The Chow Chow breed has been around for more than 1,000 years. It was originally an all-purpose breed in its native China, where it was used to guard, pull carts and as a source of food and fur. Knowing the breed's guarding history, it makes sense that Chow Chows have been bred to make decisions themselves with humans absent. In other words, Chow Chows have about a millennium's worth of independent thinking in their lineage.
Formal, aloof, and extremely fastidious, the Chow Chow at first seems to be an entirely dignified dog. However, the dog has a sly sense of humor that is not seen by everyone and often shows itself at very inconvenient times (for example, one Chow Chow decided that his lap around the floor at Westminster was a perfect time to begin doing exaggerated solicitations to play with his trainer). This and other, less desirable surprises have led people to describe the Chow Chow as "predictably unpredictable."
Chow Chows are by their nature, very "disobedient" dogs. This is not because they are stupid, but because they have been bred to make independent decisions. They understand what you are saying, but will take it as a suggestion, and not as gospel. We therefore advise you to manage your expectations.
THE PROTECTIVE CHOW CHOW
Rescuers are often astounded at how friendly stray Chow Chows are -- they have a reputation for being aloof and tough. Well, this is because the stray Chow Chow is, in his mind, on a holiday. Without turf to protect, they are as affable and charming as you can imagine.
The Chow Chow at home is a different story. He will almost invariably take on a guarding function, and if you have a yard, the Chow Chow will dutifully check the perimeters each day as part of a ritual known only to themselves. It therefore is a surprise to people to find out that although the Chow Chow is a larger dog, he is well-suited to townhouse dwelling -- as long as there is a large window to look out, the Chow Chow is in his element.
CHOW CHOWS AND RESPECT
It's absolutely imperative that your Chow Chow respect your authority, or you are doomed. To do this, you need to be firm and consistent and provide clear leadership. Otherwise, Chow Chows can quickly become bullies -- it is one of their less admirable traits that they seem to enjoy when someone is a bit afraid or off-balance around them. At one holiday dinner, I watched Chowder effectively drive someone who was afraid of him out of the room in increments by dancing closer and closer to him, his eyes twinkling all the way.
However, this respect has to go both ways. You must always be firm but gentle with them. If you are rough, you might be corrected with a bite just for dignity's sake. If you believe in breaking down a dog's spirit to show him who's boss, you are choosing the wrong dog here. You will not win. And you are a sadist who really shouldn't own a dog.
CHOW CHOW IN DAILY LIFE
Chow Chows are dogs of moderate energy, but who have an extremely high sense of duty. Many of them would enjoy nothing more than "guarding" the backyard from dangerous squirrels and homicidal bunnies. Owners have reported that their Chow Chows spend hours staring out the back window, watching to make sure that all is in order in their kingdom.
Chow Chows adore rituals. (In fact, you won't realize quite how predictable you are until you notice that your Chow Chow seems to be able to anticipate your actions.)
Chow Chows are beautifully housebroken, and would rather die than go inside the house. They will often self-housebreak.
Chow Chows need to be brushed several times a week. Some of them adore it, some don't. Although Chows are a low-odor dog, when you want to bathe your Chow Chow, you might consider outsourcing to a professional groomer. A good Chow Chow groomer is worth his or her weight in gold -- your best bet is to find someone your Chow likes and develop an ongoing relationship with this person.
Chow Chows do not shed per se -- they blow their coat twice a year. At that time, you should commit yourself to brushing the dog several times a day.
Chow Chows tend to dislike water. Actually, a lot of them hate and fear water like a vampire fears sunlight.
KEEPING YOUR CHOW CHOW SAFE
You've heard us say that Chow Chows are predictably unpredictable. As a Chow Chow adopter, you'd need to commit to the following:
- A social-butterfly level of interaction when the Chow Chow is young -- he should go on walks and meet as many people as possible. Likewise, he should get used to the idea that the house will have regular guests and that his role should be to greet them, then go back to his guarding. After that, just a regular social life will be fine. However, you can NEVER just let your Chow Chow slide based on past behavior.
- As the Chow Chow gets older, he will often be stricken by joint problems that are quite painful. However, due to the breed's stoicism, it's not always easy to tell how in pain he is. At that point, he needs to be protected from people who might hurt him. Which brings us to...
CHOW CHOWS AND CHILDREN
In general, Chow Chows are not the best dogs for families with children. They are not playful, and they tend to be protective of their family, meaning that even if your children are safe, your neighbors' might not be if they upset your kids. This doesn't mean you should immediately send your Chow Chow to the pound when you get pregnant (if you do that, you are despicable, frankly), it just means that you should manage the dog's interaction and allow him to have a safe place to get away from the hubbub of the family home. This is easier to do than you might think.
CHOW CHOWS AND THEIR HUMANS
We have found that Chow Chows tend to be one-person dogs in the sense that they strongly favor one person in the home. My Chow, Chowder, is certainly proof of that. Although he respects and loves my husband (more on that later), he is preternaturally devoted to me for reasons that have nothing to do with what I can give him (unlike some other dogs I live with -- in fact, unlike the vast majority of dogs). He is not treat-, play- or affection-motivated. It's just because he has decided that I am worthy of his loyalty and love. This is incredibly flattering, and now that we have lived together for 8 years, I am very conscious of how much his esteem means because it is given freely and without conditions.
Chow Chows tend to bond more closely and get along better with humans of the opposite sex. Why, we don't know, but it's true. Chowder, for example, is not a kissy dog, but there are about a half-dozen women he will routinely greet with kisses and great enthusiasm when they show up. They will often tolerate more from the opposite sex, which means it's something to consider when choosing a vet.
Chowder (left) watches for wrongdoing in the neighborhood, while Dandy (right) illustrates his breed's great love of cold weather and snow.
A CHOW CHOW MIGHT NOT BE THE RIGHT DOG FOR YOU IF:
- You have very young children, or if you have friends with undisciplined children. Chow Chows do not tolerate roughness, and this can translate to bites.
- You live in a very warm climate. Even with a summer cut, Chow Chows can get overheated very easily.
- You have small animals or cats. Many Chow Chows have high prey drives that cannot be trained out of them. This is a perfectly natural drive, by the way.
- You want a dog that will get along with all dogs. Chow Chows do not do well with other dominant dogs. Male Chow Chows do not like unneutered males, and we have noticed that many Chows don't seem to like Golden Retrievers (making them possibly the only beings on the planet to feel that way). We suspect that the Golden Retriever thing is because that breed's sunny informality and failure to adhere to the rules of polite dog behavior doesn't sit well with the extremely formal Chow. In contrast, the beagle, with its crafty selfishness and food motivation, is a perfect foil for the Chow Chow. The Chow Chow gets to go through doors before the beagle, and the beagle can eat all of the treats that the Chow Chow declines, and get all of the affection that the Chow Chow seems to disdain.
- You want a playful dog. Chow Chows have a sense of playfulness, but they won't fetch and they get tired of games relatively quickly.
- You want a dog who can roll with the punches of a busy household. Chow Chows love routine, and when it is interrupted, it can throw them for a loop, and possibly make them more protective.
- You want a dog that can go for runs with you. Chows are simply not built for that kind of exertion.
A CHOW CHOW MIGHT BE THE RIGHT DOG FOR YOU IF:
- You have a sense of humor -- despite their preposterous formality, Chow Chows are very funny dogs.
- You respect the breed. Chow Chows are what they are, and the best Chow Chow owners will more than accept that -- they'll enjoy it.
- You are patient and determined. Chow Chows are difficult to train. VERY difficult. VERY, VERY difficult.
- You are hungry for information about the breed. A good Chow Chow owner will study up on the dog's temperament, behavior and health so s/he knows what to expect.
- You are willing to tolerate breed prejudice. A few decades ago, Chow Chows were overbred, too popular and had a reputation for crabbiness and biting, so you'll often run into an older person who has a memory of a nasty bite from a Chow.
- You do not want an overly affectionate dog. A Chow Chow is not a clingy dog, although s/he will approach you for attention and admiration.
- You are willing to protect your Chow Chow, even if it means being rude. It is very hard for some people to resist loving up to the Chow Chow, and there are going to be times when you will have to be very firm about it.
- You can smoothe over hurt feelings when your Chow Chow pointedly ignores one of your friends. For some reason they take a shine to some people, and ignore others.
Dandy is the very model of a modern Chow Chow.
Chowder (below) playing with his packmate Maggie. Note the blue tongue and mouth.
Chow Chows are dogs of bounteous beauty. They have magnificent, shining coats, large, well-shaped heads, delicate cats' paws and gloriously plumed squirrel tails. These impressive features come on a surprisingly sturdy frame that some have likened to a coffee table - square with short, straight legs. In fact, Chow Chows are disproportionate dogs on both ends -- their fluffy tails fan out over much of their back, and their heads also appear to be preposterously large. However, as you'll find out later, Chows have aptly been described as "the personality of a guard dog in the body of a teddy bear."
Much has been made of the Chow Chow's blue tongue, but please be aware that no matter how knowledgeable someone seems to be, if they tell you a dog has Chow in it because it has blue spots on its tongue, they are wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Blue spots on the tongue are the equivalent of freckles on humans, and dozens of breeds have this characteristic. Only a pure blue (or black) tongue is a characteristic of a Chow Chow.
Dandy meets and greets his public. As we have seen many a time, there is no dog more charming than a Chow Chow who's off the job (not guarding the home).
Sugarbear, a former HH foster dog, watches an emergency veterinary show attentively. His other favorites are King of the Hill and American Idol.
Dimples and Dandy (short for Dandylion) are a classic example of the Chow/beagle relationship.