by Carrie Voorhees
More than 2,000 years old and perhaps dating back over 3,000 years, the Chow Chow is one of the oldest known breed of dogs. Originating in China, some historians speculate that Chows may have originated in the Arctic circle, then migrated into Mongolia, Siberia, and China. This heavily coated dog was bred to be an all-around working dog, capable of surviving severely cold climates. First kept by fierce Mongolian tribes in China as a hunting and guard dog, the Chow was also used for their meat and fur. Chinese authors point out that the Pekingese, Shih-Tzu, and Lhasas were the "Royal Dogs of China", and the chow was the only breed used for hunting. Before the Chinese used firearms for hunting, Chows were also used as retrievers, pointers, and sled dogs.
The true origin of the breed is unknown; some believe it descends from ancient Mastiff-type dogs crossed with Spitz types. Others believe the Chow is the ancestor of the modern Spitz group of dogs as well as the Akita and Shar-Pei. Ancient artifacts such as pottery and sculptures dating back to the Han Dynasty, (206 B.C. until 22 A.D.) depict easily recognizable Chow
There are two different theories as to how the Chow Chow got his name. Chow, or 'chou', is Chinese slang for edible. Will Judy, author of The Chow Chow, wrote that the name meant 'edible dog of China". Authorities claim that both Chinese and Koreans bred these dogs to be eaten, particularly the smooth-coated variety. In 1878, a British historian and authority on China claimed to have found 25 restaurants in Canton featuring chows on the menu. In 1915, a law was passed in China prohibiting the buying and selling of dog meat. The word chow means food in English, and the shipments of spices and
mixed pickles from China became known as chow chow, as did a spicy pickle relish..
The other theory of the name chow chow may not be as logical, but is still reasonable enough for debate. In the early 1800's, clipper ships sailed from China to England, bringing back a various assortment of cargo, referred to as chow chow. These miscellaneous objects were stored in the ship's hold called the chow chow hold, chow chow meaning bits and pieces of this and that. The first chow chow dog appeared in England in the 1830's, and was known as the chow chow dog because he had been housed in the chow chow hold during the long voyage. The proud and regal chow we see today is more a
product of what happened to the Chow in England and eventually the United States than the ancient Chinese chow of working origin who is seldom even seen in China today.