Chow Chow: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Chow chow sleeping

Tamás Klausz / Getty Images

The chow chow is a stoic and independent dog breed that is known for its bear-like appearance and blue-black tongue. Though the breed sometimes has a reputation for being aggressive, most chows are loyal, calm dogs that make excellent companions.

Breed Overview

Group: Non-sporting

Height: 17 to 20 inches at the shoulder

Weight: 40 to 70 pounds

Coat and Color: Coat can be rough or smooth. Colors may be black, blue, cinnamon, cream, or red.

Life Expectancy: 8 to 12 years

Characteristics of the Chow Chow

Affection Level Low
Friendliness Low
Kid-Friendly Low
Pet-Friendly Low
Exercise Needs Low
Playfulness Low
Energy Level Medium
Trainability Low
Intelligence Low
Tendency to Bark Low
Amount of Shedding Medium

Click Play to Learn More About the Bear-like Chow Chow

History of the Chow Chow

The chow chow is a native of China and among the most ancient of all dog breeds, dating back as early as 206 B.C. DNA analysis shows chows are in the branch that includes the shar-pei, shiba inu, and Akita and are distinct from the lineage of all other dogs. They were used as temple guards in Asia. Though today's chow is a member of the non-sporting group, the breed was actually used for hunting over 2,000 years ago, as shown on bas-relief carvings.

This breed was called by several names in China, none of which were "chow chow." In the late 1700s, English merchants brought miscellaneous cargo from the Far East that they had called "chow chow." Because the dogs were sometimes a part of that cargo, the name eventually caught on. Queen Victoria helped popularize the breed and a breed club was formed in England in 1895.

Chows were brought to the U.S. in the late 1800s and were officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1903. Resident Calvin Coolidge had two chows in the White House. Home guru Martha Stewart has had two chows that made television appearances on her lifestyle programs.

Chow Chow Care

The chow chow is a medium to large-sized dog with that may have a rough or smooth coat. Rough-coated chows have a soft, wooly undercoat and a medium-length topcoat that is straight, dense, coarse, and very full. They have longer hairs (feathering) on the legs and tail, and a thick, long "mane" around the head and neck. Smooth chows also have a double coat, but it is much shorter. Regardless of coat, routine basic grooming is essential. You will need to brush your dog two to three times per week. However, the rough coat variety will need much more maintenance to avoid tangles and matting. Chows shed a lot twice a year during a change of the seasons, and extra maintenance is necessary at these times, but generally, the rest of the time, the shed rate is low.

You will also want to trim your dog's nails every couple of weeks if they do not get worn down from activity. It is also good to pay attention to dental hygiene and brush your dog's teeth two to three times per week.

The chow chow is an intelligent, independent, and sometimes aloof dog that tends to have a dominant and protective nature. This breed needs an assertive owner who will provide discipline, socialization, and a solid foundation of obedience training. Poorly trained chows might act territorial and unfriendly, which unfortunately perpetuates the stereotype that they are aggressive by nature. Your chow needs to know that you are the boss in the household. While not overly active dogs, chows still need routine exercise to stay healthy and happy. A couple of 15-minute walks per day is a good place to start.

The chow chow is definitely not the right breed for everyone but can be an excellent addition to the right home. This breed can work out well as a watchdog or guard dog. The chow chow tends to be a one-person dog, focusing its loyalties on the main owner. However, with proper training and socialization, the breed can get along with all family members—including children, though a home with older kids will be a better fit.

This breed often shows aggression towards dogs of the same sex and, with their hunting background, may have a prey instinct directed towards cats and other small pets. As such, it is best that a chow chow only is brought into a multi-pet household as a puppy and raised with good attention to socialization so the dog accepts the other pets.

Chow chows tolerate cold weather well but they do not do well in hot weather. They will need a cool place, preferably indoors, when it is hot. Chows do well living in apartments as they are quiet and just need to be taken for a walk rather than needing a yard to run around in. This beautiful, loyal, and smart dog breed is beloved by many and can be a lovely companion.

Chow chow puppy
mustafagull / Getty Images 
Chow chow playing in snow
Matt277 / Getty Images 

Common Health Problems

Responsible breeders strive to maintain the highest breed standards as established by kennel clubs like the AKC. Dogs bred by these standards are less likely to inherit health conditions. However, some hereditary health problems can occur in the breed. The following are some conditions to be aware of:

chow chows as pets illustration
Illustration: The Spruce / Kelly Miller

Diet and Nutrition

A chow chow should be fed twice per day with 1 to 1 1/2 cups of dog food at each meal. The amount will depend on your pet's size and activity level and will change through his lifespan. Be sure that your dog has access to fresh, clean water. By limiting the amount at each meal, you can help prevent gulping down of food or eating too much, which can trigger bloating and possibly lead to stomach torsion, which is a medical emergency.

Be sure to monitor your dog's weight, which might be more than meets the eye under that voluminous coat of fur. Obesity will shorten a dog's life. Discuss a plan of action with your veterinarian if you find your dog is putting on extra pounds.

  • Low activity dog

  • Only sheds twice a year

  • Loyal dog, makes a good guard dog

  • Requires continuous grooming

  • The breed is prone to a few health issues

  • Can get territorial and aggressive if not trained properly

Where to Buy or Adopt a Chow Chow

Before you decide whether a chow chow is the right dog for you, be sure to do plenty of research. Talk to other chow chow owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more. And, if you are ready to get one, your best bet is to look to the national breed organization as a resource for reputable breeders and rescue organizations.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you are interested in similar breeds, look into these to compare the pros and cons.

Explore all of the dog breeds out there. With a little research, you can find the right one to bring home.