DNA analysis indicates that the Shar-Pei is one of the world’s most ancient dog breeds. Apparently a few thousand years is enough time for the distinguishing characteristics of this Chinese original to become firmly established.

Originating in the Guangdong province of Southern China, the breed became known to most Westerners through a 1979 cover photo in Life Magazine. That image of a little wrinkled puppy captured the imagination of readers and, coupled with a 1978 Guinness Book of World Records mention of the breed as one of the world’s rarest, its popularity was secured.

Shar Pei 01 - Breeder Buzzwords – The Chinese Shar-Pei

The Chinese Shar-Pei.

“Sand skin” is how the breed’s name translates into English, although its coat is but one of its many identifiable features. Deep wrinkles, a blue-black tongue and a head like a hippo are just some of the “grotesque” features that, taken together, create an undeniable canine original.

According to the AKC breed standard, a distinctive feature of the breed’s extraordinary head is its muzzle. Described in the “General Appearance” section as a “hippopotamus” muzzle, its broad and full proportions are one of the breed’s distinguishing characteristics. Known as a “meat-mouth” among the people of China and Hong Kong, this Western-style head is distinguished from the original Chinese type, known as a “bone-mouth,” for its complete lack of “snipiness.” Padded lips and a top of the muzzle that is so well-padded as to cause a slight bulge above the nose ensure the desired hippo-inspired head.

A self-colored breed, “Only solid colors and sable are acceptable,” as dictated by the breed standard. All colors are given equal merit, including diluted colors such as apricot, blue, chocolate and lilac. In all but the dilute colors, the tongue, roof of mouth, gums and flews are of a “solid bluish-black” color. In dilute-colored Shar-Pei, the mouths are to have “solid lavender pigmentation.” According to the standard, “A spotted pink tongue is a major fault” and “a solid pink tongue is a disqualification.” An important consideration when evaluating this breed characteristic is that the color of the tongue “may lighten due to heat stress.” The standard advises, “Care must be taken not to confuse dilute pigmentation with a pink tongue.”

Superabundant Wrinkles
Originally used as a wild boar hunter, the breed was later developed for dog fighting, where its loose skin and prickly coat made it a formidable opponent. No longer a fighting dog today, the Shar-Pei maintains only the scowl of a fighter, but its hallmark coat remains. “The extremely harsh coat is one of the distinguishing features of the breed,” according to the coat section of the breed standard. The coat is absolutely straight and stands off the body of the dog. Two coat lengths are acceptable: an extremely short “horse coat,” and a “brush coat” that is less than one inch in length at the withers.

The Shar-Pei’s famous loose skin and wrinkles are “superabundant” in puppies, covering the head, neck and body. Although adult dogs do not maintain the rumpled look of their youth, their collective characteristics still make them a dog worthy of a cover shot.

Revised 9/20/13 to remove a preamble explaining what “Breeder Buzzwords” are all about. You can read it here.