Sun, Sep 11, 2005 - Page 17 News List

The Formosan dog: A breed apart

At first glance it looks like your average stray dog, but the rare purebred Formosan is anything but average

By Meredith Dodge  /  STAFF REPORTER

PHOTOS: WANG MIN-WEI, TAIPEI TIMES

A companion that will protect and obey you is no easy thing to come by. And if you value loyalty above all else and don't mind paying for it then you can't do much better than buy a purebred Formosan dog (also known as a Taiwan dog) from Chen Ming-nan's (陳明南) Hsiao Wu Fong Kennel (嘯五峰犬舍).

On a visit to the kennel, I had the pleasure of meeting two Hsiao Wu Fong-bred Formosan dogs who had returned with their owners for a reunion. The two were as different as night and day. Lo-ka (Aboriginal for "warrior") greeted me in the driveway with growling, barking and bared fangs as her owner held her leash tightly to prevent her from lunging at me. So this is the famous Formosan dog, I thought as I smiled nervously and edged past them.

Inside the Chen's office, Bark, a male dog, looked at first glance like he could have been from the same litter as Lo-ka, though he's two years her senior. Instead of barking, however, he was sitting on his hindquarters patiently holding a begging pose for the camera.

Multi-purpose pooch

"The Formosan has more capabilities than most breeds: It can be a guard dog, a companion, a hunting dog and a stunt dog. It is very intelligent and loyal," Chen said.

Traditionally kept by Aboriginals as a hunting dog, the breed is athletic and has a jaw like a vice grip. This tenacity, coupled with the Formosan's famous loyalty makes it an excellent guard dog, if a bit on the small side. Their medium-small frame can pack tonnes of attitude. I was warned to keep a safe distance from Lo-ka's owner because a Formosan tends to hate strangers approaching its master.

Bark was patient with strangers, but it was obvious that he only had eyes for his master. He responded with lightning speed to his owner Lin's hand motions and calls, performing tricks such as begging and leaping through Lin's arms. Lin easily commanded not only Bark's movements, but also his emotions: "Xiu-xiu" would get the dog all giddy and playful, while a growl would start him barking angrily.

Lin, who helps out at Hsiao Wu Fong when he can take time away from his graduate studies in animal science, explained that a Formosan's upbringing determines its personality.

"[Lo-ka] is like that because of her home environment," he said. "Her master leaves her to watch over the home all day while he's at work. But Bark is pretty good with strangers because I have several roommates whom she has to get along with."

If exposed to only one person during most of the formative first year, a Formosan will become fierce towards strangers. With recent stories of dog attacks in the news, this tendency can be worrisome. But as with many other dog breeds, Lin explained, Formosans will only bite if they feel threatened.

Still, it's best for children to keep their distance, or only play with a Formosan under the owner's supervision. When Lo-ka's owner was asked if she has ever bitten anyone, he replied, "Not yet."

Verge of extinction

Bringing back the Formosan from the brink of disappearance has been Chen's life for the past 20-odd years, but his love for the breed goes back much further. His father kept Formosans and when Chen was 9, he asked for one of his own. The dog his father gave him eventually went missing, but he never forgot his beloved pet.

"That dog left a very deep impression on me and I always wanted another one," Chen said. "It was this nostalgia that led me on a search for the Formosan."

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