Chow Chow

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chow chow portrait
Meet the Chow Chow, a dog breed with a personality as unique as its unmistakable appearance! With their lion-like mane, teddy bear face, and blue-black tongues, these fluffy companions have captured the hearts of dog lovers everywhere.

Join us in this comprehensive guide as we explore everything you need to know about this breed, including their appearance, temperament, ideal environment, grooming, exercise requirements, training tips, dietary needs, health concerns, history, and more.

Best For

The Chow Chow is best suited for experienced dog owners who appreciate the breed’s independent nature and unique charm. They thrive in a calm, structured environment, making them ideal companions for adults or families with older children.

Overview

OFFICIAL NAMEChow Chow
OTHER NAMESSongshi Quan, Tang Quan
ORIGINChina
BREED GROUPNon-Sporting Group
BREED SIZEMedium
HEIGHT17-20 inches
WEIGHT45-70 lbs
LIFESPAN8-12 years
LIVING SPACELarge
SENSITIVITY TO COLD WEATHERLow
SENSITIVITY TO WARM WEATHERHigh
GROOMING NEEDSHigh
EXERCISE NEEDSModerate
TRAINABILITYModerate
BARKING TENDENCYLow
BITING TENDENCYLow
DROOLING TENDENCYLow
SHEDDING LEVELHigh
POPULARITY RANK92nd
chow chow walking on the sand
Photo: anvel/Pixabay

Appearance

The Chow Chow is a medium to large-sized dog breed, boasting an impressive and unmistakable appearance that sets them apart from other breeds.

These sturdy canines typically stand between 17 to 20 inches tall at the shoulder, with males weighing around 55 to 70 pounds and females between 45 to 60 pounds. Their well-balanced, compact bodies are supported by strong, straight legs, giving them a powerful and agile presence.

One of the most distinctive features of the Chow Chow is their large, broad head, which gives them a bear-like appearance. Their skull is flat and wide, with a moderate stop and a well-defined muzzle. The ears are small, thick, and triangular, set high on the head and carried erect with slightly rounded tips.

Wide-set, almond-shaped eyes contribute to their expressive and dignified look. Their unique blue-black tongue, which can range from lavender to dark blue, is another standout characteristic of this breed.

The Chow Chow’s tail is another eye-catching feature. Set high and carried closely over the back, it creates a beautiful plume that adds to their majestic appearance.

The breed’s muscular body is hidden beneath a profuse double coat, which can either be smooth or rough. The rough coat is characterized by a dense, straight, and off-standing outer coat, accompanied by a soft, woolly undercoat.

The smooth coat, on the other hand, is hard, dense, and close-lying, with no obvious ruff or feathering on the legs and tail. Regardless of the coat type, Chows have a thick collar of fur around their necks, creating a striking lion-like mane.

Chow Chows come in a variety of colors, including red, black, blue, cinnamon, and cream. Their coats may be solid or have lighter or darker shading, but they never feature patterns or markings. It’s essential to regularly groom their abundant coat to prevent matting and to keep them looking their best.

The Chow Chow’s overall expression is one of scowling dignity, with an air of aloofness that adds to their mystique. Though they may appear serious and reserved, those who know and love this breed can attest to the depth of their loyalty and affection towards their human companions.

chow chow's face close up
Photo: robinmur/Pixabay

Temperament

The Chow Chow is a breed with a unique temperament that sets them apart from other dogs. They are often described as cat-like in their behavior, exhibiting independence, self-reliance, and reserved nature. Though they may seem aloof and distant to strangers, Chows form deep bonds with their family members, displaying unwavering loyalty and devotion.

Chow Chows are known for their dignified and noble demeanor. They carry themselves with an air of confidence and self-assurance, which can sometimes be mistaken for stubbornness. However, this should not be seen as a negative trait; rather, it’s a testament to their intelligence and strong-mindedness.

The key to understanding and appreciating the Chow Chow’s temperament lies in respecting their unique personality and giving them the space they need to thrive.

When it comes to their relationship with people, Chow Chows are selective in choosing their favorite humans. They tend to attach themselves to one person or a small group of individuals within the household, showering them with affection and protection.

Though they might not be overly demonstrative in expressing their love, their actions speak volumes about their commitment to their chosen family members.

With children, Chow Chows can make good companions, provided that they are introduced to them early on and the children are taught to interact with the dog respectfully. Due to their reserved nature, Chows may not appreciate rough play or boisterous behavior.

They are better suited to homes with older, well-behaved children who understand the importance of giving the dog space and treating them with respect.

When it comes to strangers, Chow Chows are known for their wariness and aloofness. They are naturally protective of their family and territory, which can make them standoffish or even aggressive towards unfamiliar people.

Early socialization is crucial for a Chow Chow to learn appropriate behavior around strangers and to curb any potential aggression. While they may never become the life of the party, a well-socialized Chow will learn to tolerate and coexist peacefully with unfamiliar people.

Chow Chows can get along with other dogs and animals if they are raised together from a young age. However, due to their dominant nature, they may not be the best choice for households with other strong-willed or assertive pets. The breed’s hunting instincts can also pose a challenge in homes with small animals, such as cats or rodents.

Ideal Environment

The Chow Chow thrives in an environment that caters to their unique needs and temperament. As a breed that values its independence and personal space, they are best suited for a calm, structured household with a consistent routine. They appreciate having a dedicated space of their own, such as a comfortable bed or designated area where they can retreat when they desire solitude.

Physical Environment

Chow Chows are adaptable to various living situations, whether it’s a house with a yard or an apartment, as long as their exercise needs are met. However, they would greatly benefit from having access to a securely fenced outdoor space where they can roam and explore safely.

When indoors, it’s important to ensure the environment is free from hazards, such as electrical cords or items they might chew on, as they can be curious and may investigate their surroundings.

Climate Adaptability

As for climate adaptability, Chow Chows are better suited to cooler temperatures due to their thick double coat. Their dense fur provides insulation against the cold, making them quite comfortable in chilly weather.

However, they can be sensitive to heat, and precautions must be taken to keep them cool during hot summer months. Provide plenty of shade, fresh water, and limit their outdoor activities during the hottest parts of the day to prevent overheating. Regular grooming is also essential to help maintain their coat’s health and keep them comfortable in varying temperatures.

Ideal Owner

The ideal pet parent for a Chow Chow is someone who understands and respects the breed’s unique characteristics. They should be experienced with dogs, patient, and willing to invest time in training and socialization. It’s crucial for the owner to establish themselves as a confident and consistent leader, as Chow Chows respond best to positive reinforcement and clear boundaries.

Other Pets

When it comes to other pets, Chow Chows can coexist peacefully with animals they have been raised with, but they may not be the best choice for homes with other dominant or assertive pets. Early socialization is key to ensuring harmony between a Chow Chow and other household animals.

chow chow standing on the snow
Photo: JochenSchaft/Pixabay

Grooming

Proper grooming is essential for the Chow Chow to maintain their majestic appearance and overall health. Their abundant double coat, whether smooth or rough, requires regular attention to prevent matting, shedding, and skin issues.

Coat Care

Chow Chows need to be brushed at least two to three times a week to keep their coat free from tangles, debris, and dead hair. During shedding season, which typically occurs twice a year, daily brushing may be necessary to manage the increased volume of loose hair. The type of coat – smooth or rough – will determine the specific tools and techniques required for grooming.

For rough-coated Chows, use a slicker brush or a pin brush to gently work through the outer coat. Be sure to reach down to the undercoat as well, as this is where most of the loose hair accumulates. A rake or an undercoat comb can be helpful in removing dead hair from the dense undercoat without damaging the guard hairs.

For smooth-coated Chows, a bristle brush or a hound mitt can be used to groom the coat effectively. These tools help remove loose hair and distribute natural oils throughout the coat, promoting a healthy shine.

Regardless of the coat type, be gentle while brushing to avoid hurting your Chow Chow’s sensitive skin. Pay special attention to areas prone to matting, such as behind the ears, around the neck, and under the legs. Regular brushing not only keeps their coat looking its best but also helps reduce shedding around the house.

Bathing

Chow Chows do not require frequent bathing, as it can strip the natural oils from their coat and cause skin irritation. Generally, they should be bathed every two to three months, or when they become dirty or start to emit an odor.

Always use a mild dog shampoo to protect their skin and coat. After bathing, make sure to dry them thoroughly, especially in the thick areas of their coat, to prevent any moisture-related issues.

Dental Care

Regular dental care is essential for maintaining your Chow Chow’s oral health and preventing gum disease, bad breath, and tooth loss. Brush their teeth at least two to three times a week using a soft-bristled toothbrush and dog-specific toothpaste.

Introduce tooth brushing early on to help your Chow Chow become accustomed to the process. In addition to brushing, you can provide dental chews or toys to help keep their teeth clean and healthy.

Nail Trimming

Chow Chows need their nails trimmed every three to four weeks to prevent overgrowth and discomfort. Overgrown nails can cause pain, affect their gait, and even lead to injury. Use a dog nail clipper or grinder to trim their nails, being cautious not to cut into the quick, which can cause bleeding and pain. If you’re unsure about trimming your dog’s nails, consult a professional groomer or your veterinarian for guidance.

Ear Cleaning

Check your Chow Chow’s ears weekly for signs of dirt, wax buildup, or infection. Use a gentle dog ear cleaner and cotton balls to clean the outer ear canal, avoiding inserting anything deep into the ear. Regular ear cleaning helps prevent infections and keeps your Chow Chow comfortable.

chow chow with its blue tongue out
Photo: VKarlov/Getty Images

Exercise

Though Chow Chows may not be as energetic as some other breeds, they still require regular exercise to maintain their physical and mental well-being. Providing your Chow Chow with an appropriate exercise routine will help prevent obesity, joint issues, and boredom-related behavioral problems.

Exercise Amount & Types

On average, a Chow Chow needs around 30 to 45 minutes of daily exercise. This can be divided into two or three shorter sessions throughout the day to suit their endurance levels. Keep in mind that individual exercise requirements may vary based on factors such as age, health, and temperament, so it’s essential to tailor the routine to your dog’s specific needs.

Chow Chows enjoy going for leisurely walks, which provide not only physical exercise but also mental stimulation through exploration and sniffing. Make sure to use a sturdy leash and harness to maintain control and ensure your Chow Chow’s safety during walks.

It’s important to note that due to their heavy coat, Chow Chows might overheat in hot weather, so avoid exercising them during the hottest parts of the day and always provide access to fresh water.

In addition to walks, you can engage your Chow Chow in various activities to keep them physically active and mentally stimulated. Some ideas include playing fetch, using puzzle toys, or setting up an agility course in your backyard. Remember that Chow Chows are an intelligent breed, so incorporating mental challenges into their exercise routine is essential for keeping them engaged and content.

Dog Sports

Chow Chows can also participate in organized dog sports, such as obedience trials or rally. These activities are an excellent way to strengthen the bond between you and your Chow Chow while providing them with mental and physical stimulation.

Training for these events will require consistency, patience, and positive reinforcement techniques to ensure your Chow Chow remains motivated and enjoys the experience.

Training

Training a Chow Chow can be a unique experience due to their independent and strong-willed nature. While they are intelligent and capable of learning, their self-reliance and stubborn streak can make training more challenging compared to some other breeds. However, with patience, consistency, and the right approach, you can successfully train your Chow Chow and build a strong bond with them.

Begin training your Chow Chow as early as possible, ideally during puppyhood. Early socialization and obedience training are crucial in shaping their behavior and ensuring they grow up to be well-mannered and adaptable adults. Expose your Chow Chow to a variety of people, animals, and environments to help them develop confidence and appropriate social skills.

When it comes to training methods, positive reinforcement techniques are highly recommended for Chow Chows. This involves rewarding good behavior with treats, praise, or toys, while ignoring or redirecting undesirable actions. Avoid using harsh or punitive methods, as these can damage the trust between you and your Chow Chow and may lead to fear or aggression.

Consistency is key when training a Chow Chow. Establish clear boundaries and rules, and ensure that all family members follow the same guidelines to avoid confusing your dog. Keep training sessions short and engaging, as Chow Chows can lose interest if the sessions are too long or repetitive.

Patience is essential while training a Chow Chow, as they may take longer to grasp certain commands or concepts compared to more eager-to-please breeds. It’s important not to become frustrated or discouraged, as persistence and a calm, confident demeanor will yield better results in the long run.

Enrolling your Chow Chow in a puppy socialization class or basic obedience course can be beneficial, especially for first-time owners.

These classes provide a structured environment for learning and socializing, as well as guidance from experienced trainers who can offer tips and support tailored to your Chow Chow’s specific needs.

two chow chows out in the park
Photo: Kurt Pas/Getty Images

Diet & Nutrition 

Providing a balanced and nutritious diet is essential for the overall health and well-being of your Chow Chow. A proper diet will support their growth, maintain a healthy weight, and provide energy for their daily activities.

What to Feed & How Much

When selecting dog food for your Chow Chow, look for high-quality options that meet the nutritional guidelines established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

These foods have undergone testing and are formulated to meet the specific dietary needs of dogs at various life stages. You can choose from dry, wet, or raw food, depending on your preferences and your dog’s individual needs.

The amount you feed your Chow Chow will depend on factors such as their age, weight, activity level, and overall health. Puppies typically require more frequent meals – usually three to four times a day – to support their rapid growth and development. As they mature into adults, this can be reduced to two meals per day.

It’s important to follow the feeding guidelines provided on the dog food packaging, adjusting the portions as needed based on your Chow Chow’s specific requirements. Regularly monitoring their weight and body condition will help ensure they are receiving the right amount of food. Consult your veterinarian for guidance on determining the ideal weight and portion sizes for your Chow Chow.

Monitor your Chow Chow’s diet and make adjustments as needed to maintain their health and well-being. Regular veterinary checkups can help identify any nutritional deficiencies or other health issues that may require dietary changes. By providing your Chow Chow with a balanced and nutritious diet, you’ll contribute to their overall health, happiness, and longevity.

Treats & Water

In addition to their main meals, treats can be used as a reward during training sessions or as an occasional snack. However, treats should be given in moderation, as excessive consumption can lead to weight gain and nutrient imbalances. Choose healthy, low-calorie treats, and remember to account for them in your Chow Chow’s daily caloric intake.

Fresh water should always be available to your Chow Chow to keep them hydrated. Make sure to provide clean water in a bowl that is easily accessible and replenish it regularly throughout the day.

Health

The Chow Chow is a relatively healthy breed with a life expectancy of 8 to 12 years. However, like all breeds, they can be predisposed to certain health issues. Providing a healthy diet, ensuring regular veterinary checkups, and keeping up-to-date with vaccinations can help maintain their overall health and well-being.

Here are common health issues associated with the Chow Chow:

Hip Dysplasia: This is a hereditary condition in which the hip joint doesn’t develop properly, leading to arthritis and pain. Regular veterinary checkups can help detect early signs of hip dysplasia, and maintaining a healthy weight through proper diet and exercise can reduce the stress on your Chow Chow’s joints.

Elbow Dysplasia: Similar to hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia is a developmental abnormality that can cause joint pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. Early detection and management, including weight control and appropriate exercise, can help minimize the impact of this condition on your Chow Chow’s quality of life.

Entropion: This is an eye condition where the eyelid rolls inward, causing the lashes to rub against the cornea and potentially leading to irritation, infection, or even vision loss. Entropion often requires surgical correction to prevent further damage to the eye.

Patellar Luxation: This occurs when the kneecap (patella) slips out of its normal position, causing discomfort and mobility issues. Treatment options depend on the severity of the condition and may include surgery, weight management, and physical therapy.

Allergies: Chow Chows can be prone to various types of allergies, including food, environmental, and contact allergies. Symptoms may include itching, redness, and skin infections. Consult your veterinarian if you suspect your Chow Chow has an allergy, as they can help identify the cause and recommend appropriate treatment.

To keep your Chow Chow in optimal health, it’s essential to provide a balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs. Regular veterinary checkups, including routine blood tests and dental care, will help detect and address any health issues early on. Vaccinations are also crucial in protecting your Chow Chow from potentially life-threatening diseases.

By being attentive to your Chow Chow’s health and taking preventive measures, you can contribute to their overall well-being and enjoy many happy years together with your loyal companion.

chow chow showing its purple tongue
Photo: irisphoto2/Getty Images

History

The Chow Chow is an ancient breed with a rich history that dates back thousands of years. Originating in China, they are one of the oldest known dog breeds, with evidence of their existence dating as far back as the Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE). Their Chinese name, “Songshi Quan,” translates to “puffy-lion dog,” which aptly describes their distinctive appearance.

Chow Chows were initially bred for various purposes, such as hunting, herding, and guarding. They were also used as sled dogs, capable of pulling heavy loads over long distances. In some regions of China, Chow Chows were unfortunately raised for their meat and fur, which was considered a delicacy. However, this practice has significantly diminished in modern times.

It’s believed that the breed’s name “Chow Chow” has its roots in pidgin English, a term used by British merchants during the 18th century to describe miscellaneous items from the Far East, including dogs. The breed’s unique appearance, highlighted by their blue-black tongue, thick double coat, and lion-like mane, made them a highly sought-after commodity among European traders and explorers.

The Chow Chow’s journey to the Western world began in the late 18th century when they were brought to England by merchants and sailors. Queen Victoria, a well-known dog enthusiast, took a particular interest in the breed, further elevating their popularity in high society. By the late 19th century, the Chow Chow had made its way to the United States, where it quickly gained favor among dog fanciers.

In popular culture, the Chow Chow has been associated with several famous personalities throughout history. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, owned a Chow Chow named Jofi, who often accompanied him during his therapy sessions.

American President Calvin Coolidge also had a Chow Chow named Timmy, who lived in the White House during his presidency. More recently, celebrities such as Martha Stewart and Elvis Presley have been known to own and cherish Chow Chows.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) first recognized the Chow Chow in 1903, and the breed was officially registered in 1906. The Chow Chow Club of America, a national club dedicated to the breed, was established in 1906 as well, further solidifying the breed’s presence in the United States.

Today, the Chow Chow ranks among the top 100 most popular dog breeds in the United States, according to the AKC.

Throughout its long history, the Chow Chow has been revered for its unique appearance, loyalty, and versatility. From their ancient origins in China to their current status as a beloved companion breed, the Chow Chow continues to captivate dog lovers around the world with its distinctive features and dignified demeanor.

Parent Club

The official parent club for the Chow Chow in the United States is the Chow Chow Club, Inc. (CCCI). Founded in 1906, the CCCI is dedicated to promoting the welfare, health, and responsible ownership of the Chow Chow breed.

The club serves as a valuable resource for Chow Chow enthusiasts, providing education, guidance, and support for breed-related activities and events. To learn more about the Chow Chow Club, Inc., visit their website here.

Breed Standard

A breed standard is a set of guidelines established by breed clubs or kennel organizations, defining the ideal appearance, temperament, and physical traits of a specific breed. It serves as a reference for breeders, judges, and enthusiasts to evaluate and maintain a breed’s unique qualities.

Covering aspects like size, appearance, and temperament, breed standards are used in dog shows and competitions to assess individual dogs against the ideal representation of their breed.

You can check the Chow Chow’s breed standard set by the American Kennel Club (AKC) here.

chow chow puppy scratching its body
Photo: Ivan Marjanovic/Getty Images

Acquiring

Before acquiring a Chow Chow, it’s crucial to carefully consider whether this breed is suitable for your lifestyle and living situation. Prepare for their exercise needs, grooming requirements, and potential health issues.

Instead of purchasing a Chow Chow from a breeder, consider rescuing one from a shelter or rescue organization. Rescuing a dog gives them a second chance at a loving home and helps address the issue of pet overpopulation. Both the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the Chow Chow Club, Inc. can assist with finding Chow Chows available for rescue.

Before bringing your new Chow Chow home, make sure you have the necessary supplies, such as a leash, collar, food, water bowls, toys, and a comfortable bed. Additionally, schedule a veterinary checkup to ensure your Chow Chow starts their new life in optimal health.

FAQs

Are Chow Chows good family dogs?

Chow Chows can make good family dogs if properly socialized and trained from a young age. They are known for their loyalty and protective nature towards their family members. However, due to their independent and sometimes aloof temperament, they may not be an ideal choice for families with very young children or first-time dog owners.

Are Chow Chows expensive?

The initial cost of purchasing a Chow Chow can be relatively high, depending on the breeder and pedigree. Additionally, their grooming needs and potential health issues may result in ongoing expenses. It’s essential to consider these costs before committing to owning a Chow Chow.

Are Chow Chows considered lucky dogs?

In Chinese culture, Chow Chows are sometimes considered lucky dogs due to their lion-like appearance and association with good fortune. They have been revered as symbols of prosperity and protection throughout their history.

Can Chow Chows live in an apartment?

Chow Chows can adapt to apartment living if provided with sufficient daily exercise and mental stimulation. They are generally low-energy dogs indoors but still require regular walks and playtime to maintain their physical and mental well-being.

How often do Chow Chows need grooming?

Chow Chows have a thick double coat that requires regular grooming to prevent matting and maintain overall coat health. It’s recommended to brush their coat at least 2-3 times a week, with more frequent brushing during seasonal shedding periods.

Do Chow Chows get along with other pets?

Chow Chows can get along with other pets, particularly if raised together from a young age. However, their strong-willed nature and potential for territorial behavior may require careful introductions and supervision when interacting with unfamiliar animals.

Are Chow Chows easy to train?

Chow Chows are intelligent dogs, but their independent and stubborn nature can make training more challenging compared to some other breeds. Consistency, patience, and positive reinforcement techniques are essential for successful training with a Chow Chow.

Fun Facts

  • One of the most intriguing facts about Chow Chows is their unique purple tongues! While most dogs have a pink tongue, the Chow Chow boasts a distinctive blue-black shade. It’s one of the breed’s most recognizable features and a cool party trick to show off to friends who are meeting your Chow Chow for the first time.
  • Unlike most dogs, Chow Chows have very straight back legs. This unique physical trait gives them a rather stilted gait, almost like a pacing lion. It’s a quirky characteristic that adds to the breed’s charm and distinctiveness.

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