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Chow Chow

 Photo of Chow Chow
Photo: By Jill Terry

Chow Chow Books

Group: Utility - Breed Standard


More than 2,000 years old, the Chow was bred to be an all-around working dog capable of surviving in a hostile environment. Hunting, herding, guarding, pulling sleds the Chow could do it all. First kept by fierce Mongolian tribes in China as a hunting and guard dog, the Chow was also used for their meat and fur. The true origin of the breed is unknown; some historians believe it descends from ancient Roman Mastiff-type dogs crossed with Spitz types. Others believe the Chow is the ancestor of the modern Spitz group of dogs as well as the Akita and Shar-Pei. How the Chow got his blue-black tongue is also a mystery. A delightful old fable provides an answer: When God was painting the sky blue, He spilled a few drops as He worked. The Chow followed after, licking up the drops of paint and from that day forward, the Chow Chow had a blue tongue! The Chow's first appearance outside of China (where they are seldom seen today) was in England in the late 1800's. Sailors returning from the east brought them back in the cargo hold of the great trade ships. "Chow Chow" was a slang term applied to the large variety of items carried by these ships. Like a nickname, the term stuck to these dogs.


Dogs: 48-56 cms (19-22 ins); Bitches: 46-51 cms (18-20 ins)

Definitely one of the most impressive of all dogs, the Chow Chow is an awesome creature with his lion-like appearance, regal manner, and puppies that look like walking teddy bears. A powerful, sturdy, squarely built, upstanding dog of Arctic type, medium in size with strong muscular development and heavy bone. The body is compact, short coupled, broad and deep, the tail set high and carried closely to the back, the whole supported by four straight, strong, sound legs. Viewed from the side, the hind legs have little apparent angulation and the hock joint and metatarsals are directly beneath the hip joint. It is this structure which produces the characteristic short, stilted gait unique to the breed. The large head with broad, flat skull and short, broad and deep muzzle is proudly carried and accentuated by a ruff. Elegance and substance must be combined into a well balanced whole, never so massive as to outweigh his ability to be active, alert and agile. There are two types of coat, the rough and the smooth. Both types are abundant, dense and straight. The rough is profuse and off-standing, thicker around the neck forming a mane, and with good breeches on the back of the thighs, a course outer coat and soft woolly undercoat. The smooth coat is short, upstanding and not flat, with a plush texture. Chows come in whole colours black, red, blue, fawn, cream or white. The colours are frequently shaded whereby the under part of the tail and back of thighs are of a lighter colour, but never in patches or parti-colours. They always have the distinctive blue tongue.


Chows make exceptional house pets. Despite their size they are very quiet, naturally well-behaved, not diggers or barkers and aren't destructive. They're one of the easiest breeds to housebreak. Chows do, however, have a very different personality than other dogs. They are cat-like in their attitudes: aloof, reserved with affection, independent, dignified and stubborn. Although their soft fur is ripe for hugging, they don't always enjoy being fussed over by children or strangers. For people who want a cuddly lap dog that will instantly love all their friends, the Chow is likely to be a disappointment. The Chow Chow is not a breed for everyone. Its temperament is often misunderstood and many people mistakenly believe that Chows are vicious dogs. This breed is naturally suspicious of strangers and very territorial. They take their homes and family very seriously as well as their responsibility to protect what they love. On his own property and especially without his owner present, the Chow can appear to be quite fierce. He will seldom let a stranger pass unchallenged. People used to the warm welcomes of other breeds are unprepared for the seriousness of the Chow; guests must be greeted by the owners before the dog accepts them. The Chow's appearance also contributes to the myths about his temperament. The scowling, sometimes wrinkled face, small deep-set eyes, and lion-like ruff are intimidating. Some people complain that they can't "read" a Chow's expression as easily as other breeds. The Chow's natural aloofness, dignity and indifference to people outside his family is often misinterpreted by people who expect most dogs to be outwardly friendly and affectionate. The Chow saves his affections for those he loves dearly and finds little reason to seek attention from anyone else. He minds his own business and simply doesn't care what other people think of him. Chows do not see toddlers as small adults. They generally don't understand the topsy turvy wobbly little person who steals their toys, splashes in their water bowl, squeals into delicate canine ears, grabs sensitive tails, and ker-flops onto full snoozing canine tummies. If you plan on having children after you get your Chow, you will have to make sure that your Chow is properly and continuously socialised around babies and toddlers. If you already have children, please be sure that your children are able to understand that pets have feelings and must be treated kindly and with respect. Make sure that you also want a Chow, because children are most often unable or unwilling to accept full responsibility for its care.

Breed Health

As with any breed, Chows can be prone to various health problems. Hip dysplasia and entropion are probably the most common. Chows can suffer from bloat, and skin and hormone problems are also seen in Chow Chows. Lifespan is 11 to 15 years.

Breed Care

The Chow's thick coat requires a lot of care. Puppy coat is very dense and soft, easily tangled and can take several hours a week to groom. The transition period from puppy to adult coat may take several months and your Chow needs to be groomed almost daily during that time. Adult coat is easier to care for but will still need at least an hour or two a week to look its best and prevent matting. Chows moult seasonally, shedding their coats once or twice a year when you'll literally be filling carrier bags full of hair at that time! Although the smooth coated variety would seem to be less work, they too moult seasonally and need regular, thorough grooming. You'll need to train your Chow to co-operage and lie on his side during the long hours of grooming. Most Chows would prefer to be groomed by their owners rather than suffer the indignity of going to a professional groomer.


To keep your Chow fit and health they require moderate exercise. Chows enjoy brisk walks or play time in the yard.


The Chow Chow is very intelligent but not always easy to train. They don't have the strong desire to please their masters as do breeds like the Golden Retriever. They seem to please themselves first and don't respond to the average methods of training and motivation. They do not tolerate physical punishment and can't be forced into anything. Hitting or beating a Chow will either result in viciousness or a broken spirit. Like a cat, a Chow is only willing to do what suits his mood at the time. He's an independent thinker and will make his own decisions if you don't stay a step ahead of him! The Chow is a powerful, regal, beautiful animal and he knows it. He expects to be treated with dignity and respect respect that he will return if you show you're worthy of it. Chow puppies are naturally well-behaved, more so than most breeds. They're seldom destructive or disobedient. Because of their good behaviour, many people fail to train them properly. When an untrained Chow reaches adolescence, that dreadful teenage stage all dogs go through, he may refuse to accept your authority. We've found that most people who've had behaviour problems with their Chows failed to train them and earn their respect. See our books on training

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