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Get to Know the Chow Chow: China’s Chosen One

Was the teddy bear really modeled after this dog breed?

Caroline Coile  |  Jan 19th 2015


There’s a story that the teddy bear was modeled after a Chow Chow puppy. Supposedly, Queen Victoria was so besotted with her Chow puppy that she carried the dog everywhere, so friends made a stuffed version. Chow babies certainly look like teddy bears, but adult Chows are far more dignified (unless nobody’s looking!).

More interesting things about Chow Chows

  • The Chow Chow may be confused with the Chinese Shar-Pei. The Chow has longer hair, a longer tail, and a shorter muzzle.
  • DNA studies indicate that the Chow Chow is among the 14 most-ancient AKC breeds. The dog has been known in China for hundreds or even thousands of years.
  • Their exact origin isn’t known, but it was possibly Mongolia, Northern China, or Siberia.
  • They may have been used as hunting dogs initially and later kept in monasteries and as guardians. Some accounts say they accompanied Mongolian armies in the 13th century.

  • The Chow was also likely used for food.
  • The Chow is a prototypical Spitz breed, with curled tail, pointed ears, and stand-off fur, typical of dogs from cold climates. It is related to, and may even be the ancestor of, the Samoyed, Pomeranian, Norwegian Elkhound, and Keeshond.

  • They were named Chow Chows when they came to England in the late 18th century; the name probably comes from a term meaning Oriental knickknack.
  • Queen Victoria was a proponent of the breed in the 19th century.
  • In 1936, a Chow named Champion Choonam Hung Kwong won Best in Show at the world’s largest dog show, Crufts, in England.

  • In the 1930s, one top show Chow from England was sold to the United States for the equivalent of more than one million dollars. It was the highest price ever paid for a dog at the time.
  • The breed was very popular in the 1930s and again in the 1980s.
  • The breed soared in popularity in America in the 1980s, peaking as the sixth most-popular breed. They have since plummeted in popularity. They are currently the 70th most popular breed, down from 60th a decade ago.

  • The black or blue tongue is a breed characteristic. A fable of how the Chow got his blue tongue says that when God was painting the sky blue, he spilled some paint, and the Chow licked it up.
  • The Chow has a distinctive stilted gait. Their show standard calls for straighter angulation at the knee compared to most other breeds of dogs.
  • The breed comes in “smooth” (which is between short and medium in length) or the more popular “rough” (which is medium to long in length). Both have coarse hair that stands off the body, so the dog appears puffy.

  • Color can be solid red, black, gray, cinnamon, or cream.
  • Although the Chow Chow has competed at the Westminster dog show since 1999, the breed has yet to win Best in Show there. But it has won the Non-Sporting group eight times, and holds the record for most consecutive group placements, placing each year from 1932 to 1942.
  • Martha Stewart regularly competes at the Westminster show with her top winning Chows.

  • Owners include Sigmund Freud, Calvin Coolidge, Bijan, Walt Disney, David Lloyd George, Ringo Starr, Sally Struthers, Uma Thurman, and Kelsey Grammer.

Do you own a Chow Chow? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

Interested in other breed profiles? Find dozens of them here.

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.