Yep — Chewbacca is Based on a Dog
Chewie is the space co-pilot we all need.
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I’m fully on board as a Star Wars fan after many years of being less into the films than just about everyone I know. Pet parents like myself might have a growing interest in this space opera after learning that the inspiration for Chewbacca was a dog. Specifically, this lovable Wookiee is based on George Lucas’ Alaskan Malamute named Indiana.
According to Lucas, Indiana would sit in the front seat of his car like a co-pilot and was regularly mistaken for a person. “I had an Alaskan Malamute when I was writing the film. A very sweet dog, she would always sit next to me when I was writing. And when I’d drive around, she’d sit in the front seat. Having her with me all the time inspired me to give Han Solo a sidekick who was like a big, furry dog,” said Lucas. (On a side note, his dog is responsible for the name of one of Lucas’ other famous characters—Indiana Jones.)
Origins of the Name Chewbacca
After learning that the character of Chewbacca is based on a real dog, you might have assumed that the dog’s name or his nickname (Chewie) was a reference to the chewing behavior that we all know so well in our own dogs. However, the name Chewbacca is actually a derivation of “sobaka”—the Russian word for dog.
Chewbacca was visualized by creators as a mix between a monkey, a dog and a cat, and his voice comes from bear vocalizations mixed in with sounds from other species, including lions, badgers, camels, rabbits and walruses.
Still, regardless of the other visual inspirations, there is no doubt that this Wookie’s behavior is extremely doglike, in the sense that he is Han Solo’s best and most loyal friend. It’s no surprise that Chewbacca is considered one of the top 10 movie sidekicks of all time.
Dogs That Look Like Chewbacca
Though Chewbacca is not actually a dog, it’s easy to get pulled into a game of guessing which breeds would lead to a Chewbacca-like individual. My picks are a Briard crossed with a Brussels Griffon, but other breeds that look a bit like Chewbacca include Tibetan Mastiff, Tibetan Terrier, Bearded Collie, Lhasa Apso, and Shih Tzu. With apologies to George Lucas, I see no signs of an Alaskan Malamute, though perhaps the resemblance to his own beloved dog is more behavioral than morphological.
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Karen B. London, PhD, CAAB, CPDT-KA
Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression, and has also trained other animals including cats, birds, snakes, and insects. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.