11 June 2008

Koreans Keen to Export National Dog: the Jindo

South Korea's Jindo dog has stood tall against tigers, guarded the heavily armed border with the North and marched in the Olympics. Yet the Jindo is having a tough time battling poodles for trophies at dog shows abroad. The Jindo dog, largely unknown overseas, is South Korea's most popular indigenous breed. It has won legions of fans at home for its big heart and undying loyalty to its master.

South Korea wants to make the Jindo an international breed but the country that has devised successful strategies for sending its microchips, mobile phones and automobiles abroad has been largely ineffective in exporting its native dog. Its mission has been hampered by its own laws designating the Jindo as a cultural treasure, which make it difficult, and in many cases illegal, to export purebred dogs.

"Our indigenous breed was not recognised anywhere in the world except Korea. We felt that it was time that something was done about it," said Julie Soojung Lee, an official with Samsung who helped in the international marketing of the Jindo dog. Samsung worked with the government in a campaign that resulted in the Jindo being recognised by the Kennel Club, but it is not yet in competition at Crufts. The American Kennel Club has started the process to recognise the Jindo.

The Jindo is a medium sized, spitz-type dog with pointy upright ears and a raised, curly tail. The dog comes in a variety of colors with white and orange-tan being the most common. Once used for hunting and guard duties, the dog hails from the southwest island called Jindo. Owners say it is loyal to a fault, highly intelligent and brave. One leading breeder described the Jindo as "clean and dignified".

Over the years, the Jindo's bloodlines became tainted as it mixed with mutts on the island. To remedy this, South Korea recognised it as a national treasure in 1962 and set up breeding facilities to develop dogs that would set standards. The protection helped spark a Jindo revival but it also made it almost impossible to send purebred dogs overseas unless a breeder can navigate through a maze of bureaucracy.

"Adult Jindo dogs branded as national treasures must stay inside of Jindo Island," said Park Byung-jin, manager of the government-run Jindo Dog Research and Testing Centre that breeds the dog and serves as a gateway for government approval to send certified purebreds abroad.

Park Jong-hwa runs the Mosan Jindo Dog Research Centre just south of Seoul and said the dog may not yet be ready for the international stage. "The main problem with the Jindo is it's a one-man dog and lacks good social skills," said Park, who has been breeding Jindo dogs for about 45 years and who has nearly 170 of them living in a kennel attached to his home. Park has been trying to breed out some of the Jindo's anti-social characteristics and establish what he feels should be standards, which has put him at loggerheads with the government's facility on the island of Jindo.

Parks said the Jindo adapts well to its surroundings and can find its niche in a cramped Manhattan apartment or suburban home with a yard. "I have absolute confidence that the Jindo one day will enter the international show ring and compete against other leading canines in the world."

[Source: Reuters UK]