Chinook

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 

The oficial state dog of New Hampshire, the Chinook is a rare breed in its native United States, and even more so in the rest of the world. Originally a sled dog, it is now more often kept as a pet by virtue of its calm and friendly nature and devotion to its family. Though it is not recognised as yet by any of the major kennel clubs, it has a well-documented history and a loyal, if limited, band of breeders who are committed to gaining show status for the breed.

Chinooks are powerful and athletic dogs, yet require only modest amounts of exercise. More than anything, they enjoy being part of the family “pack” and spending time with their people. They tend to be reserved with strangers, but are quick to make friends; however, their size and obvious strength may act as a deterrent to intruders.

As a dog bred to be part of a pack, the Chinook is eager to please and to comply with its master’s wishes, so most are easy to train. They are very vocal dogs, with a wide range of sounds, from howls to mumbles, that allow them to communicate in an almost conversational manner. They do need outdoor space, but are compulsive diggers, and likely to upset any keen gardeners in the family. Chinooks mix well with other dogs, and almost completely lack aggression towards their own kind. This is a breed with mercifully few health problems of note, and, considering its size, has a good average life expectancy of 10–12 years.

About & History

While many, if not most, breeds have a hazy and uncertain history, the Chinook can be traced back with absolute confidence. Arthur Walden, an experienced Arctic explorer, cross-bred a Siberian Husky type bitch with a large, Mastiff type farm dog in Wonalancelot, North Hampshire, in 1917. The mating produced several pups, one of whom, a large male, exhibited the traits of power and stamina that Walden had hoped to achieve. This male was named “Chinook”, and he became the forefather of the entire breed we know today. Chinook was subsequently bred to German Shepherd, Belgian Shepherd, and Eskimo Dog bitches to refine and develop the sled-dog abilities that were in demand by the explorers of the day.

Such was the success of Walden’s breeding programme that he and his dogs were invited to join Admiral Byrd’s Antarctic expedition of 1928. After Walden’s death, control of the Chinook breeding programme was passed on through a succession of individual breeders; rather than a group of people being involved, the Chinook line appears to have been jealously guarded. As a result, a census revealed only 28 Chinooks to be alive in 1981, and only 11 of these were sexually intact and of breeding age. At this point, other breeders throughout the United States became involved in an attempt to rescue the breed from extinction – an effort that proved successful. However, even today, there are only 800 registered individuals, with around 100 pups being born each year, meaning that the breed’s future continues to be somewhat uncertain.

Appearance

Chinook Large Photo
jude / Flickr.com

This is a large, powerful dog with a broad skull and muzzle, which should run parallel to each other when viewed from the side. The nose is always black, and has large nostrils, reflecting the dog’s athleticism. The ears vary in appearance, with drop-eared and prick-eared dogs being more or less equally common, but are always thick and well-covered in hair as protection against frostbite. The eyes are alert and expressive, almond-shaped and brown in colour. The lips have some redundancy, and hang loosely over large teeth and a strong jaw.

The Chinook has a strong, arched neck with loose skin that does not quite form a dewlap. The back is relatively long, with a straight topline to the loin, where a slight muscular arch can be seen. The tail is carried below horizontal, with an upward sweep. The chest is very deep, with well-sprung ribs, and the abdomen has a marked tuck. The limbs are well-muscled and moderately well boned, and the large paws are heavily furred and have prominent webbing to allow them to act like snowshoes on yielding ground.

As befits an Arctic breed, the Chinook has a very thick double coat of moderate length. The outer coat is coarse and close-lying, while the undercoat is soft and downy. The coat must be tawny in colour, somewhere between light honey and reddish-gold, ideally with black markings around the inner corners of the eyes, and a vaguely defined facial mask. On average, males stand 58–68 cm tall (23–27 in) and weigh around 32 kg (70 lb). Females are 53–63 cm (21–25 in) in height and weigh 25 kg (55 lb) on average.

Character & Temperament

Chinooks are very calm and placid dogs that make for easy company. Despite their strength and size, they are gentle and considerate with their owners, including the very young. Once adequately exercised, they are surprisingly laid back, giving no hint to their stamina or capacity for lung-bursting exertion.

They are not easily riled, though they are distrustful of strangers: it is said that females show more suspicion than males. Once introduced, however, Chinooks are sociable and friendly, and they very rarely show any aggression towards humans or other dogs.

Trainability

Photo of Chinook puppy
Claire Hardesty / Flickr.com

This intelligent and responsive dog is generally very easy to train. All pack dogs require strong leadership and respond best to consistent, firm rules, and these should be implemented from puppyhood. Chinooks must be well-socialised when young to ensure their natural distrust of strangers never manifests as problem behaviours.

Health

Breed-specific problems are uncommon in the Chinook. Of the conditions listed below, hip dysplasia is the most prevalent.

  • Atopic dermatitis – A form of allergic skin disease, often with a seasonal pattern. During the spring and summer months, pollens and insects may trigger symptoms of itching and skin irritation. Hot spots, a form of severe localized dermatitis, are seen in many Chinooks at these times of the year.
  • Cataracts – An early onset of cataract development has been noted in some Chinooks. These are opaque deposits that build up in the lens of the eye and can impair vision.
  • Cryptorchidism – The normal descent of the testicles from the abdomen to the scrotum may fail to proceed in as many as one in ten Chinooks. This can be detected on veterinary examination of puppies, but should really be noticed by breeders prior to sale. Dogs with only one affected testicle may still be fertile, but should not be used for breeding, as this hereditary condition will be passed on to the next generation.
  • Epilepsy – A brain disorder causing seizures or other involuntary effects in young adult dogs.
  • Hip dysplasia – A frequent cause of lameness in growing dogs. Usually inherited, this genetic condition causes one or both hip joints to develop abnormally, causing pain and stiffness. Breeding dogs should be x-rayed to ensure they are free from radiographic signs of this disorder.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease – Manifests as chronic vomiting and/or diarrhoea with weight loss and ravenous appetite. Seen in some young adults, usually without an evident underlying cause. Treatment may be challenging, with lifelong medications and dietary regulation often required.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Chinook requires surprisingly little exercise to maintain its sanity and good health. While it would equally make an ideal running buddy, it can thrive on as little as 30 to 60 minutes’ walking each day. Many Chinooks are also capable swimmers, and most enjoy participating in canine sports where possible.

Grooming

Weekly brushing is usually enough to keep the dense coat in good order, but the breed does shed heavily. This is especially noticeable in the spring and autumn, when great clumps of loose hair are lost over a period of 2 to 3 weeks.

Although this is perfectly normal, and not a problem for the dog, owners may need to increase their brushing efforts to prevent their home from being carpeted in a dense mat of dog hair. As for all dogs, daily tooth brushing is extremely beneficial, and will help prevent premature tooth loss.

Famous Chinooks

The eponymous forebear of all Chinooks is no doubt the most famous member of this breed. When Chinook accompanied his breeder on Admiral Byrd’s Antarctic expedition, he was 12 years old, and well into his elder years. Despite this, he was an active and enthusiastic member of the sled pack, until he one day wandered out from camp alone into the Antarctic plains, never to be seen again.

Cross-Breeds

Although there are no established designer dog mixes involving the Chinook, it is sometimes crossed with other sled dogs, such as the Alaskan Malamute, the Siberian Husky, or the Canadian Eskimo Dog. Some adventurous souls have also created Chinook/wolf hybrids, with spectacular, if slightly terrifying results!

User comments

There are no user comments for this listing.

Dog Breeds