Chow Chow – An ancient, distinctive breed with a big personality

Originating from China, the Chow Chow is a distinctive dog in both looks and personality. With a thick, dense coat of fur, a wrinkled face, and an aloof expression, it’s easy to recognize these dogs.

What’s less easy to discern is the Chow Chow’s history. These dogs are one of the most ancient breeds in the world, and it’s difficult to determine where exactly these dogs come from. However, we do know that these dogs may have been used as a source of food a long time ago. In fact, one theory behind the name Chow Chow is that it is derived from the Cantonese word for “edible,” thus the nickname “edible dog.”

Another theory is that during the 18th century, the Pidgin English term “chow chow” was used in place of the word “etcetera” aboard trading ships for non-itemized cargo. These dogs fell under that category, and the name “Chow Chow” stuck as the official breed name.

Other names that this dog has earned include “black-tongue dog,” because of this breed’s dark tongue, “Canton dog,” after the Chinese city also known as Guangzhou, and “bear dog” because of the dog’s bearlike appearance.


  • One of the world’s most ancient breeds
  • May have been used for food, earning the breed the nickname “edible dog”
  • Martha Stewart owns Chow Chows, which are often featured on her TV programs
  • One of China’s emperors during the Tang Dynasty is said to have owned a kennel that was home to over 5,000 Chow Chows


As one of the world’s oldest breeds, it’s difficult to know exactly when the Chow Chow was first bred. We know that they originate from China, and artifacts dated back to around 200 BC during the Han Dynasty depicting these dogs is evidence of that. However, it’s certainly possible that these dogs date back even further.

For a long time, these dogs were companions to Chinese nobles, and still retain this haughty, dignified history in their personalities. But these dogs have also been known as working animals, used for guarding and hunting.

In 1781, when his neighbors brought home a pair of Chow Chows, a British man named Gilbert White who worked as a naturalist described this breed in his book titled Natural Histories and Antiquities of Selbourne. However, they didn’t gain much traction in the Western world until the 1800s, when Queen Victoria became interested in the breed.

A Chow Chow named Takya was the first to appear in American dog shows in 1890, and the breed gained further traction in America in the 1920s. President Calvin Coolidge owned two Chow Chows named Timmy and Blackberry.

Today, the Chow Chow lives in homes across the world. The breed is known for its distinctive looks and personality.

Appearance and Vital Stats

General Appearance

Chow Chow

The Chow Chow is one of the most unique-looking dogs you’ll find. They are sturdily built yet compact, with squat, wrinkled faces.

One of the Chow Chow’s distinguishing features, which he shares with the Chinese Shar-Pei, is his black tongue.

Chow Chow

Dog Breed Group

The Chow Chow belongs to the non-sporting dog breed group. This group may serve as a catch-all for breeds that are not easily classified, like the Chow Chow. Breeds in this group serve a variety of purposes, with many of them making great watchdogs.


Chow Chows are medium-sized dogs standing around 17 to 20 inches tall and weighing around 45 to 70 pounds.

Life Span

Chow Chows tend to live averagely long lives. You can expect your healthy and well-cared-for Chow Chow to live around 8 to 12 years old.

Coat and Colors

Chow Chow

Chow Chows have two types of coats. The first is the rough coat, which consists of a thick double coat that has an outer layer that is dense, straight, and relatively coarse. The undercoat is softer and woolly and forms a lion-like ruff around the head. The length of the fur of a rough-coated Chow Chow may vary.

The other type of coat is a smooth coat. In these dogs, the outer coat is shorter and smoother with no obvious ruff on the dog’s tail or legs. The coat is still thick and dense with a clear undercoat.

Chow Chows can come in many colors. Most commonly you’ll see red coloring, but Chow Chows may also be black, cinnamon, blue, or cream.

The density and thickness of the Chow Chow’s coat means that you can expect a decent amount of hair on your floor. During shedding season these dogs will “blow out” their undercoat, and you can expect to spend a significant portion of your week sweeping up hair during these periods.


The Chow Chow’s curly tail sits high up on his rear and lies close against the dog’s back. The fur on the tail will be longer and more feathered on rough-coated Chow Chows.


Chow Chows have small, triangular ears that are rounded slightly at the tip. They are carried erect but may tip forward very slightly.


Chow Chow

If there’s one thing these dogs aren’t lacking in, it’s personality. Many Chow Chow owners and enthusiasts describe this breed as catlike because of its aloof nature. This is not the type of dog that will want to snuggle with you often. They are deeply independent and generally prefer to do their own thing rather than follow rules.

Of course, this aspect of their personality can make training a challenge. These dogs have a definite stubborn streak, and it can take a lot of patience to train a Chow Chow. However, as long as you start training early, use lots of positive reinforcement, and stay patient, you’ll have a well-trained Chow Chow.

Despite their aloof personalities, Chow Chows tend to be fiercely loyal to their owners. They will usually attach themselves to one person. If you end up being the Chow Chow’s “person,” then it shouldn’t be difficult to get them to play with you. But you and others should be aware that they might not be willing to share their playful side with many other people!

Apartment Living

Chow Chows make great apartment dogs. When you consider their long history as watchdogs, hunting dogs, and companions to the Chinese Emperor, it should be no surprise that these dogs are highly adaptable.

Just bear in mind that while the Chow Chow is a fairly active dog, if he’s not encouraged to exercise enough he may become something of a couch potato. He’ll live perfectly comfortably in an apartment, but you’ll need to make sure that he’s getting enough daily exercise to keep him healthy.

Children and Other Pets

Chow Chows can live with children, but it’s best if these dogs are raised around kids from puppyhood. Even when raised around kids, be aware that the Chow Chow will tolerate children more than he’ll enjoy being around them. These dogs don’t tend to appreciate any type of rough play, so make sure you teach your kids how to be respectful towards your Chow Chow. Remind them never to grab or pull on any part of the dog, and don’t approach the dog when he’s eating.

Chow Chows can learn to live with other animals too. Similar to their attitude towards children, it’s best if they’re raised with other animals from puppyhood.

If you’d like your Chow Chow to live with another dog, you should know that these dogs tend to get territorial around dogs of the same sex. Your Chow Chow is likely to live more comfortably with a dog of the opposite sex.



Your Chow Chow should eat 2 to 2 ¾ cups of high-quality dry dog food every day. It’s best practice to split this up into two or three separate meals so that your Chow Chow feels full throughout the day.

The Chow Chow can easily become a bit of a layabout, and so can be prone to obesity. Make sure that you’re watching his caloric intake as well as his levels of daily physical activity to make sure you’re feeding him the right amount of food.


Rough-coated and smooth-coated Chow Chows have thick double coats that will require a fair amount of grooming. You should brush your Chow Chow’s fur at least a couple of times per week. If you can swing brushing it every other day or so, that’s even better.

During shedding season, while your Chow Chow is blowing out his coat, you’ll need to brush him daily to keep up with his grooming needs. If you find any matting in your dog’s fur, you must be very careful when removing them to avoid injuring your dog.

Your Chow Chow should also be bathed about once a month.


Chow Chows need regular exercise to keep them happy and healthy. Taking your Chow Chow for one or two brisk walks every day will help fill his physical activity needs. Some indoor playtime will be beneficial too, but bear in mind this is not a rough and tumble breed. Your Chow Chow won’t enjoy any kind of playing that’s too rough.

Avoid taking your Chow Chow outside in extreme heat. This breed’s thick coat doesn’t lend itself well to high temperatures and humidity.


Chow Chows would not have had the extensive history they do if they were not hearty breeds! These are generally healthy dogs, however, they can be prone to certain health conditions.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a genetic condition in which the dog’s hip joint doesn’t fit together properly. This causes the bones in your dog’s joint to grind together. Over time, this can result in arthritis of the affected joint, and potentially lameness of the leg.

Although this condition generally affects large dogs the most prominently, Chow Chows tend to be a breed frequently affected by hip dysplasia.


Chow Chows are prone to eye disease, especially entropion. This is a condition in which the dog’s eyelid rolls inward, which can irritate or hurt the eyeball. If your Chow Chow has entropion, you might notice him pawing his eyes frequently. Your vet may recommend corrective surgery if your dog has this condition.


Chow Chows are at high risk for melanoma, which is a type of skin cancer. While you are grooming your dog, make sure to check his skin for any raised bumps or unusual darkness. If you notice anything, book an appointment with your vet. The faster melanoma is caught, the more treatable it is.

Similar Breeds

Chinese Shar-Pei

Chinese Shar-Pei

Like the Chow Chow, the Chinese Shar-Pei is a medium-sized, compact dog. As the name implies, these dogs also come from China and have a similarly long and complex history. Unlike Chow Chows, however, the Chinese Shar-Pei was used primarily as a working dog and didn’t enjoy the same royalty the Chow Chow did.

Chinese Shar-Peis are distinctive-looking dogs with a short coat covering wrinkly skin. Very much like the Chow Chow, Chinese Shar-Peis are highly independent dogs that tend to have something of a stubborn streak. The two breeds also share their distinguishing black tongues.

Tibetan Mastiff

Tibetan Mastiff

These massive dogs are no joke! The Tibetan Mastiff can weigh up to 150 pounds, although a significant portion of that weight may be their fur alone. The Tibetan Mastiff has a thick double coat that ruffs around the neck, similar to the Chow Chow.

It’s difficult to say when exactly the Tibetan Mastiff came into existence, especially since Tibet is an isolated area. Most likely these dogs were used as guard dogs, and continue to this day to use their keen and watchful eyes to monitor their homes.

The Tibetan Mastiff requires brushing at least 2 to 3 times a week, except during shedding season where daily brushing will be required. These dogs get along with other people and animals but must be supervised closely during interactions.



Coming from Japan, the Akita is a large dog with a thick coat of fur. These dogs were bred as working and hunting dogs, but like the Chow Chow enjoyed some time in royal palaces.

Akitas are highly energetic dogs, so the number one thing to do with your Akita is making sure that he gets enough exercise. Luckily, the Akita lacks the stubborn streak that the Chow Chow has, so training your Akita will be a much simpler process.

Your Akita will need to be brushed frequently—at least 2 or 3 times a week. During shedding season, expect to brush your Akita much more often.