Sengé Chows

Don't Buy a Chow!


 © Judith-Ann Robertson
Sengé Chows, Australia


Interested in buying a Chow? You must be or you wouldn't be reading this. You've already heard how “cute”, beautiful, marvellous, wonderful, different Chows are. Well, I think you should also hear, before it's too late, that CHOWS ARE *NOT* THE PERFECT BREED FOR EVERYONE! As a breed they have a few features that some people find charming, but that some people find mildly unpleasant and some people find downright intolerable.


There are different breeds for different needs. There are over 200 purebred breeds of dogs in the world. And perhaps you would be better off with some other breed. Maybe you'd be better off with a cat. Maybe you'd be better off with goldfish, a parakeet, a hamster, or some house-plants.




That incredibly cute Chow puppy will not stay cute.  It will grow in to an adult dog.  The appearance of the adult Chows you have seen in the show ring is the product of many hours of bathing and grooming. This carefully constructed beauty is fleeting: at home, in the yard, running in a dog park and the passage of even a day or two and you are quickly back to the natural look. The natural look of the Chow is that of a large medium sized dog with a huge mass of coat, who will shed profusely twice a year and who needs a weekly comb out that takes at least an hour done properly and the occasional bath. 


The true beauty of the Chow lies in his character, not just in his appearance. There are many other breeds whose natural beauty of appearance far exceeds that of the Chow. Some of the other longer-coated and most of the short-coated breeds' appearances are less dependent on grooming than is that of the Chow. (See also the section on grooming.)




Chows were bred to share in the work of the family.  Many people are surprised to learn that Chows are one of the oldest domesticated breeds of dogs on the planet.  They originated in northern Mongolia and China and they were originally bred to hunt, to herd, to haul, to march and to protect their families.  In other words, they were bred to spend most of their waking hours with their family and all these characteristics remain.


They thrive on companionship and they would prefer to be wherever you are. They are happiest living with you in your house and going with you when you go out. While they usually tolerate being left at home by themselves (preferably with a dog-door giving access to the fenced yard and another dog companion), they should not be relegated to the backyard or kennel.


A puppy exiled from the house is likely to grow up to be unsociable (fearful and/or unprovokedly aggressive), unruly and unhappy. He may well develop pastimes, such as chewing or barking, that will displease you and/or your neighbours. An adult so exiled will be miserable too. If you don't strongly prefer to have your dog's companionship as much as possible, enjoying having him sleep in your bedroom at night and sharing many of your activities by day, you should choose a breed less oriented to human companionship. Likewise if your job or other obligations prevent you from spending much time with your dog, consider a pet that doesn’t need human companionship.


No dog is really happy without companionship but the pack hounds are more tolerant of being kennelled or yarded so long as it is in groups of 2 or more. A better choice would be a cat, as they are solitary by nature.




Basic obedience and household rules training is NOT optional for the Chow. As an absolute minimum, you must teach him to reliably respond to commands to come, to lie down, to stay and to walk at your side, on or off leash and regardless of temptations. You must also teach him to respect your household rules: e.g. is he allowed to get on the furniture? Is he allowed to beg at the table?


What you allow or forbid is unimportant; but it is *critical* that you, not the dog, make these choices and that you enforce your rules consistently. You must commit yourself to attending an 8 to 10 week series of weekly lessons at a local obedience club or professional trainer and to doing one or two short (5 to 20 minutes) homework sessions per day. As commands are learned, they must be integrated into your daily life by being used whenever appropriate and enforced consistently.


Young Chow puppies are relatively easy to train: they are eager to please, intelligent and good-natured, with a relatively good attention span. Once a Chow has learned something, he tends to retain it well. Your cute, sweet little Chow puppy will grow up to be a large, powerful dog with a highly self-assertive personality and the determination to do whatever he wants. If he has grown up respecting you and your rules, then all his physical and mental strength will work for you. But if he has grown up without rules and guidance from you, surely he will make his own rules and his physical and mental powers will often act in opposition to your needs and desires. For example: he may tow you down the street as if competing in a sled-dog race; he may grab food off the table; he may forbid your guests entry to his home.


This training cannot be delegated to someone else, e.g. by sending the dog away to "boarding school", because the relationship of respect and obedience is personal between the dog and the individual who does the training. This is true of all dogs to greater or lesser degree, but definitely to a very great degree in Chows. While you definitely many want the help of an experienced trainer to teach you how to train your dog, you yourself must actually train your Chow. As each lesson is well learned, then the rest of the household (except young children) must also work with the dog, insisting he obey them as well.


However, not only do Chows need a basic obedience course but because the Chow is so intelligent, unless training becomes part of the Chow's lifestyle he will often feel that once he learns a behaviour he doesn't feel the need to repeat it.  The Chow thrives on intellectual challenge so by partaking in ongoing training that lasts a lifetime, not only do you strengthen the foundation of your basic training, but you're also intellectually stimulating your Chow on an ongoing basis.  If you are not interested in maintaining a challenging environment for your Chow for the next decade or so, you may want to consider the type of breed that is easily amused and not easily bored.


Many Chows have a strong prey drive, which means that they're not dogs who can normally walk safely off lead.  Even the most well trained Chows will not respond to basic commands when the prey drive is kicked into gear.  So, if you are looking for a dog who can hike the trails or walk the beach off lead, the Chow isn't one of those breeds that normally lends itself to that kind of activity.  You would be better off finding a breed that is totally in thrall with pleasing its human.


Many of the Chows that are rescued from pounds and shelters show clearly that they have received little or no basic training, neither in obedience nor in household deportment; yet these same dogs respond well to such training by the rescuer or the adopter. It seems likely that a failure to train the dog is a significant cause of Chow abandonment (that and grooming and the fact that that cute puppy doesn’t remain little and cute).


If you don't intend to educate your dog, preferably during puppyhood, you would be better off with a breed that is both small and socially submissive, e.g. a Shetland Sheepdog. Such a dog does require training, but a little bit goes further than with a Chow. In the opposite direction, if your goals in obedience training are oriented towards success at high level competition (HIT, OTCh and Gaines), please realize that the Chow is not among the half dozen breeds best suited to such highly polished performance. (Chows can, with extensive training and patience and diligence on your part, excel at such working competitions as agility, carting, tracking, protection and herding.)




Dogs do not believe in social equality. They live in a social hierarchy led by a pack-leader but with very fluid roles. The top dog is generally benevolent, affectionate and non-bullying towards his subordinates; but there is never any doubt in his mind or in theirs that he/she is the boss and makes the rules.


Whatever the breed, if you do not assume the leadership, sooner or later the dog will and usually with more or less unpleasant consequences for the abdicating owner. Like the untrained dog, the pack-leader dog makes his own rules and enforces them against other members of the household by means of dominance, be that in physical posture and a hard-eyed stare, followed by a snarl, then a knockdown blow or a bite.


Breeds differ in tendencies towards social dominance; and individuals within a breed differ considerably. Chows as a breed tend to be of a socially dominant personality. You really cannot afford to let a Chow become your boss. You do not have to have the personality or mannerisms of a Marine boot camp Sergeant, but you do have to have the calm, quiet self-assurance and self-assertion of the successful parent ("Because I'm your mother, that's why.") or successful grade-school teacher.


If you think you might have difficulty asserting yourself calmly and confidently to exercise leadership, then choose a breed known for its socially subordinate disposition, such as a Golden Retriever or a Shetland Sheepdog and be sure to ask the breeder to select one of the more submissive pups in the litter for you. If the whole idea of "being the boss" frightens or repels you, don't get a dog at all. Cats don't expect leadership. A caged bird or hamster, or fish doesn't need leadership or household rules.


Leadership and training are inextricably intertwined: leadership personality enables you to train your dog and being trained by you reinforces your dog's perception of you as the leader.




A Chow becomes deeply attached and devoted to his own family, but he doesn't "wear his heart on his sleeve". Some are noticeably reserved and aloof, others are more outgoing, but few adults are usually exuberantly demonstrable of their affections. They like to be near you, usually in the same room, preferably on a comfortable pad or cushion in a corner or under a table, just "keeping you company". They enjoy conversation, petting and cuddling when you offer it, but they are moderate and not overbearing in coming to you to demand much attention.


In fact, many Chows like to sleep in or very close to the bedroom.  You may want to reconsider buying a Chow if you are sensitive to noise or are unable to sleep with earplugs as many Chows snore and snore loudly.  They do not like being made to sleep away from their humans.


Chows are emotionally sensitive to their favourite people: when you are joyful, proud, angry, or grief-stricken, your Chow will immediately perceive it and will believe himself to be the cause. The relationship can be one of great mellows, depth and subtlety; it is a relation on an adult-to-adult level, although certainly not one devoid of playfulness. As puppies, of course, they will be more dependent, more playful and more demonstrative. In summary, Chows tend to be sober and thoughtful, rather than giddy clowns or sycophants.


A number of breeds retain into adulthood a more puppyish and playful disposition, e.g. Australian Shepherd, Malamute and others. Quite a few are far more dramatically demonstrative and/or more clingingly dependent, e.g. the Golden Retriever.




As mentioned above, keep in mind that Chows and other breeds of dogs need to be with their pack - that's you, their humans - and should be allowed to live in the house as part of the family.  Leaving them outside 24/7 should never be an option.  If you don't want to share your house with a dog, think about an aquarium or a potted plant as an alternative.


While the Chow is in and of himself a very clean dog, nevertheless, the Chow's thick double coat and his love of being outside, laying in leaves, on the dirt, walking in mud puddles all combine to make him a highly efficient transporter of debris into your home, depositing the same on your floors and rugs and possibly also on your furniture and clothes. One Chow coming in from a few minutes outdoors on a rainy day can turn an immaculate house into an instant wallow. 


The heavily bearded Chow (often the males, but includes females and the lazy Chow) will soak water into his full beard every time he takes a drink, then releases all this water drippingly across your floor or soppingly into your lap.


Twice a year at a minimum, Chows shed.  Actually it’s called “blowing coat” and for a good reason.  Sometime near the middle of June and the middle of December, it will seem as though your Chow will soon be bald there is so much fur laying around, rolling into fur balls that put most dust bunnies to shame.  You will need to have a really good vacuum system and be willing to vacuum daily for upwards of three or four weeks twice a year.  They still shed at other times, but the two seasons of coat blowing can be pretty daunting.


This doesn’t mean that Chow owners are messy, but they make the decision that to live happily with a Chow they have the attitude that their dog's company means more to them than does pristine cleanliness.  You do have to be comfortable with a less than immaculate house.


While all dogs, like all children, create a greater or lesser degree of household mess, many other breeds of dog are easier to care for than the Chow. The Basenji is perhaps the cleanest and cats are cleaner yet and goldfish hardly ever mess up the house.




The thick double coat of the Chow demands regular grooming, not merely to look tolerably nice, but also to preserve the health of skin underneath and to detect and remove foxtails, ticks and other dangerous invaders. For "pet" grooming, you should expect to spend 10-15 minutes a day (e.g. while listening to music or watching television) on alternate days or half an hour twice a week. Of course any time your Chow gets into cockleburs, filigree, or other coat-adhering vegetation, you are likely to be in for an hour or more of remedial work. During "foxtail" season, you must inspect feet and other vulnerable areas daily.


During tick season, particularly in areas where any tick transmitted disease is a risk (eg, Lyme Disease, Ross River Fever, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, etc.), you will need to inspect for ticks daily. "Pet" grooming does not require a great deal of skill, but does require time and regularity. "Show" (beauty contest) grooming requires a great deal more time and effort, some skill or expensive professional grooming.


However, don’t fool yourself that you can eliminate the grooming requirements by simply clipping back the Chow’s coat.  The coat is actually protective with regards to weather and clipping the Chow down is not the solution.  However, heat stroke is often an issue with any heavily coated breed, Chows included.  If you presently live or see yourself at some time living in very warm and/or very humid climates, you might want to think twice about buying a Chow particularly if the dog is not going to be allowed to stay indoors in an air conditioned home during the days.


Almost every Chow that is rescued out of a pound or shelter shows the effects of many months of non-grooming, resulting in massive matting and horrendous filthiness, sometimes with urine and faeces cemented into the rear portions of the coat. It appears that unwillingness to keep up with coat care is a primary cause of abandonment.


Many other breeds of dog require less grooming; short coated breeds require very little. The Rottweiler has a temperament and personality similar to the Chow, yet requires little grooming.




Chows need exercise to maintain the health of heart and lungs and to maintain muscle tone. Because of his mellow, laid-back, often lazy, disposition, your Chow will not give himself enough exercise unless you accompany him or play with him. An adult Chow should have a morning outing of a mile or more, as you walk briskly, jog, or bicycle beside him and a similar evening outing. For puppies, shorter and slower walks, several times a day are preferred for exercise and housebreaking.


All dogs need daily exercise of greater or lesser length and vigour. If providing this exercise is beyond you, physically or temperamentally, then choose one of the many small and energetic breeds that can exercise itself within your fenced yard. Most of the Toys and Terriers fit this description, but don't be surprised if a Terrier is inclined to dig in the earth since digging out critters is the job that they were bred to do. Cats can be exercised indoors with mouse-on-a-string toys. Hamsters or guinea pigs will exercise themselves on a wire wheel. Houseplants don't need exercise.




Whether you live in town or country, no dog can safely be left to run "free" outside your fenced property and without your direct supervision and control. The price of such "freedom" is inevitably injury or death: from dogfights, from automobiles, from the pound or from justifiably irate neighbours.


Even though Chows are home-loving and less inclined to roam than most breeds, an unfenced Chow is destined for disaster. Like other breeds developed for hunting and herding, most Chows retain a substantial amount of both hunting and herding instinct, both of which are instincts to chase and capture suitable prey. The unfenced country-living Chow will sooner or later discover the neighbours’ livestock (sheep, cattle, horses, poultry) and respond to his genetic urge to chase and harass such stock. State laws almost always gives the livestock owner the legal right to kill any dog chasing or "worrying" his stock and almost all livestock owners are quick to act on this! The unfenced city Chow is likely to exercise his inherited instinct on cats, joggers, bicyclists and automobiles. A thoroughly obedience-trained Chow can enjoy the limited and supervised freedom of off-leash walks with you in appropriately chosen environments.


If you don't want the responsibility of confining and supervising your pet, then no breed of dog is suitable for you. A neutered cat may survive such irresponsibly given "freedom" somewhat longer than a dog, but will likewise eventually come to grief, even if fenced, as fences do not deter cats. A better answer for those who crave a "free" pet is to set out feeding stations for some of the indigenous wildlife, which will visit for handouts and which may eventually tolerate your close observation.




Good quality Chows are not a cheap breed to buy, as running a careful breeding program with due regard for temperament and physical soundness (hips and elbows especially) cannot be done cheaply. The time the breeder should put into each puppy's "pre-school" and socialization is also costly.


The "bargain" puppy from a "back-yard breeder" or from breeders who stock pet shops are generally the breeders who unselectively mate any two Chows who happen to be of opposite sex, may well prove to be extremely costly in terms of bad temperament, bad health and lack of essential socialization. In contrast, there is the occasional adult or older pup who is available at modest price from a disenchanted owner or from a breeder, shelter or rescuer to whom the dog was abandoned.  Most of these "used" Chows are capable of becoming a marvellous dog for you if you can provide training, leadership and understanding.


Whatever the initial cost of your Chow, the upkeep will not be cheap. Being largish dogs, Chows eat relatively large meals. (Need I add that what goes in one end must eventually come out the other?  Or that you will be responsible for cleaning up after your dog – regularly in the back yard and upon every occasion when out for a walk.)


Larger dogs tend to have larger veterinary bills, as the amount of type of anaesthesia used in any surgical procedure and of most medications are proportional to body weight.  Chows are extremely sensitive to anaesthesia and sedatives and due care must be taken when using either or both.  Spaying or neutering, which costs more for larger dogs, is an essential expense for virtually all pet Chows over the age of 12 months, as it "takes the worry out of being close", prevents serious health problems in later life and makes the dog a more pleasant companion.


Chows are subject to three conditions, which can be costly to treat: hip and/or elbow dysplasia and entropion (rolling in of the eyelids). (Your best insurance against dysplasia is to buy only from a litter bred from veterinary association certified parents and [if possible] grandparents and great grandparents – if the breeder isn’t aware of and willing to use these screening tests, why are you buying from them?)


While entropion may have a genetic predisposition, there are no predictive tests allowing selective breeding against it. Your best prevention is to seek parents and grandparents free of entropion; but that is no guarantee that your Chow will not develop it.  You must be willing to treat it surgically if it develops; otherwise the cost to the dog’s eyes may be as catastrophic as blindness, not to mention that the pain from entropion can be constant and severe – consider for a moment the discomfort you feel when simply getting a loose eyelash or some dust in your own eye.  Some breeders have been relatively successful in breeding dogs free from the condition, while other breeders are able to prevent the condition from developing in puppies by a minor procedure to “tack” the eyelids in order to allow the skull to develop more fully.  Again, neither is guaranteed.  Look for puppies with excessively runny eyes and avoid purchasing that puppy.


Professional grooming, if you use it, is expensive. An adequate set of grooming tools for use at home adds up to a tidy sum, but once purchased will last many dog-lifetimes. Finally, the modest fee for participation in a series of basic obedience training classes is an essential investment in harmonious living with your dog; such fees are the same for all breeds, though conceivably you will need to travel a bit further from home to find a training class/teacher who is both competent with the more formidable breeds, such as the Chow and uses only with positive reinforcement style training. The modest outlays for immunization and for annual local licensing are generally the same for all breeds, though some regions/counties have a lower license fee for spayed/neutered dogs.


All dogs, of whatever breed and however cheaply acquired, require significant upkeep costs and all are subject to highly expensive veterinary emergencies. Likewise all cats.




The Chow's capability as a personal protection dog and in too many cases as a fighting dog have been well publicized and occasionally dramatically over-stated.  The Chow is no more capable in these respects than are half a dozen other protection breeds. Neither are all Chows equally capable: some are highly so and some moderately so, but many will have insufficient natural capacity for such work.


However, the Chow is naturally protective – but the key to training a Chow again, is solid, positively reinforced obedience training combined with great respect for the leadership of his handler.  Equally essential, he must have a rock-solid stable temperament and he must also have been "socialized" out in the world enough to know that most people are friendly and harmless.


Please don't buy any breed of dog for protection training unless you are absolutely committed to the extreme amount of work that will be required of you personally. Also talk to your lawyer and your insurance agent first.


In contrast to the protection-trained dog, Chows make excellent "deterrent” dogs; they dissuade the vast majority of aspiring burglars, rapists and assailants simply by his presence, his appearance and his demeanour. Seeing such dog, the potential wrongdoer simply decides to look for a safer victim elsewhere. For this job, all that is needed is a dog that is large and that appears to be well trained and unafraid. The Chow can serve this role admirably, with the added assets of generally "bestial" appearance with very white teeth against an imposing black mouth, adding to the impression of formidability and fearsomeness.  The natural protectiveness of the Chow will see him raise the alarm with a loud bark.  If the Chow has been taught to bark a few times on command, eg "Fang, watch him!" rather than "Fifi, speak for a cookie", this skill can be useful to augment the deterrent effect.


Other breeds of dog that are equally suitable for protection or deterrence include the Doberman, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Briard, Bouvier, Belgian Sheepdog, Belgian Tervuren and Belgian Malinois. Of these the first three are recognized by the general public as "police dogs" and are probably far more feared by most potential criminals than is the Chow. The Malamute, though not suitable for protection, is quite effective for deterrence due to his highly wolf-like appearance.




Most Chows have an assertive and confident personality. When confronted with a threat, a proper Chow will be somewhat more ready to fight than to flee. Thus he may respond aggressively in situations where many other breeds back down. Most Chows have some inclination to act aggressively to repel intruders on their territory (i.e. your home) and to counter-act assaults upon their pack mates (you and your family). Without training and leadership from you to guide him, the dog cannot judge correctly whom to repel and whom to tolerate. Without training and leadership, sooner or later he may injure an innocent person who will successfully sue you for more than you own. With good training and leadership from you, he can be profoundly valuable as a defender of your home and family. (See also remarks on stability and socialization above.)


If you feel no need of an assertive dog or if you have the slightest doubts of your ability and willingness to supply the essential socialization, training and leadership, then please choose one of the many breeds noted for thoroughly unaggressive temperament, such as a Sheltie or a Golden Retriever.




No dog deserves to be cast out because his owners want to move to a no-pet apartment or because he is no longer a cute puppy or didn't grow up to be a beauty contest winner or because his owners through lack of leadership and training have allowed him to become an unruly juvenile delinquent with a repertoire of undesirable behaviours. The prospects of a responsible and affectionate second home for a "used" dog are never very bright, but they are especially dim for a large, hairy, poorly mannered dog.


A Chow dumped into a pound or shelter has almost no chance of survival -- unless he has the great good fortune to be spotted by someone dedicated to Chow Rescue. The prospects for adoption for a youngish, well trained and well-groomed Chow whose owner seeks the assistance of the nearest Chow Club or Rescue group are fairly good; but an older Chow has diminishing prospects.


Be sure to contact your local Chow club or Rescue group if you are diagnosed as terminally ill or have other equally valid reason for seeking an adoptive home. Be sure to contact your local Chow club if you are beginning to have difficulties in training your Chow, so these can be resolved. Be sure to make arrangements in your will or with your family to ensure continued care or adoptive home for your Chow if you should pre-decease him.


The average life span of a Chow may range from ten years on up – there are the very exceptional cases of Chows who live in excess of 15 years.  It’s best to say that lifespan varies depending on the individual Chow, the breeding lines and how well the Chow is cared for across the duration of its life.  If 10 years plus seems too long a time for you to give an unequivocal loyalty to your Chow, then please do not get one! Indeed, as most dogs have a life expectancy that is as long or longer, please do not get any dog!





If all the preceding "bad news" about Chows hasn't turned you away from the breed, then by all means DO GET A CHOW! They are every bit as wonderful as you have heard!


If buying a puppy, be sure to shop carefully for a *responsible* and *knowledgeable* breeder who places high priority on breeding for sound temperament and good health in all matings. Such a breeder will interrogate and educate potential buyers carefully. Many such breeders have a written contract and such breeders will continue to be available for advice and consultation for the rest of the puppy's life and will insist on receiving the dog back if ever you are unable to keep it. 


However as an alternative to buying a Chow puppy, you may want to give some serious consideration to adopting a rescued Chow. Despite the responsibility or lack thereof of their previous owner, almost all rescued Chows have proven to be readily rehabilitated so as to become superb family companions for responsible and affectionate adopters. Many rescuers are skilled trainers who evaluate temperament and provide remedial training before offering dogs for placement and who offer continued advisory support afterwards.


Contact your local Chow Chow Club to learn who is doing Chow Rescue work. 


In the United States, for more information about rescuing a Chow, please see:


In Canada, please go to:





This article could not have been written without the generous input a large number of Chow owners, breeders, trainers and exhibitors from around the world who were approached with a request for their input about the things they felt were important for people to know before they embarked on bringing a Chow into their lives.  We all agreed that the vast majority of information widely available is very generic and often incorrect.  The intent of this article is to remedy that with a somewhat comprehensive overview of what living with a Chow is really like.


This was inspired by Pam Green of du Clos de la Fourriere, a Bouvier des Flandres lover, owner, rescuer and trainer and handler of Bouviers in obedience, tracking, protection, herding, carting and other miscellaneous events who wrote a similar article about her beloved Bouviers.  


Also appreciation must be expressed to Jenni Williams of Perth, Western Australia and to Mindy Fenton-Samuels of Weston, Connecticut in the US for all their suggestions and comments on many articles about Chows, including this one.  Their friendship and knowledge of Chows is a wonderful resource.


To everyone who has ever loved a Chow, thank you for your love and care of this very special and unique breed.




 Home Page    Don't Buy a Chow!    The Chow - A summary    FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

 Chow Chow Standards    What are Pedigrees?    Thinking of a puppy?    So you want a Senge Chow 

 The Chow As Food    Breeding Guidelines    Exercising Your Chow 

Contact Details
Judith-Ann Robertson
Woodend, VIC, Australia
Phone : (03) 5427 3300 (10am-8pm)
Email : [email protected]


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