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11 Fluffy Facts About Chow Chows

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It’s hard to miss a chow chow, with its signature lion-like mane and teddy bear face. Learn more about what’s under all that fluff. 

1. THEY’RE AN OLD BREED. 

As with most dog breeds, the chow chow's beginnings are a little unclear. It’s believed that the dogs have been around for roughly 2000 to 3000 years. Historians have found records of a chow-like dog in texts from the 11th century, and Marco Polo wrote about them in his travels. Some believe the chow is a result of mixing the mastiff of Tibet with the Samoyed in northern Siberia. Others insist the chow influenced the Samoyed, the Norwegian elkhound, the keeshond, and the Pomeranian. Some suspect that the Siberian dogs made their way to Mongolia, and were eventually brought to China by the Mongols. The bear-like dogs were then welcomed into Tibetan monasteries. 

2. THE CHINESE USED THEM AS WORKING DOGS. 

While originally from the north, the chow has most frequently been seen in southern China and is often considered indigenous to the region surrounding Canton. China used these fluffy pups as working dogs; they were trained to hunt, guard, pull sleds, and sometimes herd cattle. One emperor during the Tang dynasty adored the dogs so much, he had over 5000 chows with 10,000 men trained to hunt with them. 

3. THEIR NAMES ARE NOT OF CHINESE ORIGIN. 

We might call the dogs chow chows, but in China, the breed is called songshi quan. The name ‘chow chow’ comes from a pidgin-English term used to describe anything coming from the East in the 18th century. The catch-all phrase was meant to describe various knick-knacks or tchotchkes like dolls, porcelain, and other curios and, despite being living creatures, the dogs were roped in with the other baubles. As a result, the chow chow inherited the name from merchants who could not be bothered to properly mark what they were shipping. 

4. SIGMUND FREUD HAD ONE. 

The famous psychoanalyst once had a chow chow named Jofi that would frequently sit in on his sessions. The furry dog made children feel more relaxed, and even helped Freud analyze his patients: Jofi had a way of telling who was nervous and would only approach calm patients. “Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, quite unlike people, who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate in their object relations,” he wrote

5. THEY HAVE A TOOTHY GRIN …

Chows have a little something extra in their mouths: Two extra teeth! Most dogs only sport 42 teeth, but the chow has 44. 

6. … AND AN UNUSUAL TONGUE 

One thing that might surprise someone new to the breed is the chow’s uniquely-colored tongue. As puppies, the dogs have standard pink tongue, but with age, their tongues turn much darker. Full grown chow chows have blue-black tongues that look almost lizard-like. The only other dog to sport this unusual tongue is the Chinese Shar-Pei. 

7. THEIR COATS HAVE VARIETY. 

According to the American Kennel Club, chow chows come in five colors: black, blue, cinnamon, cream, and red. Their coats can also either be smooth or rough. 

8. KEEP THEM AWAY FROM THE WATER. 

That iconic double coat may look good, but it can cause issues around water. The heavy fur can weigh the dogs down when wet, leading to some lackluster swimming skills. If you don’t know how your chow will fare in the water, it’s best to exclude them from trips to the beach or pool. 

9. THEIR BACK LEGS ARE STRAIGHT. 

Unlike other dogs, the chow's back legs are completely straight, which gives them a somewhat stilted gait.

10. ONE INSPIRED A SCENE IN A DISNEY MOVIE. 

One Christmas, Walt Disney bought his wife Lillian a pet chow chow. He felt like he needed some presentation when handing over the puppy, so he put it inside a hat box. Lillian was a little disappointed when she first saw the box—until she realized there was a yelping puppy inside. A similar scene made its way into the movie The Lady and the Tramp, when Lady is also given as a Christmas gift. 

11. THEY CAN BE A LITTLE STANDOFFISH. 

The chow has a bad rap for being a kind of a jerk. The dogs are often aggressive and distrustful of strangers; some insurance companies refuse to cover chow chow owners. Typically, the chow is a one-person dog that bonds to one owner and scorns the rest. This rude and sometimes dangerous behavior can be prevented with proper training and socialization. With the right upbringing—and plenty of exercise—the chow can be the perfect furry companion. 

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

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