Chow Chow

  • Chow Chow dog face

    Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

  • Chow Chow dog

    Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

  • Chow Chow

    Alice van Kempen, Animal Photography

  • Chow Chow dog close up

    Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

  • Chow Chow Dog Breed

    Mary Bloom

  • Chow Chow Dog Breed

    Mary Bloom

  • Breed Group: Non-Sporting
  • Height: 17 to 20 inches at the shoulder
  • Weight: 40 to 70 pounds
  • Life Span: 12 to 15 years

Independent and dignified, the Chow usually attaches himself to one person even though he will have affection for the whole family. When raised with children, he’s usually fine with them, although the kids may be disappointed that he’s not a hugger. An excellent guard dog and watch dog, he’ll protect against strangers.

Breed Characteristics

Adaptability 2 stars Dog Friendly 1 star Shedding Level 5 stars
Affection Level 2 stars Exercise Needs 2 stars Social Needs 2 stars
Apartment Friendly 3 stars Grooming 5 stars Stranger Friendly 1 star
Barking Tendencies 5 stars Health Issues 4 stars Territorial 3 stars
Cat Friendly 2 stars Intelligence 2 stars Trainability 2 stars
Child Friendly 2 stars Playfulness 2 stars Watchdog Ability 3 stars

Did You Know?

A blue-black tongue is one of the Chow’s most distinctive physical traits. When Chow puppies are born, their tongues are pink but darken to blue-black by the time they are 8 to 10 weeks old.

The Chow Chow has several unique characteristics: a blue-black tongue, the coat of a teddy bear, the scowl of a lion, and a distinctive stilted gait. He is a Chinese breed, hailing from that country’s chilly northern region, and was developed as an all-purpose dog capable of hunting, herding, pulling a cart or other vehicle and guarding the home.

The Chow Chow has a low activity level and can live happily in any home, including an apartment or condo. One or two brief walks daily will satisfy his exercise needs.

All too often, Chow Chows have a reputation for being aggressive toward people, which is not acceptable. Early and frequent socialization is essential to helping them develop the confidence and discrimination they need to recognize what is a threat and what is normal. Buy a Chow Chow only from a breeder who raises puppies in the home and has exposed them to many different people, sounds and experiences before they go to their new homes. When he comes from such a background and continues to be socialized after going to his new home, a Chow can be a good family dog, ideally with older children who understand how to treat him with respect.

The Chow Chow is a medium-size dog. He has the typical spitz appearance: a deep muzzle and broad head set off by a ruff, small triangular ears, a smooth or rough double coat in red, black, blue, cinnamon and cream, and a bushy tail curled tightly over his back. Stay away from breeders who try to charge more for a Chow in any color other than red or who tries to sell you a Chow in fancy colors such as lilac, silver, chocolate, white and champagne. Chows come only in red, black, blue, cinnamon and cream. Any other color description is simply a creative marketing term. Nor is it true that colors other than red are rare. If a breeder isn’t honest about coat colors, it’s fair to wonder what else he or she isn’t honest about.

The Chow Chow needs to live in the house. It’s an unhappy Chow Chow who is relegated to the backyard with little or no human companionship.

Other Quick Facts

  • A dog who looks like a Chow but has a tongue that is pink or mostly pink probably is not a Chow at all but a mix of one of the other spitz breeds, a large family of dogs that includes American Eskimos, Akitas, Norwegian Elkhounds, Pomeranians and many more.
  • The medium-size Chow is a powerful dog with a sturdy, squarely built body and a tail that curves over the back. He has a large head, accentuated by a ruff, and dark-brown, deep-set, almond-shaped eyes; small triangular ears that stand erect; a broad muzzle with a large black nose; and a black mouth and gums and a blue-black tongue. The overall effect is of a dog with a scowling, dignified, lordly, sober and snobbish expression, an accurate representation of the Chow’s temperament.
  • The Chow has a unique stilted gait caused by the straightness of his rear legs.
Next: History ›

The History of the Chow Chow

The Chow Chow is one of the few breeds who has a truly valid claim to being an ancient breed. A 2004 study of the canine genome established “genetic fingerprints” for 85 breeds, 14 of which were determined to be part of an ancient group. The Chow Chow was one of them. He probably descends from ancient Tibetan mastiffs, and he himself may be the ancestor of spitz breeds such as the Keeshond, Norwegian Elkhound and Pomeranian.

The Chow’s homeland is China. Depictions of him, in particular a bas-relief from the Han Dynasty that portrays him as a hunting dog, date to 150 BCE. He has good scenting ability and has been used to hunt game birds. In China, he was a versatile dog who did many kinds of work but was also kept, unfortunately for him, for his fur and meat.

Although he very likely originated in northern China, he was most often found in the southern part of the country, especially in the trading port of Canton. The dogs were often part of a ship’s cargo and eventually began to be called “Chow Chow” after the Chinese words used to indicate a miscellany of items, from knickknacks and curios to dogs.

The first known importation of Chow Chows into England was in 1880. Described as “Wild Dogs of China,” they were displayed in the London Zoo and the dog-loving Queen Victoria took an interest in them. From there, they made their way to the United States, where they were exhibited in 1890. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1903, and the Chow Chow Club of America was formed in 1906. The Chow ranks 65th among the breeds registered by AKC.

‹ Previous: Overview

Chow Chow Temperament and Personality

Despite his teddy-bear appearance, the Chow Chow is not a lovey-dovey kind of dog. He is independent and dignified, usually attaching himself to a single person. The Chow is protective and will certainly have affection for his entire family, but most of his devotion will be given to that one special person. Children may be disappointed in the Chow’s complete lack of interest in cuddling or being hugged.

He is distrustful of strangers and may be aggressive toward dogs he doesn’t know. The Chow is highly territorial. Intruders or people he doesn’t know will be warned off with a deep growl and perhaps something a little more physical if they don’t take the hint.

This intelligent but sometimes stubborn dog can be a challenge to train. He responds well to clicker training and positive reinforcement techniques such as play, praise and food rewards, but he also likes to do things his own way. To be successful, you must be patient and you must be willing to try many different methods to see what works. Find a trainer who has an extensive bag of tricks and is experienced with spitz breeds. Keep training sessions short and fun so the Chow Chow doesn’t get bored.

Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.

Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from an Chow Chow, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.

‹ Previous: History
Next: Health ›

What You Need To Know About Chow Chow Health

All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.

The Chow Chow has some health problems that can be a concern. They include hip and elbow dysplasia, patellar luxation, autoimmune thyroiditis, and eye problems such as cataracts, distichiasis and glaucoma. Pemphigus foliaceous, an autoimmune skin disease, melanoma, a type of cancer, and gastric torsion are also seen in the breed.

The Chow Chow Club, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For a Chow Chow to achieve CHIC certification, he must have a hip evaluation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), OFA elbow, thyroid and patella (knee) evaluations, and an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation. Hip scores from the University of Pennsylvania (PennHIP) are also acceptable.

Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database.Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.

Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Chow at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.

‹ Previous: Personality
Next: Grooming ›

The Basics of Chow Chow Grooming

The Chow comes in two coat types: rough and smooth. Both have an undercoat and a top coat. The rough has an abundant coat that stands off from the body. The head is framed by a profuse ruff, and the tail is plumed. The legs have feathering as well. The smooth does not have the abundance of top coat that characterizes the rough, and he lacks a ruff and feathering on the tail and legs. In all other respects, the coats are the same.

Grooming requirements depend on the type of coat. A smooth coated Chow needs brushing only weekly. One with a rough coat should be brushed every other day. Both varieties shed heavily twice a year, during which time the coat will come out in handfuls. A bath is rarely necessary, although a warm bath followed by a very thorough blow-drying can help remove that shedding coat.

The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually once a month. Brush the teeth frequently for good overall health and fresh breath. Check the ears weekly for dirt, redness or a bad odor that can indicate an infection. If the ears look dirty, wipe them out with a cotton ball dampened with a gentle ear cleaner recommended by your veterinarian.

‹ Previous: Health
Next: Finding ›

Finding a Chow Chow

Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.

Choosing a Chow Chow Breeder

Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks. Be wary of breeders who only tell you the good things about the breed or who promote the dogs as being “good with kids” without any context as to what that means or how it comes about.

Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life. Look for more information about the Chow Chow and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Chow Chow Club.

Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.

Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.

Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies. 

The cost of a Chow Chow puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.

Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Chow Chow might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.

Adopting a Dog from Chow Chow Rescue or a Shelter

There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.

1. Use the Web

Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Chow Chow in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Chow Chows available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.

Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.

2. Reach Out to Local Experts

Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Chow Chow. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.

3. Talk to Breed Rescue

Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Chow Chows love all Chow Chows. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Chow Chow Club Inc.'s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Chow Chow rescues in your area.

The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Chow Chow home with you to see what the experience is like.

4. Key Questions to Ask

You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:

What is his energy level?

How is he around other animals?

How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?

What is his personality like?

What is his age?

Is he housetrained?

Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?

Are there any known health issues?

Wherever you acquire your Chow Chow, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Puppy or adult, take your Chow Chow to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.

‹ Previous: Grooming

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