Not many things on earth are as fascinating as a chow chow's blue tongue. After all, there are only a few animals on this planet with blue tongues.
Among dogs, the chow chow and the Chinese shar-pei are the only two breeds known for featuring solid black-blue tongues.
Animals With Blue Tongues
There are only a few animals on this planet with blue tongues. Other than dogs, giraffes are known for boasting a black, blue or purple tongue with a pink base, which, according to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, is supposedly meant to protect a giraffe's tongue from sunburns as they nibble on leaves.
Then, there's the blue-tongued skink, a lizard from Australia, which has a blue tongue meant to scare away predators along with a hissing sound, according to the American Museum of Natural History.
Then, finally, there are polar bears who are also known to sport a blue-black tongue that ultimately matches the color of their skin, which we don't normally get to see as it's covered in an immaculate white coat!
Dog Breeds With Blue Tongues
According to the American Kennel Club, the Chinese shar-pei and the chow chow are the only two dog breeds known to have a blue-black tongue.
In the chow chow breed, the standard calls for a tongue with the top surface and edges being solid blue-black, the darker the better.
The presence of a blue-black tongue in this breed is such a unique and critical identifying characteristic, that, should the tongue have its top surface or edges tinted in red or pink or should it have one or more spots of red or pink, it's considered a disqualifying fault according to the American Kennel Club.
The Chinese shar-pei breed standard instead requires that the tongue, roof of the mouth, gums and flews are solid bluish-black. The only exception is a solid lavender pigmentation is dogs with coats in dilute colors.
As in the chow chow, a spotted pink tongue or a solid pink tongue are frowned upon and even means for a disqualification.
Naturally Born Pink
While the distinctive blue-black tongue of the chow chow is a distinguishing feature, what many might not know is that it isn't present at birth.
Chow chow puppies indeed are actually born with a pink tongue just as any other dog!
Just like Dalmatian puppies gain their spots later on, chow chow tongues gain their distinctive blue-black colors at around 8 to 10 weeks of age, explains The Chow Chow Club, Inc.
The process is rather gradual. The pink tongue the pups are born with gradually develops a blue spot or two that spreads until the whole tongue is tinted blue.
This color change occurs about the time the puppies leave the breeder to go to their new homes. Just in time for all those new puppy owners to admire!
Did you know? Interestingly, other than the blue tongue, the chow chow has another unique feature: an extra pair of teeth (supernumerary teeth). According to research published in BMC Genomics, chow chows have 44 teeth rather than the regular 42 teeth all other dogs have.
However, according to the Chow Chow Breed Council of the United Kingdom, chow chow pups initially have 44 teeth, but as the puppy teeth fall out though, chows end up having 42 teeth like any other dog.
An Ancient Breed
The Chow Chow is one of the oldest breeds on earth. This breed's exact history is shrouded in mystery since it traces back to the Han dynasty of China more than 2000 years ago.
Chow chows are believed to have descended from various Chinese indigenous dogs 8300 years ago. Such indigenous dogs are identified as being the foundational lineages after arising from gray wolves.
Many East Asian ancient breeds are believed to to significantly carry more genetic variability compared to European breeds with a recent history of artificial selection.
Due to this breed's characteristics, chow chows were perceived as symbols that closely resembled the traditional stone lions found in front of many Buddhist temples and palaces.
According to the United Kennel Club, the name Chow Chow originated from pidgin-English slang used by sea captains to describe the contents of cargo crates full of miscellaneous Chinese goods.
Did you know? While the chow chow is only one of the two dog breeds with a solid blue-black tongue, there are actually several dog breeds with black in their mouths.
Legend Has It...
Why chow chow have blue-black tongues in the first place still remains a mystery. There apparently is no genetic explanation for this difference yet, but several interesting legends and romantic fables have been passed down for generations. Let's take a look at some of them.
Bears as Ancestors of Chows
This breed's blurred origins along with its unusual looks have led to legends portraying the chow chow as descending from a bear rather than a wolf.
Supporters of this belief claim that a now-extinct primitive wild bear-like animal must have been the ancestor of the Chow.
The fact that chow chows have a blue tongue, a stilted gait and other dogs seem to look away or react defensively upon spotting a chow, is proof of their past ancestry, according to bear-theory supporters.
This legend though isn't too far-fetched considering an ancient relationship between dogs and bears. Discover more about this here: Why do some dogs look like bears?
Droplets of Blue Paint
According to a cute chow chow blue-tongue legend, the Creator was painting the sky blue, and as he was painting, a few droplets of blue paint spilled down.
A dog started licking the paint, and soon, the chow chow's blue tongue was born, explains Susy Flory in the book: "Dog Tales: Inspirational Stories of Humor, Adventure, and Devotion."
A Delicacy to "Chow Down"
A less romantic theory stems from the old practice of selling dog meat in China and Korea. Sadly, on top of chows making good draft dogs, hunters, herders and guardians of the home, they were utilized as a source of food for the family as well.
Richard G. Beauchamp in the book: "Chow Chow," explains how the origin of the word chow may derive from the Chinese (and subsequent English) slang word "chow" which is used to depict something edible.
Beauchamp further explains how Chinese legend provides two practical explanations for a Chow’s most distinguishing characteristics: the straighter hind leg and the blue tongue.
Basically, he claims "the straighter the hindleg, the more abundant the meat; and the bluer the tongue, the more tender and delicious the meat."
Did you know? In 1840 a newspaper reported of several Chows being kept in the London Zoological Park and being referred to as the “wild dogs of China."
Yang H, Wang G, Wang M, et al. The origin of chow chows in the light of the East Asian breeds. BMC Genomics. 2017;18(1):174. Published 2017 Feb 16. doi:10.1186/s12864-017-3525-9