As the Chinook dog breed becomes more popular, this question pops up frequently. The short answer is, “If you don’t know, it probably isn’t so.” There are only about 1,200 Chinooks in in the world. The vast majority are in North America. The breeding population of Chinooks is small and Chinook breeders are a close-knit group who work together and keep close track of their puppies. Many mixed breeds, particularly shepherd mixes, closely resemble Chinooks. So, though we never say never, it’s highly unlikely that your dog is part, or purebred Chinook. It is simply not possible to identify a Chinook by appearance alone.
There are no forgotten litters of Chinooks, no lost Chinooks turned into shelters on remote corners of the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, no careless breeders. In fact, we keep such careful track of our pups that each breeder can tell you where virtually every pup they have ever produced is up until that pup dies of old age. We have such a strong breeders' support group and breed rescue that you will not find Chinooks turned into shelters, though many shelters have taken to calling mixes Chinooks in hopes that giving them a breed name will help them find a home faster.
Many people with mixed breeds are turning to the new DNA tests. The Mars Wisdom Panel is a DNA test that is fairly accurate if a parent or grandparent is a purebred Chinook. The test is much less accurate once you get back to “some contribution level”; i.e.; the parents are not purebred Chinook. The COA does not endorse Mars or any other DNA testing vendors. However, Mars is the only DNA breed test that worked directly with Chinook owners and breeders to sample over a hundred dogs in the development of their test. From our prior Cross Breeding Program, we had dogs of known percentage mixed parentage. Mars wanted to see how the genes looked at each generation, so they did extensive sampling of the Chinook - more so than any other breed in their product line. Since we had so many dogs from known generations of cross breeding, Mars studied the effects of those generations on the genetic profile. They shared the information gathered in this study, and we were able to incorporate the data into our Cross Program.
The question to ask yourself is, "Does it matter?" If you found out that your dog was a purebred Chinook, it wouldn't change the fact that you love her dearly. He would still be the dog that loves to ride along with you when you go for a drive. She will still be the dog that warms your feet on cold nights while you're watching TV. We refer to dogs that look like Chinooks and demonstrate the wonderful qualities of the breed as “Chinook-Alikes”. If this describes your dog, you are lucky indeed! Many Chinook owners and even a few Chinook breeders were attracted to the breed because they first owned a Chinook-Alike.
The Chinook Owners Association welcomes new members that have Chinook-Alikes if you’d like to join our activities. We are a social group of people and we do welcome Chinook-Alikes and their owners to join us at our events. In fact, Chinook-Alikes can even be registered with the UKC if they are spayed/neutered and can compete in the various performance events such as agility, rally, obedience, and weight pull. So love your pup since after it is the perfect dog for you.