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Are Shar Peis Aggressive? Facts & FAQ

Written by: Kathryn Copeland

Last Updated on April 6, 2024 by Dogster Team

Are Shar Peis Aggressive? Facts & FAQ

When you hear the name Shar Pei, their wrinkled skin and “hippopotamus” head are likely the first things that spring to mind. However, you’ve also likely heard that these dogs have a reputation for being aggressive.

It’s true that Shar Peis were bred to be fighting dogs, and in the wrong hands, they can be aggressive. However, like with any dog breed, it comes down to their upbringing, socialization, and training.

Here, we look at the origins of the Shar Pei, as that helps explain their potentially aggressive tendencies, along with how essential socialization is for these dogs.

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The Shar Pei’s Origins

The Chinese Shar Pei originated in ancient China about 2,000 years ago (at least since 200 B.C.). Statues of dogs were discovered that bear a definite resemblance to the Shar Pei, which have been dated to that time.

Shar Peis were initially bred as working dogs for the peasants to guard and protect livestock, as well as for hunting and herding. While they were used predominantly on farms as versatile working dogs, this is where they developed their fierce loyalty to their owners and wariness with strangers.

Dogfighting

Since Shar Pei skin is wrinkled and thick, they became favorites in dogfighting rings. These thick folds of skin helped protect the Shar Pei from other dogs or predators from reaching their vital organs. Shar Pei tenacity, in addition to their skin, made them favorites for a while. However, they are medium-sized dogs, and the Shar Pei fell out of favor after the introduction of larger Western dog breeds.

Gradually, these dogs almost went extinct, but a breeder from Hong Kong sent out a plea worldwide to save the Shar Pei. In 1979, Life magazine published an article about the Shar Pei, and the American public fell in love with them, and the rest is history.

red shar pei dogs in the mountain
Image Credit: Natalia Fesiun, Shutterstock

The Shar Pei’s Temperament

When a dog is developed to guard, protect, hunt, and fight, it’s only natural for them to have aggressive tendencies. Shar Peis were bred to be fierce and independent dogs, and along with their tough skin and being quite solidly built, they continue to have the instincts to protect their people and property.

They can be possessive and overly protective of their family but wary of anyone they don’t know. It can be said that being friendly with strangers does not come naturally to them and must be trained into the Shar Pei.

Training

If you train and socialize a Shar Pei well, they are more likely to be a well-adjusted dog. That said, owning a Shar Pei is best for experienced dog owners. This is not a breed for someone who is a first-time dog owner.

Training a Shar Pei is a challenge because they can be strong-willed and independent, but they’re also intelligent, so the task is possible. Plenty of patience and consistent training using positive reinforcement is the only way with the Shar Pei. Using any form of punishment and harsh words will only trigger aggression.

sharpei dog training
Image Credit: Pixel Shot, Shutterstock

Socialization

Socializing a Shar Pei from a young age is critical! The more places, animals, and people that a Shar Pei puppy meets and experiences, the more well-adjusted and accepting they will be.

Studies have shown how imperative socialization is for puppies to reduce undesirable behaviors. It should occur with the breeder from the earliest age and continue with the owner well into adulthood.

Typically, Shar Peis that are aggressive haven’t been socialized or trained well.

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Other Methods for Reducing Aggressive Behavior

There’s no question that a Shar Pei that has been trained and socialized well will be far less likely to react aggressively to a stranger than a dog that hasn’t received the appropriate training. So, this is the first and most important step.

Exercise

Providing your Shar Pei with the right amount of exercise can also go a long way toward reducing their wary and suspicious nature. Dogs that aren’t given an outlet for pent-up energy resort to destructive behavior, and some will become aggressive. Some Shar Peis can do well with moderate exercise, but you’ll want to aim for about 1 hour of exercise every day.

Since Shar Peis are intelligent, they’ll also need mental stimulation, so spending time playing with them will help significantly. Consider participating in activities like tracking, rally, and agility. Enrolling them in obedience classes is a great way to train and socialize your dog at the same time.

Work

Shar Peis are working dogs, so give them a job to do. You should base what your dog seems to enjoy doing already before giving them a task. Since Shar Peis are versatile and were bred to do various jobs, you just need to figure out what your dog will enjoy and respond to.

shar pei dog training
Image Credit: WilleeCole Photography, Shutterstock

Health

Stay on top of your Shar Pei’s health. A study found that health problems in a dog can trigger fear and aggression. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as anyone in poor health can be in a terrible mood!

Shar Peis are susceptible to several health conditions, including:
  • Entropion: All the heavy folds of skin cause the Shar Pei’s eyes to sit farther into the skin, causing the eyelids to roll in and rub against the eyes. As you can imagine, this is painful and needs surgery.
  • Familial Shar Pei Fever: This only affects Shar Peis; fever and swollen hocks (the backs of the legs) are signs. Without treatment, it can lead to liver and kidney failure.
  • Ear infections: Shar Peis have narrow ear canals, making them prone to ear infections.
  • Pododermatitis: This occurs when dogs lick and chew their paws too often, which causes infection and inflammation.
  • Skin Fold Dermatitis: Their heavy skin folds can harbor bacteria and yeast. The folds also trap moisture, which can lead to infections. It’s critical to keep those folds dry and clean.

Many of these conditions can definitely lead to a cranky dog until they are restored to full health.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Do Shar Peis Get Along With Other Dogs?

Not all that well, usually. If trained and socialized well, Shar Peis can tolerate other dogs, but the same rule applies to dogs as it does to strangers.

They also don’t do well around small pets because of having a high prey drive. Things will be better with the training and socialization, but it might be best to keep the home a single-dog-only one.

Why Do Shar Peis Have Blue-Black Tongues?

Another dog breed that has a blue-black tongue is the Chow Chow. In Chinese folklore, it was believed that the black tongues would ward off ghosts and evil spirits. It was also believed that having a black tongue added to the viciousness of the dog, making them intimidating while doing guard duty.

What Is a Bone-Mouth and Meat-Mouth Shar Pei?

If you’ve ever heard this term and wondered what it means, in a nutshell, the Bone-Mouth Shar Pei is also known as the Chinese Shar Pei and traditional Shar Pei. They are considered the original Shar Pei before breeders added other breeds, which created the heavily wrinkled Shar Pei that you’re likely familiar with.

The Meat-Mouth is also called the American Shar Pei or the Western Shar Pei. These are the dogs most people know best. They have “meatier” jowls, which is where they get the name.

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Conclusion

The Shar Pei can be considered an aggressive breed, and it all goes back to what they were initially bred for. But how they are raised is a significant factor. If you raise a Shar Pei with love and respect and plenty of training and socialization, you will have a well-adjusted dog that is less likely to react aggressively to strangers and other dogs.

These dogs make fantastic family pets when raised appropriately. They are calm, quiet, affectionate, and loyal, so the Shar Pei also has many positive qualities for the right owners.


Featured Image Credit: Christel SAGNIEZ, Pixabay

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