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History of the Chow Chow

Photos of Chow Chows from years gone by:

'Chow VIII', 1903 Ch Ukwong Saul of Weircroft Ch Ukwong King Solomon
* Ch Chow VIII - 1895:
The Chow Chow upon which the Breed Standard
is said to have been based.
* Ch Ukwong Saul of Weircroft - 1967:
The Chow Chow the majority of UK specialist judges choose as most closely representing the breed standard. (Photo courtesy Dr S Draper - The Book of the Chow Chow).
* Ch Ukwong King Solomon - 1970's:
Son of Saul mentioned above - he is the Chow Chow that is internationally much respected as being very correct according to the breed standard. (Photo courtesy Sally Anne Thompson).


Edward C Ash's book 'Dogs - Their History and Development' makes mention of excavations done at the Tombs of Cheops (IVth Dynasty - 3600 BC) in Mongolia, Sinking & Tibet where Chow-like dogs were unearthed in tombs with their masters. These Chow-like dogs were called Khufu dogs and were of the Spitz type.

Around about the 11th century BC, the Chow must have migrated with the barbaric tribes of the north, as they attacked China. "Foreign Chows" or "Tartar War Dogs" were of Arctic origin, so named and described in ancient records as heavily built with harsh, bristly hair, straight/stiff back legs, blue tongues, black mouths, lips just touching, not overlapping. Mention was made of their being lion-like in appearance, powerful, and they were known for their strength and hunting abilities. On harness, tethered to a warrior on horseback, the dog would be let out on a length of rope, allowed to bring down the enemy's horse...

Once accepted in China as a multi-functional breed, it was used as draught dog, hunter, guards of cattle herds and homes and when prosperous times waned or the dog's health deteriorated, as a source of food and fur (as all dogs were then used).

The Tang Emperor of the Yunan Province appointed 10 000 men to care for 5 000 blue tongued hunters. They hunted everything, from big game down to pheasants and quails. It was documented that they were high pitched yelpers when chasing game, but silent when confronting intruders, once biting, not apt to let go. In the Yunan province where the dogs were used to hunt musk deer, they were described as Chow dogs of larger size and weight, very active and sure-footed.

Other Chinese chronicles mention: "...square dogs that look fierce, like lions, whom they resemble much by neck being well covered with hair, face, colour and nails, falling upon bears and boars. They seldom do bark except in their hunting chase, and then they follow their game through woods, thickets, thorns and most difficult places..." "..strange animals and utterly different from any other breed being of a suspicious nature, surly and hostile to strangers but exceedingly courageous." The Book of Rites (7th Century BC) classified this dog as a hunting dog, used to attack wolves and leopards, makes mention of its remarkable powers of scent, its tactics on line and its great strength - which is why it is often depicted in harness.

There is the well-known painting done nearly 2000 years ago, picturing a dog, much like the Chow of today, lying underneath a table, well groomed, red with the same expression on the face. Records surviving the 225 BC destructions, chronicle these dogs as having large, broad heads, short muzzles, small eyes, lips not overlapping - just touching, devoted to their keepers but hostile to strangers, excellent hunters and herders, used in wars. There is also mention of the exceptional blue Chows bred in the monasteries in Tibet, where the monks had been detailing their breedings (stud books) since 13th century AD.

In 1780 Queen Victoria was presented with one that lived a long, lonely life in a large cage at Windsor. In the Rev. Gilbert White's book 'The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne' (1789), he makes mention of a young gentleman who "..brought home a dog and a bitch of the Chinese breed from Canton, such as are fattened in that country for the purpose of being eaten ... with coarse bristling hair on their backs ... their hind legs were unusually straight without any bend at the hock or ham, to give them an awkward gait when they trotted ... their eyes were jet black, small and piercing; the inside of their lips and mouths of the same colour as their tongues blue." In the UK in 1840, there was a newspaper account of several Chows in London Zoo, referred to as the Wild dog of China.

In 1887 the Earl of Lonsdale took an interest in the breed, bringing the first good Chows to England. Given to his relative, the Marchioness of Huntley, her daughter Lady Granville Gordon kept the strain alive, and got the breed recognized by the British Kennel Club. The Chow Chow breed standard is said to be based on Ch Chow VIII. In those years, the smooth Chow was as common as the rough Chow, imported together as one breed.

Whilst maintaining it's unique characteristics over the centuries, the Chow Chow is far better understood in temperament today. It still does not trust strangers but it is not the dog of war and fierce temperament documented in centuries gone by. A well bred and well socialised Chow today, makes an excellent family dog, good, quiet guard, and beware! it still has very strong hunting instincts!