Is there anything cuter than a Chow Chow? Fluffy, double-coated dogs with a ruff that looks like a lion’s mane, tiny little feet that almost look too delicate to be attached to a dog, and a weird, funny, little walk that comes from her stiff back legs. She has a pudgy face with a rather smooshed snout. She has stiff, cat ears, and she has that strange little blue tongue that makes her look like she’s been licking up ink. A Chow Chow is about as close to a living teddy bear as you will ever see in real life. Except that many of these dogs can have a temper and may turn on you quickly, being just as likely to bite you as she is to lick you. At least, that’s what everybody says.
The Root of the Behavior
The Chow Chow is among one of the oldest dog breeds in the world, dating back over 2,000 years. The Chow Chow is a native of northern China, where her proper name is Songshi Quan, which translates to “puffy lion dog,” which is about as accurate a breed name as one could ever hope for. Chow Chows were used as temple guards during the Han dynasty, about 150 years BCE. In Tibet, a blue-coated Chow Chow was developed and can still be found. The curious stone statues of lions with full tails and erect ears that that were used at Chinese temples and palaces and, in modern America, are seen at Chinese restaurants and Buddhist temples are commonly called “foo dogs,” and are actually statues of Chow Chows. In addition to being temple guardians, the Chow Chow was used as a hunting dog. By the Tang dynasty, approximately 700 CE, Chow Chows were kept as royal protectors. Emperor Ling bred Chow Chows and treated them as members of his royal household, by feeding them the best rice and meat. They had their own servants and military escort. They slept on fine carpets and were awarded courtly titles.
After the end of the Tang dynasty, the Chow Chow was used as a working dog, hunting, herding, and guarding. Records indicate that the Chow Chow accompanied the Mongols as they pushed into Europe and the middle east. The Chow Chow was even used to pull sleds, as noted by Marco Polo. China has gone through extreme poverty in its history, and occasionally, the Chow Chow has even been used for food. The Chow Chow is an old breed that has been bred and trained to do a variety of tasks. You might expect that a dog breed capable of doing so many things must be a very intelligent dog, and you would be right. All of the many jobs Chow Chows have held in their long history have produced a dog with a stubborn streak a mile long who is intensely loyal to her family, very protective of her loved ones, and more than a little distrustful and standoffish with strangers.
Encouraging the Behavior
The Chow Chow has all of the ingredients to have a rotten temperament. She is smart, stubborn, and picky. Chow Chows bond very closely with one or two people, and they are often very territorial. The Chow Chow is not recommended as a family dog, especially given how likely children are to not recognize an animal’s space. The Chow Chow looks much more cuddly than she really is, and she is not as likely to tolerate being treated like a living stuffed animal, the way a Labrador might. That being said, a Chow Chow can make an excellent companion for the right household. A Chow Chow is more likely to be a good companion to a family with older children, capable of understanding and respecting a dog’s personality and limits.
When it comes to living with a Chow Chow, you should realize that the dog is more stubborn than any other animal you may have encountered. If you’re going to have a Chow Chow in your family, you need to decide at the outset that you will be more stubborn than she is. Chow Chows are very smart and will exploit any weakness you might show. Make sure that she has to respond to a command before any good thing she gets. For instance, require her to sit and stay before giving her a meal or taking her for a walk. You need to establish your leadership early on. Because of the Chow Chow’s territorialism, it’s important to socialize her early and often. Expose your dog to a wide variety of people and places, and come prepared with treats. Teach her that being tolerant of others will result in a reward. Show her that good behavior results in rewards and she will work to earn them.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Chow Chows have often been compared to lions. They have a lion’s mane, small paws, and are virtually fearless. But a better comparison would be to a domestic cat. Chow Chows are somewhat low energy as they enjoy dozing at your feet rather than accompanying you on a run. And they are more likely to take your seat on the couch than sit at your feet. Like a cat, they are clever and stubborn, and they do not respond well to physical threats or punishment. Unlike a cat, however, a Chow Chow can really hurt you if you decide to kick her or beat her, and she will likely not respond to your commands anyway. The best way to train your dog and get her to respond to you is to show her that obeying you is really in her best interest. If she gets off the couch when you insist, she will get a toy. If she accepts grooming without snapping, she will get treats. Once she sees a reason behind your request, she will be much more likely to listen to you.
Any dog can potentially be aggressive, but some dogs are more likely to be aggressive than others. Chow Chows can be intensely territorial and have a naturally dominant personality, however, with the right training, she can be an absolute delight. We often refer to dogs as man’s best friend. For the Chow Chow, this is very literal. If she loves you, she will stand by you no matter what. Smart, beautiful, loyal; who could ask for anything more?