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Get to Know the Chinook: An American Explorer

He's been the rarest breed in the world a few times in his past, but this legendary sled dog is making a comeback.

Caroline Coile  |  Feb 17th 2015


Walk a Chinook down the street and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks he’s anything but a friendly mutt. Claim he comes from heroes and explorers and you’ll get patronizing nods. Reveal he’s one of America’s best kept secrets when it comes to homegrown dogs and you’ll be telling the truth.

More interesting things about the Chinook

  • The Chinook may be mistaken for an Anatolian Shepherd, but the Chinook is always a tawny color, is shorter but heavier, and his ears may either be drop, prick, propeller (folded to the side), or a combination.

  • The Chinook is largely the creation of one man, Arthur Walden of New Hampshire, who had experience as a musher in the Yukon.

  • In 1917 Walden bred a large tawny Mastiff-type farm dog to Admiral Peary’s Greenland Husky lead dog, Polaris, to produce three puppies (Rikki, Tikki, and Tavi). Walden renamed one Chinook, and this dog became a prized lead dog.

  • Walden and Chinook brought the sport of sled dog racing to New England — and dominated it.

  • Chinook led the first dog sled team to climb Mount Washington.

  • Chinook was bred to Belgian and German Shepherd working dogs, Canadian Eskimo Dogs, and possibly others. His offspring were called Chinooks in his honor.

  • Chinook weighed almost 100 pounds, but current Chinooks are smaller.

  • At almost age 12, the original Chinook and 15 other Chinook dogs were part of Admiral Byrd’s 1929 Antarctic expedition. Byrd described them as the backbone of the expedition. Unfortunately, on his 12th birthday, Chinook wandered from camp and was never found. Byrd described it as the saddest incident of their journey.

  • The Chinook Trail in New Hampshire was renamed to honor Chinook.

  • In 1931, a Chinook named Paugus, with his young owner Lawrence Orne, won as contest to be declared America’s most typical boy and his dog. They met President Hoover.

  • Walden subsequently passed on his kennel to another breeder, who did not continue the line. Instead, current Chinooks descend from three dogs — Jock, Hootchinoo, and Zembl — who were placed before the Antarctica expedition. Eventually these dogs were passed to another breeder, who sold only males or spayed females, so nobody else was able to breed them. After his death in 1965, another breeder continued.

  • In 1965, the Guinness Book of World Records listed them as the rarest dog, with only 125 specimens. It was the first of three times the Chinook received this dubious distinction.

  • In 1966, Boeing Helicopters obtained a Chinook named Charger as a mascot. Charger went to the 228th base at An Khe, South Vietnam, but never made it back.

  • By 1981, only 11 breedable Chinooks remained. Several breeders fought to save the breed, crossing dogs with other Chinook foundation breeds and working to raise awareness of the breed.

  • The UKC recognized the breed in 1991.

  • In 2009, the Chinook became the state dog of New Hampshire.

  • The Chinook entered the AKC Working group in 2013.

Do you own a Chinook? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

Interested in other breed profiles? Find dozens of them here.

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.