Because of China’s zoophobia, the Western World would never have heard about Shar Peis if not for the diligent efforts of Hong Kong businessman Matgo Law. Shar Peis became victims of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Along with many other Chinese traditions and art forms, Shar Peis were outlawed and mostly destroyed. Matgo Law managed to rescue some and get them spirited away to Western countries. He started exporting Shar Peis in 1973. By the 1980’s, there was a craze for Shar Peis, which led to much indiscriminate breeding.
Many reliable Shar Pei information sources have come to the conclusion that the dogs sent to America were particularly inferior. These dogs are thought to have inherited several health problems (such as skin disorders and inverted eyelids) and had some nasty tempers to boot. But they are the only gene pool of Shar Peis available. They will always be a rare breed and need experienced, confident, physically strong owners.
It is thought that Shar Peis were bred to be strong all purpose farm dogs. They were to have a fierce appearance, could work all day and guard both master and property from man or beast. It is unknown when the emphasis on wrinkles developed. This was most likely when Shar Peis became star performers in another field – the dog-fighting pit. Wrinkles and loose skin meant another dog couldn’t get a good grip and, even if they did, the loose skin could help protect vital organs. Even today, Shar Peis are not great around other dogs.
Sadly, the dog-fighting pit is responsible for the development of many breeds especially bulldog types being developed in England about the same time Shar Peis were being honed to their current look in China. Unlike Shar Peis, the bully breeds in England (including the Old English Bulldog and the much-maligned Staffordshire Bull Terrier) were selected to be aggressive with other dogs but be eager to please any person.
North American and European breeders of the Shar Pei breed are now learning from their mistakes, as has the American buying public. Shar Peis were dropped like hot potatoes in the 1990’s, which lead to the rise of many Shar Pei rescues in many states. Because of their temper and their large size, they are not found in puppy mills as they once were. Shar Peis are now bred for an improved disposition, as well as for their looks.
The future for the Shar Pei looks grim to those who love to see things unchanged. There’s just not enough of a gene pool in order to assure the future of this unique dog breed. Considering some of the problems many have discovered with keeping Shar Peis, perhaps that’s for the best. Shar Peis are prone to many health problems. The most worrisome (and painful) is inverted eyelids, where the eyelashes constantly rub against the eyeballs. This can be cured with an expensive operation.
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