HISTORY OF THE VIETNAMESE PHU QUOC RIDGEBACK DOG BREED
Presented to the AKC for Foundation Stock Service by:
Dr. Jean Lieu, President
Phu Quoc Ridgeback Kennel Club
Source: Vietnam Kennel Association
Official Brief on the History of the Vietnamese Phu Quoc Ridgeback Dog, 28 Dec 2012
HISTORY OF THE VIETNAMESE PHU QUOC RIDGEBACK DOG BREED
PLACE OF ORIGIN: Phu Quoc Island
Phu Quoc island, located in the Gulf of Siam, also known as Pearl Island at one point when Vietnam was referred to as the Pearl of the Orient, is the largest island amongst a group of 30 islands belonging to Kien Giang province located in the southwestern part of Vietnam. Phu Quoc Island, with an area of 589-km2 (227 square miles), lies within the tropical monsoon climate zone, comprising of hot weather, high humidity, and frequent rain, and is thus home to many diverse life forms and special ecological zones. With 99 mountain ranges concentrated in its northern region recognized as a National Forest Park, the area supports a variety of the island's endemic wildlife, including large mammals like deer, wild buffalo, and wild boar.
Historically, hunting has been one of the primary occupations for the inhabitants of the island. Currently, however, hunting has been prohibited to protect and preserve the forests and their natural resources. Marine resources from the island are also very diverse. The island is surrounded by coral reefs scattered all over the seabed, and has a large variety of marine life, with the most famous being the dugong-dugong, or sea-cow. The sea also holds the raw materials used to produce the world-famous brand of Phu Quoc Island fish sauce.
In the middle and southern areas of the island, the geography is relatively flat. This is where most people live and work. Besides producing “Nước mắm” or fish sauce, islanders also grow pepper, another renowned export of Phu Quoc island.
While famous for its fish sauce, Phu Quoc island is most famous for its indigenous dog breed: The Phu Quoc dog.
TALES OF ORIGIN
For thousands of years, dogs have been an integral part of life in Vietnamese culture. On Phu Quoc Island, the Phu Quoc Ridgeback dog was revered as a very special type of dog.
According to folk legend, Phu Quoc dogs are the descendants of the Vietnamese mythical Fu-dog and the jackals that lived on the island. The ridge on its back was inherited from the mythical celestial Fu-dog. Another legend speaks of 18th century King Gia-Long, the first king of the Nguyen Dynasty, who fled to the island as he was being chased by his enemies. There, a dog led the King into hiding and saved his life. As a reward, the King placed his royal sword upon the back of the faithful dog, conferring the impression of a sword-like ridge topped with a small swirl or crown that runs along the backs of the dogs. That impression is the “ridge” that is the hallmark of this breed.
In the 19th century, when the French divided Vietnam into Tonkin, Annamite, and Cochin-chine to set up their regime, southern Vietnam (Cochin-chine) was considered a frontier, still wild, mysterious, and largely undiscovered.
The history of the Phu Quoc dog during this time cannot be discussed without mentioning a Frenchman by the name of Fernand Doceul, who was a medical student in France, but who also held government positions in several districts of Cochin-chine in the 1890s (1). Due to the nature of his work, Doceul had the opportunity to live and work in a variety of locations in Indochina. As such, he had the opportunity to observe a variety of dogs, including domestic dogs as well as feral dogs in the region. Yet, in all his travels, he wrote that he had never seen any dog quite like the Phu Quoc dog. During a trip to Phu Quoc island, he personally witnessed a Phu Quoc bitch take down a deer within 10 minutes all by herself. She lured and herded the deer into the water, then swam out and killed her prey. Over and over again, he was amazed by the Phu Quoc dog’s hunting acumen.
Doceul felt that the Phu Quoc breed was a result of a mixture of many breeds. He also felt that the local people did not want to introduce native dogs to foreigners, and found it difficult to get guidance in procuring a dog that would meet his expectations of the breed. Through much networking, Doceul was finally able to obtain a pair of Phu Quoc dogs of his own to breed. This resulted in four Phu Quoc dogs that he was able to send to France as a gift to Jardin Zoolozique d’Acclimatation in Paris (the Paris Botanical Gardens) along with a lengthy letter detailing his observations on the characteristics of this special breed (2). Unfortunately, one of the four dogs did not survive the long challenging journey to Europe. In the end, only three dogs made it to the Jardin d’Acclimitation. Of the three dogs, two, named Annamite (Vietnamese) and Kratie (a region in Cambodia where Doceul lived and worked at one time), were featured in an article written by Philipiere Fils, along with Doceul’s letter on the breed, published in the journal Le Chenils, issued in late July 1891 (3).
Besides Doceul, Gaston Helouin was another Frenchman who shared a passion for the breed in that same era. Gaston Helouin lived in Helfaut, Pas-de-Calais. We do not have much information on him, apart from the information that he was Vice-President of a motorcycle club in Normandy in the 1850s. Helouin owned two Phu Quoc dogs named Mango and Banana. These dogs were judged by Count Henry de Bylandt at the Universal Dog Show in Antwerp, Belgium in 1894. They left a profound impression on the Count which he mentioned in his book "Les Races de Chiens" (4).
The first few Phu Quoc dogs in Europe have also been observed by many experts in zoology, and most highly appreciated them. One of these experts, Emile Oustalet, a well-known zoologist, wrote an article about the breed. The article, published in the journal La Nature, issued in October 1897, postulated that the Phu Quoc dog may be the ancestors of the Australian Dingo, a breed that reverted to the wild after being domesticated by humans (5). Though the Phu Quoc dog has always lived with humans, they were raised to roam free and wild on Phu Quoc island and were never quite completely domesticated.
We do not have information on the descendants of Mango and Banana, owned by Helouin. However, the three dogs brought to the Jardin d’Acclimitation fared well and produced healthy offspring (6). Also during this period, a well-known sculptor, Rembrant Bugatti, created a statue of a dog titled "Chien de Annamite ou de Annam", or “Dog of Vietnam”. Although we cannot find the owner of this statue to examine it closely from all angles, by assessing the overall appearance of the dog, combined with the knowledge that Buggatti had once lived near the zoos in France and Belgium, including the Jardin d’Acclimitation, we believe that this is a statue of a Phu Quoc dog.
Also found in French records was Can-Le, a Phu Quoc bitch imported by Marquis de Bathelémy in the 1900s, although not much is known of this dog.
Shortly after, the First World War erupted in Europe and subsequently wiped out all information and records related to the first Phu Quoc dogs and their descendants.
After being discovered and recognized by the French, the Phu Quoc dogs encountered the same challenges and difficulties as Vietnam and its people in the decades that follow. After three wars with France, the Vietnam War with the U.S, and the Border Protection War, people's lives were devastated. As the people suffer, so did the Phu Quoc dog breed. In the 1970s, what had once been the Pearl Island and the cradle of life for the Phu Quoc dog breed became a hell on earth as the home of a prison for prisoners of war. During this time, the Phu Quoc dog existed alongside humans as an ordinary household pet. No consideration was given for their protection, preservation, or development.
In the 1980s, a number of Vietnamese began to nurture the idea of conserving and preserving this precious breed after realizing that there were only 800 purebred dogs left on the island. However, due to the geographic distance of Phu Quoc Island and difficulties in travel and transport, only a very limited number of Phu Quoc dogs were taken to the mainland for breeding and conservation.
During this period, Vietnam did not have a national canine club or organization. Breeding and preservation were almost entirely dependent on breed aficionados. As a result, the Phu Quoc dog became at risk of extinction.
In 2005, a group of dog aficionados in Vietnam met on social network forums, rediscovered the Phu Quoc dog breed, and came up with the idea of preservation and conservation of the breed. At the end of 2006, this group had the good fortune of meeting Mr. Du Thanh Khiem, a Vietnamese living in Belgium. Mr. Khiem was involved in the dog world of Europe and America. He also diligently collected historical documents about Phu Quoc dogs and had intentions of bringing Phu Quoc dogs to Belgium to raise in the 1980s, although his effort was not successful. Mr. Khiem is recognized as the person who was instrumental in setting forth the necessary path for a cynological national organization in Vietnam, mapping the steps necessary for the breed to regain its lost glory.
In July 2007, at two seminars in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Mr. Khiem announced the intention to bring Phu Quoc dogs back to the world stage to debut at the FCI's 100th anniversary. During this time, the group also garnered the enthusiastic support of Mr. Pham Le Quan, a businessman, and Mr. Cao Minh Kim Qui. A renowned drummer and musician, Mr. Cao Minh Kim Qui harbored a special passion for Phu Quoc dogs and accepted the responsibility as representative for the group in connecting and mobilizing dog lovers all over Vietnam in preparation for the establishment of the Vietnam Kennel Association.
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE VIETNAM KENNEL ASSOCIATION.
On February 13, 2008, the Declaration to establish the Vietnam Kennel Association (VKA) was issued and announced. Nearly a year later, the operating charter of the Association was approved by the Ministry of Home Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Thus, the national cynological organization and an arena for dog fanciers in Vietnam were born.
Immediately after the official launch of the VKA in July 2009, on August 12, 2009, VKA established a Committee to study and draft the Phu Quoc Dog Breed Standard. The committee rapidly drafted the standards, mainly based on the old-standards of Count Henry de Bylandt as written in his book “Dogs of All Nations”. The standards reflected those of oral tradition passed down through generations, as well as observations from a scientific viewpoint.
This standard was declared official by the VKA on 20 September 2009 and is still currently in effect to date.
Mr. Du Thanh Khiem was also specially recognized by the VKA as the first Phu Quoc dog breed judge of the VKA. With the establishment of the VKA and the publication of the Phu Quoc dog standard, Phu Quoc dogs officially stepped out of the darkness in their own homeland to proudly enter the official playground of the dog aficionado community in Vietnam.
On December 6, 2009, the VKA debuted their first dog show. It was also the first dog show that the Phu Quoc dog breed was able to participate in. Under the judgment of Mrs. Monique van Brempt, the Phu Quoc dog surpassed many other breeds to win the award of Reserve Best in Show (R.BIS).
The dog who won the R.BIS award at the first VKA Dog Show later became Vietnam's first champion. He also participated in the World Dog Show (WDS) in Paris, France in July 2011. His name was Dom, a dog of unknown origin, belonging to Mr. Vo Hong Hai.
Subsequently, two clubs of Phu Quoc dog fanciers were established: one in the North in Hanoi, and one in the South in Ho Chi Minh City. Adhering to VKA’s regulations, the clubs held annual dog shows. These activities significantly influenced the direction of breeding stock selection as well as the course of raising and breeding Phu Quoc dogs in the two major cities and the surrounding areas.
Along with activities to promote the dog aficionado movement and to create an arena complying with standards, the VKA continuously issued recommendations on the selection of breeding stock, emphasizing that only dogs that meet the standards should be used for breeding. The VKA also sought to create a systematic approach to manage the breeding process, with the express goal to achieve a healthy population of dogs, ensuring that all breeders select and breed in accordance with the breed standards.
Activities to promote Phu Quoc dogs are still ongoing. In particular, the most prominent event was that in which the Phu Quoc dog was able to make an appearance at the 100th year anniversary of the establishment of the FCI, the international kennel club.
The major contributor in this achievement was Mr. Du Thanh Khiem – VKA advisor and lead of External Relations. Armed with historical documents and convincing new documentary images, combined with solid logic and reasoning, along with newly-forged relationships, Mr. Khiem lobbied for the approval of the French Kennel Club (SCC) to allow the Phu Quoc dog to participate in the French national dog competition and the world dog show in Paris, France.
To this end, the breed standard was quickly translated into English to present to the judges and all interested parties.
Due to the difference in the standards and conditions for managing the breed as well as the geographical distance, only two Phu Quoc dogs, named Dom and Ven (both male), we're able to overcome difficulties and obstacles to participating in the competition in France.
In particular, in this competition, the dog named Ven, owned by Mr. Ly Nguyen Khon was awarded the CACS certificate by the judge - Certificate of Conformity with the Breed Standard (Certificat Aptitude a la Conformité aux Standard of SCC (Société Centrale Canine – French Canine Association) ) Unfortunately, because of a serious illness, Ven died in early 2012.
Today, the VKA continues to work hard to promote the preservation and protection of all indigenous Vietnam breeds, including the Phu Quoc dog breed. It encourages breeding that conforms to the breed standards to ensure the optimum health and welfare of the breed. The VKA is currently an associate partner with the FCI and is working towards obtaining recognition for the Phu Quoc dog breed.
The Mythical Fu Dog of Vietnam.
Sculpture from Ly Dynasty, 1009-1225 CE.
Excerpt, letter. Fernand Doceul to Jardin Zoolozique d’Acclimatation in Paris
The first French historical publication mentioning the Phu Quoc dog breed:
Le Chenil, No. 31 – issued on 30 July 1891.
Picture of Phu Quoc dog as rendered in the book “Les race de chiens” by Count Henry de Bylandt
The Book “Les race de chiens” of Count Henry de Bylandt, 1897.
Emile Oustalet’s article in La Nature, No. 964, issued on 21November 1891
Photos: “Animal Life and the World of Nature; A magazine of Natural History – vol.1, 1901”.
“Chien Annamite ou d'Annam”, Sculpture by Rembrant Bugatti.
The Phu Quoc Bitch Can-Le- Imported by Marquis de Bathelémy.
Excerpt from “The new book of the dog” by Robert Leighton, 1911.
Dictionnaire de Bio-Bibliographie Générale, Ancience et Moderne de L’Indochine Francaise, Paris, 1935
Letter from Fernand Doceul to Jardin Zoolozique d’Acclimatation in Paris, 1891.
Philipiere Fils: Chiens de l’ile de Phu Quoc (Indo-Chine). Le Chenils, July 1891.
Comte Henri de Bylandt: Les Races de Chiens, 1897.
Emile Oustalet: La Nature 964, November 1891.
Animal Life and the World of Nature: A magazine of Natural History – vol.1, 1901.
Robert Leighton: The new book of the dog, 1911.