The Chinese Shar Pei was at one time called the “Chinese Fighting Dog”. It is most likely that it originated from a cross between the Mastiff and the Chow Chow and various indigenous breeds. In actual practice, the Shar Pei served several purposes.. It was used in china as a “pit” fighting dog, for entertainment and sport and also as a hunting dog and a herding breed and a watchdog. The dog originated, it is believed, in the Han Dynasty and the many statues of that era which depict the fierce fighting dogs with the scowl on their faces are believed to be representations of the Shar Pei.
The exceedingly loose skin that is the hallmark of the breed was its biggest advantage when pitted against other dogs, there was so much skin that it was difficult for a dog or any animal for that matter to get a grip or do serious damage to any vital organs. Eventually their use as a pit fighting breed diminished, because they simply did not ever posses the mentality or attitude to be a fighter. Most Shar Peis appear, to this day, to be rather disinterested in other animals.
In the 1940s, when the Communist Party came to power in China, dogs as pets were considered to be “decadent bourgeois luxury” and the breeding of dogs for pets was eventually completely banned. Many of the breeds of China very nearly became extinct during this period. A few remaining Shar Pei specimens somehow made it out out to the West at some point and the breed has been gaining in popularity ever since.
The standard of the breed, as translated from Chinese, reads that the head should be “pear-like” and the ears “like a clamshell” . The nose is to be like a butterfly, the face like that of a grandma, the legs like the shape of a ham, the back like that of the shrimp, the tail like that of a wire, the body like that of a fish…and so on. Suffice it to say that the Chinese Shar Pei bears little resemblance to any other breed. Indeed, the wrinkles alone are unique to say nothing of its strange looking face. It does possess the dark blue or purple tongue similar to the Chow Chow but that is about the only resemblance.
The Shar Pei can have eye problems, (known as entropion or ectropion) a condition where the eyelids roll inwards or outwards. This is a condition which can be corrected surgically. Because of the heavy rolls of skin and the wrinkles on the face even corrective surgery does not always have the desired result and this is a problem that owners should watch for. The Shar Pei possesses a rather “prickly” and harsh coat which seems to have the feel of the coat of a horse, actually. Its deep wrinkles and rather lumbering body remind one of the hippopotamus in some respects. The face of the Shar Pei seems to bear a perpetual “scowl” and it is part of the look of the famous Han Dynasty dog statues which were said to depict the original Shar Pei breed.
The Shar Pei has gained some popularity in the west because of its strange looks and rather endearing wrinkles as a puppy. However it grows up to be an aloof and independent dog, with a great deal of dignity and not necessarily the playful sort. It has however proved itself to be a beloved companion to many folks who treasure the dog for its quiet and dignified manner and for its noble demeanor.
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