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Definitely one of the most impressive of all breeds, the Chow Chow is an awesome creature with his lion-like appearance and regal manner. Looking a little like a cross between a lion and a bear, the true origin of the Chow is unknown and lost deep within Chinese antiquity.
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The Chow as it is known today is easily recognizable in pottery and sculptures of the Chinese Han Dynasty (206 BC to 22 AD); other artifacts indicate that he was even a much older breed and may have come originally from the Arctic Circle, migrating to Mongolia, Siberia, and China.
Some scholars claim the Chow was the original ancestor of the Samoyed, Norwegian Elkhound, Pomeranian, and Keeshond. In more recent times, that is, in the T’ang Dynasty (7th Century AD), it is reported that one Chinese emperor kept 2,500 of these Chow Dogs to accompany his ten thousand hunters!
Admired by emperors as well as Western royalty, used by Chinese peasants for food and clothing, and a favorite of the Hollywood movie star set in the 1920s, the Chow Chow has had a dramatic history.
How the Chow got his blue/black tongue is a mystery. An old fable offers a theory: When God was painting the sky blue, He spilled a few drops of paint as he worked. The Chow followed after, licking up the paint and from that day on, the Chow Chow has had a blue tongue!
The Chow came to America by way of England where it had been brought from China in the late 1700s. Sailors returning from the east brought them back in the cargo holds of 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.
Chows first appeared at AKC dog shows in the late 1800s. The Chow Chow Club, Inc. (CCCI) was formed in 1906. The breed first knew general popularity in the 1930s when President Calvin Coolidge kept a Chow (Timmy) in the White House.
The Chow again soared to popularity in the 1980s. Another notable Chow fancier was Sigmund Freud. After his death, his daughter, Anna Freud, continued to keep his Chows as well as raise her own. Martha Stewart is also a Chow fancier and her chows can be regularly seen on her television show.
For further reading, we suggest the following article by David Cavill: The Chow Chow
The Chow Chow’s disposition is quite different from other breeds. They are catlike in their attitudes: aloof, reserved with affection, independent, dignified and stubborn.
Although their soft fur is ripe for hugging, they don not always enjoy being fussed over by children or strangers. The Chow is very intelligent but like a cat, not as highly motivated to please their masters as most other breeds.
They seem to please themselves first. They do not tolerate physical punishment. Hitting or beating a Chow may result in viciousness or a broken spirit. The Chow expects to be treated with dignity and respect. He will return that respect with undying loyalty if he believes you are worthy of it.
The Chow Chow’s temperament is often misunderstood by people who do not understand the breed’s unique nature. Naturally suspicious of strangers and territorial, they take their homes and families very seriously as well their responsibility to protect what they love.
On his own property and without his owner present, the Chow may appear to be quite fierce. He will seldom let a stranger pass unchallenged. People used to the warm welcomes of other breeds may be startled by the seriousness of the Chow.
Once greeted by the owner and accepted into the home, the Chow should accept the stranger but may be reserved in his desire to make friends.
The Chow Chow’s appearance also contributes to myths about his temperament. The scowling face, small deep-set eyes, and lion-like ruff are intimidating. The Chow’s natural aloofness, dignity and indifference to people outside his family is often misinterpreted by people who expect all dogs to be outwardly friendly and affectionate.
The Chow saves his affections for those he loves most dearly and finds little reason to seek attention from anyone else. He minds his own business and simply does not care what strangers think of him.
Training and Socialization
The strong-willed, stubborn Chow needs an equally strong-willed, stubborn owner! This breed has a mind of its own and may easily become your master if you let it. Chow puppies are naturally well-behaved, seldom destructive or disobedient.
Because of their good behavior, some owners feel that training is not necessary. When an untrained Chow reaches adolescence, though, he may refuse to accept authority. We have found that most people who experience behavior problems with their Chows failed to train and socialize them properly.
Socialization is the ongoing process in which the Chow puppy is taught to accept new people, other dogs and environments outside his home with politeness and calm. Socialization should begin at birth with regular handling by the Chow’s breeder. A responsible breeder introduces the puppy to as many new experiences as possible before the puppy is placed into its permanent home.
It is critical that you continue the socialization process by regularly introducing him to strangers, children, animals and places outside of your home. Socialization with children is especially important if the dog is to be good with them as an adult.
Teach children how to hold and pet the puppy properly so that all his experiences with them are pleasant. Puppy kindergarten classes hosted by your local kennel club are excellent opportunities for socialization.
As soon as your puppy is old enough, you and he should attend obedience classes with a qualified instructor. The AKC or your veterinarian can refer you to local kennel clubs that host these classes. Training should continue at home and obedience commands should be incorporated into your Chow’s daily life.
A well-trained Chow is a joy to live with! He is a happier dog because he knows what is expected of him and how to please you. He can go more places and do more things with you because he knows how to behave properly.
Generally, Chows are poor risks when anesthesia is involved, and Chows should be treated by the veterinarian as he would treat a Bulldog or any extremely short-muzzled dog.
If your Chow tears more than you feel is normal, he may have entropion, a turning-in of the eyelashes. If your Chow tears excessively, consult your veterinarian for advice.
Another problem with the Chow is that he is subject to heat prostration if left in a hot, closed-in area or in the sun. He is particularly bothered by extremely high humidity, especially if the temperature climbs above eighty degrees.
Skin Problems / Allergies
Skin problems are becoming more common within the breed. Hot-spots, allergies and probably the most common causes. If your Chow starts scratching excessively or has raw, irrated skin that looks infected consult your veterinarian immediately.
The Chow needs to be brushed at least twice weekly or more if possible. Grooming is essential to keep the long, thick coat in peak, clean condition. Chows have a dense undercoat that supports the coarser outer coat and gives it its fluffy appearance.
Many adult Chows have a ruff almost like that of a lion that must be handled with care because it can be stripped away by too much grooming. The puppy undercoat, however should be brushed out when it starts to loosen so that the adult coat may come in properly.
Always brush out the dead coat and be careful that the remaining coat does not mat. Both a rake brush and a pin brush (both kinds are available at any pet store and even at most supermarkets) are needed to keep the coat in good, clean condition.
The rake is useful in the removal of the fluffy undercoat and the pin brush to groom the longer, off-standing guard hairs which are of coarser quality. Nails should be trimmed regularly to a comfortable length.
Chows should be kept in a fenced-in area or inside the house in a room where they have a good deal of freedom. Chows should not be put on a chain for they resent the feeling of being trapped. Let your Chow have as much freedom as you have to offer within the limits of his safety and welfare.
The Standard is the physical blueprint of the breed. It describes the physical appearance and other desired qualities of the breed otherwise known as type. Some characteristics, such as size, coat quality, and movement, are based on the original (or current) function for the dog.
Other characteristics are more cosmetic such as eye color, but taken together they set this breed apart from all others. The Standard describes an ideal representative of the breed.
No individual dog is perfect, but the Standard provides an ideal for the breeder to strive towards.
Chow Chows are typically between 17 and 20 inches at the shoulders and usually weigh between 40 and 70 pounds. Chows can be any of 5 different colors: red, cinnamon (dilute of red), black, blue (dilute of black), and cream (dilute).
The Illustrated Standard of the Chow Chow can be found on the Chow Chow Club web site. A text copy of the Chow Chow Standard can also be found there.