Breed Group:
Working Dogs

Middle Age: 6 years

Geriatric Age: 10 years

Life Span: 9 to 15 years

Chow Chow Breed History & Background

The Chow Chow—often referred to simply as a Chow—has one of the longest standing lineages in existence. Believed to have originated in Mongolia and used as a tribal dog for hunting, depictions of the Chow Chow breed can be found as early as 206B.C. during the Han Dynasty. The breed is even spun into Chinese legend; their tongues are said to be blue because they licked pieces of the sky when the world was first created.

However, the name Chow Chow wasn’t given to the breed until centuries later when British merchants brought along some of the bearish dogs in their cargo. In the 18th century, when it’s said these British merchants first took the dog, Chow Chow was slang for random cargo. Being that the dog was a rather miscellaneous addition, they named it as such.

A century or so later, Queen Victoria—an avid dog lover—took note of the breed, and their importation became frequent. By the end of the 19th century, a Chow Chow breed club formed in England. This breed was said to have little differences from their ancestors, a rare occurrence in the lineage of canines.

In the beginning of the 20th century, America began to import their own Chow Chows, and the AKC recognized the Chow Chow breed in the year 1903. Proportional, dynamically attractive, and with memorable character, the breed rose in popularity amongst commoners and celebrities alike and solidified its presence in the US. That presence remains today.

Chow Chow Temperament & Personality

Chow Chow temperament is most commonly compared to cats. They’re naturally aloof, independent, a bit proud and snarky, and owner-favoring. These dogs are intelligent and self-assured, they don’t need an abundance of love to develop an identity. While they’ll be playful with their owners or family, other animals and people disinterest them. That is of course unless they feel these strangers are a threatening presence, in which they’re the first to rise and protect those they love most.

Don’t be fooled, however, as Chow Chows are not aggressive. They’re just in their own world, dignified, and unwilling to trust abundantly. As you can deduce, early socialization is key to a well-tempered and sociable (in some cases this is simply not a possibility) Chow Chow. Expose them to the world, other dogs, and other people as early as possible and set strict guidelines for the interactions.

While Chow Chow personality and temperament can be inherited from its parents, that point is relatively moot for this breed as they generally fit a common mold. This very mold is why they’re the perfect choice for some.

Training a Chow Chow

Chow Chows are a highly trainable breed. Not only are they characteristically intelligent and quick-to-learn, but their proper almost arrogant personalities are naturally fit for housebreaking. These dogs, as dignified as they are, respond horribly to an overly dominant owner. They seek guidance and affection, not a firm leader that’s going to scold them at every step.

It’s particularly important with this breed to use gentle tactics and positive reinforcement to reward good Chow Chow behavior. If they feel at all mistreated or threatened, they will recede into their own self-pity, entrusting no one and developing an introverted and anxious personality. With that being said, you need to teach them respect in their early childhood to iron out a healthy relationship which will spill into their adult years.

Words and affection work best. Teach them verbal commands, rather than gestures, and shower them with love when they behave properly. Crate training is a tool as well. It will calm their temperaments and reinforce where the ‘proper home’ is. At the end of the day, that shouldn’t be a problem, as these are not dogs that love the outdoors.

Exercise Requirements for Chow Chows

A Chow Chow needs anywhere from 15-30 minutes of exercise a day. This breed has come a long way from the hunting dog, and now in their pet-like form, they care little for constant activity. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be walked, or only walked when motivated, but that they don’t need to spend hours in the yard to be calm in the house.

They might enjoy games or a playful bout in the yard, but generally, they’re a bit more reserved and would prefer to tack along on a walk rather than roll around in the dirt or play fetch. Do note that these breeds have thick, heat-trapping coats, and fare poorly in hotter climates. If it’s hot outside, limit the exercise and make sure the Chow Chow has an air-conditioned indoor habitat.

Chow Chow Life Span & Longevity

Chow Chow life expectancy typically ranges anywhere from 9-15 years.

Are Chow Chows a Popular Breed?

The Chow Chow ranks 74th on the AKC’s most popular dog list of 155 registered breeds. The reason they sit in the middle of the running is because they’re not the most homey, outright loving, and child-friendly animal. While they’re great additions to a single owner’s life or a home with older children, they’re not the type of dog that’s going to have a contagious excitement for life and be playful with every beat. However, this sort of pretentiousness is exactly what makes them charming, and popular to some.

Chow Chow Feeding Requirements

A Chow Chow should eat 2-3 cups of dry food per day, divided into two equal meals. It’s recommended that the food be watered down; add some rice and vegetables for a balanced diet. These deep-chested breeds often swallow a lot of air when they eat; watering down the food mitigates bloating.

Despite the recommended amount, every dog’s food intake will be different. Age, metabolism, activity level, and weight all play a role in identifying how much food to feed your Chow Chow. These dogs can be lethargic, which means their propensity for weight gain is larger than most breeds. If you find your Chow Chow to be gaining weight, lower the food portions and up the activity-level (even if you’re met with intense stubbornness).

Grooming a Chow Chow

A Chow Chow comes in either a rough or smooth coat, with the rough coat being more common. The rough coat is thick and fluffy, with a soft wooly undercoat. With these coats the hair is dense and ‘wild’ on the head and neck, which creates the mane; this is why they’re often considered little lions. The smooth coat, however, is the opposite. It’s dense, thick, but with no apparent mane or tail feathering.

Both coats come in an assortment of colors: red, cinnamon, cream white, soft blue, and black. Usually, these coats are a solid color but the tail and ruff lend themselves to lighter coloring. There’s no link between color and price, so don’t be fooled by a breeder charging extra for a ‘unique and exclusive tone.’

By one look at a furry Chow Chow, you should know they shed. Their coats need to be brushed 2-3 times per week with a midgrade Greyhound comb. Be sure to keep their hair wet when they’re being brushed, as these coats have a tendency to break if being brushed when dry.

Chow Chows are one of those breeds that are aesthetically appealing, thus requiring a bit more attention in the beauty department. Bathe them once a month with high-quality shampoos that preserve the oil in their coats, and blow dry their hair afterward (they tend to love the treatment). In regard to their hygiene, brush their teeth 2-3 times per week to prevent dental health problems caused by tartar and bacteria build ups. For optimal Chow Chow health, check their ears, nose, and eyes for discoloring, inflammation, infection, or parasites. Inspect their paws and coats for any sores or swelling. Introduce the process of grooming early in order to accustom them to being handled by the owner.

Are Chow Chows Good with Kids?

Typically, they’re well behaved with children. It’s not that Chow Chow aggression is a big problem or that they are nippy, but they’re just indifferent. On top of that, they don’t like rough play. They’ll bark and dislike a child that wants to cuddle or play too firmly with the canine, and at times will become aggressive. That’s why older children are best served to interact with a Chow Chow, even if it has received early-socialization.

That isn’t to say they can’t be great family pets, especially if introduced early in their puppy years but to say that their archetypes do not befit youngsters. While they look like a cuddly ball of fur, they think of themselves as lions not to be bothered. This standoffishness is the antithesis of what children long for in their household pet.

Chow Chow Health Problems

The Chow Chow is more often than not a long-living, healthy dog. Even with their reluctance for activity, they still manage to weather time. This doesn’t mean they’re immune to illness or disease. It’s important to ensure that your dog’s parents were given health clearances from credited establishments and that the breeder can provide these on the spot. While Chow Chow health will most likely be good throughout their years, the conditions which can afflict them are as follows:

Hip Dysplasia: this condition occurs when there’s a displacement between the thigh bone and the hip joint. The separation between the two can cause discomfort, lameness in the leg(s), or at worse complete immobility. Hip dysplasia is a condition that can be screened for, so ensure that the breeder has had the parents checked. Dogs with this condition should not be bred. There is a list of treatments available for hip dysplasia, with surgery being the most extreme.

Elbow Dysplasia: this health issue occurs when the elbow develops abnormally, and the bone and elbow joint are not flush. Similar to hip dysplasia, it can cause difficulty walking, lameness in the leg(s), and the inability to straighten the arm. Often the dog develops a simple limp or an unusual gait, but in worse conditions, the Chow Chow will have mobility issues. There are multiple treatments that can cure or at least help mitigate the symptoms.

Entropion: this is a condition that causes the canine’s eyelids to fold inwards, which then irritates or cuts the eyeball. While it’s almost never vision impairing, or capable of causing permanent damage, it can be highly painful and irritating for the Chow Chow. If you see them constantly rubbing at their eyes, this could be the problem. A quick surgery will reposition the eyelid, and allow the dog to continue living life without any issues.

Patellar Luxation: more frequent in smaller dogs, this condition occurs when the patella is not properly aligned. It can cause lameness in the leg(s), irregular movement, and extreme sensitivity (to the point that the Chow Chow will yelp if you try and hold them). Although it’s a genetic disorder that can be ‘dormant’ until symptoms spur in the dog’s later years, it can be cured with a realignment surgery.

Other Resources:

National breed website: The Chow Chow Club, Inc.
Rescue: Chow Chow Adoption Center