Top Dogs

Shouldn’t every state have an official canine?
By Lisa Wogan, February 2009, Updated June 2021

[Editor's Note: New Hampshire governor John Lynch has signed a bill making the Chinook that state's official dog. Congratulations Ross Lurgio seventh graders!]


Some time in February, seventh graders from Ross Lurgio Middle School in Bedford, New Hampshire marched on their capitol. Their mission: elevate the virtually unknown Chinook to state dog.

If you’re not familiar with the all-American Chinook (And who is? Their numbers dwindled to 12 sometime in the 1960s), the shaggy mix of Husky, St. Bernard, and German and Belgian Shepherd was first bred for sledding near New Hampshire’s White Mountains in 1917. The namesake Chinook journeyed with his progeny to the South Pole as part of Admiral Richard Byrd’s expedition in 1929, where he disappeared. Today, there are approximately 1,100 pure- and cross-bred Chinooks, and nearly half live in New England, according to Jennifer Wells, the seventh-grade teacher facilitating the Chinook state dog initiative.


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“They are going to get this one passed,” says State Sen. Sheila Roberge, a champion of animal causes and the bill’s sponsor. Roberge likes the exercise as a teaching tool but says she doesn’t really know what difference it makes to the breed, practically speaking, other than appearances in books and lists along with all the other state symbols—from cranberry juice (Massachusetts) to petrified wood (Arizona).

All in all, there are only nine state dog breeds. Setting the precedent, Maryland selected the Chesapeake Bay Retriever as top dog in 1964. The following year, Pennsylvania spotlighted the Great Dane. A year later, the American Foxhound became Virginia’s most celebrated canine.

For more than 10 years, no other dogs joined these esteemed ranks until a 1979-twofer, when Louisiana highlighted the Catahoula Leopard Dog and Massachusetts claimed the Boston Terrier. Spaniels made the grade in 1985: the American Water Spaniel in Wisconsin and the Boykin Spaniel in South Carolina. The Plott Hound got the Tar Heel nod in 1989. The most recent addition is the sleek, shorthaired Blue Lacy, designated as the Texas state dog in 2005.

Dog lovers in other states have pushed for their favorites. In 1985, a state bill designating the Siberian Husky as Washington’s state dog went down barking. In 2003, the Michigan legislature failed to choose the Golden Retriever as pick of the litter. In 2006, Representative Robert Valihura Jr. introduced a bill to name the Pug Delaware’s main canine, arguing the diminutive breed was an “appropriate” choice for the nation’s second-smallest state. That pugnacious effort fell short, as did Valihura’s reelection campaign.

There should be more. I’m not sure what’s kept Kansas from making Toto (Cairn Terrier) official. Does any other state/dog have better brand recognition? And the Alaskan Husky makes sense for a state with mushing as the official sport.

Since the state dog is essentially symbolic, why not use it to symbolize good practices. The active, friendly Labrador Retriever has been floated as the choice for Colorado, but since Denver is a poster child for breed-bans, how about a happy, well-adjusted Pit Bull Terrier instead? Ohio, one of the worst puppy mill states, could publish the adorable mug of a rescue mutt next to the Cardinal and the Scarlet Carnation in fourth-grade state history textbooks. Wouldn’t that be great?


Photo: iStock

Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of several books including Dog Park Wisdom.