Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Reactions to Big Dogs in South Korea

Here's the paraphrased question:

I would like to move to [Seoul] South Korea in the fall, and I would need to bring my dog with me, as I do not know anyone who can watch her for a year and I am not going to leave her with a stranger. She is a 50 pound mutt (I understand that larger dogs and mutts are not viewed as positively in Korea), though I think she could pass for some sort of imaginary pure breed based on her look. She lives with me in a small apartment now in a city and she is not a barker or high-strung. Is this just a horrible idea (in your opinion)? I have attempted to research this and received mixed feedback from others. Some of the feedback has been quite negative. Would I be setting me and my doggie up for disaster if we moved to Seoul, or are some people just over exaggerating? What could I reasonably expect? Will people be yelling at me multiple times every day when I am out with the dog, or is it not as common an occurrence (a few times a week)?

As you know, the Internet is THE place for people to vent and unleash whatever tirade they choose without having to own up or defend anything. That's why we love it, but you really shouldn't listen to what you read on anonymous forums. Most of the time, they'll be severely biased and, in the case of Korea, they'll almost be exclusively biased. Even in the case of big dogs, you're certain to find a handful of expats using a simple question like "Where can I buy a big dog?" as a chance to rail into Koreans for their preference for toy dogs, dog meat, xenophobia and a laundry list of other typical expat complaints. Rob has a good write-up about why expats in Korea complain so much. Make sure you check that out.

I would never be able to suggest that someone should separate from their dog. No way! That would be a horrible experience with both of you being miserable. Bring your dog. You'll be much happier as both of you would be adjusting together. However, you and your dog must be ready for a few changes.

Korea, and especially Seoul, is a tight, cramped place with high population density and overly crowded streets. If you're in a location with a lot of foot traffic, walking your dog is going to be an interesting experience. To truly understand public perception of dogs, we must first look at what Koreans view as pets. Koreans are not that pet-friendly to start with. Some of them have hamsters, fish or cats, but it is not a majority. Not even close. As for dogs, any non-toy dog is essentially not a pet. Rather, they are animals that live on the farm or in the country side. You will see a few here and there, but the idea is that big dogs are not cute or stuffed animal-like, so why have them? With apartments the size they are and easy access to outdoors areas limited, having a big dog in Seoul is overwhelmingly uncommon. I say that, but it doesn't mean you and your dog will be screamed at or chastised. Let me offer this story.

I have a puppy. He's a brown jindo-lab mutt that looks totally harmless and acts just as any other puppy would. He's curious, chases birds in the park, eats shoes and wants to play with everyone. When I take him out to go to the bathroom and am patiently waiting for him to squeeze out a few drops or drop a nice one, many people walk by -young women, old men, students, you name it and they pass by without so much as a glance. I have even had a few kids at the park run so fast when seeing my PUPPY that you would think a wolf was chasing them. Most of the time, the initial reaction is to fear it. That's right. My little three month old puppy strikes fear in the heart of some Koreans. But why? Well, since Koreans only have toy dogs, they only know how those breeds react to humans. A big dog is viewed just the same as a small unknown breed: with suspicion. Sure, a bigger one might scare them a little more, but it has more to do with unpredictability rather than size. Fear of the unknown, right?

When I walk my dog, most people look at him with interest, but they always keep a safe distance. Rarely will I have people walk up and pet him. This, however, is more of a blessing than you might think. If your dog was being pet by every person, she would start becoming more irritable on the walks, get less exercise and, of course, you would hate walking her because it would take much longer than usual.

I don't think you have decided on where in Seoul to live yet, but staying away from busy areas (Gangnam, Apgujeong, Jungno, Hongdae, Itaewon) might be a wise decision. Furthermore, heading to an area with easy-access to mountains, water or a park would enhance you and your dog's enjoyment while here. I'd be happy to recommend where some good, more natural locations are if you would like. Let me know.

To wrap it up, bring your dog. Both of you would be miserable without the other, so there's no reason to even consider that. Koreans might do a double-take and will even take a few steps out of the way to avoid crossing paths with you two, but there will be no screaming. Keep him on a leash and as long as he's not barking, destroying your apartment or biting the people he does happen to encounter, then you two will have a great time in Korea.

Here's a podcast on the subject.

If anybody has any questions, just send me an email at or leave a comment.


Scott Stout said...

Just wanted to echo 'expat's advice. Definately bring your dog. I have a 25lb american cocker spaniel. Most everywhere else he would be considered small. Here, he's considered HUGE. Your dog will be considered a freak of nature. However, you won't get huge reactions. Koreans will most probably stare in awe. A couple of pointers:

1. always clean up after your dog when in public - this seems obvious. Although it might seem a bit extreme, I take cleanliness one step further and carry with me a supply of tap water to dilute his urine in more pedestrian places. This is probably a little over the top, but it usually gets me big bonus points in the public sentiment category.
2. Don't get too annoyed with 20-30 year old girly-girl types who yelp (sometimes screech) at the sight of your baby. It's going to happen a lot, so get used to it.
3. Don't let your dog off the leash in public. You'll see plenty of little scrawny mutts off their leashes in public, and you might be tempted to think it's okay - especially because your baby is so docile. But Koreans are really nervous around what they consider to be big dogs.
4. Show your baby off. Koreans need to be exposed to larger breeds. If a little kid wants to pet your baby, let him (but stay close at hand to show you are being careful with the kid).
5. There are lots of parks and places to go with your baby in Korea. Find a place to live that's near a park - or better yet, close to the han river, which has parks all along its banks.

I wish you luck with your dog in Korea.

The Expat said...

Great point about the tap water on the urine thing. Winning points for big dogs should be our goal. The more they are exposed to them, the better off we'll all be.

Michelle said...

Good post, and good advice by The Expat.

A number of my friends in Seoul have large dogs, and they manage fine with minimal hassle from strangers on the street.(Might I suggest Nowon-gu as a particularly nice place in Seoul for larger dogs?)

The part about Internet forums is particularly true. By reading a bit, it's easy to believe that Koreans have a strong hatred of cats too. I travelled with my kitten several times on the subway, and recieved nothing more than curious glances and a few offers to pet him.

Hopefully, you and your dog enjoy your time in Korea.

Unknown said...

I left this comment on the other dog post:

So I told my parents I was going to get a 똥개 (dong-gae) when I move to Korea and they started laughing and asked if I like dog meat.

Apparently, the term "똥개 (dong-gae)" came from the fact that starving stray dogs ate human shit. Little kids would shit on the streets and that's all the dogs could find to eat.

Back in the days of the Korean War and thereafter there were a lot of stray dogs all over the place. Food was scarce for Koreans, so they were forced to eat these dogs. Typically, the larger breeds since they provided more meat.

똥개's can still be found raised and sold as food (like any US livestock) in the more rural areas and is considered the best type of meat. I hear it's very pricey.

So when a native stops, points, stares, comments about your 똥개, I don't think it's because of the fact that it's a mutt, but probably because you're walking around food.

Imagine someone in the US walking in public with a leash around a chicken, or cow, or pig (ie George Clooney). I would stop and stare, too.

Anonymous said...

I live in Bucheon and I have seen a good number of large dogs, Maybe an area around Seoul would be better if bringing a large dog.

Mike said...

At first I thought the title was "Reaction to Big Dongs in South Korea".

I think that research would have been cooler.

Anon said...

Are big dogs (a german shepherd)allowed on subways? Is it okay as long as one puts them in a large carrier or puts a muzzle on them?

Katie said...

Some of the comments have claimed seeing "big dogs" in Korea. What would you classify a big dog as? We are moving to Korea soon, to Dongducheon in the North, and have a 1 year old english mastiff. What are your thoughts on this particular big dog?

The Expat said...

An English Mastiff would be considered a really, really big dog. Above 25-30lbs gets people on the street nervous. Furthermore, you need to consider several things before hauling a dog of that size over here.

First of all, make sure your apartment owner or landlord is okay with a dog that big. Most won't be.

Secondly, you've gotta consider the cost of flying a large dog over. I don't know the size of your dog, but a 30lbs goes for about $800 bucks.

Lastly, the real struggle is going to be for the dog. Korea is jam-packed with people, cars and, most of all, small apartments. Will your dog be comfortable in such a place?

As for the other question about subways, YES, they can be in an enclosed carrier. NO, a muzzled dog won't work. You'll get the police called.

Anonymous said...

what are your recommendations on finding an apartment that will allow a big dog? (50lb labrador retreiver) i am planning on moving end of august and any suggestions will be a big help!

Sarah said...

My husband and I are moving to Seoul at the beginning of July and are bringing our 87lb German Shepherd and our 18 lb Jack Russell with us. We are military and have the option of living on base, but would prefer off to get a better integration into Seoul. I noticed people mention Nowon-gu as a good place to live. Do you have any other areas that you would suggest? I know this will all be dependent on landlords, but if we can narrow our search a bit, that would be very helpful. Thank you for this great post!

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