Through DNA tests, modern science has proved the Chinese Shar Pei to be among the oldest of dog breeds. The Chinese Shar Pei originated in China's Guangdong province before 206 BC, the date of its earliest depictions. There is speculation that the Chinese Shar Pei evolved from its older brethren, the Chow Chow, but the only similarity between the breeds is their blue-black tongues.
The Chinese Shar Pei was originally bred to work on farms; herding livestock, tracking and hunting prey along with guarding its owners and their home were the primary responsibilities of the Chinese Shar Pei. Given its scowling face and darkly pigmented visage, the Chinese Shar Pei's originators believed the breed capable of warding off evil spirits as well.
Chinese Shar Pei were also used as guard or fighting dogs by Chinese nobility. Chinese Shar Pei have wrinkles that enabled them to be exceptionally agile combatants. Chinese Shar Pei were able to twist and continue to battle as the wrinkles stretched and permitted full-body movement even when in the grasp of an opponent.
Although Shar Pei literally means "sandy coat," the dogs come in a myriad of colors and combinations of colors including cream, black, lilac and "flowered." They have small triangular ears, a muzzle described as "hippo-like" and a tail that sits high.
They also typically have short, coarse hair although some have bear coats with hair exceeding an inch in length. The usual short hair of the Shar Pei is bristly when touched against the grain and may cause mild, brief skin irritation.
The temperament of Shar Pei is determined both by its history and the present. Given the breed's working background, Chinese Shar Pei require daily walks to avoid becoming bored. Having a history as guard dogs, Chinese Shar Pei tend to be extremely protective, territorial and wary of strangers.
With proper early socialization and training, Chinese Shar Pei evolve into loving, loyal and welcoming pets. Chinese Shar Pei are intelligent and tire with too much repetition of training exercises. Chinese Shar Pei are independent, reserved and a largely silent breed. Similar to Chow Chows, Chinese Shar Pei tend to bark only when a threat is apparent, they are worried or when they are engaged in play.
Given their independence and intelligence, Chinese Shar Pei tend to be dominant dogs. Establishment of a family's pecking order, including the place of the Chinese Shar Pei, must be done during puppyhood and should be reinforced throughout the dog's lifetime.
Despite the athleticism of Chinese Shar Pei, they do not like water and will avoid activities such as swimming. Fortunately, Chinese Shar Pei are renowned for their cleanliness and require little grooming other than occasional baths, nail trims and regular ear cleanings.