The Chow Chow, more simply known as the Chow, is an ancient dog breed. He is iconically gorgeous and bear-like in appearance. But his most distinctive feature is that blue tongue of his. Yes, he is adorable, and yes, he is cuddly (sometimes), but he isn’t always in the mood for fun and frolicking.
Chow Chows are very independent dogs who is sometimes described as grumpy with other canines and strangers. And he is often described as being more cat-like than dog!
He has a unique personality that appeals to some, but not to all. And this is why we have created this breed guide to help you discover whether you and the Chow will be a match made in hound heaven. Or, even if you’re here to educate yourself on this curious canine, welcome! We’ll walk you through his training, grooming, and nutritional needs, and much more. So, let’s take a look at all things Chow Chow.
The Chow Chow is thought to be one of the oldest dog breeds in the world. Chow Chows are depicted in artifacts and pottery dating back to China’s Han Dynasty (around 200 B.C.). Evidence suggests that the breed might go back much further than that! But, however far back his history goes, it’s safe to say that this is definitely one older dog breed. Today he is still one of the most popular breeds in China.
These dogs have has had many roles in the past. He is best known for his role as guarders of Chinese palaces and other possessions. As well as hauling goods to and from his master’s estate and hunting small game. Legend has it that an emperor of the Tang Dynasty had a kennel housing over 5,000 Chow Chows. Sounds like doggy heaven to us! The Chow’s love of humans and cuddly body also make him a favorite canine companion.
Sadly, he did such a good job cuddling his masters and keeping them warm that we humans used his fur to make coat trimmings. Historians also tell us that his flesh was once considered to be a delicacy. When food and other protein sources ran out, humans turned to the popular Chow to feed their families. One thought as to why he might be called the Chow is because Chow means edible in Cantonese. Hence his nickname, the edible dog (literally!).
In the 1820s, London Zoo showcased these dogs as the ‘Wild Dogs of China.’ But it wasn’t until Queen Victoria took one on as a pet that he started to become popular. He first came over to America in 1890, and he entered the American Kennel Club (AKC) studbook in 1903. With the rise in designer dog breeds, the German Chow and the Golden Chow are amongst the most popular Chow Chow mixes today.
Chow Chows are unique in that they are often described as a feline-like dog breed. He is independent and dignified. Not a goofy and playful character like most dogs! He is reserved with strangers and will show hardly any interest in them. Even if they fuss him and offer him yummy treats, he’ll almost roll his eyes at them (but still take the treat, obviously!). He is a diva doggo in that sense for sure.
If, however, the stranger is threatening his family, the Chow will stand in the way of his family. He is protective of his family unit, and he’ll make sure that everyone knows this. He’s cool and calm until things get heated. This is why puppy socialization is super important and needs a master experienced in handling dominant dog breeds. A Chow Chow in the wrong hands can turn aggressive.
He doesn’t like to be fussed either and only likes affection on his terms. Again, much similar to a cat! If he wants a cuddle, he’ll let you know, but otherwise, he’s happy to nap on the porch enjoying his own company. Many people love his independent ways, and he is pretty low maintenance in this sense. But for those looking for a constant cuddle buddy, he is definitely not the best pick. He’s an independent doggo who needs no owner, or at least he thinks anyway.
But, he does love his humans dearly, and he does like to have fun when he’s in the mood. He makes a fantastic watchdog, which is why Chinese emperors chose him as their guard dog. He is also peaceful and adaptable to most family dynamics. Overall, if you’re a dog person but likes the low maintenance appeal of a cat, the Chow is an awesome option.
Size & Appearance
The breed is considered a medium to large-sized dog who weighs between 45 and 70 pounds. He weighs 17 to 20 inches, from paw to shoulder. Males are typically taller and heavier than their female counterparts. Some Chows deviate slightly from the average sizing, but these dogs could not be entered into the show ring.
Under all that fluff of his is a square and muscular body, full of powerful energy. There is a reason why he was used for pulling carts, and this is because he is astonishingly strong for his size. His head is large in proportion to the size of his body. One of his most prominent features is his scowling eyes. This adds to his dignified appearance, often described as snobbish. His eyes are so deep-set that they affect his peripheral vision. So, it’s advised that you approach this pup from the front so that he can see you. Rather than surprise him from the side!
His stilted gait and straight legs make him look uniquely low to the floor, and his belly fluff adds to his apparent shortness. His tail is set high and lies close to his back. He has little triangular ears that poke through the top of his coat and give him a Spitz-type look. His most distinctive feature is his blue through to black colored tongue. Chinese legend has it that the first Chow licked the blue sky as it was being painted, and that’s why his tongue is always blue.
Coat & Colors
The breed always has a thick double coat. The under layer is always soft, thick, and wooly, and it is this layer that keeps him warm and sheds heavily during the shedding season. When it comes to his outer coat, he has two coat options to choose from, the rough and the smooth coat. The rough coat is dense, straight, and coarse in texture. And the smooth coat is still thick and dense but softer in texture. The Chow is famous for having a ruff around his thick neck, much like a lion’s mane. And this is more profuse in males than it is in females.
The Chow has five color options: black, blue, cinnamon, cream, and red. The cinnamon color ranges from light fawn to deep cinnamon, and the red color ranges from light golden to deep mahogany. Chows are either solidly colored, or the ruff, tail, and feather fur are lighter in shade than the rest of their coat. A purebred Chow will not come in any other colors.
Chows are relatively rare breeds and exotic in appearance. Some breeders (irresponsible ones!) will describe their pups as uniquely colored, often lilac, champagne, or pure white in their adverts. But these are simply a variation of the standard colors. These irresponsible breeders will charge extra for these ‘rare’ colors, so please don’t fall for it. Good quality breeders will not do this!
This is a surprisingly low maintenance dog when it comes to his exercise needs too! This is fantastic if you lead a busy life and have little time for extended walks. Or if you are more of a boxset kind of person than an adventurous hiker looking for a canine exercise pawtner. This low-energy pup is happy with a leg stretch and simple walks around the park or neighborhood. A total of 30 minutes outdoors every day will be enough to satisfy his exercise needs.
A word of warning – his low energy doesn’t mean that you can skip walks. Because if you do, you’ll soon start to notice behavioral problems such as restlessness, snappiness, and destructive behavior. The scowling Chow is super strong and tenacious, and he will chew through your best sofa in 10 minutes easy. If you’re looking for a dog that doesn’t need any walking, you are best off with an actual cat.
The Chow is adaptable to his surroundings and will happily live in small apartments up to large estates. Wherever you live, he’s happy to be there with you. This is a big appeal of his! He doesn’t need access to a yard just as long as he gets his daily walks. He is best suited to colder climates because of his thick coat. But as long as you are considerate with exercise timings, he can live in hotter states.
The Chow does not suffer fools gladly. So when it comes to over-excited children, he does not appreciate being pulled and prodded. The Chow is only recommended for families with older children who know how to handle and behave around dogs. And more importantly, understand when they want to be left alone. He is the same with other dogs and animals in the home. If he is socialized well and raised as a pup with other dogs or cats, he will probably do well with them.
If you expect a fully obedient dog, it’s time to stop reading and move onto the next dog breed. Seriously! The Chow Chow is so independent and stubborn that he will never be fully obedient, and he is quite difficult to train. If he doesn’t want to do something, you can bet your bottom dollar that he won’t be doing it. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t bother with his training. Instead, his training is a lifelong commitment because he constantly needs reminding who the boss is. Otherwise, he can turn into a 24/7 diva.
Enroll your Chow into a puppy obedience class to kickstart your chances of him developing into a well-behaved pup. It also helps with the socialization process. By mixing him with other humans and dogs at an early age, you teach him basic manners. And that most people are friends, not foes. It will build his confidence and prevent him from becoming too overprotective and stroppy. He needs to be taken on by a family who has experience with dominant dog breeds. But with the right direction, he will become a well-balanced and polite dog.
It’s super important to leash train this pup. He is so strong, and if he isn’t taught to walk on a leash from a young age, it can make walks a difficult experience for you both. In my Chow dog-walking experience, he can be an angel to walk, or a devil. And it all comes down to your effort and early leash training. Positive reinforcement training is the best method to train him. He doesn’t respond to anything other than being rewarded for his best behavior, and edible treats are a big hit!
The Chow Chow is a relatively healthy dog breed, and his lifespan can range from 8 to 12 years. There are many things that you can do to keep your Chow healthy. Keeping him fit with daily exercise, feeding him the best quality nutrition, and keeping him up to date with check-ups at the vets, are the simplest ways to keep him healthy. Working with a good quality breeder can minimize health problems too.
Like all dog breeds, the Chow is prone to certain health concerns more so than others. This is great when researching what to look out for because you can narrow health conditions down. But remember, the below list isn’t exhaustive, so do not discount other health problems.
Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
Hip and elbow dysplasia are common conditions in medium and large breed dogs. Dysplasia of the elbow and hip joints is sometimes inherited from the parents, so it is important to work with a good quality breeder. It becomes more likely when puppies grow too quickly, resulting in uneven growth of the bones. Eventually, it can cause arthritis and mobility problems. Stiff joints, being unable to stand up or sit down smoothly, and exercise intolerance are common symptoms.
The Chow is also prone to a number of eye concerns too. Progressive retinal atrophy and age-related cataracts are amongst the most common conditions in the breed. Entropion is the most common condition in the Chow, and it can lead to complete blindness. It is characterized by an inward-rolling eyelid that injures the eyeball. If you notice red eyes or excessive eye-rubbing, it’s time to get him checked out.
This is where the adrenal gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone for normal bodily functions. And it can lead to several other health conditions too. Symptoms such as lethargy, hair loss, weight gain, dry skin are the most common and should be taken seriously. Daily medication is usually prescribed so that he can lead a normal lifestyle.
This is essentially a dislocated kneecap, and the cap floats in and out of position. It can be painful, and you’ll notice that your Chow will suffer from mobility issues. And he’ll kick out too like dogs do when they try and walk in boots for the first time.
The Chow Chow is a forever hungry pup, and he can be very greedy. So it’s up to you to set the limits because he has none! The average Chow will consume between two to three cups of high-quality kibble every day. How much your feed your Chow will depend on his or her age, gender, size, and energy levels. To make sure that you do not feed him too much, always follow the package instructions. If you notice that he is piling on the pounds, be sure to switch him to a weight management kibble.
Feed your Chow a kibble designed for large breed dogs, and this is especially true during puppyhood. Any dog who weighs over 50 pounds at maturity should be fed a large breed dog kibble. These kibbles contain the optimized nutrition needed to control rapid bone growth. And feeding him this can lower the chances of him developing joint dysplasia. So nothing else will do.
Healthy omega fatty acids are very important for the Chow, and they can make a big difference to his overall health. It will take care of his cognitive function, eyesight, cardiac system, joints, and promote a healthy skin and coat. Low-quality kibbles tend to lack these fats, so it is crucial to feed him a high-quality kibble. Look out for ingredients such as meat meals, fish, fish oils, plant oils, and flaxseed.
So far, you have seen that the Chow Chow is a relatively low maintenance dog. But there’s no chance of this when it comes to his grooming schedule. Sorry, folks! But looking at him, you probably didn’t expect this anyway. You will need to expose him to his grooming regime from an early age. Otherwise, he might not like you touching him. And this stubborn soul might put up a fight. Thankfully, this cat-like dog is fastidious when it comes to self-cleaning! And this is another appeal of his.
His profuse jacket, both the rough and the smooth coats, need brushing thoroughly at least three times a week. And with so much hair, it takes time to get through it all. During the shedding seasons (spring and fall), he will need brushing every day if you want to manage it. The best grooming tool for year-round brushing is a slicker brush. And for the blowout seasons, you’ll need both a slicker brush and a deshedding tool to tackle his undercoat.
The Chow needs bathing once every six to eight weeks, but never more than this. Otherwise, you risk irritating his skin and damaging his natural coat oils. Use a doggy shampoo product that is made from natural ingredients such as oatmeal or coconut oil. A concentrated formula will help to penetrate his thick coat to ensure a deep clean.
The Chow’s nails should be trimmed as and when they get too long, usually once every two weeks. The general rule here is that you need to check them out if you can hear them tapping on the floor. Clean his teeth at least twice a week with doggy toothpaste (human toothpaste is toxic) to avoid periodontal diseases. Whenever you groom him, be sure to check out his eyes for signs of entropion that we mentioned above.
Breeders & Puppy Costs
The Chow Chow is an uncommon sight in America. So much so that you’ll be stopped in the street, a lot! It also means that you should expect to travel out of state to find a good quality breeder. Plus, you’ll probably be placed on a waiting list. Not all breeders take care to produce the best puppies. So if you want a healthy Chow, you need to do your research. A great place to start is with the AKC’s Chow Chow breeder page.
Top signs of a good quality breeder are having years of experience breeding Chows. As well as positive reviews from other Chow owners or independent reviews online. They will want to meet you in person to make sure you have the correct dog experience and are the right kind of family. Make sure that you meet the pups, and see them in action with their littermates. Ask to see the relevant health certificates too.
A poor quality breeder will lack in some or all of these. If they pressurize you into a sale or ask to meet you in a parking lot, walk away. If they cannot answer questions or are cagey about anything, you might be dealing with a puppy mill. These people are only interested in profit and have little to no care about the puppy’s health. You might save money on the initial puppy cost, but you can be sure to spend more on vet bills. Avoid them at all costs!
The average price of a Chow Chow pup from a responsible breeder is anywhere around $1,500 and up. You can expect to pay more than $3,000 if you seek a puppy from an award-winning bloodline. You also need to factor in the costs of everything else that your Chow Chow puppy needs, such as new beds, crates, harnesses, toys, food, and vet bills, to name just a few things. Being a dog mom and dad isn’t cheap!
Rescues & Shelters
Welcoming a Chow Chow puppy into their life is not the right option for every family. And if it isn’t the right option for you, you should consider adopting a Chow. They might be young, or they might be a senior, but the great news here is that you get to choose. Plus, you will literally be saving a life! It’s often lower in price compared to buying a brand new pup.
Head out to your local rescue shelter, and speak to the staff about your interest in rehoming a Chow Chow. They will be able to talk you through the adoption process and point you in the right direction. Because Chows are relatively rare, you might need to get in touch with a Chow Chow rescue organization instead. A great place to start your search is with the Chow Chow Rescue Society, and these pups focus their efforts solely on the Chow breed.
As Family Pets
- The Chow Chow is very cat-like and independent in nature.
- He makes a well-balanced family dog for families with older children.
- He likes to spend time alone and isn’t very needy.
- When he wants a cuddle, he will let his humans know.
- He only needs around 30 minutes of exercise a day.
- Chows are quite low maintenance regarding their exercise needs.
- He adores his humans and is very loyal.
- The Chow is protective of his home and family and barks at everyone nearby.
- He is aloof with strangers and shows little interest in anyone other than his family.
- The Chow is a very stubborn dog who needs an experienced owner to guide him.
- He needs brushing several times a week to control that profuse coat of his.
As you can see, the Chow Chow is a very unique dog breed who is definitely not for everyone. He is stubborn, independent, difficult to train, aloof, and intolerant of things he doesn’t like. But, for some dog lovers out there, these are the exact canine traits that they love.
And for Chow Chow enthusiasts, the moment they welcomed their first Chow into their life was the moment they fell head over heels in love with the breed. If you think you and the scowling Chow Chow are a match made in heaven, we hope you and your soon-to-be cat-dog pet will live happily ever after!