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What Were Chow Chows Bred For? Origin, Roles & History

Hallie Roddy

By Hallie Roddy

Chow Chow in snow

With many of the dog breeds in the world today, their past isn’t always as crystal clear as we’d like it to be. Some dog breeds don’t look remotely close to how they once did. One thing that is usually a bit clearer, however, is the work that they were bred for.

Chow Chows were originally bred as hunting and guard dogs and have a fascinating history. Learning about your dog’s past can help you better understand their behaviors and how they came to look and act the way they do now.


Chow Chow History

The Chow Chow originates from Northern China. They have a square, stocky build with dense fur around their necks that give them their signature lion-like look. Chow Chows are also unique in that they have an extra pair of teeth and a blue tongue. These dogs are one of the first breeds to appear after the domestication of dogs, so you can expect them to have a deep history as well.

Unlike many other dog breeds, the Chow Chow has one of the oldest histories that can be traced back nearly 12 million years to the Miocene period. Some researchers even believe that they could have been bred with an animal called the Simocyon because of their extra teeth, blue tongue, and broad skull.

How Chow Chows Evolved

chow chow
Image Credit:Tara Robinson, Pexels

While there are many theories regarding the true origins of this breed, historians believe that they were developed in Arctic Asia roughly 3,000 years ago. They didn’t look quite like they do now, but they were the property of nomads that moved through Siberia, into Mongolia, and then into China. While not confirmed, some assume that they were used as war dogs and were known as the “dogs of the Barbarians.”

What Were Chow Chows Bred For?

Over time, the Chow Chow eventually became a working dog for farms. Their purpose was to guard, hunt, or haul. Some were taught to kill small vermin that acted as pests. While these dogs had many different roles, one of the most important ones was becoming companions to Chinese nobles. An emperor during the Tang Dynasty in the 18th century owned a kennel that housed nearly 5,000 Chow Chows.

Over time, these dogs became more popular and were brought to Europe via trading ships. However, their popularity really took off once Queen Victoria acquired one in the late 1800s. It wasn’t until the 1890s that they came to America and were admitted to the American Kennel Club in 1903.

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About the Chow Chow Breed

Chow Chow
Image Credit: Marius Kristensen, Pixabay
Height: 17–20 inches
Weight: 45–70 pounds
Lifespan: 8–12 years
Colors: Cinnamon, cream, red, black, blue

Don’t be fooled by the Chow Chow’s luxuriously thick coat. These dogs may look like they’ve got a few extra pounds on them, but they are not lazy by any means. Chow Chows are energetic dogs that love to spend their time outside. They are also very intelligent and can be a bit stubborn at times. Still, they are very affectionate and loyal pets, specifically to their family members.

Chow Chows tend to make good family pets, although they aren’t the best for families with small children. They also aren’t very fond of other pets in the house. Some people prefer to keep them as working pets, which makes sense given their background. They are smart, athletic, and always up for a challenge.

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Common Chow Chow Health Conditions

chowchow in china
Image Credit: Katoosha, Shutterstock

A dog’s history and genetics can play a huge role in the lives of dogs today. Chow Chows are generally a healthy breed that has been around for thousands of years. However, they do have a few health problems that have been passed down from generations before.

Some of the most serious conditions that you need to worry about with this breed are hip dysplasia and gastric torsion. Hip dysplasia is one of the most prevalent health concerns with Chow Chows and can cause pain when they try to walk or move too much. It is more common in dogs as they age, although you might see signs as early as 3 or 4 years old. The best way to avoid it is with regular exercise and a healthy diet.

Gastric torsion is another common condition that Chow Chow owners should take seriously. This occurs when the dog’s stomach twists and creates abdominal pressure. It can be painful and even dangerous. Signs of gastric torsion include restlessness, discomfort while breathing, vomiting, and excessive salivation.

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Chow Chows have a long history that has allowed them to take on many different roles. From royal companions to guarding and herding livestock, these dogs have been around the block a time or two. Their fluffy exterior might have them looking like giant teddy bears, but their past shows us that there is far more to them than meets the eye.

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Featured Image Credit: Serhii Khomiak, Shutterstock

Hallie Roddy

Authored by

Hallie has been a proud nature and animal enthusiast for as long as she can remember. She attributes her passion for the environment and all its creatures to her childhood when she was showing horses on weekends and spending her weeknights devoting her attention to her pets. She enjoys spending most of her time in Michigan playing with her two rescue cats, Chewbacca and Lena, and her dog, Clayton. When Hallie isn’t usin...Read more

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