The Chinook was developed as a drafting and sled dog, combining the power of freight-hauling breeds with the speed of the lighter racing sled dogs. They have a moderate, athletic build, slightly longer than tall. The bone is moderate, with males noticeably more masculine than females. The coat is close-fitting but thick and double, providing insulation without overheating. The gait appears tireless with good reach and drive. The Chinook exemplifies a sound, northern athlete in grace, muscle tone, movement, and carriage.
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, he 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. Chinook was bred to Belgian and German Shepherd working dogs, Canadian Eskimo Dogs, and possibly others. His offspring were named Chinooks in his honor.
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, Chinook died while there. The Chinook Trail in New Hampshire was renamed to honor Chinook. 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 Zembla— 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. 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 breed entered the AKC Working Group in 2013.
Chinooks are calm, gentle, affectionate, and biddable. Unlike most sledding breeds, they tend to be reliable off lead. They are good with children, other dogs, and pets. However, some males can be assertive toward other male dogs. Most are reserved toward strangers, and some can be shy. They are generally quiet. Although not big barkers, they can be vocal and often talk or whine when excited.
Chinooks enjoy the company of their family, and should live inside. They tend to be mellow but need a long walk daily with chances to safely run off lead throughout the week. They are not natural retrievers. The coat requires weekly brushing but daily brushing during shedding seasons, as shedding can be heavy.