The Chinook was originally developed as a sled dog in the state of New Hampshire, which has recognized the breed as the official state dog. The Chinook was developed by famed dog sled operator Arthur Walden and all Chinooks are descended from his equally famous lead dog, Chinook. For many years, Chinooks were only bred by one kennel, and by the 1980’s were considered to be the world’s rarest dog breed. Over the past 20 years, a small but dedicated number of fanciers has worked hard to increase the population of Chinooks and to get them recognized by major kennel clubs. Although still occasionally used as a working sled dog, the Chinook is now most well-known as a family companion and is known for being exceptionally good with children.
Developed during the 20th Century, more of the Chinook’s history is definitely known than is the case with most breeds, though a series of disasters and breeder actions has somewhat obscured it. The Chinook owes its creation entirely to one man, Arthur Walden. Walden was a famous sled dog driver, with many years of experience in Alaska and the Yukon. Eventually, Walden settled in New Hampshire, where he became an innkeeper in the town of Wonalancet, in the north central portion of the state. While there, he decided to continue breeding sled dogs, but he wanted to develop his own strain. At the time, most sled dog breeds had only been subjected to modern dog breeding methods for less than fifty years and were often almost wolf-like in their temperaments. Although skilled at cargo pulling and capable of surviving in the harshest conditions on Earth, they were often aggressive (especially with other dogs), dominant, stubborn, and nearly impossible to train.
Walden came to own a large dog of unknown ancestry that was said to be of the Mastiff/Saint Bernard type. This dog was supposedly a working farm dog, although exactly what tasks the dog performed were not recorded. Widely considered one of the best (if not the best) sled dog drivers of his day, Walden was in contact with many of the most famous Arctic and Antarctic explorers, and occasionally accompanied them on expeditions or provided them with dogs. Through these contacts he came to own a female dog with some connection to the Admiral Peary Expedition that was possibly the first to reach the geographic North Pole. This female was either an Eskimo Dog or Greenland Dog, although it is unknown whether she was a purebred or a mix. Walden crossed his mastiff-type dog with this female, and a litter of three puppies was born on January 7, 1917. A great fan of Rudyard Kipling, Walden named the three puppies Rikki, Tikki, and Tavi after a famous mongoose from the author’s iconic work, The Jungle Book. There is some dispute as to what the dam’s relationship to Peary’s expedition was. All agree that the dog in question was either the daughter or granddaughter of Polaris, the lead sled dog on that expedition. Many claim that the dog was actually present on the expedition itself, but this is highly unlikely. There are no records to support this claim, and the timing is off. Peary’s expedition took place in 1908 and 1909, and only adult dogs would have accompanied him. This means that at the absolute youngest, the female would have been very close to 10 years old when she whelped her litter, extremely unlikely though admittedly not impossible.
At some point, one of the three puppies (it is not clear which one) began to exhibit excellent abilities as a lead dog, Walden renamed the dog Chinook, after a much beloved lead dog he had owned in the Yukon. Chinook perfectly exemplified what Walden was looking for in a sled dog. He possessed the drive, stamina, cold tolerance, and the speed of his mother and the size, coloration, power, temperament, and trainability of his father. Chinook turned into a very large and muscular dog weighing over 100 pounds, and was capable of pulling massive loads. He possessed a distinctive tawny coloration, drop ears, and a large, broad head. Of perhaps most value to Walden was Chinook’s intelligence, loyalty, calm demeanor, and friendliness, and the dog was said to be extraordinarily gentle with and fond of children. Seemingly all accounts of those who met Chinook in person, mention the dog’s good temperament, and most who knew him were incredibly fond of him. Of the hundreds of dogs he ever owned, Chinook was always Walden’s favorite and most treasured. Chinook became Walden’s lead dog, and the breeder almost exclusively used him as a sire from that point on. Walden called all of the dogs from his Wonalancet Kennel Chinooks in honor of their sire.
Chinook was definitely crossed with German Shepherds and Belgian Shepherds, and was almost certainly bred with other types of sled dog as well, especially a team of four dogs Walden brought to New Hampshire from Alaska, named Rud, Yard, Kip, and Ling. It is also very possible Walden used other dogs in his breeding program. Unfortunately an accidental fire later destroyed most of Walden’s early breeding records, leaving some doubt. Chinook was said to be a, “sport of nature,” because almost all of his puppies were incredibly similar in appearance to him no matter which dog was the mother. In particular, the tawny coat was prevalent. Chinook’s offspring were usually bred back to him directly, or with another of his descendants.
Soon Walden had several teams of Chinooks, which he used all around New England to foster interest in both his sport and his breed, and because of this he is considered the father of New England dog sledding. In 1924, Walden founded the New England Dog Sledding Club, which has survived until the present day. In the club’s early years, Walden and his Chinook teams, often with Chinook himself as lead dog, dominated competition. Walden was incredibly selective about who he let own one of his dogs. He refused to ship them, and required any potential owner to spend a night at his kennel. If he felt that his dogs did not like the person, they would go away empty handed, no matter how far they had traveled. During the 20’s, Walden began to work with Mrs. Julia Lombard, who lived approximately a mile away from his home. Lombard came to operate her own Chinook kennel, although she always worked very closely with Walden. What breeding records have survived indicated that the two used three dogs more than any others for breeding; Jock, Hotchinloo, and Zembla.
In 1928, Walden was appointed the lead sled dog driver by Admiral Byrd for his mission to become the first to fly over the South Pole. Walden brought a team of 13 Chinooks with him on the voyage, including Chinook himself. Although very old, Chinook still had great strength and stamina and by all accounts proved very valuable to the expedition. Unfortunately, on the date of his 12th birthday, Chinook wandered off and despite several search parties being sent out was never seen from again. Walden was absolutely devastated and the entire expedition was greatly saddened. Byrd himself later wrote that the loss of Chinook was the most emotionally difficult part of the expedition. News of Chinook’s death spread around the world, and he was greatly mourned. Walden successfully requested that New Hampshire Route 113A, which runs between Tamworth and Wonalancet be named the “Chinook Trail.”
Upon his return to New Hampshire, Walden discovered that his wife had taken ill and had been forced to sell half of their farm to Milton and Eva Seeley. Close to retirement age and needing to care for his wife, Walden sold almost all of his remaining dogs to Lombard, although he played a close role in their breeding until his death. Lombard continued to race her dogs, and was sponsored by Mother Hubbard Dog Food. Because of this sponsorship, she renamed her kennel Wonalancet-Hubbard Kennel. Both Walden and Hubbard gave away or sold dogs that were less desirable for their breeding program, becoming the first Chinooks to be owned by the general public. In 1931, a Chinook named Paugus and his owner Lawrence Orne won a national photo contest to become, “America’s Most Typical Boy and Dog.”
Lombard regularly exhibited her dogs in New England Sportsmen shows, where famed sportsman Perry Greene first encountered them. Greene fell in love with the breed and would exercise the dogs on the Boston Green during downtime during a show. In 1940, Lombard decided to sell the Chinook breed, and Greene purchased either all of them or the vast majority. He brought the dogs to Maine, where he operated his kennel. Greene and his wife Honey quickly became the world’s only breeder of purebred Chinooks, and they showed little to no interest in increasing the popularity of the dog. They continued Walden’s policy of requiring potential owners to spend a night at the kennel. Additionally, the Greenes refused to sell any intact females, and only transferred males or spayed females. This prevented anyone else from breeding pure bred Chinooks. For more than 20 years, the only way to acquire a Chinook was to go to Waldoboro, Maine.
The Greenes deliberately created an aura of mystique around the breed and their breeding program, and promoted several myths and legends about the Chinook. As difficult as the breed was to obtain, those who made the effort to do so almost all felt it was worth it. Apparently, Chinook’s temperament had also passed on to his descendants, and most who came to own these dogs greatly treasured them. Although the Greenes were very dedicated to the dogs, as the years wore on fewer and fewer Chinooks were produced. In 1963, Perry Greene died, and despite her best efforts, Honey was not capable of breeding enough. In 1965, the Guinness Book of World Records declared the Chinook the World’s Rarest Dog Breed, a title it would come to hold at least two other times. At that time there were fewer than 125 Chinooks in the world, and many of those dogs were not capable of breeding due to age or having been fixed. The last Chinooks came to be owned by Sukeforth Kennels in Warren, Maine.
By the 1980’s the Chinook’s situation had become very dire. Two fanciers from Ohio, Neil and Marra Wollpert, went looking for the last of the Chinooks in 1981. The found their way to the Sukee Kennel (renamed from Sukeforth). There they met a woman who worked at a kennel named Kathy Adams, who was desperately trying to save the breed from extinction. When the Wollperts arrived, there were only 28 purebred Chinooks left at the kennel, of which only 11 were capable of breeding. It was decided that the best way to save the Chinook was to divide the dogs, and the last of the Chinooks were sent to three different kennels: the Alder Patch Kennel of Maine, operated by Kathy Adams, the Singing Woods Kennel of Ohio, operated by the Wollperts, and the Yokayo Kennel of California, operated by Peter Abrahams. These four fanciers worked to increase Chinook populations, as well as to get other breeders interested in saving the dog. Of these other early breeders, the most influential was Harry Gray, who operated Northdown Kennels from 1984 to 1994. Very active in the restoration of the breed, all modern Chinooks are descended at least partially from his dogs.
By 1990, the Chinook population was up to 140 dogs. The following year, the United Kennel Club (UKC) granted full recognition to the Chinook as a member of the Northern Breed Group. The Chinook Owner’s Association (COA) became the breed’s parent club with the UKC. Chinook breeders were very aware of the small gene pool of their breed, and sought to increase it. The UKC was very accepting that out-crosses with other breeds were necessary to maintain the genetic diversity and health of the Chinook, and worked with the COA to develop a cross-breeding programs. Purebred Chinooks began to be crossed with breeds believed to have been used in the development of the Chinook. These results of these crosses are then bred with pure Chinooks for four generations. The fourth generation crosses are given medical and physical examinations at the age of two. At that point, if the dogs are deemed sufficient by the UKC and the COA, they are registered as purebred Chinooks. By 2011, three such fourth generation Chinooks were already registered as purebreds.
In order to promote the breeding of the Chinook crosses, the UKC took an unprecedented step. The UKC grants what is known as Limited Privilege Registration (LP) for mixed-breed dogs, allowing them to compete in club events other than conformation. The UKC always required a dog to be spayed or neutered in order to gain LP status, but waived that requirement for Chinook mixes involved in the cross-breeding program. It is still too early to tell whether or not the cross-breeding program has had the desired impact, but early results are promising. The Chinook crosses seem to be of nearly identical health to purebred animals, although it appears they suffer from fewer eye problems. They also appear to have stronger working drives and are often slightly better competitors at various canine events. The success of this cross-breeding program is being observed by breeders of several other rare dogs and canine organizations, and may very well inspire similar programs to save other endangered breeds in the future.
Although very grateful to the UKC for many years of partnership, the greatest desire of many Chinook breeders was to have their dog granted full recognition with the American Kennel Club (AKC). In 2001, the Chinook was added to the AKC’s Foundation Stock Service (AKC-FSS), the first step on the road to full recognition, and the Chinook Club of America (CCA) was selected as the breed’s parent club with the AKC. In 2009, students at Lurgio Middle School in Bedford, New Hampshire lobbied the state government to have the Chinook, the only breed developed in the state, declared the State Dog of New Hampshire. Later that year, Governor John Lynch signed the bill, making the title official. In 2010, the AKC moved the Chinook into the Miscellaneous Class, one step away from full recognition. Chinooks are now able to compete in most AKC events, but not in conformation events. However, until the Chinook is granted full recognition by the AKC, the UKC will remain the breed’s primary registry. It also remains to be seen what impact AKC registration will have on the cross-breeding program. Breeders have continuously worked to increase Chinook numbers at a responsible pace. Upon its entry into the Miscellaneous Class, there were roughly 800 registered Chinooks, almost 27 times as many as were alive 20 years earlier. Most years now see at least 100 new Chinook puppies registered.
Originally bred as a working sled dog, the Chinook is now making regular (albeit infrequent due to the breed’s rarity) appearances in a number of canine sports, including sled racing, weight pulling, skijoring, competitive obedience, and agility. Considered by most experts to be the one of the most, if not the most, trainable and good-tempered of all sled dogs, a few Chinooks are now primarily working sled dogs once again. Additionally, a few breed members have also served as therapy dogs and assistance animals for the handicapped. However, the vast majority of Chinooks are now companion animals, a task at which this good natured dog excels.
All Chinooks look alike, but this dog is substantially more variable in terms of appearance than many other modern breeds. According to UKC standards, the ideal male Chinook stands between 23 and 27 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs approximately 70 pounds while the ideal female stands between 21 and 25 inches tall and weighs approximately 55 pounds. The AKC standard is more restrictive, preferring males that stand between 24 and 26 inches at the shoulder and females that stand between 22 and 24 inches tall at the shoulder. In practice, Chinooks can be significantly larger or smaller, though more are probably on the large side than the small side. Chinooks are tremendous athletes and should look like it. This breed should always appear lean and well-muscled, but never frail or delicate. The chest of the Chinook is wide and deep, but not excessively so. The tail of the Chinook is of average length, well-furred, and is usually carried in a saber-like fashion.
The Chinook has a broad, wedge-shaped head, which is of moderate length. The ideal muzzle of a Chinook should be slightly shorter than the length of the skull, but somewhat broad and deep. The muzzle ends in a large black nose. The upper lip hangs slightly below the bottom lip, and the lips are slightly pendulous at the corners of the mouth. The eyes of a Chinook are almond-shaped, dark-brown or amber in color, and very expressive. Many Chinooks have an apostrophe-shaped accent mark in the corner of their eyes, this is greatly preferred. The ears of the Chinook are perhaps the breed’s most variable feature. Chinooks may have fully prick ears, fully folded ears, or helicopter ears which are folded about halfway down but stick out from the head parallel to the ground. Many Chinooks have two different ears, for example one fully prick ear and one fully folded ear. Only the AKC prefers folded ears over other types, but both the AKC and the UKC prefer both ears to be of the same type. The overall expression of most Chinooks is intelligent, gentle, and kind.
Like almost all sled dogs, the Chinook has a thick double-coat to protect it from the harsh climate found near the poles. The undercoat is thick, soft, and downy, while the outer coat is medium-length, coarse, and lies close to the body. The hair on the neck is slightly thicker and longer and forms a protective ruff. The hair on the tail is also slightly longer, especially close to the base and on the underside. Color is probably the single most important physical characteristic of the Chinook. Chinooks must be tawny to be shown in the ring, and in practice virtually all of these dogs have tawny coats. The shade ranges from a light honey to deep reddish gold. Black markings on the corners of the eyes are greatly preferred, as are black or dark tawny markings on the ears and muzzle. Black guard hairs on the tail are acceptable in the show ring, but white markings anywhere on the dog’s body are not.
The Chinook’s gentle and loving temperament is perhaps the breed’s defining characteristic, and is greatly admired by the breed’s fanciers. Chinooks are first and foremost a people oriented dog, and they want to be with their families every second of every day. This can become a problem as this breed can develop very severe separation anxiety when left alone for long periods of time on a regular basis. Chinooks form very close attachments to all members of a family, and almost all owners consider their Chinooks to be crucial parts of their families. Most Chinooks are very openly affectionate with their families, although some are slightly more reserved.
Breed members are usually kind but reserved with strangers. When properly socialized, most Chinooks will willingly and politely greet all strangers, although they do not necessarily eagerly run up to them, preferring to remain by their master’s side. While most Chinooks do not warm up immediately, the vast majority make new friends relatively quickly with regular contact. Many Chinooks are somewhat shy of new people, and some lines have even exhibited fearfulness of them. In fact, shyness and fearfulness are probably the most common behavioral issues experienced by breed members. Most of these problems can be reduced with proper socialization, but require extra effort on the part of the owner. Some Chinooks make tolerable watch dogs who alert their owners to the approach of a visitor, but others could not care less. The Chinook makes a terrible guard dog, as almost all of these dogs would calmly greet an intruder and possibly follow him home before they would show any aggression, and this breed would have to be extraordinarily provoked before one would ever resort to violence.
Few breeds have as excellent reputation with children as the Chinook with which it is said to have a natural affinity. When socialized with them, most Chinooks are gentle and friendly with even the most rambunctious and rough-playing children. This dog is probably in more danger from children than vice-versa as many breed members will put up a great deal of abuse. As is the case with all dogs, Chinooks may be nervous of children if they have never been introduced to them before, and so should be socialized with them from a young age. However, even adult Chinooks that have never met a child are often extremely tolerant and gentle with them.
Bred to work in teams with up to a dozen other dogs without showing them aggression, most Chinooks get along well with other canines. Unlike many other sled dogs, Chinooks usually have very few problems with other dogs, and most greatly prefer to share their lives with other canine companions. Although it is always important to use the utmost caution when introducing two new dogs to each other, Chinooks are comparatively easy to introduce into a home with existing canine residents. Breeders have also worked hard to eliminate aggressive impulses towards non-canine animals. As is the case with all dogs, Chinooks which have never been exposed to cats or other small animals may pursue or even attack them. However, a well-trained Chinook that has had exposure to other creatures very rarely shows them aggression and is perhaps the most trustworthy of any northern breed around them.
Chinooks are regarded as being perhaps the most trainable of all sled dogs. This breed is both very willing to please and highly intelligent. Most Chinooks learn very quickly and are generally obedient. Owners willing to take the necessary time and effort will likely be rewarded with a very well-trained Chinook, and this breed is earning a reputation for success in obedience competitions and agility trials. In particular, Chinooks are not likely to run off and usually return when called, making them one of the breeds most suited to being allowed off-leash on occasion. However, some Chinooks are more difficult to train than others. Some of these dogs are somewhat stubborn, and many bore easily which can make training them somewhat of challenge. Additionally, Chinooks are not automatons who will do whatever is commanded of them unhesitatingly, and may need some initial encouragement. The sweet-natured Chinook responds poorly to harsh training methods, and does much better with those that emphasize rewards.
Chinooks were bred to pull heavy sleds for hundreds of miles across rough terrain. This breed has tremendous athletic ability and requires a substantial amount of exercise. Most Chinooks are capable of going for as long as their owners, and make excellent hiking and jogging companions. This breed also excels at a wide range of physically challenging activities such as sledding, weight pulling, and skijoring. These dogs will not be satisfied with a couple of short potty walks, and is very likely to develop behavioral problems such as destructiveness if not provided with the proper outlet for their energy. That being said, the Chinook is one of the most easy-going of all working dogs, and very few of these dogs would ever be described as a workaholic. The exercise needs of the Chinook are relatively easily satisfied with the proper dedication and commitment, and the average family accustomed to dog ownership will likely have few problems meeting them. Although capable of much more, most Chinooks can get by with a long, vigorous daily walk. Once their needs have been met, the vast majority of breed members are very calm and relaxed when indoors. Chinooks are not ideally suited to life in an apartment as they greatly prefer having a yard to play in, but they can adapt if provided enough exercise. Because it is capable of surprising endurance and athleticism but does not demand excessive exercise, the Chinook is regarded as being the ideal choice for a family that enjoys going on long adventures on the weekends but may not have the time to do so every day.
Chinooks do have a few behavioral traits that may not make them ideal for every family. The Chinook is not a natural behavior and must be trained to become one. Breed members can be trained to play fetch, but most bore of the game quickly. Some Chinooks hate water and avoid it at all costs. Although many breed members enjoy the occasional swim, those looking for a water dog should look elsewhere. Although generally quiet, some Chinooks are very “whiney.” Those accustomed to the many high pitched whines of a Siberian Husky are already well-acquainted with this verbal repertoire. Chinooks usually whine when excited or they want something, and some owners find it incredibly irritating. As a breed, Chinooks love to dig, and some breed members do so with such gusto that they would destroy any yard that they are kept in. It is virtually impossible to train a Chinook to stop digging, but many owners have had success by designating a certain part of the yard as a, “digging area,” and placing easy to dig through substances such as sand there.
Chinooks have very low grooming requirements. This breed never needs to be professionally groomed; only requiring a regular brushing and very infrequent baths. However, Chinooks do shed, and they shed a great deal. All Chinooks replace most of their coats twice a year, a process known as blowing the coat. When a Chinook is blowing its coat, they essentially leave a trail of hair wherever they go. Shedding during the rest of the year varies tremendously. Some Chinooks shed almost no hair at all most of the year, and others shed almost as heavily as if they were blowing their coat every day of the year.
Chinooks are a generally healthy breed, and are considered to be in better health than many other purebred dogs. Chinooks tend to suffer from lower rates of most conditions common to purebred dogs. Chinooks have a life expectancy of between 10 and 15 years, on the longer end of average for a dog of this size. However, the breed’s gene pool is very small and several genetically inherited health problems are found in Chinooks. Currently, breeders are working with veterinarians to develop and implement screening tests. Chinook breeders are among the most dedicated of all dog fanciers in terms of reducing genetic problems from their dogs, and rarely breed stock that has identified health problems. However, the breed’s small gene pool requires the occasional breeding of test breeding, and in any case, two healthy parents do not guarantee a healthy offspring.
One of the most common problems found in Chinooks (and all purebred dogs) is cryptorchidism. Up to 10% of all male dogs experience this condition. Cryptorchism is often known as undescended testicles, which is also the condition’s defining characteristic. This condition is not overly problematic on a day to day basis, but does increase the likelihood of the development of testicular cancer by 10 times. Additionally, dogs suffering from cryptorchidism are not eligible to appear in the show ring, and should not be bred to prevent the transmission of the trait to their offspring. The only cure for cryptorchidism and its negative effects is neutering, which should be done on any dog that is not going to be used for breeding anyways.
Because skeletal and visual problems have been known to occur in this breed (some are relatively commonly seen) it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
A full list of health problems experienced by Chinooks would have to include: