Type and Functionality

By F.P.A. Odenkirchen,

     Since the standard of the Chow Chow has been 
modified several times and is not identical worldwide
even today, it is obvious there are no absolutes. 
So far, a perfect specimen has never been agreed 
upon, and if it ever comes along its only major fault
will be that neither you nor I own it. This column is 
therefore not intended to suggest what is right and 
wrong, but hopefully to facilitate the preservation 
and development of the Chow through intelligent 
discussion of type and functionality. As breeders,
exhibitors or simply fanciers, we have a 
responsibility to the breed we have chosen to 

      It appears many of us easily lend ourselves to 
questioning the ability, objectives and perhaps 
even the mental stability of our judges, especially
when decisions do not favor our entry. More often 
than not, such opinions are greatly influenced by 
tunnel vision, kennel blindness or ego. The vast 
majority of our judges are not Chow experts, 
but really try to evaluate our breed objectively, 
guided by the standard but also by the entries
the fancy presents as close approximations 
of perfect specimens. The standard is only a 
part of their appreciation of our breed; the 
rest is based on their perception of what the 
fancy wants by observing what is most 
frequently presented in the ring.

     Therefore, what is successful in the ring 
today may become the accepted interpretation 
of the standard in the immediate future. 
The ensuing overemphasis on characteristics
deemed desirable at one particular time has 
historically tended to lead to gross exaggeration 
of type and functionality. We have seen a period of
plain heads and exceedingly long, soft and silky 
coats, followed by a period with great numbers 
of exaggerated, wrinkly heads, followed by 
small dogs with short, stubby legs, ski sloping
toplines and disproportionately large,
overdone heads.

      We also saw a meteoric rise in numbers, 
with a concurrent proliferation of open pedigrees
The wisdom seemed to be that large numbers by 
themselves would ensure the chance of obtaining 
a few good specimens, while continued outcrossing 
would achieve such a mix-up of the hereditary 
makeup of individuals that the occurrence
of polygenic defects, such as hip dysplasia, 
would effectively be eliminated However, 
both rationales are a sure recipe for the decline of 
a breed. This subject will be further discussed 
in a future column.

      Fortunately, the popularity of  our breed is 
currently declining, so hopefully through a more
enlightened approach we can reverse the damage
that has resulted from this period of increasing 
popularity. In order to do this successfully, we have
to go back to basics and focus on type and functionality.

    Type, as defined in the May column, is most evident 
in the dogs that prove to be best suited to perform
the particular functions for which they were originally 
intended. Note the word "functions," which indicates
that correct structure, mental and physical soundness, 
condition and sufficient intelligence to successfully
complete their tasks are of prime importance

     Beauty became a factor in assessing a dog only 
after the useful role of the species had become 
obsolete And even though beauty has become 
increasingly important, disregard of type will lead to 
the ultimate  loss of the breed.

    Alterations to breed type can only be justified to 
secure its preservation within the constraints of 
today's society. For instance, the original Chows
were far from friendly, which was a requirement 
for their role as guardians in a hostile environment. 
It was part of the correct type.

    This may have been quite acceptable for the 
desolate areas where they came from, but totally 
unacceptable in a suburban environment where 95
percent of our Chows end up as pets. As breeders, 
it is our responsibility to root out any sign of 
unprovoked aggression or threatening behavior
toward people. Such aggression is sometimes 
the result of nervousness, shyness or cowardice, 
but generally reflects mental instability. This has
been demonstrated to be an inherited defect, 
and a responsible breeder has no business 
perpetuating the problem by claiming it to be 
an acquired behavior, breeding with such an 
individual or getting rid of the dog by foisting 
it on an unsuspecting person. A serious breeder 
has to accept that culling is an integral part 
of sound and responsible breeding practices.

     To recognize this defect, the eyes will have it. 
Rolling eyes indicate the dog is looking to escape. 
In the mature Chow with a deep-set eye, look for 
posture and a stiff, cautious approach. This type 
of dog should be avoided when breeding or 
showing is contemplated. A young pup should be
inquisitive and friendly, while the properly 
socialized mature Chow should be self-assured 
with a calm, steady gaze and normally quite aloof
to strangers.

      When evaluating the Chow, we should always 
remember that it is a member of the spitz family 
and its general appearance should fit that picture. 
Whenever it inclines toward Mastiff like 
characteristics or behavior, its type is incorrect.

      On the other hand, the picture of Chow VIII 
shows a dog typical of the spitz family. 
Even though we have really improved the breed 
in the past century, we should try to maintain 
this elegance in appearance, the exceedingly 
proud carriage ot head and neck and the 
impression of solidity without cloddiness. 
The breed should be strong, agile, well muscled,
alert and full of life. Any suggestion that beauty 
was obtained at the expense of functionality 
is an aberration of type.

The Chow at its best has an arresting personality. 
Its proud and independent character does not 
suit everybody. Let us try to keep this unique
breed true to type, the preserve of those who 
appreciate it for what it is supposed to be, 
rather than what the general public would like 
it to turn into. Do give it a thought

Odenkirchen, PO Box 863, Waterdown
Ontario, Canada LOR 2HO 

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