As with all things, there are some pieces of advice that can go a long way in helping to ensure that your Chow remains healthy. Some of that advice includes some of the do's and don'ts of exercise.
Part of the normal routine for a healthy Chow is regular exercise which, along with a good diet, is essential to keep your Chow (or any dog) happy and healthy
All dogs need and usually love their daily exercise. Chows are considered to be a medium-sized breed, but share many traits with the giant breeds, including the slower development of the skeletal structure. This, in turn, affects the amount of exercise your Chow will need as he or she grows into an adult. While your Chow is very young, s/he will get enough exercise by natural playfulness and skittishness.
Before you begin to take your Chow out - off your own property - please wait to do so until the puppy vaccinations are complete and you have been given the all clear from your veterinarian. This is usually around the 16 weeks of age mark.
First I want to caution you that over-exercising your Chow while it is still growing is a big mistake. A Chow's skeletal structure is still forming and growing until s/he is at least 18 months old. Until this age or later, the bones are not strong enough to cope with the extra stress that too much exercise imposes. Little and often is the rule until your Chow grows to full strength.
This breed is one that has a range of exercise styles: some are jogging Chows, some walking Chows and the others are couch potatoes. No matter the style of Chow you may have, they should always be kept well muscled through normal, easy daily exercise. Chow should never be allowed to become obese. Even at maturity, never think of your Chow beyond four years of age of a child, this includes emotionally, mentally and physically. However, as your Chow ages, the physical capacity will diminish as he enters into his elderhood. From puppyhood 'til about three or four, your Chow is still developing and maturing. To gauge the level of exercise, think of what would be normal for a one year old child, two year old child up to a four year old.
There are some activities that should NEVER be encouraged in a Chow.
Jumping should never be allowed at any age. Encouraging or forcing an adult Chow to jump higher than its own height can cause a number of problems in the hips, knees and lower back.
Dancing or standing on hind feet should never be allowed at any age. They may do it, just don’t encourage it - in fact, it's best to tell them to get down. Again, this is due to the heavy assembly in the normal Chow and the damage that this sort of activity invites.
Between three and six months of age is a good time for you and your chow to spend in playful learning. This is a good time for your Chow and you to learn about basic training including walking on a lead. You can make this into a fun playtime and quit when the puppy gets tired. This is a good time to take the puppy for rides in the car, to visit people, exposing it to various places and noises. This is when you can begin some serious socialising, which is a very important aspect of training.
I strongly encourage all Chow puppy buyers - experienced Chow owners and novice Chow owners alike - to enrol your puppy into "Puppy Obedience Classes". Check with the Obedience Clubs in your area and find one that takes puppies between four and six months of age. This is a fun introduction for you and your Chow to obedience training with people who know how to train you both and allows you as the owner to learn what the puppy needs and does not need..
One half hour, two to three times a day while under six months of age is a good rule of thumb for exercise and play. No formal training should be started at this age. Chow puppies are neither mentally nor emotionally ready for prolonged education. Now is a good time to incorporate a few training exercises into his play; however, only positive reinforcement should be used. Correction is not an effective training tool at this age. A great deal can be learned from reading Karen Pryor's book, Don't Shoot the Dog, for a really good outline of how to use positive reinforcement. Clicker training, a form of positive reinforcement training, has had good results even at this early age.
Allow your Chow puppies to be puppies. In terms of exercise, they will regulate themselves. HOWEVER, as a new owner, particularly if you have children, you must learn to watch for the signs that tell you that your puppy is tired and never push him beyond that point. It is worthwhile thinking along the lines of having a baby. If you had a year old toddler, would you expect him to walk up 10 flights of stairs in one day? You would let a toddler walk up the stairs at their own pace and when tired, you would pick them up and carry them. In the same way, let a Chow puppy do what they can and then, if necessary, pick them up and carry them the rest of the way, wherever that may be.
This is NOT a time for you and your new best friend to start going for long walks. When your pup stops and sits down or lies down, no matter what the activity is, she has reached the end of her physical endurance and you should not force or drag her to follow you. For the puppy's benefit (particularly skeletal), please pick the pup up and carry her home.
After about six months, your and your Chow can start to go for walks, but these are best kept to a 10 minute maximum for at least another three to six months; at nine months, you can slowly increase the amount of time walking to about 15 minutes. Again, when your Chow gets tired and stops, remember not to try to get it to do more.
After a minimum of six months, you can allow your Chow to attempt stairs. However, let your Chow decide when she will attempt to use stairs or a set of steps. Stairs can be used to help strengthen leg mussels, but it's a case of knowing if the puppy needs to climb up or down the stairs. Going up stairs can strengthen the rear and going down stairs can strengthen the front legs. Once again, this should be discouraged before the age of six months and the Chow should be the one, after that time, to make up her mind when and if she needs or wants to go up or down the stairs.
There will be plenty of running and zooming about as a result of sheer puppy exuberance - just stand back and enjoy. Running as a companion to a human on a regular running regime, however, particularly on roads and footpaths, can and does cause impact damage to the skeletal structure of your Chow, particularly at a young age. While I personally don't advocate running with Chow puppies, many other Chow trainers and breeders suggest that after six months of age, a Chow can be gradually introduced to some running. At six months of age, no more than four city blocks is thought to be a reasonable goal to SLOWLY build toward.
If you want your Chow to accompany you on your daily run, please keep in mind the example of the toddler and the type of Chow you have. It is also worth keeping in mind that Chows were never bred to be running dogs. They were bred for pulling and marching; thus, they make a much better walking companion. Furthermore, the double coat on a Chow makes it much more susceptible to heat prostration and a daily run can cause heat exhaustion on the wrong day when the heat and humidity combine to make a lethal combination for a Chow. If you do decide to introduce your Chow to running, please do it slowly.
This is not a time to discontinue obedience training; and if you haven't started, now is a good time to start. After about six months of age is when your Chow is capable of learning a lot of new things and quickly. Again, I encourage you to find an obedience club that advocates positive reinforcement training; and in particular, clicker training techniques have incredible results, particularly with Chows.
A Word or Two about Socialising
It is good to take your puppy to places where there is a lot of activity, such as, parks, school yards, and any local ball games. Also in the same way, expose your new puppy to other dogs of all ages. You will control these new situations by always having the puppy on a LEAD. Different environments and situations show the puppy that the world is a much bigger place than home. All of this is usually well accepted by a puppy. He is young and curious and will most likely thoroughly enjoy all these new adventures.
Although your Chow puppy will think these are adventures and fun times, they are much more. Introducing all these new things, from people, dogs, and new situations to different environments, while your puppy is young will assist you in owning a well-adjusted dog in the long run.
Any puppy that is not well socialised at a young age can pose a challenge to the human trying to socialise the dog at an older age. Bad habits will have been picked up and it will be three or four times the work for you to correct and re-teach. You do not want an antisocial, poorly adjusted dog, so start early with your puppy.
After 12 months as your Chow continues to grow up, he must be taken for regular walks. Keep your Chow on a lead whenever you are near a road or wherever he is likely to cause a nuisance if allowed to run free. Remember that Chows are not renowned for "coming" when called, so free running has to be done in a safe and enclosed space.
Both you and your Chow will be much happier if she is well trained. Remember that not everyone is as fond of dogs as you are and you must respect their feelings and keep your Chow under control at all times.
If you live in an area where part of your walk takes you and your Chow over hard ground, this will help to keep their toenails short.
Regular and varied walks are not just essential to keep your Chow fit - they also provide the opportunity for your Chow to explore and to experience new stimuli, including meeting other dogs. This will help him to develop into a contented and well-adjusted individual - and will help to avoid the development of problem behaviour. All exercise should be supervised - don't allow your Chow to stray and never turn your Chow out during the day to fend for himself.
Remember that a good walk every day will keep her (and probably you!), in good shape and will help to avoid the problems of obesity.
Exercising the older Chow
As your Chow ages into a senior dog, he will tire more easily. His joints may stiffen and he will be subject to the same sort of muscular aches and pains that humans experience as they age. Fortunately, there are a number of drugs available that your veterinarian can use to improve your dog's mobility, if required.
Older dogs often have deteriorating eyesight and their hearing and other senses (including smell) may also be impaired. They can easily become disorientated and lost if separated from their owner; so again, it is a good idea to keep your Chow on a lead when out walking.
Although she may be less active, it is still beneficial for her to maintain a moderate level of exercise - this helps to improve her circulation, keeps her joints moving and ensures that she receives plenty of fresh air. It also gives her ample opportunity to relieve herself and will help to avoid accidents in the house - control of the bladder and anal sphincter may no longer be as efficient as in youth.
Take him for shorter, more frequent walks but never force him to exceed his capabilities. If the weather is wet, make sure he is thoroughly dried off when you get home. If the ground is icy or if there is salt or grit on the roads, make sure his paws are washed and dried well to avoid any irritation, which can lead to sores and infections.
Don't take her out for walks when the temperature is extremely hot or extremely cold - her body may not be able to cope. Wait until conditions are more comfortable and don't stay out too long.
We are available at any time during your Chow's life for help with anything that will ensure *our* Chows are happy and healthy. Please don’t hesitate to call on us. Good luck with your bundle of love. Your heart will never be the same!
Judith-Ann Robertson & Brian Ashen & The Sengé Chows
Email: senge @ iprimus.com.au
(take out the spaces & you’ll have the right address)
We don’t profess to be experts; in fact, we are always reading and researching, updating and discussing what we learn with other Chow folk. We are sharing with you what we have learned over the years of having been owned by Chows and having done research into Chow anatomy and basic care. There will be plenty of people out there who agree with us and plenty who don’t. Please do your own research and please use your own judgement.
With many thanks to Elizabeth Simpson, T'sulin Chows (Australia), Love Banghart of Rebelrun Chows (USA) and Douglas Johnston, Lohan Chows (USA) and many other Chow owners, trainers and breeders from around the world for all their continuing advice and wisdom.
Updated November 2009