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What Were Shar-Pei Bred For? History & Origin

Written by: Kathryn Copeland

Last Updated on June 3, 2024 by Dogster Team

fawn shar pei dog sitting outdoor

What Were Shar-Pei Bred For? History & Origin

Some of the oldest dog breeds have mysterious origins, and the Shar-Pei is no exception. They are an ancient Chinese breed that is known for their unique appearance. When you couple their wrinkled faces with their loyal and calm demeanors, you’ve got yourself an exceptional family pet!

Here, we try to demystify the Shar-Pei by looking into the history of this breed. Shar-Pei were originally bred to be herders, hunters, and guarders of livestock. Read on if you want to learn more about these amazing dogs!


What Exactly Are Shar-Pei?

If you’ve ever seen a dog that looks like their coat is two sizes too big for their body, you’ve probably just seen a Shar-Pei. These dogs are medium-sized and have many unique physical qualities that make them exceptional-looking dogs.

Like the Chow Chow, the Shar-Pei has a blue-black tongue and small eyes among their copious wrinkles that tend to make them look irritated or gloomy. They have small triangular ears and a broad muzzle that’s often noted for being similar to that of a hippopotamus.

They have a short coat that has a sandpapery quality (Shar-Pei translates to “sand skin”) and an enormous number of skin folds that cover their bodies but are particularly prominent on their face. They are commonly black, fawn, red, cream, and chocolate (among other colors).

Shar-Pei make amazing companions and guard dogs. They are intensely loyal to their families and are comfortable with people they know, but they tend to be wary and aloof of other dogs and strangers.

While they are intelligent, devoted, and calm dogs, they won’t hesitate to jump to the defense of their companions with tenacity.

shar pei dog standing in the grass
Image By: taranova oxana, Shutterstock

What Were Shar-Pei Bred For?

The Shar-Pei is ancient! The Chinese Shar-Pei is believed to have come from around the village of Tai Li in the southeast Kwangtung (now spelled Guangdong) Province. This goes as far back as the Han Dynasty of about 200 B.C., where statues from this time were discovered that have quite a strong resemblance to the Shar-Pei.

It’s thought that Shar-Pei were owned and bred by peasants and farmers and were used as herders, hunters, and guarders of livestock against poachers and predators.

It’s also believed that the Shar-Pei was bred to guard the royal family and palace, but the primary purpose of the Shar-Pei was to be multipurpose for the common people.



The Shar-Pei was eventually used for dogfighting, which is where their unusual skin came in quite handy. The loose skin made it difficult for other dogs to injure the Shar-Pei because they would end up with a mouthful of skin and not inflict a more grievous injury. Their attitude and tenacity made them perfect fighting dogs.

However, Shar-Pei eventually fell out of favor in the dogfighting world due to the introduction of larger Western breeds.

The Rarest Dog in the World

When China established communism in 1949, the government placed a significant tax on all dogs and slaughtered much of the dog population.

This nearly made the Shar-Pei extinct, and they were given the rather sad title of being the rarest dog breed in the world during the ‘60s and ‘70s by the Guinness Book of World Records.

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

A Plea for Help

A few Shar-Pei were introduced to the United States in 1966, and in 1968, they were registered by the Hong Kong Kennel Club. In 1973, Matgo Law, who ran a kennel and bred Shar-Pei in Hong Kong, brought the plight of the scarcity of Shar-Pei to the world in the hopes of saving them.

In January 1979, LIFE magazine published an issue with the Shar-Pei on the cover, and interest in Shar-Pei took off. This saved the Shar-Pei, and they were officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1992.

Shar-Pei Temperament

Shar-Pei are wonderful dogs, but they are only recommended for experienced dog owners. They are exceptionally smart and devoted but can be stubborn and too clever for their good. In fact, training and socializing the Shar-Pei as early as possible is vital, or they will become a challenging dominant adult.

Shar-Pei can become aggressive without the proper socialization and training. But with the right owner, they are protective and loving family companions who might enjoy the occasional snuggle.

A Few Interesting Shar-Pei Facts

  • Plural Form: The plural form for Shar-Pei is Shar-Pei, not Shar-Peis.
  • Blue-Black Tongue: No one truly knows why Shar-Pei has blue-black tongues, but it’s thought that the tongues have more localized pigmented cells there. It was once believed that the blue-black tongues of the Chow Chow and Shar-Pei would ward off evil spirits. However, it might surprise you to learn that not all Shar-Pei have colored tongues.
  • Wrinkles: What causes the wrinkles? Hyaluronic acid is the culprit. The dog’s genes determine how much hyaluronic acid is in their bodies. The more hyaluronic acid they have, the more wrinkles they have.
  • The Dog-God: Panhu was a dog-god with five different colors of fur that killed the enemy of a Chinese emperor and was given the emperor’s daughter’s hand in marriage. Panhu was a Shar-Pei.

divider-dog paw


It’s amazing to think that the Shar-Pei breed has been around for over 2,000 years! They started as multipurpose dogs that worked hard for Chinese peasants and farmers. They moved on to dogfighting and eventually became companions to many families around the world.

They need experienced owners to provide a firm but gentle hand to help guide them to become loyal yet tenacious dogs. If you’re looking for a loving dog that will be steadfast in their protection of you and your family, you can’t go wrong with the Shar-Pei.

Featured Image Credit: taranova oxana, Shutterstock

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