The Breed defining features....

Presented (& reviewed each time)       2008 Pretoria          2009 Kwa Zulu Natal         2011 Johannesburg

 Thank you : The Judges sub-committee for hosting this seminar To all of you who have taken the time out to attend Thanks to the many specialists from across the world  and The Commonwealth contingent at the 100th CCCI. And lastly the Chowists, new and old - in South Africa.The full standard with notes and essays and articles provided by Chow Chow specialists and all-breed specialists from across the world is available in the manual which you will all receive a CD copy of, free of charge.

Background and History

The breed standard in Southern Africa will need many more hours than we have to go through this in great detail. Therefore, I have chosen to embellish on the breed defining characteristics only. These characteristics have also come up as common reference points in the vast amount of historical reference books that are available on the Chow Chow. And as the historians say, "these traits are not only desirable but also necessary and have come about from a dog that has lived by his wits, his strong body and quick action for centuries in a land where this was essential for survival".

I quote from Will Judy's book The Chow Chow written in 1934

"Some of the uncertainty and curiosity concerning the Chow Chow and its official standard can be cleared away through consideration of the background of the breed. The physical and mental traits and inheritances of the Chow come from this native habitat, the land within the shadow of the North Pole. For instance the Chow is easily housebroken and is especially clean in the house. In the far north, unless the dog is secretive about these acts of nature, there would be evidence for other dogs or enemies to know the dog was nearby. The squint eye of the Chow comes from the constant looking upon the snow as the sunlight shines on it. The tail on the back must be carried because otherwise a long, low tail would be caked with snow, and would become sore, and could not be moved. In fact a dog with a hard- snow caked tail could not run, could not get game and in time would starve. Those who did not keep their tails clear of the snow passed out of the race.

The squint eye, the tail on the back, the round cat-like feet, and the scowl - all are souvenirs of the far northland and its snows and cold.

Northern climes with their long twilight nights tend to cause a silent, moody race whether of men or animals. Noise or excessive barking would be out of place and would only betray the location to an enemy. The straight hind legs which most Northern dogs possess, are best adapted for moving through the snow with an up and down or somewhat stilted gait.

The tendency towards low Chows and short-legged Chows both in America and England in recent years surely is not in accordance with the original necessity of the Chow. On the ground where there has been snow for much of the year, or for a breed which, as in the case of the Chow, is used for herding and sled work, there must be plenty of daylight under the dog: the legs must not be too short otherwise the dog cannot move properly or with any speed.

The small pointed erect ears with its slight forward tilt is especially necessary for northern dogs where both sight and hearing must be brought into play as the dog looks out upon the terrain. The forward tilting ears help the Chow to hear and help to protect the eyes against the glare of the snow

The off standing coat, really a fur, both the outer and undercoats, of course is decidedly necessary in a country of extreme cold.

The gait of the Chow is peculiar. You will note as you observe your Chow when he trots, that he raises the front feet rather straight and then throws them forward. The hind legs do not move with any leverage but are rather stilted. This is the result of the necessity of running through the snow. Otherwise the dog would push his feet against the snow and soon would have the hair of his legs snow caked and would move only with difficulty.

As one considers the heritage of the Chow from the past, particularly in view of his northern nativity, many of the mental traits of the chow and quite a few of the physical qualities as set forth in the standard are explained logically and clearly"    (Thank you Will Judy - a fantastic reference book)

A Few Reminders from the History Books

  • to their virtues ever kind, to their faults a little blind is a good slogan for the judge who is hypnotised by bad points. Those that cannot see the virtues will never make a good judge Honor Green The Chow Chow 1975.
  • The absolute faultless Chow Chow may not yet have proclaimed itself - The Popular Chow Chow by Leighton & Baer 1933
  • Another important factor know your Chow and what you are looking and feeling for. Get to know the anatomy of the breed - The Chow Chow by Honor Green 1975
  • this standard should be the basis of all judging and breeding, one cannot change the standard to fit the dog The Chow Chow by Honor Green 1975
  • "to own a Chow Chow is to become the custodians of a legacy the Chinese have preserved for over 5000 years, a legacy which we should take care not to destroy. To destroy the breed is to create they in bone, in head or in coat....all which are foreign to the basic, natural beauty of the dog and ultimately to the animal's health.... exaggerations detract from one of the more important descriptions of the breed ; "Balance"... C E Collet The Chow Chow 1953
  • A good big Chow is better than a good small Chow, but providing the latter has balance as well as the other required qualities he should not be penalised for size. The dog can never be too masculine in appearance or too short-coupled She should also be distinctly feminine in appearance and quite impossible to confuse with the male. ..- C E Collet The Chow Chow 1953
  • the Standard requires an active, compact, short-coupled and well balanced dog , with proud, dignified bearing. Balance is a matter of proportion not size, and is of first consideration. If there is balance there is usually the rest of the requirements, be it big, medium, or small animal. The Standard calls for a lively, compact, upstanding dog, active and alert with perfect balance. This is being lost with the diminishing size C E Collet The Chow Chow 1953
  • if a Chow were to be lower than eighteen inches in height the balance would be upset, and balance we have decided is the deciding factor with the exception of the coat the Smooth Chow is judged by the same scale of points.Let the words a well balanced dog remain foremost in your mind. The proud dignified bearing speaks for itself - The Popular Chow Chow by L Ingleton & D Rybot 1954
  • A very plain open face never gives the true scowling expression Chow 90 UK
  • here cannot be a good Chow that lacks chow expression -it is really the outward expression of the inner soul of the chow Will Judy 1934
  • the term disqualifying in the standard is misleading a dog having one or more of these faults may not be ordered out of the ring .the faults will be considered decidedly against the dog The Chow Chow by Will Judy 1934
  •  head and expression a compact body and plenty of offstanding coat make up the general chow is highly desirable to have plenty of bone in the chow yet too much bone means a slow useless dog. Unless the Chow has an upstanding carriage, a quick light step, he is not a true Chow. The good Chow must be upstanding in gait and off standing in coat The Chow Chow by Will Judy 1934
  • the ideal chow is one, who first of all, impresses you with his balance. No virtue stands out in excess of the others. His outline is square and his coat, longer in places and shorter in others, showing the outline of his body. The legs are long enough to support the deep chest and not to look as if they had been cut off at the lower joint. His muzzle and head are large and wide but do not strike you as such till you see him with other dogs of less good heads and would be a pity that one of the most unspoiled breeds should allow exaggerations to creep in and destroy what is so charming in our breed, the balance and type which are the great attractions as well as the virtues of the Chow Chow - Foreword to the second edition of the Popular Chow Chow 1933 by Alice O Fullerton (Surrey UK)

The breed defining features of the Chow Chow

  1. The silhouette
  2. Pigment
  3. Scowl
  4. Temperament
  5. Tail set
  6. Stilted gait
  7. Coat

Along with the presence of the breed defining features the Chow Chow should be judged as a complete picture. He is a balanced breed with no single feature being exaggerated. It is the combination of elements fitting almost perfectly together that creates BALANCE. A beautiful dog fits together in a symmetrical whole, their features fit together with harmony and not necessarily because they are perfect.

The dog will have faults, but if it balances out and moves correctly, it is acceptable. In judging dogs one must not judge on faults alone but should be looking at the whole animal, measuring the animal's virtues by the Breed Standard, examining the fitting together of all the parts into an eye-catching, harmonious whole and not just the individual parts.

A judge must have a positive mental image of a correct Chow Chow.

The silhouette

One of the best pieces of advice ever given is to imagine that dog you are examining in a black silhouette and if the breed shape is unmistakable, open the mind to the breed defining features and examine these, if all of these are in place go through the rest of the features. At the end of this examination get the dog to move in the best way to show his gait and then award to the exhibit, which in your mind is the best example of the breed. Remember, the judge is not there to fault judge.

In 1934 Will Judy wrote: ' Whether we consider the straight hind legs, the bluish-black tongue, the luxurious coat, the tail fan-like on the back, the squinting eyes, the strong muzzle, the lion-like head, or the aloof disposition of the chow, he is above all things a breed of his own kind and need never be mistaken for any other

So when the exhibit enters the ring and you view him as moves, is he essentially a Chow Chow?

  • Is the dog balanced, with no single feature overdone or exaggerated?
  • Is the dog square?
  • Is he proud and lion-like?
  • Is his tail high set and flat on the back?
  • Is his head carried above the top line?
  • Does he have 4 straight solid legs?
  • Is he high up on his pasterns?
  • Are his hock joints seemingly straight and relatively short?
  • When standing are his back legs directly under the line of his tail?
  • Does he have a scowl?
  • Is his mouth pigment blue-black?
  • Does his luxurious, coarse off standing coat finish off the picture?
  • Are his eyes dark? Remember the blue and fawn may have self-coloured eyes.
  • Is his nose leather black? Remember the blue and fawn may have self-coloured nose leathers and the cream may have a light nose.
  • On his entrance - does he move with the characteristic stilted gait with legs moving like a clock pendulum from the hips?
  • Does he give the impression of being an active ,alert and agile dog?




The Chow Chow is distinctive in his breed that he requires a tongue and mouth pigment of blue / blue-black and where no allowance is made for any deviation from this. The tongue is actually blue and the darker and depth of colour is better in all colours. The underside of the tongue is not examined and the glands at the base of the tongue are usually red. Often the tongue is not evenly coloured, but with the exception of actually seeing pink pigment, this is acceptable. The inside of the mouth is blue- black extending to the roof of the mouth, the flews and as far back as the throat. There is much debate as to why the Chow has blue mouth pigment, but it is a fixed breed-defining feature that must be preserved.


Chow Expression, the Scowl, the Ears and the Eyes

The scowl is the outward expression of the soul of the Chow Chow and is created by a number of points. It is also quite often referred to as the 'diamond' between the eyes.

Without a scowl, the Chow Chow is rather plain-faced and loses that essential quality of expression.

The eye is almond shaped and when placed correctly in the skull, adds to the Oriental squinting expression, which is unique to the breed. The eyes are not actually small or deep-set. Quite often it is presumed the eyes are deep set because of the 'button' which is present above the eyes. The eyes must be clean from entropian and from any watering - remembering that the squinting look came about from the glare of the snow and any watering would probably freeze. A Chow Chow with round eyes very seldom has the correct expression. The eyes are preferred to be as dark as possible, with allowance being made for self-coloured eyes in the blue and fawn only.

Spitz type ears - smallish and erect - without any bend or folding over, or floppiness. The ears are set on the top of the skull in an imaginary line, which runs from the inner ear to the outer eye. The ears are tilted slightly forward and slightly inwards towards each other, which finishes off the expression. With the Chow Chow being able to move each ear independently, it is often hard to determine the ear set.

Eyes and ears are important contributors to the scowl and to Chow expression, but do not singly make the expression.

The scowl is noted between the eyes, in the centre of the forehead and the top horizontal line of the forehead. It is created with the correct bone structure as well as the way the skin covers this bone. It is unnecessary for excessive skin, folds or wrinkles to create the scowl. It is accentuated with the eyes and ears and lips and the structure of the head.

The muzzle, lips and the stop of the Chow add to the expression. A scowl is seldom achieved with a snipey muzzle or with a stop that is too defined or lips that hang too much. Another feature of the Chow Chow is the lips that just touch - creating a 'grin'.

The scowl and expression add to the uniqueness of the Chow - an active, intelligent somewhat reserved and snobby dog.



The Chow Chow is an aloof, dignified, 'one man' dog.

It's best to allow the Chow Chow to 'walk into'the judge before handling him - allow the Chow Chow to circle the ring and come to a stand still in front of you.  Remember a Chow Chow has limited peripheral vision and its best for the judge and the Chow Chow to approach within these scopes. There is often a debate about judging the Chow Chow on the table. There is no reason as to why this cannot happen (in the USA they are shown on ramps & the UK is fast moving in this direction ).

Aloofness aside, in the show ring he must allow himself to be handled without showing any signs of aggression or timidity - both being equally unacceptable. The Chow Chow that growls or fights when attempting to be touched and equally the Chow Chow that cowers is not really a tribute to the Chow Chow temperament. It is acceptable to ask the owner to open the mouth - actually it preferable if the judge is wary of the Chow Chow, as the hesitation from the judge's side is not good. Only the owner can testify to true Chow Chow aloofness.

Tail set

Complimenting the uniqueness of the head and expression is the tail of the Chow Chow. The Chow Chow tail is carried high up on its back and ideally is straight for the length of the tail until the very end where it sometimes falls slightly to one side of the dog. It lies flat and snugly against the back of the dog, and creates a depression in the coat of the back where it fits. A good term for the Chow Chow tail is a 'flat-line tail'. The tail is thick at it root and tapers towards the point. Set high on the back it commences on the spine just before the spine curves downwards. Ideally the tail follows the line of the spine for its full length, but it is acceptable that so long as it is high set and carried over the back to follow the line of the spine at its start only.

Ideally, regardless of the how the tail lies, there should be no 'space' between the tail and the back because of how tightly it lies against the body of the Chow Chow. The tail is covered with a long plumage, which ideally reaches up high on the body and touches the back of the ruff. The tail of the smooth Chow Chow has no plumage

Pendulum swing or the Stilted gait

Without the true stilt, his conformation cannot be 100% correct. Viewing from the side is best for the correct assessment of the characteristic unique gait.A true stilt is similar to a pendulum swing from the hips. The movement in the rear is short. Because of the straighter rear assembly the movement is stilted. (Stilted adj. = stiffly) A Chow Chow is powerful and agile yet his straight movement is brief and quick in its step.

Watching the movement from the side, it's easier to assess whether the legs are swinging in pendulum style without over-extended reach to the front or back and it should be accompanied with a slight bounce in the rump. The bounce must not be mistaken for a roll in the torso, which will inevitably happen should the Chow Chow be longer in coupling.

The front and hindquarters do not have great reach.Watching the Chow Chow in action from the rear, the entire leg appears to remain straight. Regardless of speed the stifle joints will point in the line of travel. From the front view the legs also move in a straight line. If the speed is increased the forelegs incline slightly inward.The front and back action works in harmony and equilibrium. The Chow Chow is not a fast mover, but because of the construction of the straight rear legs, which move in the pendulum swing from the hips, he has considerable endurance.The front legs must not swing out in semicircles nor mince or show any evidence of hackney action.

A Chow Chow is not 'run' around the ring , but his speed is determined by each chow chow.

Along with this stilted gait, one should observe 4 straight powerful legs that fall directly under the shoulder and hip joints when the dog comes to a natural stand still. The minimal angulation in the Chow Chow is essential and this is also observed when in action.The legs are complimented with tight cat-like feet, high up in the pasterns and the appearance is almost that the legs come to rounded ends.The true conformation, expression and soul of the Chow Chow are apparent when in motion.



And finally we get to the finishing touch of the Chow Chow - his glorious, shiny off standing unique coat - presented in its natural state, with trimming of the feet and around the anus allowed. A topic of much discussion in the show ring, but as our historians all agree, it is a breed defining feature and an essential one.

Abundant; n = plentiful, rich Profuse; adj = abundant, generous, extravagant Dense; adj = difficult to see through, massed closely together

Regardless of whether the exhibit is a smooth or rough coated variety - the Chow Chow coat is straight, double coated and consists of a coarse outer coat and a softer undercoat. The coat does not lie flat against the body, in both the rough and smooth the coat is offstanding. The words of the standard are often glossed over and grooming is brought into question. A dirty, ungroomed Chow Chow does not have a place in the show ring. There is no definition as to how short a smooth coat is or how long a rough coat is. However, quality of coat is the important feature. Each variety is judged to exactly the same standard with the exception of the coat reference. The coat must be dense with no bald or bare spots. This leads to the coat being more like a fur than hair. Along with this the Chow Chow can never have too much undercoat or too much outercoat -however the two must compliment each other without exaggeration and in order to do this the outer coat has to be of the correct harsh texture. A soft outer coat usually will lie flatter against the body and usually grows too long.

In both varieties the coat must never be an open coat i.e. lacking in undercoat. There are only 5 acceptable solid colours in the Chow Chow - these being red, black, blue ,fawn (cinnamon) , cream - some countries specify white as a separate colour. There is no chocolate, liver, silver blue , champagne or other exotic colours.Along with this there is the self-coloured (solid) as well as a shaded variety within the acceptable colour spectrum.Only the blue and fawn Chow Chow is allowed self-coloured nose leather and eyes. The cream Chow Chow's nose leather inevitably turns a self-colour or Dudley with maturity.

In concluding

I can only stress that the perfect Chow Chow has not been bred. This is also not an excuse to take any and every Chow Chow into the show ring or to breed with.At the end of the day show ring is a competition where the Chow Chow is judged as a complete picture and no one feature is more important than the next. It is the harmony of the way the complete Chow Chow is put together which creates balance and beauty. The judge must have a perception of the whole, ideal chow Chow Chow in order to evaluate the exhibits successfully. No judge should attempt to judge the Chow Chow without knowing and understanding the breed defining characteristics.And also , if you do not like the breed or are wary of the breed - why accept the appointment?

And you will see that by 'You being the judge' on each of the points discussed, it is not easy to judge a Chow Chow on a single feature - you must judge the complete picture.

Thank you for your interest in the Chow Chow



Test your self

1. If the pigment of a chow chow is considered a unique breed defining feature: should allowances be made for patches of pink on the top of the tongue?

a. yes

b. no

c. sometimes depending on the colour

2. When judging the smooth against the rough, do you use a different standard and / or different guidelines for the two varieties?

a. yes

b. no

c. I don't know

3. Why ,when you judge a chow chow and you place you hand directly on top of his head, the likelihood is that he will pull away.

a. he is aggressive

b. he doesn't have great peripheral vision

c. he is unsocialised

4. In the judging of the chow chow, which is possibly the most important criteria

a. the head, as he is a head breed and without a 'good' head he does not meet the standard

b. that he allows himself to be touched

c. overall balance and harmony

5. You are judging the chow chow on a hot day, and the chow chow is breathing heavily as are all the other dogs. Do you ask the exhibitor to;

a. put only the chow in the shade because his coat is making him hot

b. treat him as you would all the other dogs in the ring

c. ask him (and only him) to do limited moves due to the heat

6. Amongst the many breed specific features of the chow chow is the 'grin'. What is this?

a. created because he has pendulous lips

b. created because he has lips that just touch, not overhanging and this gives the impression of a smile

c. nonsense, the smiling breed is the Samoyed.

7. You are aware that the chow chow has unique movement - ie the stilted gait or pendulum swing. You are judging and want to check the movement. Which is the best view for this?




8. When stacking the chow chow are the back legs

a. directly under the line of the hip

b. extended backwards

9. Judging the chow chow coat, the standard says with no trimming . How do you ascertain whether the coat is in its natural state

a. the tips of the hairs will be blunt

b. the tips of the hairs will taper

c. listen to what the people around the ring and competitors in the breed say



The Answers

  1. b. no

The pigment of the tongue and mouth should be blue -black , and the darker the better. Cinnamon (fawn) chow chows sometimes have much lighter pigment due to the dilute genes. However, no pink is allowed, regardless of the colour. It is also a myth that the cream is allowed a lighter pigment and/or pink.

2 b. no

The smooth coated Chow is judged by the same standard as the rough coated Chow except that references to the quantity and distribution of the outer coat are not applicable to the smooth coated Chow, which has a hard, dense, smooth outer coat with a definite undercoat. The structure of both types should be the same. Train your eye to look past coat and at structure (this applies to all coated breeds).

3 b. he doesn't have great peripheral vision

The chow chow doesn't have good peripheral vision and is a breed that is best 'walked into' the judge. Regardless of temperament, the judge that asks the chow chow to come directly into the ring for the hands on before moving the chow chow will most likely have the dogs pull away. The chow chow will pull away if he cannot see you first hand on his terms. It is also an unforgiving breed and only needs one bad experience regardless of age to ruin a dog's show career.

4 c. overall balance and harmony

Quoting the American standard: In judging the Chow, the overall picture is of primary consideration. Exaggeration of any characteristic at the expense of balance or soundness shall be severely penalized. Elegance and substance must be combined into a well balanced whole, never so massive as to outweigh his ability to be active, alert and agile. Clothed in a smooth or an off-standing rough double coat, the Chow is a masterpiece of beauty, dignity and naturalness. Essential to true Chow type are his unique blue-black tongue, scowling expression and stilted gait.

5 b. treat him as you would all the other dogs in the ring

It's a myth that the chow chow's coat cause undue heat and makes him breath badly. His coat acts as insulation against the elements .Bad/heavy breathing is due to the structure of the nose , air passages and lungs. However, do not be quick to judge on shortened soft palettes and narrow respiratory passages when you hear the breathing - watch for uncomfortable movement of the torso, chow chow can be quite a 'chatty' breed .

6. b. created because he has lips that just touch, not overhanging and this gives the impression of a smile

The upper lips completely cover the lower lips when the mouth is closed but should not be pendulous. This is a breed feature often overlooked by breeders and judges.

7. b.side

From the side you can see the rear leg moving forward from the hip in a straight, stilted pendulum-like swing. The legs do not extend far forward nor far backward and the hind foot pushes strongly to transfer power to the body in an almost straight line. All this due to the minimal rear leg angulation. The coupling must be short to enable  the power to be transmitted from the hind to the front. Although the Chow doesn't have speed of movement , he has excellent endurance because the sound, straight rear leg provides direct, usable power efficiently. The Chow will not move correctly unless he has true conformation and is sound.The movement must be sound, straight moving, agile, brief, quick, and powerful and never lumbering. The judge should also not be fooled by the exhibitors who run their chow chows .

8. a. directly under the line of the hip

Quote from the American standard : Viewed from the side, the hind legs have little apparent angulation and the hock joint and metatarsals are directly beneath the hip joint. It is this structure which produces the characteristic shorter, stilted gait unique to the breed

Quote from the English standard: In profile the foot is directly under the hip joint. Well developed first and second thigh with only slight bend of stifle. Hocks well let down.From hocks downwards to appear straight, never flexing forward.

9. b. the tips of the hairs will taper.

There are chow chows who have a natural 'neat' shape, then there are those that don't. Do not presume that all shorter coats are trimmed as you should not presume that all coats of quality are trimmed