Complete Guide To The Chow Chow: Care, Grooming, Personality and More

Serious but never sullen, the Chow Chow is perhaps the world’s oldest breed. Their distinctive scowl reflects their sober personality but belies their whimsical side. Loyal to a fault, these unflappable dogs are devoted companions and faithful protectors.

I’ve worked with a handful of Chow Chow breeders over the last decade in my veterinary practice and have come to appreciate this breed greatly. There’s a wonderful sweet-tempered strain of Chows that I’ve been seeing over the past 5-10 years that is more friendly and outgoing than what the breed is typically known for.

Me Trying To Corral A Litter Of Chow Chow Puppies

However, there are a multitude of potential health issues that need to be addressed along with their extensive grooming requirements. Chows are wonderful dogs, but they do require a motivated owner in order to help their dog live a long and happy life.

How Big Do Chow Chows Get?

Male18″ – 20″ at the shoulder55-70 lbs
Female17″ – 18″ at the shoulder45-55 lbs

Chow Chows can be deceptively heavy. With their thick coat, you may underestimate just how big your dog is. Many dog breed guides will blanket statement that males and females are roughly the same size but that’s not been true in my experience.

What Do Chow Chows Look Like?

The venerable Chow boasts a lion-like mane, or ruff, and a powerful, muscular body. Weighing 45–70 pounds at 17–20 inches tall, they’re compact, rugged and seemingly spring-loaded, yet they’re not particularly nimble with a short, stilted gait.

Their thick, double coats can vary remarkably in length and come in two varieties — rough and smooth. Smooth coats are bear-like with a less prominent ruff. Rough coats are dense but full with a straight, coarse texture.

Colors include:

• Black
• Blue
• Red
• Cream
• Cinnamon

Small, almond-shaped eyes are deep and wide-set. Ears are small, triangular and held slightly forward. A bushy tail curves over the back.

What Kind Of Personality Do Chow Chows Have?

The standard line when it comes to Chow Chows is that they are reserved — they’re devoted to family yet wary of strangers. Aloof but not aggressive, they’re gentle companions for adults and less boisterous children — a noisy environment can make them uneasy.

Nowadays I’m seeing a more friendly version of the breed. Far more friendly and open than in years past. If this is what you’d like in a Chow, make sure you visit the parent dogs of any litter you’re interested in so you can see what their personality is like. You may only get to see the mother, but make sure you do meet her so you understand what your new puppy may be like.

Chows have a stubborn streak and need patient but firm owners willing to invest the time in training and early socialization. Consistency, reinforcement and praise are integral to success and will reward you with a loving, well-mannered friend.

What Are The Grooming Requirements Of Chow Chows?

Despite their luxurious coats, grooming a Chow Chow is straightforward. It takes time and commitment but requires no special techniques. Both rough- and smoothed-coated Chows have weighty double-coats that need similar care.

These dogs are bigger droolers at times than you may realize. With the mane of hair around their neck, it’s quite easy for that area to get wet, sticky, and difficult to brush unless you’re doing regular maintenance.

A thorough brushing with a slicker two to three times weekly is recommended to remove dead hair and thin the undercoat. But the ruff and hindquarters are vulnerable to matting and may need extra attention with a steel comb long enough to reach the skin. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — miss too many brushing and it’s off to the groomer.

My personal tip is to start at the bottom of an area of the body, combing out the lower section of hair first and then moving up. Do what works for you, however.

Some owners keep their Chows clipped short for convenience — a low-maintenance trim is better than stress or a matted coat. While their coats have both warming and cooling properties, they seem to like a short ‘do in the summer.

Others worry that shaving a Chow can change their coat forever. It can definitely change the texture of the hair when it grows fully back but it may provide your Chow Chow with more comfort if you live in a hotter environment.

Monthly bathing keeps their skin in top condition, but it’s critical to remove all mats before getting the dog wet. A blow-dry on the cool setting is comfortable.

What Are The Exercise Needs Of A Chow Chow?

Moderate exercise is enough to wear off their energy — they don’t tolerate humidity well and may overheat with strenuous activity. A brisk walk or a game of fetch followed by rest in a climate-controlled home is right up their alley — they’re not hard to please.

Walks should be done in the cooler parts of the day during the summer (early morning, later in the evening). Otherwise a good indoor play session will be enough for most Chow Chows, especially as they age.

What Is The Best Food For A Chow Chow?

Before we start with the food lists, just know that grain-free dog foods are a myth. There’s zero science showing that they are helpful. In fact, there’s increasing evidence that it’s causing issues in certain breeds of dogs. Food allergies are the only reason to even consider a grain-free diet but only choose one with the help of your veterinarian.

Best Puppy Food For Chow Chows:

Best Adult Food For Chow Chows:

I do tend to recommend larger dog food manufacturers over the smaller, boutique-style dog foods. In 20 years of being a veterinarian, I’ve just seen less issues with the major dog foods versus these small companies. There are fewer recalls and I find that they are more cost effective.

My philosophy on dog food is that most foods are fine for most dogs except in cases where a dog has a specific issue that requires a specialized dog food. For the vast majority of pet owners, the above foods are an excellent choice.

How Long Do Chow Chows Live?

8-12 years based on information from the AKC

What Health Conditions Do Chow Chows Have?

The Chow Chow does have a number of health issues that you need to be aware of which is why you really need to do your due diligence on any breeder you are getting your Chow from. In my experience, the most common health conditions that I see in Chows include:

  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Elbow Dysplasia
  • Entropion
  • Luxating Patellas
  • ACL Tears

Keep your Chow at a healthy weight (you should be able to feel the ribs under all that hair and there should be a waist distinctively smaller than the chest) and many of the orthopedic issues will be easier to manage (if present at all).

There are definitely Chows that remain incredibly healthy throughout their life, but I have seen enough issues with enough Chows to say that this breed is definitely one that should have pet insurance.

Where Can I Find Out More About Chow Chows?

The Chow Chow Club

AKC Breed Page

Where Can I Find a Chow Chow?

Breeder List From The Chow Chow Club (National Breed Club)

AKC Puppy Marketplace

Looking for a Rescue?

Interesting Facts About Chow Chows

Chow Chows have an entertaining and often mysterious story.

Did you know?

• They’re an Ancient Breed

The Chow Chow’s history goes so far back, the details aren’t entirely clear. They’re depicted in millennia-old Chinese artifacts, but historians also find Chow-like dogs in 11th-century writings by Marco Polo and Tibetan monks.

Some believe the Chow is uniquely Chinese and the ancestors of Spitz dogs. Others are convinced the breed is a mix of the Tibetan Mastiff and the Siberian Samoyed. We may never know.

Western Popularity Didn’t Surge Until the Late 1800s

Despite their longevity, Chow Chows didn’t get much attention in Europe or America until the latter half of the 19th century. Exhibited at the London Zoo in the 1820s as wild dogs from China, they didn’t find a patron until Queen Victoria took up their cause in 1897. First shown in the US in the 1890s, Chows were admitted by the AKC in 1903 as a non-sporting breed.

Were Chow Chows on The Menu?

It’s possible, but not likely. Chows earned their keep in China as hunting dogs, but they may have been eaten during times of famine. Some say their name is derived from the Cantonese phrase meaning “edible.” A more plausible explanation is that it’s an English slang — chow chow— an expression used to describe ships’ miscellaneous cargo.

• They’re Not Born With Blue Tongues

Chow Chows are born like every other puppy — with a pink tongue. The bluish hue develops as they grow and is complete by six months. Other breeds may have spots on their tongues, but the genetically similar Shar-pei is the only other breed with this trait.

• Swimming Isn’t the Safest Activity for Chows

Chow’s coats are so thick that they become waterlogged when wet. Some can swim, but it’s exhausting and could lead to trouble if they’re in a deep pool or the ocean far from shore.

• They’re a Good Thing

Chows aren’t heavily represented on the celebrity circuit, but they’ve had their share of famous owners. Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychoanalytics, kept one to identify if patients were calm before treatment — it worked. Home improvement maven Martha Stewart keeps two on set to the delight of audiences.

• A Chow Inspired Walt Disney’s Lady and the Tramp

The animated masterpiece, Lady and the Tramp, features two Cocker Spaniels, but it was the Chow Walt Disney gave to his wife that inspired an iconic scene. Hoping for a puppy for Christmas, Lillian Disney, was disappointed when given a box but gushed upon hearing yelping inside. And the rest is history!