by Vanessa Nicolau in 2013

with thanks to proof readers  Bill Buell (USA)  Sandra Stafford (UK)  Judith-Ann Robertson (Aus)  Christine Millman (Can)  

Introduction   …”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 muzzles….it 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 standard in Southern Africa calls for an active, compact, short-coupled and essentially well balanced dog that is leonine in appearance with a proud, dignified bearing. His frame is well –knit and the tail carried over back. The chow chow chest is broad and deep with well sprung ribs .The back is short and level with powerful loins Looking at the shoulders , these are muscular and sloping with moderate length, yet good bone straight forelegs. The hind legs are muscular with well let down hocks that appear straight with little angulation and  the hocks should never flex forward nor point/break inward or outward. This is an essential characteristic to produce characteristic stilted gait. The neck is strong and full, set well on shoulders and slightly arched and not short.

 Note : …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

The chow chow – a balanced dog with many “S-s“  Around the world and in South Africa many refer to the  chow chows and his "S-s””- Sound, Square, Scowl, Solid Pigment, Short coupled, Stilted gait complimented  with his aloof attitude and  leonine magnificent appearance  and  never without true balance.

Square : An essential element of breed type in the chow chow is the square compact body.  In order to measure the square, the length of body is measured from prosternum to point of buttocks. This is then equal in length to the height which is measured from the withers to the ground. Please note that a dog that is equal height of withers to ground to the length from withers to set on of tail is actually going to be/appear longer than it is tall. (Refer to the 2 pics below) Measuring this way often causes serious discussion amongst breeders and judges as whether the dog is in fact square.  The KUSA breed standard has preferred height indicators.

Measuring the square 


Samuel Draper   (  Liontamer Chow Chows USA)                                                                                                                          Love Banghart  (Rebelrun Chow Chows USA) 

Short coupled  Harold Spira says the definition of a short back is either a back shorter than height at withers or one merely short in relation to a specific breed requirement.  Close Couple - a dog is termed short coupled or close coupled when the distance between the last rib and the commencement of the hindquarters section is relatively short and therefor stronger.

Soundness   The chow chow is a natural breed and many issues which impact on the soundness of the dog is caused by the exaggerations which creep in. Some judges and breeders tend to over emphasize the importance of the head .So often we hear that a chow chow is  “Head breed”  and therefor a big head with lots of wrinkles and  deep set eyes is deemed to be correct. However  a  chow chow with an exaggerated head  and  insufficient leg to balance with the length of body cannot be well balanced. This imbalance  in structure then affects his everyday life and as such cannot be considered sound  and healthy nor perform his historical functions ( for example guarding the home, herding and war ...)

A few visible health issues affecting the breed include entropian ( the American standards says the pupil of the eye should always be visible) and ectropion, both are caused by genetics, too deep set of an eye, and by having too much flesh on the forehead that falls down over the eyes blocking the vision of the dog and is a secondary cause of entropian.  Watering eyes are not a guaranteed sign of entropian .  Insecure hocks which flex forward when moving and even more when stacked. The chow chow is an active dog , and regardless of his coat type should move comfortably without  signs of distress.

 Note for judges :Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect on health & welfare of the dog.

Note : 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... C E Collet The Chow Chow 1953

Note : it is highly desirable to have plenty of bone in the chow yet too much bone means a slow useless dog. …   The  Chow Chow by Will Judy   1934

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 entropion – remembering that the squinting look probably came about from the glare of the snow.  A Chow Chow with round eyes doesn't have 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 and most chow chows do not react to squeaky toys and such.

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

 The scowl is noted as a “furrow” 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 and with the unique “buttons” . 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.

Note : ”A very plain open face never gives the true scowling expression “… Chow 90 UK

Note : …there 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

 Solid Mouth Pigment   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 top surface and edges of 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 acceptablebut in all cases a solid and complete pigmentation is preferred. The inside of the mouth is a preferred solid and darkly pigmented blue- black extending to the roof of the mouth, the flews and as far back as the throat.

There are many articles written on the genetics of the pigment across the different colours within the chow chow breed. Bearing in mind that the standard is written for the ideal and not necessary for what every litter produces as well as the debate as to why the Chow Chow  has black mouth and the top surface and edges of the tongue a dark blue/black pigment, it is a fixed breed-defining feature that must be preserved.

Solid Pigment   Is not limited to the mouth . The chow chow should have dark, black  foot pads. The rims of the eyes should be black and a black anus all contribute to the solid dark pigment unique to this breed.

Stilted gait    The relatively straight upper arm or humerus as well as the rather straight shoulder, tend to co-ordinate and balance with the straight stifle and hock in the rear. In short, the Chow tends to be somewhat straight in the front and quite straight in the rear. If a Chow is short-coupled and well let down in hock, it will not have a 90 degree lay of shoulder.  This is closer to a  60/120 degree of shoulder angulation  which is required to  move efficiently and effectively . Because of these anatomical facts, the Chow moves in a stilted manner, not in a smooth or steady gait nor a flowing  and without "major reach & drive". The best way to move a chow chow in order to see the required movement is a triangle, with the side gait showing the true stilt. There will be no swinging of legs on the front and rear move – the movement is one of economy – straight forward and parallel. The chow chow moves efficiently and although he isn’t a fast moving dog he should still move with efficiency around the ring regardless of the heat of the day or the coat type. As the gait of the chow chow is increased the action coming and going should approach the center line of movement/balance but never to cross over. The faster the dog is gaited the more the dog’s front and rear assemblies will approach the center line.

Note: the American standard describes the stilted gait well : “Correct Chow Chow gait is an essential element of breed type. Viewed from the side, the rear gait is short and stilted. The rear leg moves up and forward like a pendulum, causing a slight bounce in the rump. There is little extension either forward or to the rear. There is no roll through the midsection. Viewed from the front or rear, the legs move straight forward. As speed increases, feet tend to converge toward center line of balance. The Chow Chow is somewhat lacking in speed but has excellent endurance”

Note : 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

Note: walk a length around the ring on your tippy toes, this will give you an indication of the chow chow’s stilted movement.

 Temperament  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 often shown on ramps).

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.

 In closing  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 with little to no apparent bend to the stifle when still.

·         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 tongue pigment blue-black and the balance of the mouth black as preferred?

·         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?

·         Is the dog aloof without being overly aggressive to man or beast and without being timid?

 Please remember that  the chow chow  is a complete picture of harmony and balance, of handsomeness and therefor no part can be considered more important that the next , the chow chow must be judged looking at the overall dog.