5 Awesome Explorer Dogs You Should Know

The victors write the history books, so they’re not only inaccurate, but they rarely highlight the historical figures that interest most of us–the dogs. Besides Balto, the hero of Nome, Alaska, how many of us know the dogs that helped shape history? Right alongside the people chasing the horizon line were dogs. Taking payment in Milk Bones and scritches and, mostly, not getting their due from history. Well, today, that’s about to change. Here are five explorer dogs you should know. 

5 Explorer Dogs You Should Know

Bud Nelson

Photo by Callum Hill on Unsplash

First name Bud, last name Nelson, was the first dog to ride shotgun across America. Until establishing the United States highway system in the middle of the 20th century, the most extensive and advanced roadways belonged to pre-Columbian Incas in South America. Legend has it that Bud, a pit bull terrier, chased Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson for two miles in his newfangled “automobile.” Jackson took him on board to finish the inaugural journey across the states. In photographs, he’s wearing his trademark goggles. 


Photo by Riley Sullivan on Unsplash

Chinook was the literal father of new breed of sled dogs named after him. They’re athletic, all-purpose dogs famous for running without tiring–an essential quality for the Iditarod where they run up to 150 miles per day. Chinook joined his best friend, the sled dog trainer Arthur Walden, on the Byrd Antarctic Expedition. At 12, he may have known he was reaching the end of his life. After passing through a dangerous section of crevasses, Walden took him off his lead. He lagged behind the sled team and eventually disappeared. His fate remains unknown, but his descendants continue to prove to be great sled dogs. 



Photo by Zane Lee on Unsplash

One of the saddest stories of canine-led exploration, Laika, was a Russian cosmonaut and good dog. Scientists expected a quick and painless death for Laika, from oxygen deprivation. Instead, she reached orbit alive, though terrified–her heart rate tripled during takeoff. She orbited the planet for 103 minutes before Sputnik lost its heat shield–the high temperatures killed her.  


Photo by twentyonekoalas on Unsplash

Leoncico was a “yellow” dog, son of a Spanish warrior dog, Juan Ponce de Léon. His owner, Vasco Núñez de Balboa, was a Spanish governor and conquistador. Leoncico snuck aboard the ship Balboa took across the Atlantic and joined him on a 70-mile walk across Panama to become the first Spaniards to see the Pacific Ocean. True to his roots, Leoncico was a ferocious companion. Balboa valued his friendship enough to make him a gold collar and paid him wages equal to the ship’s bowman. 


Photo by Sri Ranjani Mukundan on Unsplash

In North America, explorers took a much longer overland journey to see the Pacific. The Lewis and Clark Expedition lasted from 1803 to 1806, going from St. Louis to Fort Clatsop, following the Louisiana Purchase. Lewis bought a Newfoundland puppy in 1803, named him Seaman, and he became a beloved member of the expedition party. For two-and-a-half years, he makes frequent appearances in Lewis’ journal entries, but not much is known about Seaman following the trek’s end. During the journey, he caught game, protected the group from wild animals, and was all-in-all a good boy.