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Chow Chow: Temperament, Origins & Care – Guide to the Black Tongue Dog

Once you see what a Chow Chow looks like, you’ll never forget their distinctive features. They are proud working dogs with a lot of independence. These dogs can be standoffish and many describe them as cat-like.

If cuddling and affection is your thing, then a Chow Chow might not be the right dog. Try a lapdog, such as the Pekingese instead. They are wary of strangers but will still be a loyal and devoted friend. A Chow Chow is very versatile and can become a pleasant addition to any family.

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Chow Chow Basic Profile

Friendliness: Through early socialization with people and dogs, a Chow Chow can be as friendly as any other dog. As long as a child is old enough to respect the dog, they will get along just fine. With that said, they aren’t recommended for toddlers, but can easily co-exist with other dogs, pets or children.


Trainability: It may be a bit difficult to train a Chow because of their strong independent nature. Most people believe that they are one of the top 10 least intelligent breeds, but they’re just misunderstood. However, with enough persistence and mutual respect, it is very possible to train a Chow Chow.


Grooming: These dogs have long coats that shed quite often. For this reason, grooming for a Chow Chow can require more time and patience than most other dog breeds. It’s important to consistently brush their coat to prevent the hair from tangling, which can lead to pain and other complications.


Adaptability: One of the best things about the Chow Chow is their independence. They’re one of the few dog breeds that actually don’t mind being left alone for long periods of time. Their thick coat allows them to adapt well to cool climates, but they don’t do too well in warmer climates.


Activity: A Chow Chow still needs physical activity on a daily basis, like with most dogs. However, they don’t need as much exercise as other dogs. Regular walks are good enough to keep the Chow in shape while stimulating them physically and mentally.

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<strong>Chow Chow - </strong><strong>Vital Stats</strong>
  • Height: 18 – 22 inches
  • Weight: 45 – 70 pounds
  • Life Expectancy: 9 – 15 years
  • Dog Breed Group: Non-sporting Dog

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Origins of the Chow Chow

The Chow Chow is probably the least intelligent dog breed from China.

It has long been believed that Chow Chows are amongst the oldest breeds of dog in the world. Research studies of DNA analysis has shown that there is evidence of this being the case.

Apparently, Chow Chows originated from the Mongolia and China regions but moved southwards with nomads from Mongolia.

Evidence of the existence of the ancient Chow Chows appear in Chinese artifacts dating back more than 2000 years ago. It is believed that these dogs were used for hunting, pulling sleds as well as guarding property.

Unfortunately, they were also killed for their fur, which was used to trim coats. Much to dog lovers’ disgust, Chow Chows were also considered a culinary delicacy and were bred for human consumption.

Names of the Chow

This breed has had several names before they were called the Chow Chow. They were called “hei shi-tou” (black-tongue dog), “lang-gou” (wolf dog), “xiang gou” (bear dog) and “Guangdong gou” (Canton dog).

The breed finally became known as the Chow Chow after some of them were put onto British cargo by merchants at the end of the 1700s. These merchants referred to sundry items in their cargo as chow chow, which became their name ever since.

Rise in Popularity

Chow Chows became a regular import around 100 years later when Queen Victoria showed an interest in the breed. Because of the Queen’s approval, they became popular dogs among the people of Britain.

Chow Chows became significantly popular during the 1920s and many well-known people had one, including. American President Calvin Coolidge. In fact, he owned two! Secondly, the famous neurologist, Sigmund Freud, used to breed Chow Chows.

In China, Chow Chows are called Songshi Quan, meaning “puffy lion dog,” due to their appearance. With just one look, you can see why.

Chow Chow Appearance

A Chow Chow has unique characteristics such as their lion-like mane and black tongue.

A Chow Chow is usually between 17 and 20 inches tall and has a weight between 40 and 70 pounds. They are impressive and distinctive in their appearance and have a mane of hair around their large head.

In terms of gait, Chow Chows have short strides. The rear legs don’t come off the ground and almost appear to skim the ground. Their legs are very straight when they’re moving.

The Coat

There are two different types of coats that a Chow Chow can have. Some are rough. while  others are smoother. Chow Chows with a rough coats are more common and familiar to people.

They are dense and stand away from the skin. Underneath this coat, there is a thicker and softer coat. Around the head and shoulders, the fur is thicker and longer and looks like a mane. The Chow Chow’s tail rears up in a curl over their back and is very furry.

On the other hand, the smooth-coated Chow Chow has fur that is hard and thick. Their fur on their ears, legs and tail is a similar length to the rest of their coat.

Color-wise, Chow Chows can be red, black, blue, cinnamon and cream. Often they can be accentuated with lighter fur in some areas, like their tails.

Unique Colored Tongues

Many people recognize Chow Chows for the unique color of their tongue. They are a blue-black color, which is rare among dog breeds. Chinese legend has it that Chow Chows licked up drops of paint from the sky when the Earth was being created.

Many mixed dog breeds (mutts) with spots of black/blue tongues are often said to have some Chow blood in their line.

Chow Grooming Needs

Chow Chows need brushing a few times a week in order to maintain good coat condition. In addition, brushing allows you to get rid of excess hair, thus keeping your home relatively fur-free.

Coat Brushing

This dog breed does shred hair a lot and you will notice more fur loss at certain points in the season – spring and autumn. When this happens, you’ll need to brush them more often. If you keep up with your grooming regimen, they won’t have that ‘dog’ smell.

In terms of grooming tools, it’s best that you use specific brushes for your specific body parts of your Chow Chow. It’s a good idea to have a comb with medium teeth for general combing, a brush of medium size for leg fur and a medium-sized pinhead brush for the longer areas.

You need to avoid fur breakage when you are grooming your pet in order to maintain their appearance. A spray of conditioner is recommended before brushing commences as wet fur is much easier to brush and will not break. It is important to collect all of the excess fur with your brush in order to avoid matting.

Basic Grooming

As far as bathing is concerned, you should shampoo your Chow Chow once every 4 weeks or so. You can do this more frequently, of course, if your dog needs it.

If your Chow Chow likes to play dirty, then bath as necessary. However, bathing too frequently could dry up all the oils in their coat and lead to some health problems.

A Chow Chow needs regular teeth brushing. This should be done a few times a week but ideally, once a day so that tartar and bacteria are kept at bay. If you like to feed your dog fruits and vegetables, then more frequent toothbrushing is probably necessary.

If your dog’s nails aren’t wearing down naturally and you can hear them when walking, then they need cutting. It is a good idea to check the length of your Chow Chow’s nails once a month. Maintaining the length of your dog’s claws is important in order to keep their feet in prime condition. Long nails can potentially lead to pain.

Grooming Tips

It’s never too early to start grooming a Chow Chow puppy. It is vital that they are groomed regularly, not only for hygiene and health, but to get them used to grooming regimens. Make sure you touch the various parts of their body that need grooming regularly. This includes their feet, mouth and ears, for example.

Praise goes a long way when you are getting your pup used to grooming, as does rewarding your dog. Having regular and thorough grooming will make unfamiliar handling during medical examinations much easier in the future.

Chow Chow Temperament

Unlike many dogs, the Chow Chow actually tolerates being alone quite well. Despite looking somewhat aggressive or bad-tempered, Chow Chows that have been well trained and brought up in a loving home are not at all threatening.

They can scowl but they don’t usually start any trouble. As previously mentioned, people often describe this breed of dog as catlike due to their independent and determined nature.

With Children and People

In general, this dog breed doesn’t like to deal with a lot of fuss or physical contact. Nevertheless, they are loyal to their owner and family members. This type of dog is good to have around children but it is recommended that children are of school age.

They need to be old enough to appreciate and understand the dog’s temperaments and what they like and don’t like. With that said, toddlers are not recommended to be around Chow Chows.

Socializing Chow Chows is important from an early age. Their loyalty to their favorite person means that they can become over-protective and will want to warn strangers that they’re too close. If their owner introduces a stranger, they will generally be very accepting.

Furthermore, a Chow Chow will challenge anyone who approaches their home unless invited by their owner. To minimize issues with unfamiliar people, Chow Chows need to have positive experiences with unfamiliar people and other dogs during their puppyhood.

Behavior and Training

A Chow Chow can be a great walking partner. However, they are not the speediest of dogs. They wouldn’t be suitable for anyone considering running with their dog. They can tolerate the cold weather fairly well,  so going for a walk in cold temperatures is fine.

Training Tips

If well-trained, a Chow Chow can be easily corrected with a verbal command. These dogs command respect and as long as you are firm and consistent, you’ll have no problems with this breed.

There is a strong misconception that a Chow Chow is a dumb dog breed. I would like to argue that they are just misunderstood. They’re very independent-minded and won’t always mindlessly follow your commands for the sake of loyalty.

Despite this, Chow Chows are trained quite easily, especially if trained with a crate. It is important that you don’t rely too heavily on a crates, as this won’t lead to a happy dog. Some Chows may interpret this as harsh punishment.

Family Pet

In terms of home life, your Chow can be a great family pet. However, as previously mentioned, they are better with older children as they are not a dog that likes a lot of fuss and attention. It is best that any children are old enough to understand how to treat and respect their dog.

Children need to be taught how to handle this breed and need to be supervised until you’re certain they know what sort of interaction your Chow Chow will need and tolerate.

If your home has other pets like cats and other dogs, there is no reason why you can’t also house a Chow Chow. It is best, however, that they are introduced to them as puppies in order to have the best outcome for a happy home. Secondly, these dogs get along best with the opposite sex.

So, in order to prevent unnecessary fighting in your home, think about having a Chow Chow of the opposite sex to any current dogs you own.

Adaptability and Exercise

As far as their home environment is concerned, a Chow Chow is pretty adaptable. They can live anywhere but they shouldn’t be forced to live outdoors in kennels. Due to their dense coats, they need to be kept indoors where it is cool in hot weather.

Your Chow Chow will need walking daily. This could be 2 short walks or one longer walk. They do like to be at home and don’t tend to try to escape. However, it is always best to have a secure space for them outdoors.

Food and Diet

Chow Chows are best when fed two meals a day. In total, they should consume about two and a half cups of food. When preparing meals for your Chow Chow, you should consider the age, size and the frequency of exercise. If you’re not sure, consult with your local veterinarian.

If your dog is particularly active then it will, obviously, require more to eat that a somewhat inactive dog. Food quality is very important too. Y

ou should consider every aspect of your dog’s diet and consider which food is most nutritious. High-quality dog food isn’t going to be the cheapest but you should need less of it to adequately feed your dog.

Leaving food out for your dog isn’t the best way to feed your Chow Chow. They can become overweight if given the opportunity to graze throughout the day.

An overweight dog won’t have a waist and you won’t be able to see or feel his ribs. If you are concerned that your Chow Chow is overweight, consider giving them less to eat and upping their activity levels. You should also seek advice from a veterinarian if you have concerns.

Chow Chow Health

In general, Chow Chows are a healthy dog. Like all pedigrees, however, they are susceptible to some medical conditions. Obviously, not all Chow Chows are going to get the diseases they are prone to, but it is definitely something you need to consider before settling on a Chow Chow as your pet.

Reputable Breeders for Healthy Chows

Buying your Chow Chow as a puppy has its advantages. Not only are you able to train from the beginning, but a good breeder will allow you to see the mother and father of your puppy. This way, you can see that they are in good health and don’t have any medical conditions that your puppy could develop later in life.

A good breeder should also be able to show you the parents’ health certificates stating that they have no issues with their hips and eyes. It is wise to ensure that the parents of your puppy are at least a couple of years old before giving birth. This is because many health conditions of Chow Chows don’t appear until a dog is fully mature.

Common Diseases and Problems

Chows can be prone to inheriting CHD (Canine Hip Dysplasia) and Entropion, although these aren’t necessarily common.

Canine Hip Dysplasia means that the femur and hip joint aren’t properly aligned. It can manifest itself as lameness in the legs. This may eventually lead to arthritis in an aging dog. If you suspect your dog has CHD, it can be confirmed by an X-Ray. This condition can be worsened by a poor diet, obesity or injuries.

Entropion is a condition with the eyelids. In dogs with entropion, the eyelids fold inwards slightly and can cause irritation or even injury to the eye.

This condition manifests itself by a dog rubbing at his eyes. Surgery can correct this problem. Other minor conditions that Chow Chows commonly get include fleas. This is due to their thick fur.

Types of Chow Chows

Some variation include dogs that are rough-coated and smooth-coated Chow Chows. Many are distinguished by their face shape too. Chows can be described as having an open-face or a closed-face. Closed-face Chow Chows have shorter muzzles and wrinkly skin, which means their eyes aren’t as visible.

Common Cross-breeds

There are many cross-breeds of Chow Chow that exist, including the American Chow (American bulldog and Chow Chow cross), the Chow Hound (Chow Chow and Basset Hound cross) and a Chow Shepherd (German Shepherd and Chow Chow cross).

Famous Chow Chow Dogs

We’ve already mentioned President Coolidge and Sigmund Freud being Chow Chow owners, however, there are more recent famous Chow Chows. Elvis Presley had a Chow Chow who was called Getlow and Janet Jackson’s Chow Chow was called Buckwheat!

Cost of a Chow Chow

A Chow Chow is considered to be one of the most expensive dog breeds in the world. They can set you back $800 to upwards of $5000 USD. In their lifetime, you can expect to spend over $15000 on their care, so buying a Chow Chow isn’t a decision to take lightly. It is also worth noting that owning a Chow Chow can increase home insurance premiums as they are considered to be a high-risk dog.

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