Genetic tests prove that the Chow Chow dog is an ancient dog breed which originated in China and Mongolia. Similar-looking dogs were depicted in old paintings and pottery from the Han Dynasty, dating back to 206 BC to 22 AD.
The Chow Chow breed is an indispensable dog to the Chinese nobility. Chows were bred to guard homes and hunt deer. They were said to take down dangerous predators such as tigers and wolves. The Chow Chows can hunt alone and in packs. Sometimes their group is made up of a hundred dogs.
Unfortunately, the Chow dog’s usual prey became scarce. Thus, between the 1700s and 1800s, it shifted from hunting large animals to smaller ones such as pheasants, quails, and sable.
This large breed of dog is even believed to catch the fancy of a Tang Dynasty emperor around the 18th century. It is still up for debate if he kept 2,500 or 5,000 Chows in a kennel due to his love for the breed.
The Chow Chow dog breed was not exclusively for the Chinese nobles. The Chinese peasantry raised the breed for its meat and fur. They were forced to use the breed for survival when sources of protein and clothing became scarce when the Chinese population surged.
Some say that the dog's name sprung from this part of history. Chow Chow can mean either the Chinese word "chou", which means edible or food, or the Chinese phrase "ch'ao", which translates to fry or to cook.
Chow Chow dogs also have a history of being used as combatants in dog fights. Their facial wrinkles and loose skin are said to protect them from getting bitten by their opponents. These also prevent the vital areas of the neck from becoming damaged whilst Chows fight off other dogs.
Two coat type variations of the Chow Chow were created in China. How these dogs were developed is unclear. According to a few European reports the Chinese nobles prefer the rough-coated Chow whilst the Chinese peasants are favour the smooth-coated Chow more.
In 1780, the breed arrived in England thanks to an employee of the British East India Company, who brought two Chow Chows. Another theory states that the name Chow Chow was coined by British merchants, referring to miscellaneous items in Chinese cargo ships that included dogs, which eventually got stuck with the breed.
The Chow Chow breed gained more attention from dog fanciers after a pair of Chow Chows were imported to the London Zoo in 1828. These dogs were advertised as the "The Wild Dogs from China" and the "Chinese Black-Mouthed Dogs", which is due to their distinctive feature of having blue-black tongues.
Queen Victoria received a Chow as a gift in 1865, but the breed was promoted by Marchioness of Huntley in the UK. Between the queen’s reign from 1837 to 1901, the Chow Chow dog’s popularity greatly soared.
In 1894, the Chow Chow breed was recognised by the Kennel Club. The first Chow Chow breed club was formed in the UK in 1895.
Around the 1800s, the Chow breed reached the United States and was recognised by the American Kennel Club in 1903. Chow dogs became a famous pet among the high society. President Calvin Coolidge and his wife kept red and black Chows named Timmy and Blackberry.
The renowned Sigmund Freud also fell in love with the Chow Chow. His beloved daughter Anna shared his affection for the breed too. She did not only care for Chow but also bred them. Martha Stewart also owned Chow Chows and they even appear on her shows.