The Phu Quoc Ridgeback dog

No 3, Vol.10 , September  -  October 2015

The character of the breed

Whilst Vietnam may not be renowned as a nation of dog lovers (except, some may unkindly say, in a culinary sense,) the reader may be surprised to learn it does have a small number of unique canine breeds. The far northern mountainous regions are home to the Bac Ha dog and the Hmong dock-tailed dog. In the midland and mountainous areas, there lives a wild dog - the Indochina Dingo.
But the most famous native Vietnamese dog, one that is iconic to its home island, is the Phu Quoc Ridgeback dog. It is considered by many to be Vietnam's national breed. It is one of three Ridgeback dog species of the world, the other two being the Thai Ridgeback and the Rhodesian Ridgeback.
They are fast runners, good swimmers, have excellent jumping skills and are not afraid of heights. With such attributes they have been used by man for centuries in hunting. Anyone who has been to Phu Quoc can not have failed to have noticed its eponymous dog wandering around. A good place to observe them is on a stroll along Long Beach. They may seem like strays but in fact, most of them are attached to one of the restaurants. They may bark a bit, but they are not usually aggressive to people.

The whorls

If you wish to buy one, you will find people in the street on the island trying to sell puppies, but the best place is at a breeding centre with a dog racecourse attached to it (an alternative name for the dog is the Phu Quoc greyhound). An internet site states that a puppy can cost between VND500,000 and VND5,000,000. Their coats can be tan-coloured or black or a mixture of both. If you do buy one, it will need not only an anti-rabies jab, but also, if you are taking it to the mainland, one for novovirus.
In the company of veteran journalist and photographer Mr James Gordon, I went out to a quiet and leafy suburban street to meet a Phu Quoc Ridgeback dog. This one was black in colour and noticeably by the glossy sheen of her coat, very well cared for by the family. It did not growl or bark at we two strangers. It was both cautious and curious about me, who being a bit scared of dogs in general, was exactly the way I felt about her. Many Vietnamese who have heard of this dog imagine them to be fierce. In fact, they are placid and certainly do not make good guard dogs.

The tongue

The first thing to notice about the dog’s appearance is the hair on its back, which runs opposite in direction to the rest of its coat. It is patterned as a whorl or mohawk. People may see different shapes. I saw a long dagger. The owner told us that in some individuals, it looks like a violin. Then the tail was quite short and pointed. It had slightly webbed claws which may explain why it is such a strong swimmer. I asked if this dog liked a good dip in the river. Its owner said no and that it was actually afraid of water. Curiously, and for what evolutionary purpose I do not know, it had an extra claw on the back of each leg. Its master let it have a good run up and down the street. It came back panting, which enabled us to have a good look at its peculiar tongue. It was a deep pink colour with large black spots.
We came away feeling that in a good home, this breed makes an excellent family dog. It was certainly a more pleasant assignment than one in which the owner of two Rottweilers had to restrain them from savaging me to death and also for James, who only this year was bitten by a dog in a rural town of the Mekong delta. Vietnam's national breed is a worthy and honourable canine ambassador for her country!
With acknowledgements to the owner of the Phu Quoc Ridgeback dog by the name of 'Wind’, Mrs Nguyen Anh Nguyet and to Mr Nguyen Xuan Ba who arranged the introduction.n

Text by Pip de Rouvray; Photos by James Gordon
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