The Quintessential Chow Chow

The Chow Chow is a stockily built, muscular and medium-haired dog that belongs to the Non-Sporting group. You can recognize it by its large head that’s complemented by a broad flat skull, short muzzle and wrinkles on his face. Often, these wrinkles end up forming a deep scowl.


His ears are erect, rounded and small. His tail curls and high above his lower back and he carries it with pride over his back. However, his hallmark is his blue-black tongue, a rarity among all dogs. In fact, this is one of the two breeds of dogs in the world to have a blue-black tongue, the other breed being the Shar Pei, yet another Chinese breed.

Breed standards: The general characteristics of this breed comprise its north Chinese origins, where it was specifically bred as a hunting, pulling and herding dog that also doubled up as a watchdog.

Today, it is a companion dog, but it is essential to remember his roots while evaluating his breed type.

Appearance: Your regular Chow Chow is no parlor dog. On the contrary, he’s powerful and sturdy, with a stocky build to match. This erect Arctic dog is medium-sized and has a strong muscular body that’s complemented by a heavy bone structure. One more interesting feature of the Chow Chow that rates him as distinctive is his erect hind legs.

His body: He has a compact body, short coupled, broad and deep and is supported by straight, strong legs. If you look at him from one side, his hind legs, you’ll find, are very slightly angulated while the hock joint and metatarsals lie directly beneath the hip joint. This structure gives him his trademark short and stilted gait that sets him off as unique.

His head: The Chow Chow carries his skull and stop proudly and erectly. Though they are both large in comparison to the size of his body, it’s not disproportionate to make him seem either top heavy or a dog with a low carriage. His top skull remains broad and flat from one side to another and from front to back.

He has perfect bone structure, something that does not detract from his coarse coat and loose skin. If you see his profile, you’ll find that the top lines of his muzzle and skull are almost parallel, and are joined by a moderate stop. His stop is made to appear steeper than it really is due to his padded brows.

His muzzle, though short when compared with the length of the top skull, is hardly ever lesser than one-third of the length of his head. His broad muzzle is distinctive in its own way, being well shaped just below his eyes. The depth and width of his muzzle are equal and ideally should seem to be equal from its base to its tip.

His head, as you will see, is large with a short, deep and broad muzzle that’s set off by a ruff. He’s a fantastic combination of grace and substance that produce an active and agile pet. He may either have a rough double coat or a smooth one, but no matter which he has, he is a unique mix of dignity and sophistication, with his characteristic blue-black tongue, scowl on his face and a stilted walk. If he looks square, this is achieved by a perfect bone structure, complemented by padding of the muzzle and equally expanded lips.

His upper lips cover the lower lips completely when he closes his mouth, and never hangs loose. Have you taken a look at his nose? It is large, broad and black with wide nostrils.

However, the fault in his nose is that it is spotted or another color but black. Only blue Chow Chows have a deep blue or slate nose.

His mouth and tongue: Ideally, to conform to the breed standards, he must have a solid black mouth. You will generally find that the mouths of Chow Chows have lips whose edges are black, and the tissues of their mouth are almost always black, while the gums too are generally black.

This breed’s hallmark is its blue-black tongue, and that includes the top surface and its edges—n fact, to be ideal, the darker the tongue the better. The disqualifier is a tongue tinged with red or pink on the top surface and sides or one that has one or more spots of red or pink.

His teeth: His teeth are strong with a sharp bite.

His eyes: Dark brown and deep set, your Chow Chow’s wide set and obliquely shaped eyes are of medium size. In fact, they are almond-shaped. If he conforms to the standard, your pet could well have an Oriental appearance with a mysterious, quiet and thoughtful expression.

The black rims of his eyes with lids don’t turn in. But equally, they don’t droop either and the pupils of his eyes are clearly visible. What would be seen as a serious fault in him is his susceptibility to suffering from Entropion or Ectropion, or if his pupils are wholly or partly hidden by loose ears.

His ears: You could very easily fall in love with this breed just for his small and triangular shaped ears. Just a little thick, they taper slightly at the tips, but remain stiff and erect with just a hint of a forward tilt.

Set wide apart with its inner corner upon the skull, there’s one fault in his ears—hey flop as he walks. His are termed as drop ears—ne that breaks at any point beginning from the base of the ears and going up to the tips. Alternatively, his ears could also lie parallel to the highest point of the skull.

His scowl: This is one of his hallmarks and is often misunderstood as a sign of meanness. But no, it would be doing him a grave injustice if you based his personality on his scowl. But really, though he scowls, he is actually a very dignified, regal, discerning, sedate and snobbish dog, always showing his independent nature in all that he does.

Let’s examine the source of the scowl. Have you noticed that your Chow Chow has a marked brow with an inch of padded skin just above the inner and upper parts of his eyes? His skin is so loose that it’s really not at all difficult to fold the skin into brows that form frowns, or even a distinct furrow between his eyes that you can first spot at the base of his muzzle and trace all the way up to his forehead. The fault in his scowl is his excessively loose skin, which is considered undesirable.

His neck and body: He has a strong, muscular neck, well arched and long enough to bear his proud head above the top line when standing at attention. His short but compact and sinewy body, beginning from the chest, is broad and deep down in the flank. In fact, you will never find his chest narrow or slab-sided. His top line is straight, strong and level right from the withers to the root of his tail. His ribs are situated close to each other and are well arched. Though the spring of his front ribs remain narrow at the bottom ends, yet it gives the shoulder and upper arm a smooth fit against the wall of his chest. However, the base of his chest is broad and deep and goes all the way down to the tips of his elbows. One serious fault in his chest is that he may suffer from difficult breathing if he has a narrow or slabsided chest.

He has muscular loins, though short, broad and deep. The croup is short and broad with a strong rump and developed thigh muscles. To be ideal and in conformity with the standard, check to see if his body, back, coupling and croup are short since together they give this animal his square build. Lastly, his tail, set high and carried close to the back follows the trail of the spine.

His forequarters: Your Chow Chow has strong shoulders that start to show muscular development right from the tips of his shoulder blades. The spine of his shoulder forms an angle of about 55º with the horizontal and forms an angle with the upper arm of about 110º, leading to limited reach of his forelegs.

The length of his upper arm is never shorter than that of his shoulder blade. His elbow joints are set well back along his chest wall with the elbows neither turning in nor out. His forelegs are erect beginning from the elbow to the foot and are supported by heavy bone structure that remains proportionate with the rest of his body. If you view his legs from the front, you will find his forelegs parallel and widely spaced and evenly balanced with his broad chest.

His pasterns, though short, are upright. His wrists too, do not knuckle over and his feet are round, compact and feline and stand with good support from thick toe pads. His dewclaws can be easily removed.

His hindquarters: The Chow Chow has a broad and strong rear body with good muscular structure in his hips and thighs. He may be bone-heavy but the weight of his rear and front bones are almost equal. If you see it from the rear, you will find his legs to be straight, parallel and widely spaced, equal to his broad pelvis. His stifle joints have the bare minimum angulations and are well-knit, stable and pointing forward. His joint bones should be clean and sharp and his hock joint is well let down and seems almost straight.

He is strong at the hocks, being well knit and firm, never bowed or breaking forward or slanted to one side. The hock joint and metatarsals are in a straight line below the hip joint, short and perpendicular to the ground. A serious fault would be an unsound stifle or hock joints.

His coat: A Chow Chow could either have a rough coat or a smooth one. However, both are double-coated. Let’s consider the rough coat first. The rough coat is rough from the outside, abundant and dense and could either be straight and off standing but coarse-textured with a soft, thick and woolly undercoat.

His coat on the neck, shoulders and nape forms a mane, giving him a very leonine look. In fact, the rough Chow Chow’s long hair and soft woolly undercoat serves as insulation against heat and cold while his coarse outer coat adds to his beauty. Puppies have soft, thick and woolly coats with the coat forming a thick ruff around the head and neck, as if framing and protecting the head.

This coat and ruff are generally found to remain longer with dogs than with their female counterparts. The smooth coated Chow Chow is judged on the same lines as his rough counterpart except when it comes to the rough Chow Chow’s quantity and distribution of the outer coat. On the other hand, the smooth Chow Chow has a hard, dense and smooth outer coat with a definite undercoat. In addition, the standard dictates that there should be no ruff or feathering on the leg or tail.

Coat length: Though the coat length may vary from Chow Chow to Chow Chow, a greater emphasis should be given to its thickness, texture and condition rather than length. Even if it is long, you needn’t trim or shape it though you might consider trimming his whiskers, feet and metatarsals.

Though the smooth coated Chow is judged by the parameters as his rough coated counterpart, yet they differ in the amount and distribution of the outer coat. These parameters are not applicable to the smooth coated Chow since he has a hard, dense and smooth outer coat with a definite undercoat. To be the ideal Chow Chow, he should neither have ruff nor any feathering on the legs or tail.

Coat color: The color of his coat may vary from being clear colored, solid or solid with light shades in the ruff, tail and featherings. Usually, you can spot a typical Chow Chow in five colors—red ranging from light golden to deep mahogany, black, blue, cinnamon ranging from light fawn to deep cinnamon and cream.

However, there aren’t any white Chows, but light cream is usually passed off as white. The blue Chow Chow is really a watered down version of black, and perhaps the least beautiful of them all.

Gait: To conform to the standard, your Chow Chow needs to have a good gait. His gait must be sound and straight, he should move with agility and quick and brief steps. His rear gait should be short and stilted because of the erectness of his rear legs. Viewed from his rear, you can see just the effect of his stilted action on his gait.

While his rear leg moves both upward and forward from the hip in a straight and stilted fashion with a slight bounce to it in the rump area, his legs neither extend far, forward nor backward. His hind foot thrusts forward with great impact—n action that transfers power to the body in a straight line due to the minimal action of the rear leg angulations.

In order to send on this power to front part of its body to the best of its ability, the Chow Chow’s coupling must be short, and it must not have a roll through the midsection. When seen from the rear, the line of bone from hip joint to pad stays straight even as he walks.

As his speed increases, the hind legs incline forward, though just a little. If his stifle joints do not point in the line of his travel, he will have bowlegs. When you view him from the front, you will find that his line of bone from his shoulder joint to his pad is a straight line as he walks, but as his speed increases, his forelegs no longer move in parallel lines but tilt forward slightly.

To conform to the breed standard, his front legs should not swing out or in arcs but his front and rear parts should be equal and in synergy. Though this breed is known to be somewhat slower in speed, yet the Chow Chow shows remarkable endurance all due to his sound and straight rear leg that gives him direct and usable energy.

Body size and proportions: The average height these dogs go up to is about 17-20 inches at the withers. The highest point of his withers is calculated as the distance from his fore chest to the point of his buttocks. But a serious fault in him is his overall appearance if it is anything other than square.

Do you find the base of his chest in line with the tips of his elbows? When you examine the width from the front and rear, his chest is equal in width, besides also being broad. If he conforms to these proportions, he is the quintessential Chow Chow. When you judge a Chow Chow pup, don’t give them any leeway if he doesn’t conform to these proportions. For instance, the ideal height of the Chow Chow must be between 46-56 cm.; he must weigh 20-32 kg and must stand ranging between 9 kg and 22 kg.

While females of the species are only slightly smaller than the males and weigh proportionately lesser too, an average adult weighs about 20 kg-25 kg.

Temperament: Don’t underestimate your Chow Chow’s aloofness for his snobbery. You wouldn’t believe it but under that thick mane, you’ve got a super intelligent pet with an independent spirit and a regal air. His inherent nature causes him to be just a little reserved and cautious with strangers. He does not like any show of aggression or timidity from fellow dogs.

In addition, his deep-set eyes give him just a little peripheral vision. Your dog is the kind of neighbor everyone wishes for but few people ever get: he minds his own business just like a true blue aristocrat. He does not go out searching for trouble, but if provoked, will fight for justice and protect his master. If, however, you do come across a bad-tempered Chow Chow, bear in mind that he is not representative of the breed. A puppy mill perhaps bred him for a quick buck. So, don’t judge his breed by his aggressive streak. 

Please note: This article is part of a collection of dog-related content that we purchased the rights to. Opinions expressed may or may not agree with those espoused by Master Dog Trainer Adam G. Katz. When in doubt, please refer to the advice given in Adam’s dog training book.  This article is provided for your enjoyment, only. It’s relevance to real world working dog training may be limited.