If you’re looking for a dog that’s more like a cat, your search might be over: meet the Chow Chow. More cat-like than dog-like, these refined, serious-minded pups can be standoffish and aloof with strangers, only dignifying their company to the people they really love and trust. Although they’re not overly affectionate, they’re incredibly loyal to their families and will protect them at all costs. Once their daily walk and playtime with you by their side is done, they love nothing more than a well-deserved lounge in bed. Preferably with the aircon on - that lion-like mane means they don’t cope well with heat or humidity.
Chow Chows are one of the world’s oldest dog breeds - artefacts from China’s Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–220 A.D.) have been discovered that depict them. These versatile dogs have been used for hunting, sporting and guarding as well as becoming the treasured companions for royalty and nobility.
Is it a lion or is it a dog? It’s actually a Chow Chow, but with their big, fluffy mane-like hair around their heads and shoulders, we don’t blame you for not being sure. Especially because Chow Chows are powerfully built compact dogs with large, fluffy paws, adding to their lion-like appearance.
There are a few things that make a Chow Chow distinctly a Chow Chow beyond their manes and medium, double coats that normally come in red, black, blue, cinnamon or cream. These include their dark almond eyes, set back in a slightly wrinkled face that’s somewhat scowling.
Perched on top of their head are tiny triangular ears that you can just see poking out of their mane. Chow Chows also have a blue-black tongue, not the usual pinkish dog tongue, and straight back legs which give them a stiff-legged gait.
Forget what you think you know about dogs: a Chow Chow isn’t your average people-pleasing, clownish and overly affectionate pup. Instead, these dignified, serious and refined dogs are best described as aloof, especially with strangers (although they’re deeply loyal to their family and loved ones). It’s in Chow Chows’ nature to be generally quiet and well-behaved, with a stubborn streak when needed.
Bred to be guard dogs, Chow Chows aren’t fierce or aggressive dogs, but they are natural protectors and are always on the lookout for strangers. A Chow Chow will take time to warm up to new people and pups but early socialisation can help. Good behaviour modelling by you helps too. This includes showing your Chow Chow everything is ok by making the first move and greeting newbies. Training them from puppyhood will help them be more accepting of new experiences - they can learn to get along with other dogs in their homes, although not cats.
A well socialised Chow Chow can make a great family pet, especially with older children. However, it’s important children understand Chow Chows aren’t very affectionate dogs and they don’t enjoy cuddles or being held.
Chow Chows are generally healthy and hardy dogs. Preventative care, like regular vet check ups, are the best way to ensure a happy and healthy life.
Although most older dogs are at risk of developing cancer, Chow Chows are more at risk of developing certain cancers that can appear when they’re younger. This includes skin cancer (melanoma). Normally, cancer can be treated with surgery and chemo. Early detection is important, so at your yearly vet check expect them to look for any lumps and bumps and do blood tests, if necessary.
Like most dog breeds, Chow Chows are at risk of a range of joint problems. These include hip and elbow dysplasia and patella luxation. Dysplasia is when the joints don’t form and fit together properly, causing pain and mobility issues. Weight management, physical therapy, medication and surgery can all help treat dysplasia. However, it’s an inherited condition that responsible breeders should screen for. Patella luxation is when the kneecap moves out of its normal position. This can affect a Chow’s walking and movements. Luxating patella can range from mild to severe and can be treated with medication or surgery.
With their deep set eyes, Chows can experience eye problems that affect their eyelids. These include ectropion (droopy eyelids or eyelids that roll outward) and entropion (eyelids that roll inward). Painful conditions, they can be managed in a range of ways, including eye drops and surgery. Chow Chows are also prone to eye issues that, if untreated, can lead to blindness, like cataracts and glaucoma. They may both be treated with surgery.
The endocrine system produces hormones that need to be well balanced for good health. Endocrine conditions normally cause your Chow’s body to produce too many, or too little, hormones. These conditions include hypothyroidism, which causes your Chow’s metabolism to slow down, leading to weight gain, hair loss and a lack of energy. They also include alopecia X - hair loss that normally affects dogs with thick undercoats. Both can be managed and treated in a range of ways, including medication.
Fairly easy care, Chow Chows are very clean dogs, easy to house train and don’t have that doggy smell. You will be spending plenty of time grooming that coat though.
Good behaviour might come naturally to a Chow Chow, but their coat isn’t naturally gorgeous - it needs lots of care and attention. Whether your Chow Chow is smooth or rough coated, their thick and fluffy double coat still needs regular grooming. Without regular grooming, their coat can become badly matted, especially around their head.
Give them a bath every month to keep their skin and coat healthy. Use a cool hair dryer to thoroughly dry your Chow after bath time. Even freshly washed, clean hair can mat if not dried properly. Bath time is a good time to trim or clip their nails - nails that are too long can be painful as they move.
Finally, brush their teeth every day to ensure a healthy mouth and gums.
Chow Chows do well on a diet of quality commercial dog food that’s suited to their life stage: puppy, adult or senior. Chow Chows can be prone to allergies, including food allergies. If your Chow has an allergy, normally they’ll have itchy skin around their feet, stomach, skin folds, and ears. Some owners choose a grain-free diet to avoid allergies, but it’s best to chat to your vet before making any diet changes.
With their medium exercise needs, it’s important a Chow doesn’t eat too many calories which they don’t then burn off: an overweight dog is at risk of a wide range of health issues. Keep an eye on how many treats they’re getting each day, as treat calories count towards their daily intake.
Although Chow Chows are alert, active dogs, their exercise needs are moderate. Sure, they love (and need) daily walks and playtime, but they won’t be signing up for a 10K run or long tramp any time soon. Your Chow can’t handle high impact exercise (like running) and rough play. Instead, aim for a few short walks a day, plus some playtime with you and their favourite toys.
Thanks to their double coats and plenty of fur, avoid exercising them during the hottest parts of the day. Chows don’t do well with heat or humidity.
The good news: Chows are super smart. The not-so-good news: they’re also pretty stubborn and aren’t interested in pleasing you. Chow Chows respond best to patient, positive and consistent training that’ll help strengthen your bond. Start when they’re still a puppy (once your vet says it’s ok) and they’ll get to grips with the basics like sit and come in no time.
Puppy school, which provides plenty of early socialisation opportunities, is ideal for Chow Chows because it helps them grow into well-mannered adult dogs. With their natural instinct to be protective and suspicious of strangers, early socialisation helps Chows learn to be more accepting of new people and pups. Take the lead in greeting strangers so your Chow learns that visitors are welcomed guests.