The Chow Chow is an Arctic-type dog, powerful, squarely built, and sturdy with heavy bone and strong muscular development. They were bred for a number of tasks, and and their build reflects their ability to herd, pull, and protect. They can have either a rough coat, which is straight and offstanding or a smooth coat, which is hard and smooth; both coat types have wooly undercoats, providing ample insulation from the cold. The characteristic straight angulation of the hind legs produces a short, stilted gait unique to the breed. The scowling expression and black tongue are essential components of breed type.
The Chow Chow has some spitz characteristics. Because of this, it has been proposed that the Chow Chow either descends from spitz forebears or is itself an ancestor of some of the spitz breeds. Unfortunately, the origin of the breed has been lost in time, but it has been known in China for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Its original purpose may have been as a hunting dog, sniffing out and even pointing birds for the nobility. The breed declined in quality and numbers after the Imperial hunts were ended, but a few pure descendants were kept in isolated monasteries and wealthy households. One of the most distinctive features of the breed is its black tongue, which was also the basis for its more common names in China.
Only when dogs were brought to England along with other Chinese importations in the late 1700s was the name Chow Chow adopted. The name is probably derived from a term simply meaning Oriental knick knack and assorted curios, and may have come to be applied to the dogs because they were lumped into a ship’s log of cargo. These early imports were, in fact, looked upon as curios. Not until the late 1800s was the breed imported to England and then America in earnest. Queen Victoria’s interest in these dogs helped draw attention to the breed. AKC recognized the Chow Chow in 1903. The breed’s distinctive noble look has always attracted fanciers, but in the 1980s the breed soared in popularity, peaking as the sixth most popular breed in America.
Dignified, even lordly, the Chow Chow conducts himself with reserve. He is not very demonstrative, even with his family, and he is somewhat suspicious of strangers. He can be independent and stubborn. He can be assertive toward other dogs but is generally good with other household pets. He may be serious and protective, devoted to his family.
This is an alert breed that needs regular, but not strenuous, outdoor activity. He does not do well in hot humid weather. His needs are best met with casual morning or evening walks in warm weather or several short play sessions throughout the day. The smooth type needs brushing once weekly; the rough type needs brushing every other day, and daily when shedding.