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The Origins Of The Chow Chow
Chow Chow or Chou Chou Dog Breed
It is reported that Chow Chow dogs are one of the oldest species that has inhabited the earth for nearly two to three millenniums. Historians suggest that Chow Chow dogs were ubiquitously present in China as early as the tenth or eleventh century. There are indications that this breed originated in China, as there are references to Chow Chow accompanying the Tartars when they attacked China.
It is common knowledge that most historical findings are beset with controversies.
There is a section of researchers who believe that Chow Chow surfaced for the first time in the Arctic Circle and then migrated to Mongolia, Siberia and eventually to China. Whatever the hiatorical background, we know that today this breed is recognized as native of Mongolia and Tibet. In ancient China, Chow Chow kept vigil over the household and diligently performed the role of a watchdog. Most house owners treated Chow Chow dogs as valuable assets and the story goes that Chinese Emperors nurtured a few hundred Chow Chows to escort them while hunting.
It is known from the various writings of Chinese authors that the Pekingese, Shih Tzus and Lhasas breeds were treated as the royal dogs, and the low profile yet tough Chow Chow was used exclusively while hunting. As a matter of fact, prior to the days the Chinese took to firearms for hunting, they primarily used Chow Chows in multiple ways as retrievers, pointers and sled dogs.
Interestingly, one can find the figures of Chow Chow dogs sculpted on ancient Chinese pottery and other sculptures belonging to the Hun dynasty –from 206 B.C. and till as late as 22 A.D. Despite all the laborious studies, the fact remains that the true origin of Chow Chow is still shrouded in mystery. Researchers are still confused as there are conflicting reports about the origin of Chow Chow dogs. While some sections of them believe the predecessor to Chow Chow is the ancient Mastiff-type dog that was crossed with Spitz types. Others maintain that the Chow Chow is but the forerunner of the modern Spitz, Akita and Shar-Pei.
Regardless of all different historical findings, this fierce and fanciful thickly coated dog was meticulously bred to become a working dog, capable of withstanding the biting Arctic cold of the Frigid Zone. Originally, the rustic Mongolian tribes maintained this breed as hunting and watch dogs, while also exploiting them for their meat and fur needs.
As regard the name of the breed, two different theories are floating around. One version is Chow or ‘Chou’ is Chinese slang for an edible product. This is authenticated by the fact that the Mongolians and Chinese ate this dog’s meat. Will Judy, author of The Chow Chow goes to the extent of saying the name Chow Chow means “edible dog of China.”
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Many historians authoritatively assert that the Chinese and Koreans specially bred these dogs for meat consumption. They even argue that there were 25 restaurants in Canton serving Chow Chow meat on the menu. Though the Chow Chow had surfaced primarily in North China, a bulk of this breed was used in Canton, South China where it was nicknamed as the ‘black mouthed dog’. One fact is however clear - the Chow Chow was a very popular and much adored creature and history tells us that Genghis Khan had a kennel housing 5000 Chow Chows which he assiduously took to battle around 700 B. C.
There is also the interesting fact that Chow Chows were for long used as watch dogs in monasteries and also for herding and sled dogs. Their meat was also eaten in China as late as 1915, till the Chinese government brought legislation banning the trading of Chow Chow meat.
The one fortunate aspect was Chow Chow was saved from extinction as after the Cultural Revolution in China, these dogs were smuggled out of the country by sailors with the express intent of annihilating them. During the 13th century, Marco Polo had made references to the Chow Chow, adding credence to the belief that they were common in those days too. Over a period of time, the name Chow Chow lost its original meaning and came to mean food in everyday parlance – particularly in the English language. Some even use the word Chow to refer to the cargoes of spices and delectable mixed pickles from China.
There is the second theory to the meaning of the word Chow - though this theory is somewhat specious but still plausible. It is stated that Chow Chow, in the early 1800s, referred to clipper ships that sailed from China to England for transporting an assortment of cargo. When they reached a particular port, the sailors were obliged to describe the contents of their cargo. Since they carried an assortment of goods, the term Chow Chow was coined on the spur of the moment, to indicate ‘all and sundry’.
Coming back to the question of the origin of Chow Chow species, the first of this kind surfaced in England in the late 19th century and suddenly grew popularity when Queen Elizabeth took a special liking for this breed. After subsequently reaching the United States in early 1900, the Chow Chow found immediate acceptance into the American Kennel Club in 1903 and labeled as a member of the non-sporting group.
However, it may now be concluded that the majestic breed of Chow Chow that we see around us today, is because of the Royal treatment it received in England as well as the United States. The Chow Chow has come a long way from being used as a tough working dog in China and Mongolia. The status of Chow Chow has today has vastly changed and is today a much sought-after American dog.