The Soul of the Chow Chow
BREED HISTORY, NOT ONLY BREED STANDARD.
CHOW OWNERS AND BREEDERS FORM PART OF A DOG WORLD MADE UP OF PEOPLE FUNCTIONING VARIOUSLY WITHIN AN INCREASINGLY FAST-PACED, SELF-CENTERED SOCIETY OF HUMANKIND, SPINNING AWAY FROM TRUE RESPECT FOR NATURE. JUST BY BROWSING THROUGH A DOG MAGAZINE, ONE FINDS THAT WITHIN THE DOG WORLD TOO, SOCIETY'S PRESSURE HAS MADE INROADS. ADVERTS ABOUND WITH BUZZWORDS, TITLES AND CATCH-PHRASES USED FOR THEIR PERCEIVED VALUE TO PROMOTE, IT IS SAID, THE DOGS. YET TOO OFTEN, MAN FINDS LITTLE TIME, SPCE, MONEY OR EVEN INCLINATION TO PAY NO MORE THAN LIP SERVICE TO WHAT OUR BREEDS, AS HISTORICAL BEINGS, SHOULD HAVE THE INCLINATION, ABILITY AND OUTLET, TO BE. AND SO TOO, ONE OF THE OLDEST BREEDS IN HISTORY, THE CHOW CHOW, FINDS ITSELF FAST LOSING IT'S SOUL WITHIN THIS MODERN WORLD.
Chow Chows have shared a close bond with humans for millenniums – it is their rightful place to be, even today. They adjust by fitting in with our circumstances. We should likewise accord them the dignity, as far as we possibly can, to be true Chow Chows.
The most important values which should be upheld by humans claiming to care about preservation of this ancient breed and its future, are centered on the soul of the Chow Chow. The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English says about the soul: “the special quality that gives something its true character.”
These values promote the Chow Chow, not as modern man perhaps would demand - so that it fits into a mould convenient to humans - but particularly as the breed was manifest for millenniums before it came to the West. These values also promote mental stability, emotional and physical well-being, whilst maintaining the aesthetic appearance.
To illustrate these values, the reader is invited to enjoy a rare experience in modern times: a true-life pack of Chow Chows on a typical excursion. Most of these Chow Chows have already passed evaluation centered on cosmetics. We now join them to gain understanding centered on historic demands. Whilst watching them enjoy functioning as history and nature intended, the reader is invited to take note of the values manifest, values which are critically important to the preservation of the very soul of this ancient Chow Chow.
The winter sun brushes the grass stubble with its warmth as the cool air drifts refreshingly over the predominantly open field of somewhat four hundred hectares. Bird song fills the air and the new day is well on its feet. Suddenly the black and white plumage of plover males dot the sky along with their taunting ‘tink-tink’ sound. Wildlife in the area are warned: the pack has arrived.
Leading the pack of seven Chow Chows is a young adult male. Highly alert and exuding the excitement at the start of a hunt, he moves at an easy gallop - head carried high with nose, eyes and ears drinking in the scents, sights and sounds. Already some ten metres ahead of the pack, he has time to stop and mark territory, sniff a hole in the ground and then, looking back to ensure all are following, he takes off at a fast pace along a pathway.
Never too far from him is his trusted mate. She is, in this case, his twin sister and six weeks pregnant from a visiting male. She too moves at a fast trot, stopping occasionally to scent mark the way or follow a small trail. Mid pack are an older male of some eight plus years and two females of varying adult ages. The mid pack do not wander off the route much. Their pace is a more consistent trot. Occasionally one will stop to scent mark or follow a small trail, but their goal is to keep up with the alpha pair.
Bringing up the vanguard are a mature adult female and a young male of six months old. The female has a very slow trotting pace working hard to keep the pack ahead in her sights whilst keeping an eye on what’s happening behind them.
The youngster is some twenty metres away from the pack, pursuing the taunting plovers, desperately believing their lie that he could catch one of them. The plovers continue their teasing game, dropping to the ground and as soon as he is close, flying up with a ‘tink-tink’, luring him in a direction. When he feels the pack are too far ahead, he races back to catch up with them, torn between the desire to prove a point to the plover and to keep up with his pack
AT THE STREAM
They reach a stream of sufficient depth at places to necessitate swimming. The pack leader has already traversed the shallower part and searches out the deeper waters for a swim. He climbs out the wet and muddy stream banks, straining legs, muscles and joints, in order to sniff out cane rats in the thick mud and rushes along the edges.
The pack spends a short time in the stream. One smooth female in particular has the curious habit of promptly lying down in the shallow water, first to one side, then to the other. Once the water has covered her entire body area, she may spend brief time in the water, but then leaves. The vanguard female has finally arrived along with the youngster and they slide down the muddy banks to enjoy the water for a few minutes.
The alpha pair start moving on and everyone follows. The senses of the dog are permanently on high alert and his pace is now a steady trot. Suddenly he spots a large bird in the grass. He is off with the alpha female in pursuit. The rest of the pack head in their direction, but soon are distracted by other scents in the grass as they realize that the hunt is off again. The youngster is once again in pursuit of another plover, ever hopeful. Suddenly the plover darts in low above the dogs. The pregnant alpha female leaps up to grab him, all feet off the ground, but misses: his is a very calculated dive! She looks after him in disgust, but does not pursue; she had been where the young male is, in her own youth. She redirects, in an easy swinging trot, to follow the pack leader who is looking back to see if all are following. Then, when the pack starts moving again, he sets off in his characteristic steady bouncing trot. A mound of soft earth draws the pack’s attention and they sniff eagerly at freshly dug holes. Rabbits are active here at night. The youngster watches the adults for a few seconds and soon has his own nose down a hole. Some of the dogs dig a little where the scent is fairly fresh.
As the vanguard female arrives, the pack are off again. They reach another part of the stream and the alpha pair launch themselves into the water. A few divert upstream into the rushes as bird and small animal scents draw them in. The pack leader with the youngster in tow, have left the pack behind. They spend some time finding new scents both up and down stream, occasionally returning for a swim. The vanguard female has time to take a breather.
Time to move on and this time the youngster keeps with the pack. A dead duck is investigated, but left alone. A few more holes are enlarged. Suddenly the pack leader stops and stares. As if one Chow, the pack senses his energy and stare as well. A flock of Guinea fowl! His tail and head drop to form a streamlined 'top-line'. He breaks into a fast moving, crouching trot, his mate a little to one side of him. Their poses identical, they approach the flock with amazing speed and single minded precision. The pack follows.
The youngster stands overawed for a moment, but as the birds start moving, he starts running, full speed ahead head and tail high in the air. The Guinea fowl are wise birds. They are fast runners and will try to outrun their enemy, but as it becomes obvious it will not work today, the flock takes to the air with their characteristic twittering and whistling. A slow starter is low over the youngster’s head and he leaps up to grab it. He is rewarded with a feather. After a short pursuit, he stops to watch them fly away, then rejoins the pack which are now sniffing the ground where the birds were.
Soon they are on the move again. This time up into the small forested area near the lake. As the growth is thicker here, the pack remains tighter knit, and the pack leader slows its pace – he is never very far ahead. They can smell the water and are eager to reach it. Upon arrival at the lake, the pack leader finds two strange humans fishing. He approaches with caution but confidence. Sniffing the ground periodically whilst keeping his eyes on them, he circles around them, to about one metre from them. Then he stands, facing them boldly, staring them in the eyes, head and nose up, drinking in their scent and assessing their intent for a few seconds. He decides that they are neither harmful nor friendly (in fact he knows they are quite petrified!) and then moves back to the pack. The alpha female perhaps because of the pregnancy is more aloof, she stands some way back, and guardedly takes in their scent. Alongside her the youngster follows her example, goes somewhat closer, but then decides to join the activity in the lake.
Some wild geese have taken to the water and the dogs are distracted into the lake in pursuit. They soon realize that this is not their turf, yet, whilst the rest go back to hunting rats and birds in the reeds, the alpha female and the youngster maintain a focused vigil within the water, willing the geese to make the fatal mistake of coming closer.
A vehicle draws up and the Chows happily approach their beloved human family. They reluctantly jump into the vehicle and are on their way home. Apart from the vanguard female, only a slight bit of panting betrays exercise and excitement. Their five to seven kilometres excursion of running, walking, mud sliding and climbing, rocky, stubby hard ground, wet ground and swimming had not even begun to exhaust them. They could repeat this entire round trip right now, with ease if only their humans would allow it but they'll have to wait a day or so to repeat it.
Neither the concept of running in a pack, nor the level of activity is viable for everyone. It is not easy to find the correct times and places to responsibly do off-lead excursions with a pack of Chows. Out of respect for other people, the environment as well as for the safety of the dogs, leads must be used where appropriate. Meticulous parasite and viral control regimes must be in place. Grooming and diet have to be adjusted to suit this lifestyle and the level of exercise for puppies must be controlled according to their age and ability.
When it is possible to practice it though, this active lifestyle strongly returns to one's vision vital fundamentals which are the foundations of the soul of this ancient Chow Chow, value systems which one does well to keep in the forefront of one's life shared with Chow Chows, particularly in choosing breeding dogs.
1 – Absolute necessity of correct aloof yet bold and highly instinctive temperament - proven by problem-solving ability, not just well-trained behaviour.
2 – Acknowledgment that whilst perfection is unattainable, general soundness is a necessity - proven by ability to consistently perform physically with endurance.
3 – Vital importance of correct structure and coat - proven by physical endurance ability and resistance to the elements which cannot manifest in prepared glamour.
4 – Retaining aesthetics by means of the breed show ring evaluation - a limited measure by virtue of it's nature.
When a correctly proportioned, proven balance of these values is found in a Chow Chow, it truly lives up to its millenniums-old, rich breed history, not just the breed standard. It stands naturally proud and dignified - exuding the very Soul of the Chow Chow.