It’s hard to miss a chow chow, with its signature lion-like mane and teddy bear face. Learn more about what’s under all that fluff.
1. THEY’RE AN OLD BREED.
As with most dog breeds, the chow chow's beginnings are a little unclear. It’s believed that the dogs have been around for roughly 2000 to 3000 years. Historians have found records of a chow-like dog in texts from the 11th century, and Marco Polo wrote about them in his travels. Some believe the chow is a result of mixing the mastiff of Tibet with the Samoyed in northern Siberia. Others insist the chow influenced the Samoyed, the Norwegian elkhound, the keeshond, and the Pomeranian. Some suspect that the Siberian dogs made their way to Mongolia, and were eventually brought to China by the Mongols. The bear-like dogs were then welcomed into Tibetan monasteries.
2. THE CHINESE USED THEM AS WORKING DOGS.
While originally from the north, the chow has most frequently been seen in southern China and is often considered indigenous to the region surrounding Canton. China used these fluffy pups as working dogs; they were trained to hunt, guard, pull sleds, and sometimes herd cattle. One emperor during the Tang dynasty adored the dogs so much, he had over 5000 chows with 10,000 men trained to hunt with them.
3. THEIR NAMES ARE NOT OF CHINESE ORIGIN.
We might call the dogs chow chows, but in China, the breed is called songshi quan. The name ‘chow chow’ comes from a pidgin-English term used to describe anything coming from the East in the 18th century. The catch-all phrase was meant to describe various knick-knacks or tchotchkes like dolls, porcelain, and other curios and, despite being living creatures, the dogs were roped in with the other baubles. As a result, the chow chow inherited the name from merchants who could not be bothered to properly mark what they were shipping.
4. SIGMUND FREUD HAD ONE.
The famous psychoanalyst once had a chow chow named Jofi that would frequently sit in on his sessions. The furry dog made children feel more relaxed, and even helped Freud analyze his patients: Jofi had a way of telling who was nervous and would only approach calm patients. “Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, quite unlike people, who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate in their object relations,” he wrote.
5. THEY HAVE A TOOTHY GRIN …
Chows have a little something extra in their mouths: Two extra teeth! Most dogs only sport 42 teeth, but the chow has 44.
6. … AND AN UNUSUAL TONGUE
One thing that might surprise someone new to the breed is the chow’s uniquely-colored tongue. As puppies, the dogs have standard pink tongue, but with age, their tongues turn much darker. Full grown chow chows have blue-black tongues that look almost lizard-like. The only other dog to sport this unusual tongue is the Chinese Shar-Pei.
7. THEIR COATS HAVE VARIETY.
According to the American Kennel Club, chow chows come in five colors: black, blue, cinnamon, cream, and red. Their coats can also either be smooth or rough.
8. KEEP THEM AWAY FROM THE WATER.
That iconic double coat may look good, but it can cause issues around water. The heavy fur can weigh the dogs down when wet, leading to some lackluster swimming skills. If you don’t know how your chow will fare in the water, it’s best to exclude them from trips to the beach or pool.
9. THEIR BACK LEGS ARE STRAIGHT.
Unlike other dogs, the chow's back legs are completely straight, which gives them a somewhat stilted gait.
10. ONE INSPIRED A SCENE IN A DISNEY MOVIE.
One Christmas, Walt Disney bought his wife Lillian a pet chow chow. He felt like he needed some presentation when handing over the puppy, so he put it inside a hat box. Lillian was a little disappointed when she first saw the box—until she realized there was a yelping puppy inside. A similar scene made its way into the movie The Lady and the Tramp, when Lady is also given as a Christmas gift.
11. THEY CAN BE A LITTLE STANDOFFISH.
The chow has a bad rap for being a kind of a jerk. The dogs are often aggressive and distrustful of strangers; some insurance companies refuse to cover chow chow owners. Typically, the chow is a one-person dog that bonds to one owner and scorns the rest. This rude and sometimes dangerous behavior can be prevented with proper training and socialization. With the right upbringing—and plenty of exercise—the chow can be the perfect furry companion.