All About Chow Chows

white chow chow dog with a yellow harness and black leash resting outdoors

Chow Chows are a commonly misunderstood dog. However, by taking the time to research this breed, you will quickly learn the ins and outs of these dogs, and why they can make for a wonderful friend, roommate, and family member.

Breed History

Similar to many other dogs, the history of the Chows Chow is not fully known, but one thing is for certain—Chows are an ancient breed. There is evidence that these dogs are at least 2,000 years old, but some believe this breed is even older.

It is suspected that these dogs originated in Siberia, where they were used for hunting, herding, pulling, and guarding. The Chow then made its way to Mongolia and then eventually China. Although they were most likely present in northern China, these dogs are often associated with southern China, specifically with the trading port region of Canton.

Around the late 18th century, English merchants began including Chows in their shipments from China to England. Because they were nonchalantly grouped in with random cargo and curios, the term “chow chow” (used to describe the miscellaneous items on the ships) was then applied to these dogs. Obviously, the name stuck because this breed still carries the same name even hundreds of years later.

Upon being introduced to England, many Chows were placed on display at the London Zoo, and locals referred to them as “Wild Dogs of China.” Within a short time of these dogs being in Europe, the dog-loving Queen Victoria took great interest and wanted a Chow of her own. As it became public knowledge that the Queen had a Chow, many other Englanders also wanted their own bear-like dog, and thus the Chow popularity began to grow.

Towards the end of the 1800s, Chow Chows were slowly becoming more prevalent in the United States. By the 1920s, Chows became more popular among the wealthy, but they were still not an overly common breed. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the Chow popularity in the States increased drastically.

face of a red chow chow dog with a black tongue

Attributes

When it comes to their physical features, personality, and temperament, there is always more to learn about the Chow Chow breed.

Physical Characteristics

With their teddy bear or bear cub-like appearance, Chow Chows are fairly easy to pick out of a crowd. These dogs have a solid colored coat that can be one of five colors: red (which can range from a light to dark shade), cream, black, blue, and cinnamon. On occasion, the coloring on a Chow may appear in a lighter shade around their neck, tail, or feathering. A Chow’s thick double coat can come in two types, either rough or smooth.

With an abundance of hair, specifically around their neck, many Chows (rough-coated in particular) appear to have a mane, which also gives them a lion-esque appearance. These dogs have broad heads with dark, deep-set eyes, and rounded-off, triangular ears. On average, Chows will stand around 17-21 inches, and they typically weigh between 40-80 pounds. Although they are considered a medium-sized dog, they sport a sturdy and muscular build.

One of the most distinctive features of the Chow Chow is their tongue. Appearing to be a solid shade of blue/black or purple, when a Chow opens their mouth, it always seems as if they just finished a grape candy. This trait is so unique that the Shar-Pei is the only other dog breed to have a dark-colored tongue. Other iconic features of the Chow include their tightly curled tail, which rests on their back, and their nearly straight hind legs. Because their legs are much straighter than most other dogs, when they walk, Chows have a distinct stilted gait.

Other common questions people have about this breed include, “How long do Chow Chows live?” and “Are Chow Chows hypoallergenic?” First, on average, a Chow’s life expectancy is between 8-12 years, although many are known to live to the age of 15. And unfortunately, Chows are not hypoallergenic dogs. Between their bear-like coats and their tendency to shed all year round, individuals who are allergic to dogs should definitely consider a different breed.

Personality Traits

The Chow personality is often described as that of a cat. These dogs are often aloof, independent, and strong-willed. They don’t feel the need to always be around people, and they will be a cuddle bug, but only on their own terms.

Chows are extremely loyal dogs, and they often create strong bonds with their household family, although they will most likely pick one family member to be “their person.” Because these dogs are somewhat protective of their loved ones, they do not often enjoy it when others burst into their house. Early and continued socialization and training can help discourage territorial behaviors.

These dogs can learn to live in a household with other animals. However, many are just as happy being the only pet. Chows make for a great choice for both singles and people living with a large family, though it is recommended that the household has older children. Your child’s age does not need to be the number one deciding factor in what type of dog you adopt. Still, no matter, it is extremely important to teach your children how to interact with their dog and supervise all interactions until your child is older.

These dogs are also not the best fit for a first-time dog parent since they require more time and work when it comes to their training. An experienced dog parent may find this breed to be more manageable.

red chow chow dog resting on a blue dog bowl with a white fence in the background

Chow Chows and Their Bad Rap

Falling into the same category as Dobermans, Boxers, and Rottweilers, Chow Chows (at some point in time) were unrightfully labeled as an aggressive dog. Because of this overgeneralization of the breed, unfortunately, many Chow parents will find that various parks or apartment complexes do not allow these dogs. Sad to say, especially because the not overly energetic Chow makes for a perfect apartment dog.

When it comes to so-called “aggressive” dog breeds, it’s important to note that no dog is inherently born with a mean temperament. Instead, a dog’s temperament is a product of their living conditions and how they were raised. No matter the breed, when a dog is treated properly and receives appropriate training and socialization, they will turn out to be a well-tempered dog.

Perhaps one of the main reasons that Chows have this bad rap is simply because they are misunderstood. For instance, Chows do not enjoy being forced into certain situations, like hugs, and they can be hesitant around strangers. If a stranger were to approach the undeniably cute, teddy bear dog and go to hug them, the Chow could show signs of being unhappy.

Another example is that Chows do not have good peripheral vision, so it is best if new people approach them from the front. Many people may not realize this and thus accidentally startle a Chow, leading to the dog appearing grumpy or even mean.

If you are a Chow parent, don’t be hesitant to have new people use a certain approach when they meet your dog. To any future Chow parents, it is essential to become knowledgeable about the breed before you adopt your own. By becoming familiar with a Chow’s personality, you will be more prepared to raise your own kind-hearted and well-behaved dog.

Grooming & Care

After fully taking in just how much hair a Chow has, two questions are sure to pop into your head— “How do you groom a Chow Chow dog?” and “Do Chow Chows shed?”

With an abundance of thick hair, it’s a guarantee that your Chow will need frequent brushings. Even though they have a tendency to shed all year round, it is during the spring and fall seasons that you will need to brush your dog nearly every day or every other day. Before purchasing a brush, be sure to research which style will be the best fit for your dog’s coat. Some Chow parents even use multiple types of brushes, including a pin brush and a slicker brush, since a Chow’s coat varies textures.

Besides brushing, other important items to incorporate in your dog’s regular grooming routine are brushing their teeth, checking and cleaning their ears, and wiping off discharge from the corner of their eyes. Your dog’s nails will need to be trimmed about once a month, or when you can hear them clicking on the floor, and a monthly bath is typically sufficient in keeping your dog clean and smelling fresh.

Fun Fact

A must-have item for any Chow Chow parent is a spray-on dog conditioner. This can help keep your Chow’s skin from drying out, and it can protect their coat while they get brushed.

Training

A big part of a Chow Chow’s personality is their bold independence. When this characteristic translates over to training, it often results in a dog that is more of a challenge to train. With that being said, Chows are not impossible—they just require a creative teacher willing to dedicate the time and patience needed.

The most important thing a dog parent can keep in mind when they are training their dog is that they should always start as soon as possible. Whether you adopt a 10-week-old puppy or a 5-year-old dog, training should begin the very day you bring your dog home.

It is best to start with easy commands, such as sit, down, and stay, and then work your way up to more difficult ones, including heel, drop it, and leave it. Chows typically do well with short training sessions every day. If you find that your dog is refusing to listen, or just doesn’t seem to be catching on, try adjusting how you teach and don’t be afraid to get creative.

Along with teaching commands, it is also helpful to crate train your dog. Crate training has an abundance of benefits for dogs of any age.

Another vital part of training your dog is their socialization. Besides young puppies who do not yet have all of their shots, all other puppies and dogs should be socialized from the moment you adopt them. Socialization can encompass a wide range of interactions, but it mainly boils down to exposing your dog to new people, places, animals, objects, and sounds. Socialization is an ongoing process and should be continued far past your dog’s puppy phase.

Knowing all of this, it is still important to keep your dog’s personality, temperament, and comfort level in mind. Be patient with your Chow, especially when introducing them to new people, and be mindful at dog parks, since your Chow may not enjoy having other dogs run up into their personal space. Try to keep all interactions and new experiences a positive one, and don’t forget to reward your dog with praise, treats, or a toy.

white chow chow dog resting on tile floor at home

Common Health Issues

Just like any other dog breed, Chow Chows are also susceptible to some health conditions. According to our claims data,* the top five health issues that affect these dogs include:

Even though these health issues are most common among the Chow breed, there is no guarantee that your dog will develop any or all of these conditions. Regardless of how healthy your dog appears, it is still essential to take them to regular veterinarian checkups. Your veterinarian can help monitor your dog’s overall health, and if an issue were to arise, they can oftentimes catch the problem early.

Other great ways to help your Chow live a happy and healthy life is to provide them with a nutritious diet and plenty of exercise. Chows tend to lean towards the lazy side, so they can be prone to gaining weight if you do not encourage them to be active. Typically just one or two short walks a day will be perfect.

When you take your dog outside to play or go on a walk, be mindful of the weather and temperature. Chows have a ton of thick hair, which means they can easily overheat in hot or humid climates. In the hotter months, it is best to walk them early in the morning or later in the evening.

Fun Facts about Chow Chows

Just when you thought you had learned all that there is to know about the Chow, there are even more fun facts right around the bend.

Despite the fact that Chow Chows have a tendency to be persnickety, they still make for a wonderful friend, loyal companion, and considerate roommate. The reward of training your own Chow is nearly unmatched, and learning how to live with a Chow will undoubtedly make you an even better dog parent. Not to mention, who wouldn’t want a dog that resembles an adorable teddy bear?

*Internal Claims Data, 2014-2019

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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