One of the oldest breeds, this bearlike dog is known for his independent nature.
- Dog Breed Group
- Working Dogs
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- 12 to 15 years
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This distinctive-looking dog breed has a proud, independent spirit that some describe as catlike. He can be aloof — if you're looking for a cuddle buddy, this probably isn't the best breed for you — and downright suspicious of strangers. But for the right person, he's a fiercely loyal companion.
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With his deep-set eyes and large head, accentuated by a mane of hair, the Chow Chow (Chow for short) is an impressive-looking dog. His looks might make you think he's mean or ill-tempered, but a well-bred and well-raised Chow isn't aggressive.
Instead, it's said that the Chow combines the nobility of a lion, the drollness of a panda, the appeal of a teddybear, the grace and independence of a cat, and the loyalty and devotion of a dog. He's also dignified and aloof, as befits a breed that was once kept in imperial Chinese kennels.
He's not really fond of being hugged or fussed over, but he'll be a quiet, attentive companion to his favorite person, and his loyalty extends to other family members. If he's raised with children, he'll accept them willingly, but he's not the type of dog to tolerate abuse, so he's best for homes with older kids who know how to treat dogs.
If he has lots of positive encounters with strangers during his impressionable puppyhood, he'll handle strangers with equanimity. This is, however, a highly territorial and protective breed, who'll give a clear warning to anyone approaching without his person's welcome.
The breed's most memorable physical feature may be his blue-black tongue. According to Chinese legend, the tongue got its blue hue at the time of creation, when a Chow licked up drops of the color as the sky was being painted. He also stands out for his almost straight rear legs, which give him a stiff, choppy, or stilted gait. He's not speedy, so he's not the best choice for a jogger, but he has excellent endurance and can be a good walking companion.
When it comes to training, a verbal correction is usually all that's required to set the Chow Chow straight. No dog should ever be hit, but it's especially counterproductive with this breed. The fiercely proud and independent Chow will never respond to physical abuse. But earn his respect with firm consistency, and you won't have any problem training him.
If you admire the Chow Chow's unique appearance and independent spirit, you'll have a fiercely loyal companion who will be a true treasure in your household.
- Chow Chows are very independent and aloof, and they need an owner who appreciates those traits but won't let the dog take over.
- Chows should be well socialized — introduced to new people, dogs, and situations beginning in early puppyhood — to ensure that they're safe and relaxed as adults.
- Chow Chows may bond with just one person or to their immediate family. They're suspicious of strangers.
- Chows need to be brushed two or three times a week to keep their coat in good condition.
- Chows can live in apartments or condos, so long as they get daily exercise.
- Because of his deep-set eyes, the Chow Chow has limited peripheral vision; it's best to approach him from the front.
- To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from a puppy mill, a pet store, or a breeder who doesn't provide health clearances or guarantees. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they're free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies and who breeds for sound temperaments.
Experts have long speculated that the Chow Chow is one of the oldest dog breeds, and genetic testing has proven that to be true. The ancient breed is believed to have originated in Mongolia and Northern China, slowly moving south with the nomadic tribes of Mongolia.
Early depictions of dogs resembling the Chow Chow appear in pottery and paintings from the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 22 AD). One Chinese emperor was said to have kept 2,500 pairs of Chows as hunting dogs. In addition to hunting, the dogs were used to guard their owners' possessions. On the down side, their fur was used to trim coats and their flesh was considered a delicacy.
In China, the breed went by several names: black-tongue dog (hei shi-tou), wolf dog (lang gou), bear dog (xiang gou), and Canton dog (Guangdong gou). How he became the Chow Chow is an interesting story.
British merchants in the late 18th century included some of the bearlike dogs in their cargo. Miscellaneous items, including dogs, were referred to as "chow chow" and the name stuck to the breed.
In 1781, the Chow was described in a British book, Natural History and Antiquities of Selbourne, by naturalist Gilbert White. His neighbors had brought home a pair of Chow Chows from Canton (now Guangdong), and he included them in his observations of country life. Fanciers say the breed has changed little since White wrote about them more than 200 years ago.
It wasn't until a century later, however, that Chow Chows were imported on a regular basis. Queen Victoria, who loved dogs, took an interest in the breed, which boosted its popularity. A breed club formed in England in 1895.
The first Chow Chow to make an appearance at an American dog show was named Takya, who took third place in the Miscellaneous Class at the Westminster Kennel Club show in 1890. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the breed in 1903, and the first Chow registered with the AKC was named Yen How.
Chow Chows were all the rage among the rich and famous during the 1920s. They even made it to the White House, where President Calvin Coolidge and his wife kept Timmy, a red Chow, and Blackberry, a black chow. Analyst Sigmund Freud was also a Chow fan, and his daughter Anna kept and bred the dogs. More recent fans include Martha Stewart; Chows sometimes appear with her on her TV show.
Today, Chow Chows rank 64th in popularity among the 155 breeds and varieties recognized by the AKC.
The Chow Chow stands 17 to 20 inches at the shoulder and weighs 40 to 70 pounds.
Some compare the Chow Chow's disposition to that of a cat: aloof, reserved, independent, dignified, intelligent, and stubborn.
Despite his scowl, a good Chow should never be aggressive or shy. Chows tend to mind their own business and don't usually start trouble. They'll play with their people, but strangers are of no interest to them unless they're approaching the Chow's home without invitation from his owner — in which case he'll challenge the trespasser. He will, however, let strangers touch him if introduced by one of his owners.
Chow Chows are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they can get certain health conditions. Not all Chows will get any or all of these diseases, but it's important to be aware of them if you're considering this breed.
If you're buying a puppy, find a good breeder who will show you health clearances for both your puppy's parents. Health clearances prove that a dog's been tested for and cleared of a particular condition.
In Chows, you should expect to see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals for hips and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certifying that the eyes are normal.
Because some health problems don't appear until a dog reaches full maturity, health clearances aren't issued to dogs younger than 2 years old. Look for a breeder who doesn't breed her dogs until they're two or three years old.
The following problems aren't common in the breed, but they may occur:
- Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD) is a heritable condition in which the thighbone doesn't fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but you may not notice any signs of discomfort in a dog with hip dysplasia. As the dog ages, arthritis can develop. X-ray screening for hip dysplasia is done by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP). Hip dysplasia is hereditary, but it can be worsened by environmental factors, such as rapid growth from a high-calorie diet or injuries incurred from jumping or falling on slick floors.
- Entropion causes the eyelid to roll inward, irritating or injuring the eyeball. One or both eyes can be affected. If your Chow Chow has entropion, you may notice him rubbing at his eyes. The condition can be corrected surgically.
Chows can adapt to a variety of homes, from palaces to apartments. But they should always live indoors with their people, not stuck out in a backyard or kennel. They don't tolerate heat well, so keep them indoors when the weather is sweltering.
Like any dog, an adult Chow Chow needs daily exercise to stay healthy and happy, but not much — he'll be satisfied with a couple of 15-minute walks daily or one longer walk.
A Chow Chow is a homebody who's not prone to wandering, but you'll still want a secure fence if you've got a yard; it will protect him from traffic and prevent strangers from approaching him when you're not around to supervise.
Chows are easily housetrained, but crate training is strongly recommended. Crates make housetraining easier and keep your Chow from chewing things while you're away. The crate is a tool, not a jail, however, so don't keep your Chow locked up in it for long periods. The best place for a Chow is with you.
Chows are more than capable of learning anything you can teach, and a verbal correction is usually all that's required to set them straight. No dog should ever be hit, but it's especially counterproductive with this breed. The fiercely proud and independent Chow will never respond to physical abuse. Earn his respect in puppyhood with firm consistency, and you won't have any problem training him. But if you let the cute pup have his way all the time and then try to train him, you're sure to face problems.
Recommended daily amount: 2 to 2 3/4 cups of a high-quality dog food daily, divided into two meals.
How much your adult dog eats depends on his size, age, build, metabolism, and activity level. Dogs are individuals, just like people, and they don't all need the same amount of food. It almost goes without saying that a highly active dog will need more than a couch potato dog. The quality of dog food you buy also makes a difference — the better the dog food, the further it will go toward nourishing your dog and the less of it you'll need to shake into your dog's bowl.
Keep your Chow in good shape by measuring his food and feeding him twice a day rather than leaving food out all the time. If you're unsure whether he's overweight, give him the eye test and the hands-on test. First, look down at him. You should be able to see a waist. Then place your hands on his back, thumbs along the spine, with the fingers spread downward. You should be able to feel but not see his ribs without having to press hard. If you can't, he needs less food and more exercise.
Coat, Color and Grooming
Chows can have two coat types, rough and smooth. The rough coat, which is what most people are used to seeing, is thick and abundant, standing off from the body like a parka. Beneath that outer coat lies a soft, thick, woolly undercoat. The hair is thicker around the head and neck, forming a ruff, or mane. The tail, which lies over the back, is also thickly furred.
The smooth coated Chow Chow has a hard, dense, smooth outer coat with no obvious ruff or feathering (longer hair on the ears, legs, tail, or body).
In both types, the coat comes in five colors: red (which can range from light golden to deep mahogany) black, blue, cinnamon (light fawn to deep cinnamon) and cream. These colors may be solid or solid with lighter shadings in the ruff, tail, and feathering.
If you're buying a puppy, don't be roped into paying more for so-called rare or exotic colors. Some breeders describe their dogs' colors as champagne, silver, lilac, chocolate, or white, but these are just fancy names for the regular colors. There's no need to pay a premium for them, and reputable breeders won't try to charge one.
Expect to brush your Chow Chow three times a week to keep the coat in good condition and to keep loose hair from landing on your clothes and furniture. Chow Chows are heavy seasonal shedders, and the coat requires extra attention at that time. They have no doggie odor if the coat is brushed often.
For brushing, you'll need a stainless steel Greyhound comb with medium-coarse teeth; a medium-size slicker brush for the legs; a medium pin brush for the longer body coat; and a spray bottle of diluted coat conditioner for misting the coat as you brush. Never brush a dry coat or the hair will break. Brush all the way down to the skin or you're likely to miss mats and tangles.
You'll probably want to bathe your Chow at least monthly — more often if he plays outside frequently and gets dirty.
Other grooming needs include dental hygiene and nail care. Brush your Chow's teeth at least two or three times a week to remove tartar buildup and bacteria. Daily is better. Trim his nails as needed, maybe once or twice a month. If you can hear the nails clicking on the floor, they're too long. Short nails keep the feet in good condition and prevent painful, bloody tears.
Start grooming your Chow when he's a puppy to get him used to it. Handle his paws frequently — dogs are touchy about their feet — and look inside his mouth and ears. Make grooming a positive experience filled with praise and rewards, and you'll lay the groundwork for easy vet exams and other handling when he's an adult.
Children and other pets
When they're raised with children, Chow Chows can do well with them, but they're not a rough and tumble dog that will tolerate a lot of abuse from a young child. Chows do best in families with older children who understand how to treat a dog.
As with any dog, always teach children how to approach and touch your Chow, and supervise all interactions between dogs and young children to prevent any biting or ear pulling from either party.
Chows who are socialized and trained well can get along with other dogs and cats, especially if they're introduced to them in puppyhood. They do best, however, with dogs of the opposite sex; they may fight with dogs of the same sex.
Chow Chows are sometimes bought without any clear understanding of what goes into owning one, and these dogs often end up in the care of rescue groups, in need of adoption or fostering. Other Chows end up in rescue because their owners have divorced or died. If you're interested in adopting an adult Chow Chow who's already gone through the destructive puppy stage and may already be trained, a rescue group is a good place to start.
Below are breed clubs, organizations, and associations where you can find additional information about the Chow Chow.
All Breed Characteristics
Measures how well this breed potentially adapts to different environments
Measures the amount and difficulty of training potentially required for this breed
Health & Grooming
Measures how much effort this breed potentially needs to keep a tidy hound and home
Measures this breed's potential to get along with other dogs and humans
Measures this breed's potential to require lots of physical activity
Adapt well to apartment living
Contrary to popular belief, small size doesn't necessarily an apartment dog make -- plenty of small dogs are too high-energy and yappy for life in a high-rise. Being quiet, low energy, fairly calm indoors, and polite with the other residents, are all good qualities in an apartment dog.
Affectionate with family
Some breeds are independent and aloof, even if they've been raised by the same person since puppyhood; others bond closely to one person and are indifferent to everyone else; and some shower the whole family with affection. Breed isn't the only factor that goes into affection levels; dogs who were raised inside a home with people around feel more comfortable with humans and bond more easily.
Amount of shedding
If you're going to share your home with a dog, you'll need to deal with some level of dog hair on your clothes and in your house. However, shedding does vary greatly among the breeds: Some dogs shed year-round, some "blow" seasonally -- produce a snowstorm of loose hair -- some do both, and some shed hardly at all. If you're a neatnik you'll need to either pick a low-shedding breed, or relax your standards.
Friendliness toward dogs and friendliness toward humans are two completely different things. Some dogs may attack or try to dominate other dogs even if they're love-bugs with people; others would rather play than fight; and some will turn tail and run. Breed isn't the only factor; dogs who lived with their littermates and mother until at least 6 to 8 weeks of age, and who spent lots of time playing with other dogs during puppyhood, are more likely to have good canine social skills.
Drool-prone dogs may drape ropes of slobber on your arm and leave big, wet spots on your clothes when they come over to say hello. If you've got a laid-back attitude toward slobber, fine; but if you're a neatnik, you may want to choose a dog that rates low in the drool department.
Easy to groom
Some breeds are brush-and-go dogs; others require regular bathing, clipping, and other grooming just to stay clean and healthy. Consider whether you have the time and patience for a dog that needs a lot of grooming, or the money to pay someone else to do it.
Easy to train
Easy to train dogs are more adept at forming an association between a prompt (such as the word "sit"), an action (sitting), and a consequence (getting a treat) very quickly. Other dogs need more time, patience, and repetition during training. Many breeds are intelligent but approach training with a "What's in it for me?" attitude, in which case you'll need to use rewards and games to teach them to want to comply with your requests.
High-energy dogs are always ready and waiting for action. Originally bred to perform a canine job of some sort, such as retrieving game for hunters or herding livestock, they have the stamina to put in a full workday. They need a significant amount of exercise and mental stimulation, and they're more likely to spend time jumping, playing, and investigating any new sights and smells. Low-energy dogs are the canine equivalent of a couch potato, content to doze the day away. When picking a breed, consider your own activity level and lifestyle, and think about whether you'll find a frisky, energetic dog invigorating or annoying.
Some breeds do fine with a slow evening stroll around the block. Others need daily, vigorous exercise -- especially those that were originally bred for physically demanding jobs, such as herding or hunting. Without enough exercise, these breeds may put on weight and vent their pent-up energy in ways you don't like, such as barking, chewing, and digging. Breeds that need a lot of exercise are good for outdoorsy, active people, or those interested in training their dog to compete in a high-energy dog sport, such as agility.
Friendly toward strangers
Stranger-friendly dogs will greet guests with a wagging tail and a nuzzle; others are shy, indifferent, or even aggressive. However, no matter what the breed, a dog who was exposed to lots of different types, ages, sizes, and shapes of people as a puppy will respond better to strangers as an adult.
Due to poor breeding practices, some breeds are prone to certain genetic health problems, such as hip dysplasia. This doesn't mean that every dog of that breed will develop those diseases; it just means that they're at an increased risk. If you're buying a puppy, it's a good idea to find out which genetic illnesses are common to the breed you're interested in, so you can ask the breeder about the physical health of your potential pup's parents and other relatives.
Good for novice owners
Some dogs are simply easier than others: they take to training better and are fairly easygoing. They're also resilient enough to bounce back from your mistakes or inconsistencies. Dogs who are highly sensitive, independent thinking, or assertive may be harder for a first-time owner to manage. You'll get your best match if you take your dog-owning experience into account as you choose your new pooch.
Dogs who were bred for jobs that require decision making, intelligence, and concentration, such as herding livestock, need to exercise their brains, just as dogs who were bred to run all day need to exercise their bodies. If they don't get the mental stimulation they need, they'll make their own work -- usually with projects you won't like, such as digging and chewing. Obedience training and interactive dog toys are good ways to give a dog a brain workout, as are dog sports and careers, such as agility and search and rescue.
A vigorous dog may or may not be high-energy, but everything he does, he does with vigor: he strains on the leash (until you train him not to), tries to plow through obstacles, and even eats and drinks with great big gulps. These dynamos need lots of training to learn good manners, and may not be the best fit for a home with young kids or someone who's elderly or frail. A low-vigor dog, on the other hand, has a more subdued approach to life.
Being gentle with children, sturdy enough to handle the heavy-handed pets and hugs they can dish out, and having a blasé attitude toward running, screaming children are all traits that make a kid-friendly dog. You may be surprised by who's on that list: Fierce-looking Boxers are considered good with children, as are American Staffordshire Terriers (aka pit bulls). Small, delicate, and potentially snappy dogs such as Chihuahuas aren't so family-friendly.
**All dogs are individuals. Our ratings are generalizations, and they're not a guarantee of how any breed or individual dog will behave. Dogs from any breed can be good with children based on their past experiences, training on how to get along with kids, and personality. No matter what the breed or breed type, all dogs have strong jaws, sharp pointy teeth, and may bite in stressful circumstances. Young children and dogs of any breed should always be supervised by an adult and never left alone together, period.
Potential for mouthiness
Common in most breeds during puppyhood and in retriever breeds at all ages, mouthiness means a tendency to nip, chew, and play-bite (a soft, fairly painless bite that doesn't puncture the skin). Mouthy dogs are more likely to use their mouths to hold or "herd" their human family members, and they need training to learn that it's fine to gnaw on chew toys, but not on people. Mouthy breeds tend to really enjoy a game of fetch, as well as a good chew on a chew toy that's been stuffed with kibble and treats.
Potential for playfulness
Some dogs are perpetual puppies -- always begging for a game -- while others are more serious and sedate. Although a playful pup sounds endearing, consider how many games of fetch or tag you want to play each day, and whether you have kids or other dogs who can stand in as playmates for the dog.
Potential for weight gain
Some breeds have hearty appetites and tend to put on weight easily. As in humans, being overweight can cause health problems in dogs. If you pick a breed that's prone to packing on pounds, you'll need to limit treats, make sure he gets enough exercise, and measure out his daily kibble in regular meals rather than leaving food out all the time.
Dogs that were bred to hunt, such as terriers, have an inborn desire to chase and sometimes kill other animals. Anything whizzing by -- cats, squirrels, perhaps even cars -- can trigger that instinct. Dogs that like to chase need to be leashed or kept in a fenced area when outdoors, and you'll need a high, secure fence in your yard. These breeds generally aren't a good fit for homes with smaller pets that can look like prey, such as cats, hamsters, or small dogs. Breeds that were originally used for bird hunting, on the other hand, generally won't chase, but you'll probably have a hard time getting their attention when there are birds flying by.
Some dogs will let a stern reprimand roll off their backs, while others take even a dirty look to heart. Low-sensitivity dogs, also called "easygoing," "tolerant," "resilient," and even "thick-skinned," can better handle a noisy, chaotic household, a louder or more assertive owner, and an inconsistent or variable routine. Do you have young kids, throw lots of dinner parties, play in a garage band, or lead a hectic life? Go with a low-sensitivity dog.
Dogs come in all sizes, from the world's smallest pooch, the Chihuahua, to the towering Great Dane, how much space a dog takes up is a key factor in deciding if he is compatible with you and your living space.
Tendency to bark or howl
Some breeds sound off more often than others. When choosing a breed, think about how the dog vocalizes — with barks or howls — and how often. If you're considering a hound, would you find their trademark howls musical or maddening? If you're considering a watchdog, will a city full of suspicious "strangers" put him on permanent alert? Will the local wildlife literally drive your dog wild? Do you live in housing with noise restrictions? Do you have neighbors nearby?
Tolerates being alone
Some breeds bond very closely with their family and are more prone to worry or even panic when left alone by their owner. An anxious dog can be very destructive, barking, whining, chewing, and otherwise causing mayhem. These breeds do best when a family member is home during the day or if you can take the dog to work.
Tolerates cold weather
Breeds with very short coats and little or no undercoat or body fat, such as Greyhounds, are vulnerable to the cold. Dogs with a low cold tolerance need to live inside in cool climates and should have a jacket or sweater for chilly walks.
Tolerates hot weather
Dogs with thick, double coats are more vulnerable to overheating. So are breeds with short noses, like Bulldogs or Pugs, since they can't pant as well to cool themselves off. If you want a heat-sensitive breed, the dog will need to stay indoors with you on warm or humid days, and you'll need to be extra cautious about exercising your dog in the heat.
Some breeds are more free-spirited than others. Nordic dogs such as Siberian Huskies were bred to range long distances, and given the chance, they'll take off after anything that catches their interest. And many hounds simply must follow their noses, or that bunny that just ran across the path, even if it means leaving you behind.
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