The pride of Wonalancet, New Hampshire, the Chinook is a rugged working dog and devoted family pet known for intelligence, patience, and eagerness to please. Once on the verge of extinction, the Chinook is among the scarcest AKC breeds. Tawny-coated, no-frills Chinooks are muscular and substantial, with males standing as high as 26 inches at the shoulder. Females, with their distinctly feminine look, are a bit smaller. Chinooks were conceived as dual-purpose haulers, with the power of freighting dogs and the speed of sled racers. They are the picture of stouthearted dignity, with a kindly twinkle in their dark, almond eyes. Chinooks are calm, people-oriented dogs with a special feel for children. They are trainable workers who aim to please. Sledding, carting, obedience, agility, search-and-rescue work, and herding are a few pursuits they’ve mastered. Chinooks are not particularly busy dogs, but they need consistent exercise to stay in proper hard condition.
The Chinook was founded by adventurer and polar explorer Arthur Treadwell Walden, of Wonalancet, New Hampshire. In 1896, the 24-year-old New Englander’s wanderlust led him to Alaska at the height of the Gold Rush. For six years Walden worked his way across the Klondike as a prospector, stevedore, logger, riverboat pilot, and, most significantly, a sled-dog driver.
By the time Walden returned to his hometown, he was a devoted musher determined to breed his own line of sled dogs. As his foundation stock, Walden used a mastiff-type dog and descendants of one of Admiral Robert Peary’s Greenland huskies. The pups he bred were admired for their all-around sledding ability and a friendly, affectionate nature. Walden named the breed after Chinook, the lead dog of his sled team. (Chinook is a Native American word meaning “warm wind.”) This dog was the breed’s granddaddy and the one to which all Chinooks trace their lineage.
Walden’s breeding program was a fabulous success, and he and his new breed became well-known in sledding circles. Their fame was soon eclipsed, however, by Len Seppala and his Siberian Huskies, who became international celebrities for their 1925 “Serum Run” to Nome, Alaska.
Walden and his Chinook team accompanied Admiral Richard Byrd’s celebrated 1928 expedition to Antarctica. Byrd was duly impressed by the grit of the 58-year-old Walden and his 11-year-old lead dog, Chinook. He wrote, “Walden’s single team of thirteen dogs moved 3,500 pounds of supplies from ship to base, a distance of 16 miles each trip, in two journeys. Walden’s team was the backbone of our transport.”
Walden died in 1947 while saving his wife’s life from the fire that destroyed their Wonalancet farmhouse. In the following years, the numbers of the breed he created dwindled to the point of near extinction. In 1965, Guinness World Records listed the Chinook as the rarest dog breed, with only 125 known specimens. That number dipped even lower before dedicated Chinook enthusiasts around the world slowly brought the breed back from the brink. Their hard work paid off in 2013, when the Chinook joined the AKC Working Group. The Chinook is the official state dog of New Hampshire.
Temperament: Smart / Patient / Devoted
Height: 22-26 inches
Weight: 55-90 pounds
Life Expectancy: 12-15 years
The Chinook is a robust, healthy breed, but there are certain health conditions that it is prone to. These include hip dysplasia, cryptorchidism (the absence of one or both testes from the scrotum), gastrointestinal disorders, and allergies. Some Chinooks suffer from a condition called ‘Chinook seizures,’ although it is generally thought to be a movement disorder and not true seizures. As with all breeds, a Chinook’s ears should be checked regularly for signs of infection, and the teeth should be brushed often.
Recommended Health Tests From the National Breed Club:
- Hip Evaluation
- Ophthalmologist Evaluation
The Chinook’s plush double coat is fairly easy to care for. Like all mammals, Chinooks shed a bit throughout the year. Weekly brushing will help to remove dirt and loose hair and keep the dog looking his best. Longer, daily brushing sessions will be required during shedding season, which generally occurs twice a year, but happens more often with spayed or neutered animals. As with all breeds, the nails should be trimmed regularly, as overly long nails can be painful to the dog and cause problems walking and running.
While they often appear relaxed and mellow around the house, Chinooks have a tremendous amount of energy, and they thrive on exercise and play. Because they bond strongly with their owners, they make great companions on long walks, hikes, bicycle rides, and camping trips. They even enjoy swimming and boating with their human family. Of course, Chinooks were bred to pull sleds, so it’s no surprise that they excel at sports such as sledding, skijoring, bikejoring, and scootering. Chinooks also enjoy participating in agility, obedience, rally, tracking, and lure coursing events.
Early socialization and puppy training classes are recommended for all dogs and help to ensure that the Chinook grows into a well-adjusted, well-mannered companion. Chinooks are easy to train using positive reinforcement techniques. Unlike most sledding breeds, they can be reliable off-leash. Chinooks, especially young ones, are enthusiastic and affectionate, and they tend to jump up and go face to face with human friends and family members unless they are trained early on not to do so. Because of his friendly, confident, outgoing personality, no amount of training will make a guard dog out of a Chinook.
Breeders recommend that the Chinook be fed a high-quality dog food appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior). Some dogs are prone to getting overweight, so watch your dog’s calorie consumption and weight level. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Give table scraps sparingly, if at all, especially avoiding cooked bones. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet.