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The Shar-Pei is a breed of dog known for its deep wrinkles and blue-black tongue. The breed originates from southern China. The English name "Shar-Pei" derives from the British spelling of the older Cantonese shā pèih (沙皮, Mandarin: shā pí), which translates to "sandy skin" and refers to the texture of the breed's short, rough coat. As puppies, Shar-Pei have numerous wrinkles, but as they mature, these loosen and spread out as they "grow into their skin". The Shar-Pei was named in 1978 as one of the world's rarest dog breeds by TIME magazine and Guinness World Records. Although the Shar-Pei has been identified as a basal breed that predates the emergence of the modern breeds in the 19th century, the American Kennel Club recognized it as their 134th breed only in 1992.
|Other names||Cantonese Shar-Pei|
|Domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris)|
Small, triangle ears, and a high-set tail give the Shar-Pei a unique look. For show standard, "the tail is thick and round at the base, tapering to a fine point" (AKC standard February 28, 1998). As puppies, Shar-Pei are more wrinkly than adults and, although some adults can be wrinklier than their puppy selves, an adult Shar-Pei should have wrinkles mostly on the face, a few on the shoulder, and at the base of the tail.
The Shar-Pei's pigmentation resembles the Chow Chow, as they have been crossbred before, probably giving the Shar-Pei the same blue-black tongue. There are over 16 recognized colors in the AKC standard. The coat must be solid in color, and any Shar-Pei with a "flower-coat" (white with either black or blue patches) is a disqualification. Colors include black, blue, brown, red, fawn, red-fawn, five-point red, cream, apricot, chocolate, and various sables (e.g. sables, black silver sables and black bronze sables). The nose may be black or brick (pink with black), and the face may be with or without a black mask. A Shar-Pei can also have what is called a "dilute" coloration, meaning that the nose and nails of the dog are the same color as the coat (e.g. a chocolate coat with a chocolate nose and nails); these include cream dilute, apricot dilute, and chocolate dilute. Dilutes can also have what is called an "Isabella" coloration, meaning that there is silver shading on the coat color. All of these color variations are acceptable, but the coat color must be solid and well-blended throughout the whole body of the dog.
Horse-coat (unusual but regaining ground), rough to the touch, extremely prickly and off-standing, soft in one direction and harsh in the other; brush-coat, with longer hair and a smoother feel; and bear-coat (not recognized by the AKC; there is ongoing debate as to whether this recessive gene is from an ancient relationship with the Chow Chow or modern crossbreeding of the two breeds). Examples of the breed were owned by the peasant class, and were used for working dogs and fighting due to their loose skin.
The Western Shar-Pei comes in three different coat types: horse-, brush-, and bear-coat. The unusual horse-coat is rough to the touch, extremely prickly and off-standing and is closer to the original traditional Shar-Pei breed in appearance and coat type than the brush- or bear-coat. This coat is fairly prickly and can be rough or irritating when petting in the opposite direction of the fur. The horse-coat is generally thought to be more active and predisposed to dominant behavior than the brush-coat. The brush-coat variety has slightly longer hair and a smoother feel to it. The brush-coat is generally considered to be more of a "couch potato" than the horse-coat. This breed sheds normally twice a year.
Any coat longer than one inch at the withers is called a "bear-coat" and is not considered the breed standard, as it occurs only when both the male and female carry recessive coat genes. This coat length resembles the coat of the Chow Chow and was probably inherited from that breed. The personality of the bear-coat is very much like that of the brush-coat.
Some people may experience a sensitivity to the harshness of the coat of either length. This is a mild, short-lived rash that can develop on skin that has been in contact with the coat, most commonly on the forearms.
The traditional Shar-Pei that is most popular in China is more faithful to the history of the breed (taller, less wrinkly, a flatter mouth and nose, horse-coated). As puppies, they have lots of wrinkles and as they get older, they have fewer wrinkles.
Scientists from the Department of Genome Sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle, announced in January 2010 that they had analysed the genetic code of 10 different pedigree dog breeds. In the Shar-Pei, they discovered four small differences located in the gene HAS2, which is responsible for making hyaluronic acid synthase 2. That enzyme makes hyaluronic acid, which is one of the key components of the skin. There have been rare cases in which a mutation of the same gene has caused severe wrinkling in humans as well: see Excess skin.
All Shar-Pei puppies need early socialization with children, strangers, and other animals. The Shar-Pei is often suspicious of strangers, which pertains to their origin as a guard dog. It is a very independent and reserved breed. Nevertheless, the Shar-Pei is extremely devoted, loyal and affectionate to its family and is amenable to accepting strangers given time and proper introduction at a young age. If poorly socialized or trained, it can become especially territorial and aggressive. Even friendly and well-socialized individuals will retain the breed's watch dog proclivities (like barking at strangers). It is a largely silent breed, barking only when it is playing or worried. The Shar-Pei were originally bred as palace guards in China. Although Shar-Pei are sometimes stubborn, they are receptive to fair, compassionate training. With repetition and a clear reward system, training is not very difficult, however they do not respond well to negative and cruel treatment. The Shar-Pei can be a dog that is loyal and loving to its family, while being very protective. Shar-Pei do not like to be alone, preferring to be close to their humans, often lying nearby in the same room.
Because of its popularity after being introduced to North America in the 1970s, the breed suffered much inexperienced or rushed breeding. This resulted in not only a dramatically different look for the Shar-Pei (as its most distinctive features, including its wrinkles and rounded snout, were greatly exaggerated), but also a large number of health problems. The American breed club states that few Shar-Pei make it to age 10 and it has a longevity program that records those dogs that live to 10 years or more.
Compared to other breeds, Shar-Pei have an increased risk of developing atopic dermatitis, a chronic allergic skin disease. Dogs with allergic skin disease often get allergy-induced skin infections. Shar-Pei are also at an increased risk of demodicosis, a disease which happens when Demodex canis mites proliferate and cause skin irritation, inflammation and infection.
Familial Shar-Pei fever (FSF) is a serious congenital disease that causes short fevers lasting from 24 hours to sometimes up to three days and usually accompanied by accumulation of fluid around the ankles (called Swollen Hock Syndrome). Amyloidosis, a long-term condition, is most likely related to FSF, caused by unprocessed amyloid proteins depositing in the organs, most often in the kidneys or liver, leading eventually to renal failure. The disease is associated with the western type and it is estimated that 23% are affected. The Australian breed standard was changed in 2009 to discourage breeding for heavy wrinkling.
A common problem is a painful eye condition, entropion, in which the eyelashes curl inward, irritating the eye. If untreated, it can cause blindness. This condition can be fixed by surgery ("tacking" the eyelids up so they will not roll onto the eyeball for puppies or surgically removing extra skin in adolescent and older Shar-Pei). In Australia, more than 8 in 10 Shar-Pei require surgery to correct eye problems, contributing to them being the most expensive breed to insure.
The Shar-Pei is also prone to chronic yeast infections in its ears. This is due to a tight inner ear structure with a wrinkled appearance, making cleaning very difficult; exacerbated by the tight "flap" that the ear creates over the canal, promoting a moist environment.
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The Shar-Pei breed comes from the Guangdong province of China. The original Shar-Pei from China may have looked very different from the breed now popular in the West (but that has not been confirmed); in southern China, Hong Kong, and Macau the Western type and the traditional type are differentiated by calling them, respectively, the 'meat-mouth' and the 'bone-mouth' Shar-Pei. The Guangdong province in China was also a popular trading place during the Han dynasty, and it is unclear if the Shar-Pei was brought to China, or if it was originally bred in China.
The Shar-Pei's loose skin and extremely prickly coat were originally developed to help the dogs fend off wild boar, as they were used to hunt. Later, the breed was used for dog fighting; these enhanced traits made the Shar-Pei difficult for its opponent to grab and hold on to, and so that if it did manage to hold on, the Shar-Pei would still have room to maneuver and bite back; when grabbed by any loose wrinkle, a Shar-Pei can actually twist in their skin and face in their opponent's direction. In fighting, they would twist in their skin to bite the assailant back.
During the Communist Revolution, when the Shar-Pei population dwindled dramatically, dogs were rescued by a Hong Kong businessman named Matgo Law, who in 1973 appealed to Americans through a dog magazine to save the breed. Around 200 Shar-Peis were smuggled into America. The current American Shar-Pei population stems mainly from these original 200.
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