It’s the Trivial Pursuit question every dog lover knows the answer to. What breed has a blue/black tongue? The Chow Chow, of course (because this version of the game is older than the Shar-Pei’s kennel club recognition). In reality, other dogs can have this feature, but their tongues are spotted and uncommon. A pink tongue for the Chow Chow or Shar-Pei is considered a disqualifying fault. However, there is a third, rare breed that shares this characteristic, the Chinese Chongqing Dog.
The Chongqing has yet to be recognized by any major kennel club. Its numbers are low, even in its native China. Like the Chow Chow and Shar-Pei it is thought to be an ancient dog, this one hidden in the region of what is now Chongqing Province.
Exactly how old are these breeds? This is a question that is difficult to answer. Both the Chow Chow and Shar-Pei continue to show in DNA testing as some of the oldest, most primitive dogs. (To my knowledge the Chongqing has not been tested.) However, this doesn’t tell us how long they have existed - or when they both existed. It's the age old question, which came first, the Chow Chow or the Shar-Pei?
We may never know the answer to these questions, but let’s begin way back in the Han Dynasty. The Han Dynasty spanned four centuries, from 206 BC–220 AD. While little literature regarding dogs remains from that time period there are countless statues and pottery pieces that remain today. Collectively these items are often referred to as Han Dogs, due to when they were produced and the fact they all are remarkably similar. They are classic spitz, with curled tails and prick ears - or ones folded over.
It is believed Han Dogs were primarily kept as house and property guards, tethered outside to drive off intruders. They would have also been used for hunting purposes, possibly in packs. Effigies of these dogs litter tombs, still protecting their dead masters. Chow Chow and Shar-Pei fanciers alike have claimed one statue or another as being their breed. After all, they look remarkably like them (and the Chongqing).
So which breed are they? Likely all, or none of them, depending on how you want to look at it. For although each of these dogs were a specific type, it was kennel clubs that created the idea of breeds as we see them today. Furthermore, the modern Chow Chow and Shar-Pei have been heavily influenced by European and North American breeders.
The original, ancient dogs would have spread across mainland China, developing into different regional types. Unfortunately only these three dogs appear to have survived today. During the mid-1900s communist China had exterminated dogs for over 30 years, believing them to be an unnecessary luxury. The Chow Chow survived because it was already established outside China's borders. The Shar-Pei held on at the brink of extinction due to Hong Kong breeders, which at the time was still under British control. While the Chongqing's stronghold was a remote region and the dogs themselves working hunters. This left them exempt from the massive destruction.
Meanwhile dogs outside China once been bred for function were now bred for appearance. The Chow Chow became stockier with a larger, thicker coat. The Shar-Pei, once considered the rarest breed in the world had exaggerated wrinkles that brought health conditions. While in their homeland the Chongqing continued on, working and hunting, changing little over the centuries.
Chow Chows from the early 1900s
Perhaps the best example of how closely these dogs are related is to view the smooth coated Chow Chow above, middle with the Chongqing and Bone Mouth Shar-Pei below. The Bone Mouth is the traditional form of the Shar-Pei, before the excessive wrinkles. The two have a distinctly different coat, the Chongqing is sparse and near hairless and the Shar-Pei’s rough sand. However, their body type is remarkably similar. Not definitive proof, to be sure, but there are breed legends with far less treated as fact.
Modern Shar-Peis, Bone Mouth Far Right
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