More About the Chinese Shar Pei

Fawn horse coat meat mouth male Shar Pei, acceptable tail curl

It takes a mouth full of adjectives to properly describe a Chinese Shar Pei.

Is the dog bone mouth or meat mouth, horse coat or brush coat — fawn, red, cream, silver, chocolate? And then for the Shar Pei people, what kind of tail? The above adult dog has a tail that has the proper cork screw bend over the back; many Shar Pei actually have a looser, less proper tail…but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. One detail at a time.

Fawn horse coat bone mouth female Shar Pei

First, the mouth types. While Shar Pei are usually thought of as The Wrinkle Dog, it is in fact their mouth which helps create a big part of their distinctive look. Americans are commonly used to seeing meat mouth Shar Pei, which have thick, heavy lips. Originally though, bone mouth –which lacks the heavy lips–were just as common amongst the Chinese bred Shar Pei. The bone mouth makes a dog look distinctively different.

Black bone mouth

I would suspect that a bone mouth Shar Pei actually looks, to those not familiar with the breed, more like a mix breed than a purebred. In the original breed standard however, there was no preference for either mouth type. In AKC show rings though, I can’t remember even seeing someone attempt to show a bone mouth for over a decade.

Counter clockwise starting top left: Fawn horse coat, Cream brush coat, Black brush coat

Next, coat types. The slightly more preferred coat type was traditionally the “horse” coat – very short and almost bristly the coat was named for the similarity it bore to the type of coat distinct to horses in China.  Shar Pei were bred to be guard dogs who lived in a family’s courtyard and protected the family from intruders. The Shar Pei was also bred to withstand attack by the dogs of invaders. The loose skin allowed the Shar Pei to turn on a dog that tried to grab it by the neck; the horse coat was meant to be uncomfortable in another dog’s mouth. The brush coat was slightly longer – giving the dog a fuller, almost puffier look. It has become more popular amongst pet owners because petting a brush coat is a little like running your hand over crushed velvet.

Red brush coat

Chocolate or Silver horse coat

In North America, the brush coat is increasingly common – and sometimes a coat that is just too long is found – anything over an inch long was supposed to be a disqualification amongst Shar Pei. Remember that originally, Shar Pei that were not smart or brave enough, or who were otherwise found lacking, qualified for culling and could end up in the stew pot. Now they just supposed to be excused from breeding.

Cream brush coat

The tail is supposed to curl tight – the curl comparable in tight size to a coin – although a tail that curls loosely over the shoulder is acceptable. A loose tail that just stands or loosely falls over the back is also supposed to be a disqualification.

Red brush coat with tight curled tail

Fawn brush coat with loose tail

As far as wrinkles go – who is surprised to learn that North Americans prefer the most wrinkles possible? While there have always been a few individuals who were very wrinkled, it is more common for the adult Shar Pei to retain loose skin around the shoulders and neck but to outgrow most of their other wrinkles. American breeders sometimes focus on shorter heavier dogs that also keep more wrinkles.

Cream horse coat

While it is the unique looks that originally draw many people to the breed, it is the personality that either keeps people admirers of the breed or makes the breed unsuitable for some individuals or families.

 I became involved with the breed because of their reputation for being an intelligent, independent dog that did best with an experienced dog handler. I enjoy training dogs that demand something back from their handlers.

Fawn horse coat bone mouth

My first Shar Pei was a black horse coat bone mouth male; I eventually also owned a black horse coat meat mouth female and a fawn horse coat meat mouth female.

I spent a great deal of time doing education with people about the breed, including some public speaking at dog events. Originally people thought the Shar Pei were some kind of Pit Bull mixes and the breed’s stern look scared some while others were attracted like magnets, not necessarily for the right reasons.

The Shar Pei is often suspicious of strangers but very devoted to their family members. They can be wonderful with children although, like most breeds, they do best when introduced to kids from a young age.

Cream horse coat meat mouth

They can also be very good with other animals – they tend to be aloof with other pets and enjoy the company of other dogs, particularly other Shar Pei. Shar Pei have a unique way of playing that is a combination of wrestling and boxing – they love to have another Shar Pei to wrestle with but will play with any willing other dog.

Multiple Shar Pei household

I loved my Shar Pei dearly and in fact, I still have such strong affection for each that it is hard to imagine finding a Shar Pei who could live up to the memories of my former trio. Each had a unique personality.

Black bone mouth horse coat

Sha T’an was a gentleman who lived to please and protect his people. He was polite, sensitive, and keenly aware of his environment. He had reflexes like a cat and was similarly lacking in fondness for getting his delicate paws wet.

Black meat mouth horse coat

O.J. (not my name choice) was always aloof to begin with…even with her family she could be a little standoffish. But she was such a clever girl and she was willing to be a clown – she liked to work a room for a laugh and had an excellent sense of humor. When she and Sha T’an first saw each other they both stopped dead in their tracks, then ran at each other like long lost best friends and immediately began wrestling.

Fawn meat mouth – coat boarders between horse and brush

Ning, or fat baby, was a little different. She was the most “American” of my Shar Pei, not as out and out clever as Sha T’an or O.J. but still very trainable and always devoted to her family. She was as good a kid’s dog as I have ever met and children could do anything to and around her – not that we encouraged them to – but children can be unpredictable and no matter what happened around Ning she proved unflappable. Once a child even tripped and did a full out fall right on top of the sleeping fat baby – the air ‘ooofed’ audibly out of her lungs but her tail wagged and she didn’t move, even as she woke waiting for the child to move first so she didn’t knock him over.

Fawn meat mouth brush coat

While a fairly compact and very muscular dog, the Shar Pei is also a breed that is not for everyone. They do best in a home that is experienced with dogs and socialization – this breed does best with early socialization and firm but sensitive training. They don’t respond well to yelling, crossness, or overly aggressive handling. This is a breed that has developed the capacity for intelligent disobedience for several thousand years … don’t expect that you will be the one to change the basic nature of the breed.


Fawn bone mouth



Fawn meat mouth

Some people have been working on changing the nature of the look of the breed. People have tried miniaturizing the breed and breeding for spotted Shar Pei. My only comment about this is that scientists were able to show that genetic problems ran hand in hand with the genes responsible for smaller size…there are smaller, spotted dogs already  out there in the world….

Fawn meat mouth horse coat

In my opinion this is a fun breed that is best suited to people who like a breed that can be independent but that doesn’t like to be alone for long periods of time. They love to be with their people and they enjoy having someone to watch over.

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