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“Where did that dog come from, what on *earth* has he been eating, and what the heck kind of name is Chow-Chow?”

Three questions Chow owners hear with some regularity. The answer to the first is “China”, to the second, “nothing blue”, and to the third, “ Story is, that’s what miscellaneous trade ship cargo was called back in the 1800’s.” No matter how you feel about dogs in general, the Chow Chow is nothing if not a conversational icebreaker.

This magnificent dog traces its history back to China about 2,000 years ago. Hunter, guardian, herder, draught animal and yes, even occasionally lunch in the distant past, the Chow is one of the least dog-like dogs now in existence. Some have even suggested that Chows are really cats trapped in a canine body. Certainly they show some of the more obvious feline characteristics such as independence, a dislike of disturbances, low trainability (which is not to be confused with low intelligence, by the way) and an aloof, self-involved manner. Sadly for those of us who’d like to contemplate the academic thrill of cross species spawn, the Chow Chow is indeed a dog. And you don’t need a chair and whip to own one.

People are often intimidated by Chows, both because it’s difficult to detect a benign facial expression under all that fur and those morose wrinkles and because Chows aren’t much given to bounding around maniacally in a bid for attention. They seem, rather, to expect visitors to petition for notice by the dog, and even then the dog in question may very well just nod graciously and retire to the Royal Chambers with no further comment. And of course, their reputation may precede them.

Does the Chow have temperament problems? Well, yes and no. Victims of several fad explosions, Chows were bred indiscriminately over the space of about fifty years without regard to any sort of breed standards except physical appearance. But in the absence of a definite genetic or physical problem, Chows don’t have to be aggressive. They may not be particularly winsome, but neither are they destined for viciousness simply by virtue of their parentage. And it should go without saying that all dogs are individuals. It should, but it doesn’t. So.... all dogs are individuals. What’s true of the general doesn’t necessarily apply to the specific. Therefore, be aware that Chows may tend to be a bit on the pushy side without letting that thought control your and the dog’s existence. Proper, patient training methods will produce proper, patient dogs in almost all cases. Buy your pup from a responsible breeder and then set about guiding it into good canine citizenship.

All that soft, cuddly fur gives the impression that even adult Chows were made for excessive hugging and affectionate mauling. They’re not. They may tolerate it after maturity, but in most cases it’s at the expense of a certain amount of dignity, and offending a Chow’s dignity is a Very Serious Matter. For this reason (among others, one of which includes the dubious benefits of using force on any dog) Chows react badly to physical discipline or punishment, may never be particularly comfortable around small children, and will tend to be stand-offish with strangers. This doesn’t necessarily mean the dog is unfriendly...only undemonstrative. It’s important to keep socializing your Chow throughout his/her life and to make sure the dog can be handled by non-family members regardless of comfort levels.

Two almost exclusive physical characteristics of the Chow are the blue mouth lining and tongue and the peculiar stiffish gait. Puppies have pink tongues that darken with age, and indeed a Chow with pink spots on its tongue will be faulted during show. Chows have relatively straight hocks and their movements look a bit jerky. This is quite normal and isn’t an indication of joint ailments, even though hip dysplasia is very common in Chows. The thick, soft coat requires steady grooming, and Chows “blow their coats” twice a year. This is something to consider if your time is limited or if you object to big wads of dog hair periodically clinging to most of the low surfaces in your home. This is a cubic dog...meaning, it’s solid and rather square set...as opposed to a massive one, and will probably weigh between 60 and 70 pounds at maturity. It’s a powerful animal that requires only a moderate amount of daily exercise. Chows tend to be a little hostile to other animals, although they can be taught to get along with them reasonably well. As always, it’s not recommended that a small child be left unsupervised with any dog.

It’s been suggested by an apparently reputable source that Chows lack intelligence. Nothing could be further from the truth. We simply tend to become confused between trainability and intellect when we’re speaking about dogs. Chows have to have a good Chow-ish reason to pay attention to you, and they don’t seem to be very motivated by simply making their humans happy. I’d have to say that in itself requires a little more depth of reasoning than the Chow has been credited with.

Much of the relationship you’ll have with a dog is based on your expectations, and if you prefer a dog that responds instantly to your every whim just because it pleases you, you’re probably not going to be very happy with a Chow Chow. If you like a challenge...such as keeping your training methods varied enough to hold the dog’s interest and innovating when you’ve been outsmarted...this breed will keep you pleasantly occupied. Research the breed, research the breeder, and above all pay attention to what your dog is telling you. Chows can be excellent family pets and beloved companions.