A special relationship that started over six years ago on Phu Quoc

There are many attractions that keep expats living in Vietnam: culture, food, the love of a person, or the simple delight of living in a warm, tropical environment. However, for one German in particular, a surprisingly and unexpected passion and dedication for the rare, native Phu Quoc Ridgeback dog of Vietnam is what’s keeping him here.

Rudiger Zabler is an expat breeder, trainer, handler and enthusiastic student of Phu Quoc dogs (specifically Vietnamese Ridgeback dogs). His Zabler Kennels, located in the Cu Chi district of Saigon, currently houses over 50 of these dogs. Rudiger, who has been living in Vietnam for over eight years, has dedicated six (and counting) of them to understanding this specific breed of dog. He remains committed and wants to be part of the movement in the acceptance and establishment of this breed internationally.

We recently spoke to Rudiger as he was preparing for an upcoming Vietnam Kennel Association-sponsored Vietnam Championship Dog Show in Saigon, where he has participated since 2013, winning various awards from his dogs.

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When and where was your first encounter with a Phu Quoc Ridgeback dog and your initial impressions?

It was during my first vacation on Phu Quoc Island in 2007 that I first became aware of this breed of dog. I saw a few of them roaming around the island and was instantly attracted to the unique ‘ridge’ along their backs, impressed by their agile movement, powerful stance and ‘look of intelligence’. My first direct encounter was at my resort, where one particular dog barked furiously at me at first and then slowly acknowledged and identified my smell. Later, when I went down to the beach, and returned to my room this same dog quickly accepted my presence and did not bark anymore. It was then that I knew that this dog possessed unique characteristics that I have never experienced in all my 40 years as a dog breeder.

What is one of the most striking characteristics of a Phu Quoc Ridgeback?

A characteristic of a Phu Quoc dog that was very surprising is the cleanliness and strength of a birthing mother. I witnessed our own Phu Quoc pregnant bitch give birth to six puppies (we source breeding females from Phu Quoc). Within the first weeks, the birthing area was clean of urine and defecation, not a trace of ‘puppy odor’ whatsoever. The birth of the puppies seem so natural and effortless for the mother. Once the puppies were birthed the mother would lick them completely clean, removing all traces of the birth in the surrounding area. I have never quite seen this attention to detail and efficiency of a birthing female dog.

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Briefly describe your breeding techniques for the Phu Quoc Ridgeback?

When breeding any dog you must provide the best living conditions. It is best to build sturdy, secure kennel enclosures and provide a large space where the dogs can run and socialize with a pack. Phu Quoc dogs are amazingly energetic and need to release that energy in run and play with others. Also, you must provide the best nutrition, including dietary supplements, to keep all dogs feeling and looking healthy for that inner and outer beauty. I cook my own dog food, taste it, maintaining a daily routine of feeding with exact proportions according to each dog’s requirements. I coddle and nurture my dogs, spending quality time with my expectant mothers and then with their puppies, not so much different from the care and attention you would provide in raising your own children. The outcome are dogs that are sociable with people and other dogs and able to be quickly accepted by a loving family or individual.

The Phu Quoc dog dog sounds like an ideal breed of dog, are there any distinct physical problems?

The Phu Quoc dog is undergoing a selective process to produce an international breed standard, however, the dog does have one inherent genetic disease: Dermoid Sinus. If this disease is not treated it can be lethal. As the prices of these dogs rise, it would be unfortunate for dog owners in Vietnam or abroad to not become aware of this disease after acquisition. More education and awareness of the Phu Quoc dog is required. However, I do recommend that any dog having this disease be sterilized, stopping the spread to the rest of the breed.

If you would like read more about the Phu Quoc Ridgeback dogs, visit Rudiger’s site: zabler-kennels.com

IMAGES BY KHANH NGOC