Recognised by the American Kennel Club in 1992, the true origins of the distinct Shar-Pei are subject to conjecture, with some dating its early development to 200 BC in the Han Dynasty of China. Despite many theorising a much later origin, the claim is supported by depictions of the breed found on pottery from 206 BC. Primarily bred as an all-purpose, working dog, the Shar-Pei was commonly observed in herding, guarding, hunting, tracking, and as a pest control dog about the farmstead. In its early days, the Shar-Pei was employed as a fighting dog, with its loose, coarse skin serving to protect it from opponent bites. Following the Communist Revolution, many Shar-Peis were slaughtered due to their negative association with the aristocracy and a decadent past, something which led to large decline in breed prevalence. Rescued from the brink of extinction by Chinese businessman, Matgo Law, the Shar-Pei is now a highly sought companion dog in countries across the globe.
It is unlikely that a Shar-Pei would ever be mistaken for another breed due to its unique structure and appearance. The Chinese believed that such an appearance would deter evil spirits, which is why many were kept as pets. Besides the obvious distinction of its loose folds of skin, the Shar-Pei has a blue-black tongue, prompting many to question whether it is a descendent of the Chow-Chow, the only other breed to boast a similar characteristic. The Shar-Pei further possesses a stocky build, with moderate-length legs, a straight topline, small, triangular ears and a wrinkled muzzle, often likened to that of a hippopotamus. Falling within the Kennel Club's 'utility' breed group, the Shar-Pei shares its classification with the Dalmation, Akita, Bulldog and Poodle.
Contrary to popular belief, the Shar-Pei is not inherently aggressive, nor is it resistant to being house trained. Providing it has been shown firm but fair leadership, early socialisation and consistent training from puppyhood, a Shar-Pei is capable of adapting well to relaxed domestic living. Primarily bred to guard and protect, the Shar-Pei is pre-disposed to displaying stubborn, dominant and independent behaviours, although when trained, a Shar-Pei has an enormous capacity for love, loyalty and affection towards its master and family. On average, a healthy adult Shar-Pei will weigh 18-25 kg, with a life expectancy of roughly 10 years.
The Shar-Pei is susceptible to various health complaints. These include orthopedic problems such as hip and elbow dysplasia, as well as cases of kidney failure, hypothyroidism, allergies, optical disorders, and mast-cell tumours. Skin complaints are prevalent in the breed, partly due to the characteristic skin folds, and partly due to a hereditary condition resulting from poor breeding. As with most flat-faced breeds, breathing difficulties can often occur. The Shar-Pei is also prone to easy weigh gain so feeding human foods is not encouraged for this reason.