Artwork depicting Chow Chow-like dogs has been dated at over 2,000 years old, establishing the breed as one of the oldest in existence. Throughout the centuries, the Chow has been an all-purpose breed in China; performing duties such as wolf hunting, pulling carts, guarding temples and homes, and many others. It was (and is still) also eaten as a delicacy.
It is uncertain how the breed got its name, but some think it came from a slang term meaning goods brought from the Orient. Because China remained very closed to the western world, the Chow did not appear in other countries until the 1800s, and was not recognized by the Kennel Club until the 1920s. Subsequently, they became popular pets among the wealthy.
The first striking impression the Chow gives is that of a cross between a lion and a teddy bear. Its fluffy coat and round, friendly face give it an endearing look. The second most memorable feature is the Chow's mouth, which is black inside with a bluish tongue. If Chow blood is suspected in a crossbreed, opening the dog's mouth may be all it takes to settle the argument. Overall, he gives a compact, dignified appearance. His coat has two layers, the outer being either shaggy or smooth. He may be black, blue, red, fawn, cream or white, with some gradual changes in shade. No patches are permitted for the show ring. His ears are erect and slightly rounded at the tip.
In personality, the Chow Chow tends to be more stand-offish than many breeds; quiet, and not terribly interested in meeting strangers. This quiet, one-man attitude is good for owners who do not like noisy dogs, but it can be a problem for large families and those who wish to take their dog to social gatherings. Extensive socialization at the puppy stage may help make him more outgoing.
Despite his aloofness, the Chow will often make a good family dog because he is patient and rarely timid or aggressive. He is usually very loyal to his family, but most faithful to the member who handles his training. When strangers visit, he will likely keep his distance and not respond to encouragement for contact with them.
Daily exercise and play is good for the Chow's health and contentment, but he needs less of it than many breeds do. He may be content to stay on his own for most of the day, and is therefore a good choice for full-time workers.
Because they do not make new friends easily, it is best to introduce other pets to the Chow when he is young, rather than getting the Chow first and adding other pets later. When he is around other animals and children from puppyhood, he gets along with them well.
Without firm handling from a dominant owner, the Chow Chow can become headstrong. It is important to be consistent in training and employ immediate correction or reward. All family members should follow the pattern set by the handler.