Chow chows and shar-pei are from China.
Both have black tongues.
Both carry their tails over their backs.
Both are normally solid-colored.
And both can come in smooth and long coats– although long-coats (“bear coats”) are fault in shar-pei.
The truth is these dogs likely derive from a single landrace that is found throughout China. With this landrace, as with the landrace that includes the tazis, taigan, saluki, and Afghan hound types, there always was a bit natural variance and muddled fuzziness between types.
In the West, we like the concept of breed over landrace.
But that’s not how the dogs have existed in their native country.
The image above is a smooth-coated chow chow from 1904. I don’t know its source, but both Nara Uusihanni and Pai have this dog displayed in their historical dog photo collections.
The dog almost looks like a transitional form between chow chow and a “bonemouth” shar-pei.
Most Western show shar-pei don’t look very spitzy, but the truth is they really should always be classified as a type of East Asian spitz.
In the West, we’ve got ga-ga over wrinkles. These excessive wrinkles cause the dogs lots of health problems. The eyelids of puppies are often surgically tacked up to prevent severe entropion. In adult dogs, the skin of the eyelids may have to be removed to correct the condition.
And the wrinkles themselves are caused by the same gene that causes periodic fevers. The more wrinkles the dog has, the higher the risk for the fevers. The fevers are almost as much a trait of the breed as the wrinkles.
And although the fevers aren’t necessarily life-threatening, there is an ethical question about whether we should be breeding dogs that are so predisposed to them.
If we know that excessive wrinkling increases the chances of the fevers, should we be breeding for the wrinkling in the first place?
Shar-pei have been modified from the chow-type in order to have a better fighting dog. They do have looser skin than the typical chow, and this looser skin allows the dog to move around when another dog holds onto its hide, allowing it greater range of motion in a fight.
But it is not ethical to breed dogs for fighting.
The shar-pei phenotype is a great historical legacy.
But it never existed independently of the greater chow chow-type landrace.
It’s very likely that there always were outcrosses to chow chows, even during the days of the dog fights.
A bear-coated shar-pei. Another transitional form.
Our concept of “breed” in the West is one of the most blinding notions we’ve ever divined.
We put breeds into boxes. We declare them an “ancient” heritage, as if they always existed in a pure form.
The story of dogs– especially those from non-Western landraces– is much more complex.
There is a fuzziness and a blurriness that the modern dog fancy cannot handle.
It cannot comprehend it.
It conflicts with the blood purity dogma.
And it conflicts with the historical framework in which the breed clubs like to cast themselves.
Breed clubs really don’t do anything but capture a type that they happen to like and cull away what they don’t.
They never fully appreciate how a particular breed developed or how it really relates to others.
Much of the thought that goes on in dog breed clubs is a sort of “species-ization” of a particular breed.
The worship it as a phylogenetically distinct entity, when the truth is no dog breed is that distinct.
They’ve all developed with close cousins. “Foreign blood” has always trickled in.
It does not matter if the breed is Western or non-Western.
This concept of breed is very new, and even when it was first contrived, it was always fuzzy and muddled.
Too many dog people don’t want to understand these simple facts.
Much to the dogs’ detriment.
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