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The chow chow is the bright, refined lion of the dog world. He is known for his lion-like features, including a glorious long mane around his neck and a scowling, why-did-you-wake-me-up-from-my-nap expression. Chows tend to be reserved, quiet, and don't have a huge need for exercise—they refuse to believe in a "runner's high." They'll be friendly with their immediate family, but can be aloof and suspicious of strangers. Clean and quiet, he makes a great apartment dog. A chow chow will show loyalty to his family and makes an easygoing companion for the right household.
At his biggest, the chow chow weighs upwards of 70 pounds and stands 20 inches tall at the shoulder. As big as he is, his poofy, regal-looking mane can make him appear even larger. A male chow puppy can weigh over 40 pounds by the time he's just 6 months old.
Chows can have two different types of coats: Rough and smooth. The rough coat is most characteristic, giving the pooch a built-in parka that's very thick and wooly. The smooth coat is a denser, shorter version. Both types come in a variety of solid colors: Red, cream, fawn, black, and blue, and their eyes are always dark brown. With their bear-ish expressions and appearance, it's no surprise people often compare them to panda bears.
Their blue tongue is a unique feature of the breed. Chow chow puppies are actually born with pink tongues, according to The Chow Chow Club, Inc. (CCCI), which darken and turn blue when they're around 8–10 weeks old. And while ancient Chinese legends explain the blue tongue (during the world's was creation, the dogs licked up pieces of the blue sky that fell onto Earth), research has yet to pinpoint why the dogs have a bluish-black mouth. Today, the signature blue tongue is a breed standard requirement for a purebred chow chow.
Chows look the part of kings—and they act it, too. They are a serious and refined dog that doesn't care much for over-the-top affection. Potential owners looking for a cuddle buddy should probably look elsewhere, because the chow chow isn't one for snuggling.
According to The Chow Club, Inc, the official breed club, they are generally reserved and like to keep to themselves, and are often described as "cat-like" in nature. While a well-socialized chow should never cause trouble, they can be standoffish and don't typically trust strangers. Maleah Allen, owner of D&M Farm Kennel, has been a chow chow breeder for more than 20 years and says the dog is sometimes misjudged as being aggressive.
The breed is smart yet strong-willed, and they will give a clear warning to anything they don't like. That being said, chows are highly loyal and have a deep love for their families. While they won't like being fussed over, they will latch onto and give attention to their favorite person.
The chow chow is a large dog breed, but that doesn't mean he's incapable of apartment living. In fact, because he doesn't require a lot of exercise, the chow can be very satisfied in an apartment. "They are the felines of the canine world. Very clean, very loyal without being socially needy," Allen says. "They are content to be with you, not on you." Chows are easily house trained and don't have a typical dog odor, making them one of the cleanest dog breeds.
And while every chow is different depending on how they're socialized, most might not want to play very often. If they do, it'll only be with their immediate family. As far as social needs, the chow chow doesn't have many—he's a bit of an introvert.
Their independent nature means they don't care much for other animals, but will tolerate them—especially if they grew up with them. They do best with dogs of the opposite sex, and fair best in a household with adults or older kids who understand their reserved nature.
"While they make loyal companions to their people, they withdraw from the chaos of young children," says Sarah Hodges, author, trainer and applied behaviorist with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. The dignified chow chow doesn't have a lot of patience for rough play. If he's raised with kids, he will accept them, but may still be cautious around all chaos that comes with children.
Although they can adjust easily to being alone during the workday, chow chows will prefer to be near their humans when they get home. They don't do well being left outside. A chow can overheat easily if it's humid or sunny, and he should not spend a lot of time outdoors on hot days.
Both types of coats, rough and smooth, require regular grooming. Between grooming sessions, a chow will need to be brushed a few times a week to maintain a healthy coat and skin. Chow chows are very heavy shedders in the spring and fall when they blow their winter and summer coats. Otherwise, they shed minimally year-round and consistent brushing should prevent excess hair balls in the house. Regular teeth brushing will help prevent any oral health issues (and give you a close-up of that infamous blue tongue). If you can hear his nails clicking on the floor, they are too long and need to be trimmed.
Chow chows are big dogs, but don't require as much space as many of their fellow large canines do. They have pretty minimal exercise needs—a couple of 15-minute walks or one longer walk per day will satisfy them. Find time for regular walks in the morning or evening, when the sun isn't as harsh and he won't get overheated underneath all that fur.
Training a chow chow requires an owner with consistency. The proud chow can be very disciplined if behavior training begins at a young age, but it'll take some patience to fully gain his loyalty. With a history of hunting and guarding, chow chows are extremely dignified and feel they deserve the utmost respect. Consistent positive reinforcement will teach them right from wrong.
Given their guard dog ancestors, many chows might not be too happy if someone tries to take their stuff away from them—especially food. "While resource guarding is not uncommon with [chows], it stems more from wanting to maintain a sense of priority versus any instinct to dominate a situation," Hodges says. "Consider it from your perspective … Asking a dog to fork over a bone, meal, or resting spot is about as effective as getting your kid to hand over their iPad." Chow chows simply want to be respected as a prized member of the family.
The majestic chow chow will live 8–12 generally healthy years, though they may be more susceptible to conditions including eyelid entropion, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and allergies. Hip and elbow dysplasia are hereditary, thus a responsible breeder will provide health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). Eyelid entropion will cause the eyelid(s) to roll inward, which can irritate the eyeball. If you notice your chow chow rubbing at his eyes or skin, he should see a veterinarian right away.
Chows may also be predisposed to a condition known as gastric dilatation and volvulus—otherwise known as GDV or bloat—which can occur in dogs with deep chests. The stomach fills with air and cuts off blood circulation, sending the dog into shock. Bloat can be deadly, even with extensive treatment. So while there isn't a lot owners can do to prevent this condition, it may help to monitor their eating habits to reduce the risk.
The chow's thick, fluffy coat and short snout also makes them more at risk for heat stroke, according to the CCCI. Keep them in the air conditioning during the summer months, and make sure they're always well-brushed so air is able to circulate to their skin.
Chow chows are one of the world's oldest breeds. Depictions of the fluffy canines can be seen in Han Dynasty artifacts as early as 206 BC, according to the CCCI. In the 8th century, a Chinese emperor was said to have kept 5,000 chows as hunting dogs, according to The Chow Chow Club. Chow chows were mainly used for hunting and guarding, as well as royal companions for nobility.
The breed went by multiple names (such as "black-tongue dog" or "bear dog") until British merchants acquired chow chows in the 18th century. The English expression 'chow chow' referred to miscellaneous items on trade ships that didn't fit into any other categories. The chow chow name stuck with the breed, which skyrocketed in popularity when Queen Victoria later took interest in them. The first chow chow to appear in an American dog show in 1809 won third place, and the American Kennel Club recognized the official breed in 1903.
- Martha Stewart has had many beloved animals over the years, including more than one chow chow. Read about a day in the life of her chow, Ghengis Khan, who won the Westminster Dog Show (Best in Breed 2012).
- The chow chow’s thick double coat can weigh them down in the waves or at a pool, so they’re not considered strong swimmers. Be careful if your pup is around water!
- Sigmund Freud brought his chow chow, Jofi, with him to psychoanalysis sessions because he thought she had a calming effect on the patients. He believed Jofi was able to read the patient—she would lie closer to the subject if they were calm, and she’d keep her distance if they seemed anxious.