Three special dog breeds native to Vietnam, the Phu Quoc Ridgeback, H’mong and Bac Ha Dogs

There are a few living national treasures in Vietnam that people know very little. They have their origins and history steeped in myth, legend and folklore from indigenous cultures. They are brave and strong hunters, fierce protectors and loyal companions of local peoples from the southernmost point of the Kiên Giang Province and Phu Quoc Island to the mountainous, highland regions of the northern Lao Cai and Hà Giang provinces. They are the native dog breeds of Vietnam, respectively, the Phu Quoc Ridgeback, the H’mong and the Bac Ha. This is part one of two articles. We will briefly introduce all dogs featuring the sexy, long-legged canine star from the south, the Phu Quoc Ridgeback. The second article will feature Vietnam’s unknown ‘Northern Dog Breeds’ – the Bac Ha and H’mong.

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If there is any one of these dogs 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 could be easily classified as a Northern dog breed of Vietnam possessing very thick fur in the colors of black, gray, 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 this breed to live in Southern Vietnam due to the intense heat and humidity that could cause severe skin rashes and loss of fur.

H’mong Dog

The H’mong are a very ancient, ‘primitive’ dog breed raised as guardians and hunting companions by the ethnic H’mong people of Vietnam. 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 and with a thick coat of fur in the shades of black, brownish red, black & white and brindle. Dedicated admirers are forming ‘dog clubs’ from Saigon to Hanoi to help preserve, promote and create awareness of this primal dog breed. Their 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. There are also H’mong Dog Clubs in both Saigon and Hanoi.

Phu Quoc Ridgeback Dog

What can be further added to a growing ‘cult’ of very dedicated dog owners and breeders of the Phu Quoc Ridgeback dog in Vietnam. This dog is only one of three breeds globally possessing a peculiar, sword-shaped ‘ridge’ of hair that runs along it’s spine, growing in opposite direction from the rest of their fur. Other breeds include the Rhodesian Ridgeback (Africa), Thai Ridgeback (Thailand) and includes an obscure larger, long-haired Cambodian Razorback originating from the north of Cambodia near the Laos border.

Phu Quoc Ridgeback dogs have uncanny characteristics of a cat, a 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 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 and with precision.

They do make an ideal pet; a medium sized dog, with low maintenance (short hair 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 then, there are the myths surrounding their origins. One story is that they originate from the mating of a jackal-type of dog on Phu Quoc Island with the mythical ‘Fu-Dog’ that possesses a ‘ridge’ along their back, dating to the period of the Le Dynasty in Vietnam. Another story involves King Gia Long, the first king of the Nguyen Dynasty who fled to Phu Quoc Island after losing a battle and 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 into a ridge of fur. And some dogs do have a ridge that appears like an ancient sword with a primitive design.

No one knows the whole story of their origins. If you do travel to Phu Quoc Island there are still a few elders left that will sit with you and state passionately their respect and love of these amazing dogs from the south of Vietnam.

References

Vietnam. A Long History. Nguyen Khac Vien. The Gioi Publishers. 2009. 7th Editon.

Brief History and Development of the Phu Quoc Dog Breed. Vietnam Kennel Association. 2012

H’mong Dog Breed Standards. Vietnam Kennel Association. 2014.