How does a canine shift from hunter and guard to dog show staple and beloved pet of world-famous personalities like Queen Victoria, Sigmund Freud, and Martha Stewart? The answer, in a nutshell: breeding.

By Patricia Calzo Vega
Photos by Jeffrey C. Lim

I am Chow Chow, Hear Me Roar

The Chow Chow, famous for its lionesque ruff, blue-black tongue, and regal demeanor, has certainly come up in the world since its ancestors first walked the earth over two thousand years ago.

This dog, Diva, is one particularly exquisite specimen. Living up to her champion name “United’s The Sensational,” Diva holds the record for Best Baby Puppy in Show, winning the title 11 out of 12 times in the Philippine Circuit Show 2016. In March 2016, aged six months, she would go on to win Best in Sweepstakes at the Chow Chow National in the United States.

This prizewinning pup is the latest star to emerge from United Chows Thailand’s kennel, founded by noted breeder and show dog judge Ekarat Sangkunakup.

“It all started in 1982 when I went to study in Atlanta. Being 16 and halfway around the world from my native Thailand for thefirst time, I felt very lonely,” shares Sagkunakup. “I thought I would like to have a dog to be a friend and partner during my time at school, away from my family and friends.”

Poring over dog magazines and visiting kennels in his spare time, Sangkunakup was soon enamored by the breed’s appearance and demeanor: “The Chow Chow may look like a bear or a small lion, but its temperament is far from aggressive […] Responsibly bred and socialized Chows are never fierce or intractable, but always refined and dignified.”

The Story Behind the Star

His first dog was a black bitch named Black Oak, which he brought home with him to Thailand. “Every time we took her out in public, she was a star to all the Thai people,” he recalls.

Black Oak’s success in the Thai dog show circuit—like Diva, she won “Baby Best in Show” titles before moving to regular class competitions—was encouraging, and he began to harbor dreams of owning the top ranked Chow Chow in the United States.

Sangkunakup stresses that dog breeding is not an easy business to break into; securing good bloodlines from reputable breeders requires more than a financial transaction. “I worked hard to meet the top US breeders and handlers. They were reluctant to sell a very nice show dog outside the US to a then unknown person.”

To gain the trust of breeders and handlers, prospective breeders and owners must demonstrate discernment and a willingness to learn. Choosing a breed, Sangkunakup notes, is not a decision that can be made overnight; after all, one must take into account the investment and resources required of dog owners, moreso for breeders.

The American Kennel Club primer notes that, “Working with a responsible breeder, those wishing to own a Chow Chow can gain the education they need to know about specific health concerns.”Good breeders often utilize genetic testing to minimize the incidence of disease in their stock. Owners and breeders must also consult a veterinarian regarding feeding regimens. While puppy and adult nutritional needs vastly differ, clean fresh water must be made available at all times.

Grooming is an essential part of caring for the Chow Chow. While the breed may be “fastidious as cats,” its luxuriant double coats requires constant attention. Regular grooming and bathing is a must to maintain their double coats. Sangkunakup recommends a full bath with good dog shampoo once a week; dried completely; and thoroughly brushed.

With United Chows Thailand, Sangkunakup is seeing his hard work bear fruit. He has owned and bred number one-ranked Chow Chows in Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia and the United States, as well as prize winners in Indonesia and Canada. But he is not about to rest on his laurels, and neither should prospective breeders. “Just be diligent in the goals you want to achieve. Keep on learning about the breed. You are never to old to learn new things.”

Chow Chow Cheat Sheet

Lifespan: 11-13 years

Ideal weight: 25-32 kg (male), 20-27 kg (female)

Ideal height: 48–56 cm (male), 46–51 cm (female)

Colors and markings: black, blue, cinnamon, cream, red; no markings

Coat length: long

Health issues: Generally healthy, with possibility of hip and elbow dysplasia, eye disease

Exercise Requirements: “Serene and adaptable, with no special exercise needs”

Personality: “Bright, dignified, serious minded[…]Aloof with outsiders, Chows accept new friendships if introductions are made by their owner, who is the center of the universe for these eternally loyal dogs.”

The Judge’s Viewpoint

Aside from being a Chow Chow breeder, Sangkunakup is also a sought-after judge in the international dog show circuit.

When asked to describe the defining characteristics of the Chow Chow, Sangkunakup deferred to the American Kennel Club breed standard:

“An ancient breed of northern Chinese origin, this all-purpose dog of China was used for hunting,
herding, pulling, and protection of the home. While primarily a companion today, his working
origin must always be remembered when assessing true Chow type.

A powerful, sturdy, squarely built, upstanding dog of arctic type, medium in size with strong muscular development and heavy bone. The body is compact, short coupled, broad and deep, the tail set high and carried closely to the back, the whole supported by four straight, strong, sound legs. 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.

The large head with broad, flat skull and short, broad and deep muzzle is proudly carried and accentuated by a ruff. 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 offstanding 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.”

Ancient History

Described by the Federacion Cynologique International as “essentially well balanced: leonine in appearance, with a proud, dignified bearing,” the Chow Chow’s sturdy frame asserts the breed’s Arctic roots. Classified as an ancient breed—one of fourteen contemporary dogs bearing the most similar genetic material to wolves—the Chow Chow is believed to be the companion dogs of the northern tribes that invaded China in the 11th century.

Richard G. Beauchamp writes, “These barbarian invaders had dogs of formidable size that were described as having black tongues and being so fierce that they could easily bring down humans as if they were straws. These warrior dogs sometimes resembled lions in color as well as in their head characteristics. They also had long claws and shaggy manes that covered their necks.“

These dogs were hunters and guards, and were also used to herd livestock.

The 18th century saw British sailors docking at Chinese ports; some of them would bring Chow Chows with them on their return voyage, thus inadvertently giving the breed its name. According to the American Kennel Club, which officially recognized the breed in 1903, “the name ‘Chow Chow’ has little basis for its origin in China; it is believed that expression evolved from the pidgin-English term for articles brought from any part of the Oriental Empire during the latter part of the 18th century.”

Sources:

http://www.thechowchowclub.co.uk/chow/chowhistory.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chow_Chow#cite_note-40
https://websta.me/p/1212432573098057229_33147006
http://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/chowchow/
http://www.fci.be/Nomenclature/Standards/205g05-en.pdf
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/21/us/collie-or-pug-study-finds-the-geneticcode.html
• Beauchamp, Richard G. Chow Chow. Allenhurst, NJ: Kennel Club Books, 2005. Accessed May 2, 2016. https://www.scribd.com/read/251562310/Chow-Chow
http://www.thechowchowclub.co.uk/chow/chowhistory.htm
http://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/chowchow/p/1212432573098057229_33147006
http://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/chowchow/
http://www.fci.be/Nomenclature/Standards/205g05-en.pdf
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/21/us/collie-or-pug-study-finds-the-geneticcode.html
• Beauchamp, Richard G. Chow Chow. Allenhurst, NJ: Kennel Club Books, 2005. Accessed May 2, 2016. https://www.scribd.com/read/251562310/Chow-Chow
http://www.thechowchowclub.co.uk/chow/chowhistory.htm
http://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/chowchow/

This appeared as “It’s Chow Time” in Animal Scene’s June 2016 issue.