Do Shar Peis make good family pets? Well, my short answer to this would be – no! I know that many Shar Pei owners might disagree with me, but as a vet, I see plenty of other dogs that would make far better family pets, especially for first-time owners. Let’s explore this interesting dog breed in more detail, so you can see why I have come to this conclusion.

What are the breed characteristics of the Shar Pei?

The Shar Pei is best known for its characteristic wrinkly skin, which forms folds around its face and neck. They also have a large, rounded muzzle, short stubby ears and an unusual bristle-like coat. One of its other key features is its unusual blue-black tongue.

This dog is medium in size, with an average weight of 20-27kg. They come in a variety of coat colours including, apricot, fawn, cream, brown and black.

What are the origins of the Shar Pei breed?

Shar Peis are an ancient breed that originates from China. The Shar Pei has been bred as a fighting dog and a hunter, coming from ancestors that were guard dogs. This explains the loose, wrinkly skin which was said to stop opponents from being able to get a firm grip on them. The bristly fur would also be uncomfortable on an opponent’s tongue and mouth. In fact, Shar Pei translates as ‘harsh sandy coat’ or ‘sandpaper skin’.

And what are the temperament traits of Shar Peis?

Given what their ancestors were bred for, it should come as no surprise that this is a confident and independent dog. They are also very loyal and intelligent but can be strong-willed – meaning patience is required when training. They can be protective of their family home, which may appeal to some owners. But care needs to be taken around young children. This dog likes to do its own thing and young children are not always good at reading dog body language.

Some Shar Pei’s can be aggressive towards other dogs, due to their past breeding as fighting animals. They can also be wary of strangers which can be a problem in a family home, where visiting friends and relatives are commonplace. They can have a high prey drive too, which means they shouldn’t be kept alongside smaller pets like cats, rabbits or rodents.

It is important that positive reinforcement training and socialisation are started early and carefully managed. This is not a dog for novice owners. Owners that are juggling busy family life may not have the necessary time to put into the training that they require.

How much care does a Shar Pei need?

In terms of grooming, the Shar Pei is relatively low maintenance. Due to its short, bristly fur, it should only require weekly brushing to remove any loose, shed hairs. However, attention must be paid to its skin folds and ears as these can be breeding grounds for fungal infections (more on this later!).

Exercise wise they are not usually high energy but would benefit from around an hour of exercise a day, with off-lead opportunities where it is safe to do so. Their intelligent nature means they will also enjoy puzzle feeders and other interactive games to keep them stimulated.

As mentioned previously, training and socialisation is important and will involve time and commitment in your schedule.

What health conditions are Shar Peis prone to?

Sadly, as with many pure-breed dogs, Shar Peis are prone to numerous health complaints. Most of these are related to their characteristic skin.

Skin fold dermatitis 

Wrinkly skin is much more prone to becoming moist and inflamed, with secondary fungal and bacterial infections common in their folds.


Their loose skin can lead to problems with the eyelids, such as entropion (rolling inwards of the eyelids). If left untreated, this causes rubbing on the surface of the eye (cornea) leading to pain, inflammation, eye ulcers and scarring.

Skin allergies 

These dogs are very prone to allergies, which cause excessive itchiness and skin inflammation. These allergies will usually require long-term management.

Ear infections 

Due to their small, narrow ear canals this breed is very prone to ear infections. Infections may also be secondary to skin allergies.

Shar Pei Recurrent Fever Syndrome 

As the name implies, affected dogs will suffer from fever, but also swelling and gastrointestinal upset. Serious, irreversible kidney damage can also occur.

If you are considering getting a Shar Pei, then look for a breeder that breeds for health rather than appearance. This means they have dogs with less exaggerated features and adhere to recommendations that the Kennel Club make.

You should also strongly consider pet insurance for your Shar Pei given the likelihood of them developing a health condition.

So, do Shar Peis make good family pets?

Hopefully, you can see why I’m of the view that Shar Peis don’t make good family pets. While there is always variation between individual dogs, generally the breed is better suited to experienced owners, with plenty of spare hours to put into training. This realistically means owners with older or no children.

While you can never trust any dog to be left unsupervised with children, the behavioural traits of this breed would be of particular concern to me in a family environment. Couple this with the fact that trips to the vet may be a frequent occurrence, this dog needs owners with time to invest in them.

I would suggest owners that are looking for a family pet consider spaniel and retriever breeds which usually have good temperaments and can be more biddable and easier to train than the Shar Pei. Regardless of which type of dog you choose, always ensure that you purchase from a reputable breeder so that you maximise your chances of a healthy and happy puppy!

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