoimmune thyroiditis, eye problems such as entropion, retinal dysplasia, glaucoma and cataracts, and skin fold infections.

The Chinese Shar-Pei Club of America, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For a Shar-Pei to achieve CHIC certification, he must have OFA evaluations for hips, elbows, thyroid and patella (knee), and 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.

Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Patellar Luxation Medium $1,500-$3,000
Hip Dysplasia Medium $1,500-$6,000
Elbow Dysplasia High $1,500-$4,000
Entropion Medium $300-$1,500
Cataracts Medium $1,500-$5,000
Atopic Dermatitis High $100-$1,000
Demodectic Mange Medium $200-$1,000
Fold Dermatitis High $300-$2,500
IgA Deficiency Medium $2,000-$5,000

5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Chinese Shar-Pei Puppy

Finding a good breeder is more important than 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 possible. For a list of breeders, visit the website of the Chinese Shar-Pei Club of America.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health problems in Chinese Shar-Pei aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an adult dog, most of them can be ruled out. In addition, a Chinese Shar-Pei can live 8 to 10 years, so an adult dog will still be a part of your family for a long time to come.

Puppy or adult, take your Chinese Shar-Pei to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store. You're more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to housetrain puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Chinese Shar-Pei

Pet insurance for Chinese Shar-Pei costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Chinese Shar-Pei are much more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat. Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Chinese Shar-Pei are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Chinese Shar-Pei is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.