At birth, the dog is covered in wrinkles that gradually disappear as it grows older and starts to fit into its skin better. This breed was declared as the rarest in the world by TIME magazine in 1978, and is also mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records. It was not recognized by the AKC until 1991.
Known as one of the oldest dog breeds in the world, it comes from the Guandong province of China, where it was bred for centuries to be a fighting dog. The breed that is present in the west however, does not look like a fighting dog due to the different breeding methods and genetic changes that it has been put through.
The original dog was leaner, very muscular, with longer legs, and a much more fighting look about it. The Chinese even have two different names for the traditional breed and the recent breed. The one in the west is called 'meat-mouth', and the original one is called 'bone-mouth'.
The horse coat is rough and quite prickly to touch, and is short in length. It is similar to the coat of the traditional Shar Pei. Dogs with this coat are more aggressive and dominant. The brush coat is slightly longer and softer. Dogs with this coat are said to be lazy or couch potatoes. The third kind, the bear coat, is not recognized by the AKC.
The coat comes in colors such as red, red-fawn, black-silver-sable, sable, cream, blue, brown, black-bronze-sable, apricot, lilac, chocolate, chocolate-dilute, and a few others. The ears are small and the eyes are deep-set. The tail is small and curls upwards. The litter size of this breed is 4 to 6 puppies. The life expectancy is 9 to 11 years.
As this breed was originally used for fighting and guarding, this dog tends to be a bit aloof, reserved, and suspicious of strangers. It should be well socialized at an early age, otherwise it can become extremely aggressive and territorial. It can also be quite stubborn.
This dog is very loyal, loving, and completely devoted to its family. It is generally silent and barks either when it is playing or when it is unsure of something or someone. Due to its stubborn nature, training can be a bit difficult. However, all in all, it is a fiercely loyal yet independent breed.
Like all purebred dogs, this breed is prone to health problems which include those of the eye called entropion, and also some skin infections that are a result of allergies. It is also affected by Familial Shar-Pei Fever (FSF), wherein the dog has fever for up to 24 hour periods, with fluid collection at the ankles.
Entropion can be treated by surgery, but if ignored, can cause permanent blindness. This breed is also prone to yeast infection in the ears. This is due to the small and tightly-flapped ears, which cause the ear canal to become moist.