Image by Khanh Ngoc

Exploring the special dog breeds of Vietnam

Vietnam is home to beautiful living national treasures that few people know about. The treasures are steeped in myth, legend and cultural folklores. Brave and strong hunters, fierce protectors and loyal companions to the indigenous people of Kien Giang, Phu Quoc, Lao Cai and Ha Giang. They are Vietnam’s native dog breeds: the Phu Quoc Ridgeback, the H’mong and the Bac Ha.

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Image by VietPet

The Bac Ha Dog

If there is any one of Vietnam’s breeds more obscure and lesser known, it is the Bac Ha dog of Lao Cai Province. They are prized for being highly intelligent and easy to train. They possess a thick fur coat ranging from black and gray to tan and brindle. They originate from the cold, damp treacherous mountainous regions of northern Vietnam and their physical appearance reflects this geography. Bac Ha breeders do not recommend owning them in southern Vietnam because the intense heat and humidity can lead to severe skin rashes and loss of fur.

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The H’mong Dog

The H’mongs are a very ancient, ‘primitive’ breed raised as guardians and hunting companions by the ethnic H’mong. Their hunting instincts are largely unchanged by man and close to their ancestral wolves. They are powerful dogs, born with naturally ‘docked’ short tails, long straight muscular legs with a thick coat of fur in shades of black, brownish red, black and white, and brindle. Dedicated admirers are forming dog clubs throughout Vietnam to help preserve, promote and create awareness of this primal breed. The clubs’ activities are recognized by the VKA (Vietnam Kennel Association), with official breed standards published. H’mong dogs and their owners have representation in the Native Dogs in Vietnam Club with an annual national dog show featuring the H’mong and the Phu Quoc Ridgeback.

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Phu Quoc Ridgeback Dog

This dog is only one of four global breeds that possess a peculiar, sword-shaped ridge of hair that runs along its spine, growing in opposite direction from the rest of their fur. Other breeds include the Rhodesian Ridgeback (Africa), Thai Ridgeback (Thailand) and an obscure larger, long-haired Cambodian Razorback originating from the north of Cambodia near the Laos border.

Phu Quoc Ridgebacks have uncanny combined characteristics of a cat, monkey and fish. They have webbed lining in their paws to allow them to run on sand and swim in water and are known to catch fish. They climb trees and jump over high gates with ease and are always spotted on the roof of a building or on the top of a tall fence. They run like cheetahs and have flexible cat-like bodies. They hunt alone or strategically within a pack in stealth mode and with precision.

They make an ideal pet because they are medium sized and low maintenance (short haired requiring a quick bath once a month and little grooming). They are sociable with family and other pets and very playful. They are intensely loyal and make a great guard dog. However, they are bundles of energy and you need to run those long legs every day—not recommended for apartment living.

And let’s not forget to mention the myths surrounding their origin. One story is that they originated from the consummation of a jackal-type of dog on Phu Quoc with the mythical ‘Fu-Dog’ that possessed a ridge along its back, dating to the period of the Le Dynasty. Another story involves King Gia Long, the first king of the Nguyen Dynasty who fled to Phu Quoc after losing a battle, who was befriended by a dog and was told where to find refuge. For the dog’s reward the King placed his sword on the dog’s back magically transforming a ridge of fur—some do have a ridge that looks like an ancient sword with a primitive design. No one knows the true story of their origin.

If you do travel to Phu Quoc there are still a few elders left that will sit with you and state passionately their respect and love of these amazing dogs.

BIO: With a family that includes six cats, two dogs and a couple of dozen fish, Wayne Capriotti is a zoo curator and, along with his wife, publishes Vietnam’s first pet magazine Me Thu Cung (www.petmagazine.vn).