Newsletter: Volume 5, Issue 1 March 2001

In this issue of the Shar-Pei News I want to begin a discussion of the history of the Chinese Shar-Pei. Most of the information presented is based on my own research and the conclusions reached are solely my own opinion. I get a lot of questions concerning the background of the breed and I thought this series would provide some interesting details and insight. Further newsletters will contain more on the history of the breed.

Remember heartworm season is just around the corner! Call the hospital to schedule your dog’s heartworm test soon.

Another article in the newsletter deals with the subject of separation anxiety. Pharmacological intervention in canine behavior problems is a new and rapidly developing area in veterinary medicine. In people, drug therapy in the treatment of various psychological disorders has been around for a long time and now many of these are finding their use in veterinary medicine. This gives new hope in treating some serious behavior problems of dogs, but does not alleviate the owner’s responsibility to work on the training aspects of the treatment. Behavior modification is still very important although it can become more effective with the addition of some of the new drug therapies being worked out.


      There is evidence to indicate the Chinese Shar-Pei, as we know it today, is an ancient breed. There is much evidence to support the theory that Hong Kong dog breeds developed the breed in the 1960’s by crossbreeding the Chinese Fighting Dog with several breeds including the Boxer, the Bloodhound, Bulldog and possibly others.

I think that there is clear evidence that our breed descended from the Chow and they did develop from a common ancestor. Marco Polo published the journal of his travels in China in 1271 and while he mentions the Chow, he does not mention the Shar-Pei or the Chinese Fighting Dog. Most likely the Chinese Fighting Dog history begins shortly after 1751 when an imperial edit permitted maritime trade in special area along the Pearl River in Canton (southern China). We also know that the first Chows were imported into England in 1775. As China was opened up to the west, dogs from the west entered China with the sailors. It is my contention the Chinese Fighting Dog was developed in the Period of Imperialism (late 1700’s to early 1800’s) in southern China. During this time the Chow was crossbred with several English breeds such as the Bulldog, Boxer and other in an attempt to develop a fighting dog. Because the English were restricted to where they could go in Southern China, dog fighting and gambling became a popular past time and breeding for a fighting temperament was popular. The breed was probably developed in Dah Let or at least in the Pearl River delta area around Canton. Smooth-coated Chows more prevalent in this region and were used in the breeding “experiments”. The similarities of the Chow and the Shar-Pei are undeniable. The Chow is the only native hunting dog in China and was used as a hunter, cattle dog and sheep dog. The Chow does go back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) and maybe as early as 1000 BC – truly an ancient breed.

Many proponents of the ancient history of the breed point to tomb dog figures of the Han Dynasty, which lasted from 206-220 AD, as evidence that the Chinese Fighting Dog is an ancient breed. I think the tomb dog statuettes represents a stylized “Han Dynasty” dog which resembles the Chow Chow. With the lack of corroborating written history of the existence of the breed during this time period, I think the likelihood of the figurines representing Chinese Fighting Dog is remote. There existed in China several other dog breeds. These include the Greyhound breed, Mastiff breed, toy breeds, etc. Beginning in the late 1950’s, the center of the Chinese Fighting Dog history moved, or rather was driven, in to Hong Kong by the Chinese Communist. Prior to this time, Chinese Fighting Dogs were found exclusively in Macau (Macao). Even as late as 1974 clandestine dog fighting involving Chinese Fighting Dogs could still be found in this region. The Communists declared dogs as nonproductive, bourgeois luxuries and ordered their large scale extermination. An increase in the tax on dogs, designed to discourage dog ownership, occurred in 1974 and didn’t improve the sad situation. Hong Kong provided one of the few safe havens for dogs in all of China and the canine refugees swelled the dog population of this costal city. The Hong Kong dog breeds faced serious dilemma since the Chinese Fighting Dog smuggled into Hong Kong from the surrounding regions were the “best types available” and not necessarily purebreds. Many of these Chinese Fighting Dogs included dogs whose appearance indicated prior crossbreeding. Pedigree and registration information was virtually nonexistent. On these dogs due to poorly kept records, which were lost or destroyed during the Communist Revolution in China. Bear in mind also that the “sport” of dog fighting is cloaked in secrecy wherever it is practiced and records, other than those of gambling transactions, are seldom kept. Little, if any, effort was made to document the breeding of dogs used in the dog fighting pits. Also, the question confronts whether purebreds Chinese Fighting Dogs ever existed at all. Many people feel the Chinese Fighting Dog became extinct and was re-created in the 1960’s, it is known that the breed was registered by the Hong Kong Kennel Club as early as these dogs may be considered for those purposes of this discussion, as purebred Chinese Fighting Dogs. While attempting to preserve these Chinese Fighting Dogs, or re-created the breed, some of the Hong Kong fanciers crossbred these early dogs with Bull Mastiffs, Chow Chows, Bulldogs, Boxers, Pit Bull types and possibly other dog breeds and inadvertently (or intentionally?) created a new breed – the Shar-Pei. The Shar-Pei has since developed along two separate lines. The purebred Chinese Fighting Dog remains basically unchanged as the Chinese Shar-Pei, which still exists in Hong Kong today and shows up in the U.S. as the horse coat variety. The America Shar-Pei is found in the U.S. and had its origin in Hong Kong in the late 1960’s. it is undoubtedly derived from the crossbreeding of the Chinese Fighting Dog with other breeds previously mentioned. This divergence in type will be discussed in more detail later.

The important point concerning the crossbreeding, which took place in the Shar-Pei, bears more consideration. One can surmise this cross breeding was done for several reasons. First, it may have been undertaken to improve the quality of the few remaining Chinese Fighting Dogs and/or recreate the breed if, in fact, it had become extinct. Second, it is entirely possible it was done to create an entirely different unique breed – a breed in which the minimal wrinkling of the Chinese Fighting Dog was accentuated. Third, it may have been done to create large numbers of dogs which further refinements could be made and which were needed to meet to meet the demand of American buyers. Accidentally, or intentionally, a new breed was created characterized by heavy bone, abundant wrinkling, large head, the longer and softer coat (brush coat) and the milder temperament of the American Shar-Pei. This new breed immediately captured the fancy of American dog breeders and an unlimited demand was thus assured.

The situation in Hong Kong had reached such a state that in a letter dated July 15, 1975, the Hong Kong Kennel Club indicated it had stopped the registration of the Chinese Fighting Dog because, “a kennel here has created” a breed by crossing a Chinese dog with several breeds including a Boxer, Bloodhound and a Bulldog, named it “Chinese Fighting Dog” and sold quite a number abroad. These animals looked ugly with too many wrinkles or folds on every part of the body, even on the legs. They are therefore quite different from the correct type of Chinese Fighting Dogs.” (Chinese Shar-Pei Stud Book, Vol.3, 1982, CSPCA Inc., pages 47-48). This letter also indicates that by the late 1960’s and early 1970’s the Chinese Fighting Dog found in Hong Kong had sufficiently deviated from its standard as to become unrecognizable as a Chinese Fighting Dog by the Hong Kong Kennel Club. It appears by 1966 the HKKC had stopped registering the Chinese Fighting Dogs from Hong Kong. Evidence does exist, however, that the HKKC did register Chinese Fighting Dogs from other parts of the world up until 1978. Many of these dogs were also registered with the Tai Pei (Taiwan) Kennel Club. I think the evidence shows that illegal breeding practices were going on in Hong Kong at this time, and the HKKC had to step in and cease the registration of the Chinese Fighting Dogs in Hong Kong.


      Separation anxiety is just one of a wide variety of behavior disorders which can affect dogs in general. These include obsessive-compulsive disorders, various phobias, panic attacks, ect. These disorders are probably not new conditions, but therapy, behavior modification techniques, and training methods to treat them. Separation anxiety appears to one of the most common behavior disorders that veterinarians encounter. Symptoms of separation anxiety commonly occur in the owners absence and include:

  1. Elimination- urinating and/or defecating indoors when owner is gone.
  2. Destruction- chewing woodwork, furniture, carpeting, ect, when the owner is not in the house. This also includes clawing or digging floors, walls and doors. Damage also can occur to windows, drapes and blinds.
  3. Vocalization- barking, whining, crying in the owners absence.
  4. Other signs- including loss of appetite, depression, diarrhea, vomiting, excessive licking, increased salivation, decreased activity, pacing, circling and trembling.
  5. “Velcro dogs”- they stay physically close to their owners at all times. These dogs beg for attention and greet their owners over-enthusiastically. Treatment involves the combination of behavior modification with or without drug therapy. Behavior modification consists of abortion of inappropriate behavior, teaching new behaviors and general relaxation techniques.

Teach the dog not be anxious when left alone. This is done by utilizing the “sit”, “stay” and “relax” commands while the owner does a variety of routine chores around the house- some of which may upset the dog (vacuum the house). The dog should eventually be able to do these behaviors with out reacting adversely- in the house, outside the house, and for all the family members. Next, teach the dog to be left alone for gradually increasing periods of time. Here consider taking the dog to work, hiring a pet sitter, or kenneling the dog during the day. In addition, the dog must respond to programs designed to support and encourage deferential behavior throughout the day i.e. less “babying” behavior. For example, the owner should only interact with the pet only at the owner’s initiative and when the dog is relaxed. Obedience training would also be useful here as well. All these things foster independence in the dog.

Crate the dog or isolate it in a safe room- an area where the dog feels safe and secure. Usually this area is brightly lit with a TV or radio on. Also have a signal that will tell the dog 15-20 minutes before you return that you’ll be coming back ( a light on a timer, ect.). Some dogs do better outside or if they can see out side.

Identify cues that make your dog realize you are about to leave. These cues may include putting on make up, dressing in work clothes, picking up your car keys, making lunch, ect. Try to vary the cues by wearing different clothes, leave by a different door, water the plants before leaving- anything to change the pattern so the dog can’t know when you are leaving the house. This will help the dog to become indifferent to departure cues.

Most of the medications for separation anxiety are tricyclic antidepressants (TCA) which have selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) activity. They affect two brain neurotransmitters, serotonin and norepinephrine, and increase their concentration in the brain. The end result is a decrease in anxiety and an increase in learning ability. The only licensed medication for the treatment of separation anxiety at this time in Clomicalm® (clomipramine). Medication should never be used by itself- the drugs should always be combined with behavior modification.

Using the above therapies together often decreases the symptoms or eliminates them altogether. Often the drug therapy can be dropped and behavior modification alone can maintain control of the condition. To say that a dog is “cured” is probably not correct – one has to think in the terms of control.

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