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Shar-Peis: The Cutest and Most Stubborn Wrinkly Dogs in the World

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As you walk down the street, you spot a dog covered in golden wrinkles. Right away, you know it must be a Chinese Shar-Pei. No other breed sports trademarked wrinkly coats. As you watch the loose fur slip over the dog’s body as they walk beside their owner, you wonder if they’d make a good match in your household. They’re the perfect medium size for most homes, after all. Before you start stocking up on dog supplies, though, read through this quick guide on Shar-Peis. While those wrinkles are adorable – especially on puppies – these dogs have a few quirks you need to know about.

Wrinkled and Blue

In Mandarin, Shar-Pei translates to “sand skin.” And if you run your hand along those short, bristly hairs, you’ll understand why. You can find three different coats on a Shar-Pei, though the AKC officially recognizes only the first two:

  • Horse Coat: Extremely short, lifting a “hair” above the skin
  • Brush Coat: A touch longer, but no more than one inch along the legs
  • Bear Coat: The fluffy version, with hair extending more than an inch

The hair stands up against masses of loose folds of skin that form wrinkles from their heads down to their curled tails. They possess shortened snouts, making them a brachycephalic breed. That’s right – a member of the group that includes Bulldogs and Pugs. When it gets hot, they struggle to move air through their compressed airways. And since they have bluish-black tongues, people who aren’t used to the breed may jump to unexpected conclusions and think their dog’s suffocating. (The Chow Chow is the other dog breed to share this trait)

The bear coat isn't officially recognized by the AKC

Chinese Shar-Peis: Ancient Wrinkly Dogs

No one knows exactly how old the Shar-Pei breed is, but they think the dogs date back 2000 years to the Han Dynasty in China. Wrinkly dogs served multiple purposes: guard dog, hunter, and even herding dog. Life stayed good until around 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was established. Communist regimes frowned on dog ownership, eradicating many breeds. But a few Shar-Peis managed to hang on in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

In May 1971, Dogs published an article highlighting rare dog breeds. They featured a picture of a Shar-Pei with the caption, “one of the last surviving specimens of the breed.” Matgo Law, the owner of the Down-Homes Kennel in Hong Kong, stumbled onto the article. He owned Shar-Peis, and he felt determined to see the breed survive. He wrote a letter to Dogs stressing the importance of saving the breed. They published his letter in the April 1973 issue. Over 200 people in the United States responded, wanting to purchase Shar-Peis!

Shar-Peis joined the AKC Miscellaneous class in 1988, and they joined the Non-Sporting Group in 1991 – the 134th breed to join the AKC.

History’s Dark Side

Unfortunately, the sudden influx of Shar-Peis into the U.S. came with a slippery slope. Everyone fell in love with those adorable wrinkles, but no one had any real experience with breeding. The original Shar-Pei featured few wrinkles; you might even dismiss them as a different dog entirely. Instead of working to preserve the best quality of life, people aimed to make dogs as wrinkly as possible – to horrible results.

In 2011, scientists discovered a genetic link between the wrinkles and the condition Shar-Pei fever. Shar-Pei fever, or swollen hock syndrome, causes fevers between 103-107F. The dogs develop swellings in their hocks (the region below their knee), making them reluctant to move. They can also show vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and abdominal pain. Severe cases develop kidney, liver, or spleen complications. Typically, dogs develop Shar-Pei fever at 18 months, but adults CAN end up affected. And the original Shar-Pei model, with fewer wrinkles? DON’T get Shar-Pei fever.

Shar-Peis look sweet, but they're also stubborn and can get aggressive

Bringing a Shar-Pei Home

Shar-Peis retain the devotion they developed guarding their homes and livestock all those years ago. As such, people often incorporate them into their homes. They have medium, compact bodies that work well in apartments or the country. However, you need to keep some things in mind before you add one to your family. They aren’t the sweet, bouncy dogs those wrinkles might suggest. If you don’t have the time to invest in training and socialization, Shar-Peis aren’t the dogs for you.

Stubborn Shar-Peis

Everyone loves loyalty and devotion. However, Shar-Peis add stubbornness to that list. They continue to make fantastic guard dogs, but you need to work hard to train them. They’re suspicious of EVERYTHING they don’t know: people, other animals, strange leaves. You have to start the training process from day one and continue reinforcing it throughout their lives to prevent undue aggression. Unfortunately, Shar-Peis did have a period where they were used for pit fighting, so if you don’t stay on top of things, you CAN find yourself living with a tyrant. Inexperienced owners should NEVER bring a Shar-Pei into their home.

And while you might think a Shar-Pei puppy rolling around on the floor with your kids is an adorable picture, Shar-Peis aren’t the most child-friendly breed. They do okay with older children, but they lack the patience to handle younger kids. Rather than cope with frustration (on both sides), consider a different breed if you have young ones about.

They ARE intelligent dogs. Of course, that can translate to them outwitting you if you aren’t careful. Socialization from day one is key. Establish yourself as the boss, or you’re going to find yourself fighting a losing battle. If you’re interested, Shar-Peis do well at obedience and tracking. You’ll get those keen minds working – in a constructive manner.

Caring for a Shar-Pei

Those short bristles make grooming a cinch. Shar-Peis are one of the cleanest dog breeds you’ll find. You don’t need to worry about frequent baths (actually, it’s discouraged), and they aren’t the biggest shedders, either. You DO need to keep an eye on the wrinkles, though. Folds like to trap dirt and debris, which can lead to skin issues.

However, there IS a caveat. Shar-Peis release oil onto their skin, which causes allergic reactions in certain people. (I develop hives LOOKING at them) And, no, you can’t bathe them frequently to strip the oil away. That isn’t healthy for the dog.

Exercise varies depending on the dog. In general, though, you’re not getting a jogging partner. Remember – these are brachycephalic dogs, so they can only move so much air through those smushed airways. You might find a Shar-Pei who loves long daily walks, though. Or you could have a slower pup who wants a quick walk to the park and then long snoozes on the couch. You’ll need to see what your dog prefers and go from there.

Don't forget, Shar-Peis are considered a brachycephalic breed

Major Health Concerns for Shar-Peis

When it comes to health, the breeding boom in the 1970s didn’t do Shar-Peis any favors. If you plan to add a Shar-Pei to your life, have pet insurance or a savings account ready to go. Shar-Peis are prone to the following health conditions (in addition to the dreaded Shar-Pei fever):

Always look for a reputable breeder if you choose to purchase your Shar-Pei. They’ll have performed the screening for the worst of these conditions through the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). The Chinese Shar-Pei Club of America is aware of the genetic links, and they’re doing their best to foster responsible breeding practices. Now that the breed isn’t experiencing such a surge in popularity, it’s easier to handle.

Adopt, Don’t Shop

With so many health and behavioral problems, Shar-Peis often find themselves turned over to rescue groups. Rather than purchasing a puppy (yes, I know – they’re cute), consider getting in contact with one of these amazing Shar-Pei rescues. They work tirelessly to find homes for wonderful dogs. And, often, they’ve spent fundraised money to perform eye, elbow, or knee surgeries, so the dogs feel comfortable and happy. You can never go wrong supporting a good cause!

Wrinkly and Loyal

Who doesn’t love a wrinkly face? Chinese Shar-Peis have a distinctive look that many people find enchanting. You need to have the strength of will to battle their stubborn streak, though. Not to mention the intelligence to match wits with their crafty minds. They’re not a breed meant for everyone, and you’ll need to have a lot of care (and finances) for their possible health concerns.

If you’re up to the task, though, all of those wrinkles could find the best home snuggled up beside you.

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Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy

Andria grew up in a pet-friendly household. On weekends, the family made trips to zoos and aquariums in the area. So it wasn't a surprise when she gravitated toward a career with animals. After six years working among the background operations at the Philadelphia Zoo, she gained a unique insight into the veterinary world. The vet staff provided her first lessons in terminology, the identification of medical equipment, and glimpses of radiographs (x-rays). She also enjoyed plenty of opportunities to talk with everyone, including the veterinary technicians. And they offered an alternative for someone NOT interested in surgical pathways: Namely, their course of study. Andria enrolled at Harcum College. Philadelphia boasts two programs for vet techs, but only Harcum works with the Ryan Veterinary Hospital and New Bolton Center (University of Pennsylvania's small and large animal facilities, respectively). Harcum's vet tech students receive six months of hands-on teaching and experience alongside Penn's vet students. With the opportunities and connections available with one of the top veterinary schools, the decision was easy for her to make. New Bolton Center: Large Animal Medicine Andria ended up trudging through snow up to the knee and shivering in subzero temperatures during her winter semester, but she wasn't disappointed with her choice. New Bolton provided a thorough grounding in large animal medicine. A horse-lover as a child, the experience renewed those old emotions. And a few memories stood out and remained to this day: • Standing alongside a Clydesdale and feeling TINY • Holding the reins of a horse galloping at top speed on a treadmill • Nursing tiny foals through the first days of their life Ryan Veterinary Hospital: Small Animal Medicine Veterinary students can legally work at a practice while studying. Andria took advantage of the opportunity, gaining "real life" experience while attending class. It provided a slight advantage when she entered her three months at the small animal hospital. However, as Ryan Veterinary Hospital offers treatments unique to the veterinary community, she continued to gain valuable experience. For instance, she spent a day working alongside their Chemo Team. The positivity of everyone she encountered - staff, clients, and patients alike - left a lasting impression. Additional standout moments included: • An afternoon spent with the head of the feline kidney transplant program • A day serving as the anesthesia technician in their new radiation unit • Recognizing a radiograph of a giant elephant shrew (applying her previous zoo knowledge) Emergency/ICU Veterinary Technician Accompanying her Associate of Science in Veterinary Technology, Andria received a passing score on the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). The two led to her certification/license as a veterinary technician - first in Pennsylvania (CVT) and later in Virginia (LVT). Emergency medicine appealed to her from the beginning. The flux of ailments, injuries, and even species kept her mind sharp at all times. The knowledge required to handle cats, dogs, exotics, and even wildlife is highest in an ICU setting. When a vet tech never knows the patient's stability coming back to the treatment area, skills and the ability to respond in an instant always stay in peak shape. With treatments evolving at a constant basis, Andria sought out the best Continuing Education opportunities. She attended the International Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society (IVECCS) Conference whenever possible. This allowed her to discuss the latest wound treatments, medications, and advancements in diet formulations. Cardiology Veterinary Technician With the increased knowledge and experience, Andria noticed gaps in her abilities. Her grasp of cardiology remained at the basic level. She wanted to boost her skills and understanding as much as possible, improving her patient care. When an opportunity within the practice arose to move into the cardiology department, she accepted. She sharpened her ability to read ECGs, recognizing arrhythmias of every type. Speaking with the cardiologist, she learned to read echocardiograms, picking out the most common disease processes. And, courtesy of her position in the department, she took in everything she could regarding the grain-free diet concern. And throughout her ten-year career, she built her store of client interactions. She learned stories of heartbreak and hope. In the middle of the night, she shared touching and humorous conversations. Every moment taught her to engage with people. And the skill blended into her writing ability, capturing the interest of pet-lovers everywhere.

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