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Courtesy of Jan Sacca
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The Chinook was originally bred to be a sled dog and, although he still excels at mushing, he’s an equally good family dog. He’s also a looker: The Chinook stands out for his thick, tawny-colored double coat, dark eyes, prick or floppy ears, and a saber-shaped tail.
In 1927, a team of 16 Chinooks accompanied Admiral Richard Byrd on his first expedition to Antarctica.
This rare breed of sled dog got his start when musher Arthur Treadwell Walden of Wonalancet, New Hampshire, bred a farm dog of unknown heritage with a “northern” husky, producing a litter of puppies with tawny coats. One of the pups, named Chinook, grew up to father a breed of dogs who not only had his physical characteristics but also his gentle disposition. Indeed, the calm and dignified Chinook lavishes plenty of affection on each family member, but he’s best known for his love of children.
With his heritage as a hard-working sled dog, the Chinook is intelligent and easy to train if you use positive reinforcement techniques, such as praise, play, and food rewards. If you lead an active, outdoorsy lifestyle, this is the dog for you. Chinooks are great companions for hikers and backpackers, and they thrive at dog sports, including sledding and skijoring. They also perform well in agility, herding, obedience, and rally.
For all his positives, the Chinook does come with a couple of caveats: He requires intense levels of daily exercise, and his high intelligence can work against you — a bored Chinook can be incredibly destructive when left to his own devices, reinforcing his people-loving nature.
The Chinook is one of an increasing number of breeds claiming to be “made in America.” The powerful yet friendly dogs were created by musher Arthur Treadwell Walden, who started with some Greenland Husky sled dogs and a mastiff-type farm dog. (German Shepherds and Belgian Shepherds may have also played a role.) Walden was put in charge of assembling the team of 16 Chinooks used to transport supplies for Admiral Richard Byrd’s trek to Antarctica in 1927. Walden’s original dog, named Chinook, was part of this illustrious team.
Following the expedition, Walden sold his kennel to Milt Seeley, Julia Lombard, and Perry and Honey Greene, but the breed’s numbers began to dwindle. In 1965, the Guinness Book of World Records declared the Chinook the most rare breed of dog in the world. When Neil and Marra Wollpert tried to find a Chinook in 1981, they discovered that there were only 11 dogs left who could be bred, so they worked successfully to preserve the dogs and rebuild the population.
In an attempt to further save the breed, the Chinook Owners Association, in conjunction with the United Kennel Club, instituted a crossbreeding program. The intent was to add genetic diversity to the Chinook’s gene pool. Today, Chinooks are still uncommon — only 638 were registered with the American Kennel Club’s Foundation Stock Service in 2009. But the breed, which has been named the state dog of New Hampshire, appears to have a future.
The Chinook has the gentle, friendly temperament of his northern breed ancestors — along with a few special twists of his own. Namely, he’s less likely to roam than most Nordic dogs (although he still needs a fenced yard), and he’s more reserved toward strangers. Both traits may be remnants of his herding dog and mastiff ancestry.
Chinooks have a reputation for being good with kids, as well as other animals. A Chinook who grows up with kids will love them and be a great playmate; if your Chinook meets kids as an adult, he may need a little time to adjust to their sometimes noisy and over-zealous behavior. Despite his big size, don’t get a Chinook if you’re looking for a watchdog. The Chinook isn’t aggressive toward people. In fact, he may not even alert you if someone is around! That’s not to say that the Chinook is quiet. He’s not much of a barker, but he will communicate excitement with whines and woo-woo sounds, which you may either find endearing or annoying.
The Chinook is a versatile sled dog who loves intense activity, including hiking, jogging, backpacking or bicycling. You can even teach him to pull you on skis or a sled. He excels at such dog sports as agility and rally, and he has the potential to be an excellent therapy dog in nursing homes and children’s hospitals.
A good exercise program for the Chinook: a daily walk or run, along with regular opportunities to roam off-leash in a secure area. This said, the Chinook does have his limits: Endless games of fetch are not his thing, and he may not enjoy playing in the water. You should also keep in mind that, like most northern breeds, Chinooks love to dig in the yard.
The Chinook is a smart dog who takes well to consistent, positive-reinforcement training. Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Chinooks are predisposed to some health conditions, including hip dysplasia, epilepsy, and eye problems such as cataracts.
Veterinarians can’t predict if an animal will be free of these maladies, so it’s important to find a reputable breeder and insist upon seeing independent certification that the parents of the dog have been screened for these defects and deemed healthy. The Chinook Club of America (CCA) participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program (CHIC), a health database. For Chinooks to achieve CHIC certification, they must receive hip evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), as well as eye clearances from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the database, which can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents.
A breeder may also submit optional heart, thyroid, elbow, and patella (knee) evaluations, as well as signed veterinary diagnoses regarding cryptorchidism, dwarfism, allergies, and epilepsy or Chinook seizures. There are currently no screening tests for seizure disorders, but a good breeder will tell you about the occurrence of the condition in her lines.
Careful breeders screen their dogs for genetic disease, and only breed the best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy can develop one of these diseases. In most cases, he can still live a good life, thanks to advances in veterinary medicine. And remember that you have the power to protect your Chinook from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping him at an appropriate weight is a simple way to extend your Chinook’s life.
The Chinook has a thick, easy-to-groom double coat that sheds lightly every day. To remove dead hair and distribute skin oils, brush the coat once or twice a week. Baths are rarely necessary. Twice a year, the Chinook goes through a heavy shed, known as blowing coat. The process lasts for about three weeks, and you’ll want to brush your Chinook more often during that time to keep the loose hair under control.
The rest is routine care: Chinook nails grow quickly, so trim them weekly. And brush his teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Selecting a respected breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. Reputable breeders will welcome questions about temperament and health clearances, as well as explain the history of the breed and what kind of puppy makes for a good pet. Don’t be shy about describing exactly what you’re looking for in a dog — breeders interact with their puppies daily and can make accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.
Lots of breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags to look out for: multiple litters on the premises, puppies always being available, having your choice of any puppy, and being offered the option to pay online with a credit card. Breeders who sell puppies at a lower price “without papers” are unethical.
You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
To start your search, check out the website of the Chinook Club of America (CCA) or the Chinook Owners Association (COA) and select a breeder who has agreed to abide by the CCA’s guidelines for breeders, which specifies that members not place puppies prior to 12 weeks of age, prohibits the sale of puppies through pet stores, and calls for the breeder to obtain recommended health clearances before breeding.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Chinook puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, the sex of the puppy, the titles that the puppy’s parents have, and whether the puppy is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. (Note that crossbreed puppies cost less.) Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life. If you put as much effort into researching your puppy as you would when buying a new car, it will save you money in the long run.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Chinook may better suit your lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a good deal of time and effort before they grow up to be the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training, and he’ll probably be less active, destructive, and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com can have you searching for a Chinook in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Chinooks available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Chinook. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love Chinooks love all Chinooks. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Chinook Club of America’s rescue networkcan help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Chinook rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Chinook home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Chinook, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Chinook to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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