The Chinook is truly a different breed. An American treasure, the breed has come far since its beginnings on a small New Hampshire farm over 100 years ago. The breeding of a Greenland Husky bitch, reported to descend from Admiral Peary’s lead dog, “Polaris,” to a St. Bernard/Mastiff-type farm dog produced a litter of three tawny pups. One pup stood out from the rest, displaying great intelligence, courage, work ethic, and a gentle disposition.
“Chinook” was a tawny dog weighing around 90 pounds, with a blocky head and flopped ears. His appearance was distinct. Though characteristically different from the other sled dogs on the farm, he was able to successfully reproduce himself in his offspring. His owner, Arthur T. Walden, was so taken with Chinook and “Chinook’s dogs” that he felt he had created the perfect combination of loving companion and working dog. He named his kennel “Chinook Kennels.”
Walden was an explorer, author, innkeeper, and most importantly, a sled dog driver. He learned to drive dog teams during the Alaskan gold rush. When he returned to his home in New Hampshire, he brought his love of adventure with him. Walden and his dog sled team, with Chinook in lead, are credited with bringing the sport of sled dog racing to New England and founding the New England Sled Dog Club in 1924; the oldest club of its kind still in operation. But Walden and Chinook would play an even bigger role in history than either could have ever imagined.
Attracting the attention of Admiral Richard Byrd, Walden was asked to head the Dog Department for Byrd’s first Antarctic Expedition in 1927. Walden and his sixteen Chinook dogs were described by Admiral Byrd as “backbone of the expedition transport” in his book, Little America. In fact, in 1931, Walden received the Congressional Medal for his part in Byrd’s Antarctic Expeditions. President Hoover went on to declare a Chinook, “Paugus,” and his owner as America’s most typical “boy and his dog.”
Chinook was so much more than a commanding lead-dog. Chinook’s gentle temperament and playful personality allowed Byrd to take him to lectures and fund-raising events. Chinook became the signature dog of Byrd’s expeditions. He became the symbol of a sled dog to both adults and children everywhere. Chinook was even commemorated as a Steiff stuffed animal. He was so famous that when Chinook was lost in Antarctica during the expedition, it made headline news around the world! At Walden’s request, Route 113A from Tamworth to Wonalancet, New Hampshire, was named “Chinook Trail” to honor his beloved dog. It bears his name to this day.
When Walden returned from Antarctica, the Depression had already taken a toll on his farm. Heartbroken after the loss of Chinook, Walden sold his Chinook Kennels to Eva “Short” Seeley and the remaining Chinooks to Julia Lombard, whose family owned Old Mother Hubbard Dog Food. Julia went on to breed Chinooks with Walden’s direction until his death in 1947. She then sold her Chinooks to Perry Greene in Waldoboro, Maine, who was the sole breeder of the Chinooks until his death
During those years, Greene actively promoted the Chinook as a recreational companion and a cherished part of American history. He even sold a Chinook named “Charger” to Boeing Helicopter. Charger became the mascot for Chinook Helicopter Divisions during the Vietnam War.
After Greene’s death, the breed was shuffled around until it came to rest at the Sukeforth Kennel in Maine. By the early 1980s, the breed had nearly become extinct. With only 11 breeding dogs remaining, their future was uncertain. It was Chinook’s rich history and the impressions made on the hearts of children that would save the breed. Children who had grown up loving the Chinook went searching for them as adults, finding these remaining dogs at their most critical moment. Together, these few breeders joined their efforts and created a genetic plan for successful breeding.
In 1991, Chinooks entered the UKC registry, and in 2001 the breed began registering with the AKC Foundation Stock Service. In 2004, the Chinook Club of America was created to protect and promote the purebred Chinook as it continued its journey with the AKC. After many years of hard work by a small group of dedicated breeders and owners, the Chinook entered AKC Miscellaneous Class in July 2010. On January 1, 2013, the Chinook achieved full AKC recognition and was admitted to the Working Group.
Today, the Chinook enjoys quiet comforts in homes across the US and in Europe, once again imprinting on the hearts of children. In 2009, the unexpected honor of being named the State Dog of New Hampshire was brought about by the efforts of New Hampshire’s Lurgio Middle School students. With over 1,000 dogs alive today, the Chinook has escaped the grasp of extinction. As the Chinook moves into the ranks of a breed recognized by the America Kennel Club, it reclaims its rightful place in American history.
In the AKC show ring, expect the Chinook to retain its uniqueness. A large, tawny sled dog with various ear sets, he may seem out of place among other fancier, fluffier sledding breeds. Though the Chinook’s unexpected appearance and gregariousness may seem unrefined, their intelligence and deep, intuitive senses display a keen potential.
The Chinook has successfully claimed a niche in the dog world by finding a balance between pet and working dog. Strongly bonded to their owners, they yearn for companionship. Their bond cultivates a willingness to please and a desire to assist in any activity. Together, Chinook and owner can accomplish almost any task.
The Chinook is perfect for an active family that desires to have their dog accompany them on all their adventures. They do not thrive under harsh handling or chronic kenneling, and they are not a protection breed. They need an environment that can help fulfill their drive to connect with their family and their need to be active.
The Chinook is ready and willing to join its family hiking, biking, skiing, boating, or sledding. Chinooks have participated in 4-H, Obedience, Agility, Rally, Tracking, Coursing Ability, Barn Hunt, Dock Diving, Scent Work, and even Herding. Chinooks enjoy Therapy Dog work, visiting with the elderly, sick, and especially with children in classrooms. After a hard day of working, the Chinook is happy to curl up next to you on the couch and peacefully thump his tail.
Chinooks are a wash-and-wear breed. A good brushing once a week, cleaning their teeth, and keeping their nails clipped is all that is required—and a bath when they need it, but not often. They are to be shown completelyb natural, with no trimming allowed.
When you have the privilege of judging a group of Chinooks, you will clearly see the reason this breed is so treasured. They are affectionate to a fault and will demonstrate this to you with their friendly demeanor. They will wag their way around the ring and may try to get in a kiss. Please be prepared for a distinct difference in size between the sexes. Females will be obviously feminine. The sexes should be judged equally, with correct structure being judged more important than size.
The Chinook Club of America attends as many AKC Meet the Breeds events as possible. CCA is the booth where children are “hand” holding a Chinook and where Chinook kisses are always available. Please come visit us and learn more about America’s unique and versatile family companion. Visit us on the web at: www.chinookclubofamerica.org.
Featured photo: Kathleen Riley Photography
Article photos by Patti Richards
Are you looking for a Chinook puppy?
The best way to ensure a long and happy relationship with a purebred dog is to purchase one from a responsible breeder. Not sure where to begin finding a breeder? Contact the National Parent Club’s Breeder Referral person, which you can find on the AKC Breeder Referral Contacts page.
Want to help rescue and re-home a Chinook dog?
Did you know nearly every recognized AKC purebred has a dedicated rescue group? Find your new best friend on the AKC Rescue Network Listing.
Chinook Dog Breed Magazine
Read and learn more about the devoted Chinook dog breed with articles and information in our Chinook Dog Breed Magazine.
Chinook Breed Magazine - Showsight