To honour the year of the dog, Barbara Adam takes a look at the three breeds of Vietnamese native dog.

Throughout Vietnam’s long history, people have relied on hunting and fishing to survive. And a lot of the time, the hunting and fishing were assisted by loyal canine sidekicks.

Vietnam has three types of native dogs, all considered excellent hunting and guard dogs.

The most well known of the native dogs is the Phu Quoc dog, from the beautiful island of Phu Quoc in Kien Giang province in the Gulf of Thailand.

The Phu Quoc dog is one of only three breeds of dogs worldwide to have a ridge of fur on its back. The other two are the Rhodesian Ridgeback and the Thai Ridgeback, although Vietnamese dog experts believe the Thai dog is a descendant of the Phu Quoc dog.

According to legend, Phu Quoc dogs are the descendants of island jackals and fu-dogs, the mythical dragon-dogs whose likenesses guard the entrances of Chinese temples. The fu-dog is the parent who passed on the ridge.

Royal Influence

But that’s only one of the legends surrounding the Phu Quoc dog. Another says that Emperor Gia Long fled to Phu Quoc, pursued by Nguyen Hue. There, a dog helped him hide and as payment the king laid his sword on the dog’s back. That’s why Phu Quoc dogs’ ridges resemble a sword.

Nguyen Minh Khang is the head of the native breeds department at the Vietnam Kennel Association, which has been documenting the history of Phu Quoc dogs in order to gain international recognition of the breed.

According to the Vietnam Kennel Association’s Brief on the History and Development of the Phu Quoc Dog Breed, in the mid-1800s, when Vietnam was part of French-ruled Indochina, French medical student Fernand Doceu wrote about an unusual native dog he saw on Phu Quoc Island.

Doceu eventually collected two breeding pairs of Phu Quoc dogs, which he sent to Jardin Zoolozique d’Acclimatation in Paris.

More than 100 years later, the Vietnam Kennel Association, which was established in 2008, published the official breed standards of the Phu Quoc dog.

As part of it’s research, the VKA asserts the Thai Ridgeback is likely to be a descendant of some of the Phu Quoc dogs traded with Thai sailors over the years.

The report said in the 1980s, one Phu Quoc dog could be traded with a Thai sailor for 20 boxes of tobacco “or other home appliances of equivalent value”.

Phu Quoc dogs are good swimmers, with webbed feet that help them swimming, and walking on wet, sandy and muddy ground. The dogs can also climb trees, and have flexible cat-like bodies.

Even though bred as hunters, Phu Quoc dogs are considered good pets, with low-maintenance short hair and a sociable and playful nature.

To honour this sociable breed, the Phu Quoc dog was used as the mascot for the 2018 Nguyen Hue Flower Street in Ho Chi Minh City.

Bac Ha Dog

Bac Ha dogs originate from Bac Ha district in Lao Cai province in Vietnam’s northwest, bordering China.

Sapa is the best-known city in the province, famous for its ethnic minority people, trekking and the nearby beautiful rice terraces.

This native dog has thick fur to help it cope with the region’s cold winters. It is a medium-sized dog, with a fluffy mane, which gives it a very majestic appearance. It comes in colours of black, grey, tan and brindle.

Used for hunting and as a guard dog, the Bac Ha dog has a calm temperament, is highly territorial and loyal to its owners.

Hmong Dog

The Hmong dog, from mountainous northern Vietnam, has an unusual bobbed tail. It was used by the Hmong ethnic minority people as a hunting and guard dog. It’s a well-muscled dog of medium size, with a large head and expressive eyes.

The breed comes in shades of black, brownish red, black and white, and brindle.

Tran Dinh Thao lives in District 7 with two black Hmong dogs, a male called Mr Rob, who’s two years old, and a female called Lucky, who’s one.

“They are a very loyal and cute animal,” he said. “They are very good with kids, very friendly. They are also very good guard dogs who will protect their territory.”

Thao is an active member of the South Viet Nam Hmong Coc dog club. He’s also a member of the Facebook group, CLB NNN HMong Coc Duoi Phuong Nam (Ket Noi Dam Me-Se Chia Khong Gioi Han), has more than 1,300 members, who regularly meet “offline” with their dogs.

Minh Pham Thanh is another Hmong dog owner. He says his Hmong dog is so loyal to his mum, it gets upset if someone else wears her flip-flops or rides her motorbikes.

Thanh also warns that Hmong dogs have a deep hatred of cats, and will kill any they encounter. Something that must be kept in mind by people thinking of getting a Hmong dog as a pet.

Some pet enthusiasts have said the two northern breeds of Vietnamese dogs aren’t suited to southern Vietnam’s hot and humid climate. But The Vietnam Kennel Association’s Kang said they dogs are able to cope with life in Ho Chi Minh City.

“Although the Bac Ha and Hmong are cold climate breeds, these two breeds can adapt to Ho Chi Minh City, just like other exotic breeds such as the Alaskan Malamute and the Samoyed,” he said.

Kang also recommended all three breeds of native Vietnamese dog, the Phu Quoc, the Hmong and the Bac Ha, as pets because of their loyalty, personalities, attractive appearance and intelligence.

The story of the dog in the animal zodiac

Legend has it that when the Jade Emperor, the king of heaven, announced a race to Heaven’s Gate to choose 12 animal guards and the calendar signs, the dog just squeaked in, arriving second last.

The dog should have been one of the first to arrive, given its speed and intelligence. But it stopped to play in the river and had so much fun it almost forgot about the race. It remembered just in time and raced to the gate, arriving second last.

The dog is the 11th animal in the zodiac, and people born in dog years are considered faithful, dependable, intelligent and open-minded. Negative traits include being cynical, lazy, stubborn and judgemental.

Previous years of the dog have been 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994 and 2006.

Famous dog people include Winston Churchill, Socrates, Bill Clinton, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Mother Theresa and Madonna.