Chow Chows

The Chow Chow has several unique characteristics: a blue-black tongue, the coat of a teddy bear, the scowl of a lion and a distinctive stilted gait. He is a Chinese breed, hailing from that country’s chilly northern region, and was developed as an all-purpose dog capable of hunting, herding, pulling a cart or other vehicle and guarding the home.

The Chow Chow is a medium-size dog, weighing 45 to 70 pounds. He has the typical spitz appearance: a deep muzzle and broad head set off by a ruff, small triangular ears, a smooth or rough double coat in red, black, blue, cinnamon and cream, and a bushy tail curled tightly over his back. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering bringing a Chow Chow into your home

Is the Chow Chow the Right Dog for You?

Despite his teddy-bear appearance, the Chow Chow is not a lovey-dovey kind of dog. He is independent and dignified, usually attaching himself to a single person. The Chow is protective and will certainly have affection for his entire family, but most of his devotion will be given to that one special person.

He is distrustful of strangers and may be aggressive toward dogs he doesn’t know. The Chow is highly territorial. Intruders or people he doesn’t know will be warned off with a deep growl and perhaps something a little more physical if they don’t take the hint.

All too often, Chow Chows have a reputation for being aggressive toward people, which is not acceptable. Early and frequent socialization is essential to helping them develop the confidence and discrimination they need to recognize what is a threat and what is normal. Buy a Chow Chow only from a breeder who raises puppies in the home and has exposed them to many different people, sounds and experiences before they go to their new homes. When he comes from such a background and continues to be socialized after going to his new home, a Chow can be a good family dog, ideally with older children who understand how to treat him with respect. Keep in mind, too, that children may be disappointed in the Chow’s complete lack of interest in cuddling or being hugged.

The Chow Chow has a low activity level and can live happily in any home, including an apartment or condo. One or two brief walks daily will satisfy his exercise needs.

This intelligent but sometimes stubborn dog can be a challenge to train. He responds well to clicker training and positive reinforcement techniques such as play, praise and food rewards, but he also likes to do things his own way. To be successful, you must be patient and you must be willing to try many different methods to see what works. Find a trainer who has an extensive bag of tricks and is experienced with spitz breeds. Keep training sessions short and fun so the Chow Chow doesn’t get bored.

The Chow Chow needs to live in the house. It’s an unhappy Chow Chow who is relegated to the backyard with little or no human companionship.

Variations of the Chow Chow

Stay away from breeders who try to charge more for a Chow in any color other than red or who tries to sell you a Chow in fancy colors such as lilac, silver, chocolate, white and champagne. Chows come only in red, black, blue, cinnamon and cream. Any other color description is simply a creative marketing term. Nor is it true that colors other than red are rare. If a breeder isn’t honest about coat colors, it’s fair to wonder what else he or she isn’t honest about.

Grooming requirements depend on the type of coat your Chow has. A smoothcoated Chow needs brushing only weekly. One with a rough coat should be brushed every other day. Both varieties shed heavily twice a year, during which time the coat will come out in handfuls. The only other grooming he needs is regular nail trimming, ear cleaning and dental hygiene.

5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Chow Chow Puppy

  1. Finding a good breeder is more important than finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. For a list of breeders, visit the website of the Chow Chow Club.
  2. Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health problems in Chow Chows aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an adult dog, most of them can be ruled out. In addition, a Chow Chow can live 8 to 12 years, so an adult dog will still be a part of your family for a long time to come.
  3. Puppy or adult, take your Chow Chow to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
  4. Don’t ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store. You’re more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to housetrain puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.
  5. Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Health Issues Common to Chow Chows

All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.

The Chow Chow has some health problems that can be a concern, especially if you aren’t careful whom you buy from. They include hip and elbow dysplasia, patellar luxation, autoimmune thyroiditis, and eye problems such as cataracts, distichiasis and glaucoma. Stomach cancer and gastric torsion are also seen in the breed.

The Chow Chow Club, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For a Chow Chow to achieve CHIC certification, he must have an OFA or PennHIP evaluation for hips, OFA elbow, thyroid and patella (knee) evaluations, and an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation. Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database.

At a minimum, ask the breeder to show evidence that both of a puppy’s parents have hip scores of Excellent, Good or Fair from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or a PennHIP score, as well as certification from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation that the eyes are healthy. Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Hip Dysplasia
Medium $1,500-$6,000
Elbow Dysplasia
High $1,500-$4,000
Patellar Luxation Medium $1,500-$3,000
Cataracts Medium $1,500-$5,000
Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (Bloat) Medium $1,500-$7,500
Diabetes Mellitus High $3,000-$10,000
Myotonia High $500-$1,500
Estimates based on claims paid by Embrace Pet Insurance


Pet Insurance for Chow Chows

Pet insurance for Chow Chows costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Chow Chows are much more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace pet insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Chow Chows are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Chow Chow is when he’s a healthy puppy. You can’t predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can’t get when you need it the most.

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