The first dog I ever had was a Chow Chow. It was a stupid, stupid move on my part. I did a search on Petfinder for medium-sized male dogs in my area, and his was among the first pictures I saw. I knew nothing about Chow Chows, and did a little research, and thought that might be the perfect breed for me. Frankly, it didn’t matter what they said, because I recognized Chowder as my dog from the moment I saw him. I even liked his name.
And boy, oh boy, was he cute. Chow Chows are beautiful, distinctive dogs. They have huge pumpkin heads that are exaggerated by luxuriant ruffs. They are fluffy. They have button eyes. They have large tails that curl over their backs. They have blue tongues. These good looks are actually a curse for the breed, however; they might look like teddy bear/lion hybrids, but they are no-nonsense guard dogs who would probably be horrified if they knew how preposterously cute they were.
I think that Chow Chows, like Shiba Inus, are not dogs for the masses. They require too much management, and they give too little in return for most people. In many ways, they are very feline, which isn’t a trait that most dog owners appreciate. If you are considering adopting a Chow Chow, I advise you to think about it many times, then write me via my Twitter account and let me talk you out of it.
Now that I’ve told you how I feel, here’s the breed guide.
What You Need to Know
- They have health problems because humans bred them for a certain look. Depending on how short their noses are, they might need special anesthesia. A lot of them have eye problems, most notably entropion. They overheat incredibly easily. They are prone to hotspots. Because of their coffee table bodies and short straight legs, they are prone to joint problems.
- Chow Chows are very selective in their choice of human companions. They tend to choose one person of the opposite sex, and that is their person. That’s very flattering for the human in question; however, even if a Chow Chow is completely devoted to their human, it does NOT mean they will obey them. Chow Chows also show absolutely no interest in some people, or even dislike certain people for reasons that are not always clear.
- They have a lot of weird personality quirks. They have NO IDEA of their actual size and seem to base their self-perception on their oversized heads. You’ll often see a Chow Chow in a new environment look dubiously at a doorway because he is not sure if he will be able to fit through it. They respect boundaries. Chowder never once stepped over the line of stones that marked my perennial garden — he automatically sensed that this was a barrier. Once our dog Ginger came and plowed straight into the garden so she could nibble on the tender ornamental grass, Chowder joined her, but not without pausing to consider the ramifications of his actions. (After that, I gave up on the garden.) Many Chows loathe Golden Retrievers (probably because Goldens don’t have the best manners in the world).
- In terms of energy level, they are low-to-moderate except in adolescence, where they are occasionally energetic. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have to exercise your Chow Chow; in fact, daily walks are recommended because Chow Chows need regular socialization throughout their lives.
- They like food, but they are not food-motivated. They are extremely difficult to train because they have more than a millennium of independent thinking in their lineage. As guard dogs, Chows were bred to make decisions about situations in the absence of their humans, and that is programming that is very difficult to undo. If you look at the dog obedience charts, Chow Chows are almost always at the top of the least obedient list, although they never seem to be able to take the crown from the Afghan Hound.
- Most of them have a high prey drive and will never give up on catching an animal. For that reason, I don’t recommend placing Chow Chows in homes with cats. (Yes, I know, please tell me a story about the one exception you knew to that rule. In exchange, I’ll tell you my stories about the rest of the time.)
- Chow Chows can be bullies. They enjoy when people are a little afraid of them. They give fantastic bluster. I used to watch Chowder freak out on Ginger and Maggie on rare occasions, only to find that he hadn’t actually hurt them at all. I think he used his fluff as a shield.
- Chow Chows will not tolerate disrespect or rough handling. They will bite if manhandled. In fact, any sort of training that involves roughness or trying to break the Chow’s spirit will fail miserably, and you will get the bite you so richly deserve.
Honestly, this just scratches the surface of what you need to know about Chow Chows. If you are considering this breed, you need to research, research, RESEARCH.
Characteristics of a Good Chow Owner
- Chow owners protect their dogs. With their formal notions of behavior, Chows don’t like when people act inappropriately, including things like hugging them, which is why CHOWS ARE NOT GOOD DOGS FOR PEOPLE WITH CHILDREN. I’ve said it before about other breeds and I’ll say it again for Chow Chows. You might be lucky enough to find a Chow who will tolerate your special snowflake, but that tolerance does NOT extend to said snowflake’s friends.
- Chow owners are relentless about socialization. Unlike most other dogs, who tend to become better-behaved over time, a Chow Chow’s tendency to guard house and home makes them increasingly prone to protectiveness. Chows need to get used to visitors to the home, and they need to be out on walks so they can see other people and dogs regularly.
- Chow Chow owners are experts on their breed. This is not optional. They have to be, to understand the breed’s numerous eccentricities.
- Chow Chow owners NEVER let their guard down. Chows are described as predictably unpredictable, so even if Fluffy was surprisingly tolerant of certain behavior before, that does NOT mean he’ll tolerate it the next time.
Finally, a few other tips
- If you have a Chow Chow and you want a second dog, I strongly recommend a beagle or beagle mix. The beagle’s crafty nature allows them to work out what motivates the fluffy idiot (as all beagles seem to view Chows), and they work around it nicely. Beagles LOVE living with a dog that doesn’t try to vie with them for affection and who will leave treats for later if they are distracted. They’ll let Pumpkin Head think he is running the show. Also, Chow Chows can be bullies and try to bluster their way around other dogs; Beagles will have none of that.
- If you are presented with a dog who is a Chow MIX, be aware that this is an enormously different thing than a purebred Chow Chow. Adding a dash of Chow Chow to the genetic mix can produce dogs with all sorts of personalities, which is why this breed guide, unlike almost all the other ones we have written, is really focused on purebred dogs only. Also, blue spots on the tongue doesn’t mean that a dog has Chow in it. Lots of breeds have blue spots. Only an entirely blue tongue means a dog is a Chow Chow (or Shar-Pei).
Anyway, if you are still considering this, ask yourself WHY you want a Chow Chow so much. Is it because they are fluffy? Aloof? Clean? Exceptionally cool? All of these are bad reasons to get a Chow, but I have another animal you might want to consider: a cat. Or, if you like the looks of the cream Chow above, consider a Samoyed, who has comparable fluff but a much sunnier personality.
LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: Extremely difficult. Too hard for you.
LEVEL OF OWNER COMMITMENT: Quit-your-job and stop-seeing-your-family level.