Created in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Chinook made his name on Admiral Byrd’s first Antarctic expedition in 1928. These days he’s a multipurpose dog who’s happy hiking, competing in agility and other dog sports, pulling a sled or other conveyance, and playing with the kids.
It all started with a cross between a farm dog and a husky on Arthur Walden’s New Hampshire farm. The litter of tawny puppies, born on January 17, 1917, included a male who grew up to be big-boned, flop-eared, and handsome, with a gentle nature. He was named Chinook, and he fathered puppies who bore his stamp.
Since then, the breed that bears his name has had its ups and downs. It has come close to disappearing several times, but someone has always stepped in to rescue it from the brink of extinction.
That’s not surprising when you consider that inside the Chinook’s plain brown wrapper is heart, strength, intelligence, and a mellow sweetness.
The Chinook was bred for his pulling ability and stamina. Today, his expedition days are behind him and he’s considered the consummate companion: loving, athletic, and versatile. He’s a great choice if you want a jogging or hiking companion; not so much if you’re looking for a retriever or water dog.
And look elsewhere if you want a guard or watchdog. Still, even though he’s not aggressive, his size may be enough to ward off anyone scary.
Chinooks are easy to groom, but they shed heavily twice a year, with light to moderate shedding the rest of the time. Avoid them if you’re looking for a dog that might be hypoallergenic. The Chinook is not it.
True to their sled dog heritage, some Chinooks can be diggers, excavating a nice spot where they can nap. This is an inborn behavior, so be prepared for your yard to have a cratered appearance. Try getting around it by giving a Chinook his own special place to dig.
A Chinook’s vocabulary ranges from silence to woo-woos to excited whining. You may get a quiet one, but more often than not your Chinook will happily share his opinion with you about the day’s goings-on.
The Chinook is a rare breed, and you won’t find one just anywhere. Expect to wait as long as six months to two years before a puppy is available, especially if you have your heart set on a particular sex or ear type (floppy or prick ear). Prices generally range from $650 to $1,500.
- Chinooks have a gentle, even temperament and are rarely shy or aggressive.
- Chinooks should live indoors with their people, preferably in a home where they have access to a safely fenced yard.
- Chinooks can be diggers.
- Chinooks need 30 to 60 minutes of daily exercise. They enjoy hiking, jogging, and pulling, whether what’s behind them is a sled, wagon, or person on skis or skates.
- Chinooks are smart and learn quickly, but if you’re not consistent in what you ask of them, they’ll take advantage of you.
- Chinooks are not barkers but can be talkative, whining and “woo-wooing” to express their opinions.
- Chinooks have thick coats and shed heavily twice a year; the rest of the year they shed small amounts daily.
- Chinooks need daily brushing to keep their coats clean, but baths are rarely necessary.
- Chinooks love kids when they’re raised with them, but can be reserved with them otherwise.
- Never buy a Chinook from a puppy broker or pet store. Reputable breeders do not sell to middlemen or retailers, and there are no guarantees as to whether the puppy had healthy parents. Reputable breeders perform various health tests to ensure that their breeding dogs don’t pass on a predisposition to genetic diseases.
- Interview breeders thoroughly, and make sure the puppy’s parents have been screened for genetic diseases pertinent to that breed. Ask breeders about the health issues they’ve encountered in their dogs, and don’t believe a breeder who claims that her dogs never have any health problems. Ask for references so you can contact other puppy buyers to see if they’re happy with their Chinook. Doing your homework may save you a lot of heartbreak later.
When Arthur Walden bred a farm dog with a husky on his Wonalancet, New Hampshire farm, he little knew that the result would be a legendary line of sled dogs.
Walden, who had been a dog driver in Alaska for a time, brought the sport of sled dog racing to New England. One of the puppies from the aforementioned litter, named Chinook after the warm winds that melt Alaska snows, stood out for his good looks, temperament, and working ability, and his puppies followed in his footprints.
When Admiral Byrd was planning his expedition to Antarctica in 1928, he called on Walden and his Chinook dogs for transport. The original Chinook was part of the team.
The Byrd expedition was a success, with one terrible exception: Chinook, 12 years old by then, wandered off and was never found. In the famous sled dog’s honor, the name Chinook Trail was given to a portion of Route 113A that led to Chinook’s hometown in New Hampshire.
Walden retired after his adventures in Antarctica and passed on the job of taking care of the breed to Milton and Eva Seeley and Julia Lombard. Then Perry and Honey Greene took over, eventually becoming the only people to breed the dogs.
Over time, based on their falling numbers, the Chinooks earned the dubious title of world’s rarest breed, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. At one point, only 28 of the dogs remained, and it was then, in 1981, that several people began the attempt to save the breed. They included Neil and Marra Wollpert, Kathy Adams, and Peter Abrahams.
They were successful, but Chinooks are still hard to find. They’re recognized by the United Kennel Club and are in the process of seeking recognition by the American Kennel Club.
Males stand 23 to 27 inches at the shoulder and weigh an average of 70 pounds. Females stand 21 to 25 inches at the shoulder and weigh an average of 55 pounds.
The Chinook’s temperament is described as calm, eager to please, and friendly. That said, he’s not necessarily a hail fellow well met kind of dog. He can be dignified and reserved with people he doesn’t know. Females are more likely than males to be independent thinkers.
As with every dog, Chinooks need early socialization–exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences. Enrolling him in a puppy kindergarten class is a great start. Another way to help him polish his social skills is to invite visitors over regularly, and take him to busy parks, stores that allow dogs, and on leisurely strolls to meet neighbors.