It has been almost one year since I adopted my beautiful dog, Nuna, here in South Korea. It’s about time I write about my experiences as a dog owner! This post will likely be full of a lot of comparisons to my experiences growing up in Canada. Even if you’re not Canadian I think you will find many of them useful. I will try to focus on areas I think are the most difficult for dog owners here. Please feel free to leave any questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them honestly.
Pet ownership is fairly new in South Korea
Pet ownership, at least in the way that we’re used to it in most ‘Western’ countries, is actually fairly new in South Korea. If you look at my family in Canada, for example, we had family dogs growing up because my parents had family dogs growing up. My parents were already used to living in homes with dogs. Making the decision to get them as adults was easy. A lot of younger families in Korea are often getting their first family pet. Pet ownership might not have been something they experienced in their own family growing up. However, I believe an estimated* 1 in 5 Korean families now have a family pet, so things are changing fast!
Obviously larger dogs like Jindos have been around for quite some time in South Korea, but they were used to hunt or guard property. In fact, here in Jeolla, you still see tons of Jindos tied up outside businesses as ‘guard’ dogs. The animal shelter in Gwangju is also always full of beautiful Jindos in need of homes. They can be very sweet, loving dogs!
Many people aren’t taught how to properly interact with dogs
This is a major point that is really important to be aware of. Due to the above reasons, many people are simply not aware of proper dog interaction. This includes both people interacting with your dog and owners letting their dog interact with yours. I remembered that I was taught as a very small child how to properly interact with dogs. This included being aware of signs that the dog was aggressive, nervous, friendly, etc. I think the reason you see many kids in Canada with these skills is simply because they are very likely to interact with dogs at a young age. Even if your family doesn’t own one you will likely have friends with dogs, or pass by people on the street walking their dog. Dogs are hard to avoid in Canada and thus many parents often teach their children the proper ways to behave around them ASAP.
How to handle interactions
This is something that as a dog owner in South Korea you will unfortunately come face to face with a lot. My dog, Nuna, was abandoned and is pretty nervous when meeting new people. She is terrified if a new person makes sudden movements or loud noises. So when we are out for a walk and an older man starts clapping his hands at her and making strange noises she totally freaks out. Or, when a small child comes running towards us hoping to pet her, she views them as a potential threat.
Try not to get mad in these situations and remember that we all need to be taught how to appropriately interact with animals. I try to use them as teaching moments as much as possible, not so much with the old men, but more so with young children. Immediately, I get down to Nuna’s level and position myself between her and the child. I will then demonstrate how you can give her your hand to sniff (she usually still ignores them). It’s a small step but ultimately I want my dog to interact with people and I want people to interact with her. Safety first!
To summarize, don’t assume someone knows how to safely approach a dog (this is good advice no matter what country you live in). As the owner, you need to take responsibility and make sure the interactions go well. If you’re dog is aggressive or really anxious, it’s probably better to learn an easy phrase or two in Korean and just keep moving on.
Small dogs rule in South Korea
I was at the vet with Nuna the other day and had a funny realization. As I looked around the room at the other dogs waiting with their owners, I noticed something. Not only was Nuna the only dog that wasn’t all white, but she was also easily the only one over 5kg. If you choose to become a dog owner in South Korea you will realize very quickly that size matters. Since the majority of the country lives in apartments, most families favor smaller dogs, generally under 8kg or so. Of course there are exceptions to this but for the majority, smaller breeds are much more sought after. Tons of miniature poodles, shih tzus, and malteses.
Are you the owner of a small dog? Cool. Then you fit within the majority and probably won’t run into many issues. But owners of larger dogs need to be aware of some things…
When I tell my students my dog weighs about 9kg they often tell me how ‘big’ she is. At 9kg she is less than 20lbs, easily still categorized as a small dog back in Canada. But here she is starting to get into ‘big dog’ territory.
Ultimately ‘larger’ dogs are met with some sad, negative stereotypes in South Korea. But things are definitely changing for the better! Many people see larger dogs as aggressive, which is likely the biggest problem you will run into if you own a larger breed. I’ve heard stories of people straight up running away from owners out walking their harmless, larger pups. Even some instances of people trying to hit the dog with a cane. Again, if you can, try to utilize teaching moments as much as possible. If you have a larger breed that’s friendly, go out of your way to show people how friendly they are. It really only takes one positive interaction to change a person’s mind!
Limited places for doggy interaction
When I lived in Toronto I never had to travel very far to find a dog park. By this I mean a separate, gated area within a larger park where dogs are free to run off leash and play with each other. I’ve heard that there might be one or two around Seoul, but for the majority of the country they remain fairly non-existent.
If you want to introduce your pup to other dogs then dog cafes might be a good option, though they have their own issues. Find a dog cafe that you like and make sure your dog is fully vaccinated before any introductions!
Other options for socialization include reaching out to others in your city to see if they’d like to do some doggy meet-ups. This is something I’m hoping to do for Nuna as I think throwing her into a dog cafe environment would be way too overwhelming. Facebook is a great place to meet other dog owners living in the ROK! I will link to some helpful Facebook groups at the bottom of this post.
Vets are easy to come by and offer great services
Vets here in South Korea are very easy to come by and offer the same services as vets in Western countries. I also think it’s pretty easy to find an English speaking vet if you’re worried about translation issues. Vets are highly trained professionals and for the most part have a decent understanding of English. Our vet here in Mokpo speaks wonderful English and I’ve never had any communication problems.
Compared to Canada, I’d say vet prices are actually a lot cheaper here. I found the prices for things like vaccines to be really affordable, though I think spaying and neutering is a similar cost in Canada. I will likely do a more in depth post on vet prices in the future. For now, I’d say it’s nothing to worry about – both finding a good vet and being able to afford the services.
A few months ago there was some serious outcry happening over some proposed muzzling laws. Essentially the laws would require any dog over a certain height (40cm) to be muzzled in public. Luckily, this ridiculous law has not passed, but remember to always have your dog on a leash (this is law!).
HOWEVER, if you own one of these 8 breeds: tosa, pit bull terrier, rottweiler, mastiff, laika, ovtcharka, kangal or wolfdog, you must muzzle them in public. The government has declared them “dangerous” breeds and they are not exempt from muzzle laws. Consider a basket muzzle where the dog can still drink water and eat treats if you must use one.
I believe I.D. tags and registration is also now required by law. Honestly, getting your pet micro-chipped and registered at the vet is super easy, costs about 30 bucks, and could save your dogs life if you were to get separated. I.D. tags can be found in many pet shops too.
Dogs in apartments
Not all apartments are dog-friendly. I think technically unless it’s stated in your lease, you are fine to own a pet, but it’s best to check beforehand. Also, some landlords and neighbors might be more nervous if you’ve got a bigger pup. You might need to go out of your way to show them how nice and friendly they are.
We had a lady in our building who was initially terrified of Nuna, so much so that she would literally yell bloody murder when she saw her. I’m happy to report she now just backs away and smiles at her. To be fair I’d say this lady had a serious fear of dogs. Most people we ride the elevator with just tell Nuna how cute she is or make weird noises at her. Totally harmless.
I love being a dog-mom. It honestly brings me so much joy and happiness, and even though Nuna likes to test my nerves with her separation-anxiety-induced-chewing, I love having her in my life. Although being a dog owner in South Korea presents some challenges, it’s really no big deal. There are so many people in this country that love dogs and are fighting hard for animal welfare in general, I hope I did not paint it as anti-pets or something. Most people I meet are totally in love with Nuna, especially since she’s a very unique looking dog where we live.
Please if you are considering getting a dog in South Korea, ADOPT ONE FROM A SHELTER!
Shelters are full to the brim with dogs of all ages and sizes that need loving homes. Please avoid purchases from any pet stores as puppy mills and terrible breeding practices are widespread. Also make sure you are fully committed to a pet, they are for life not just to keep you company while you live in Korea. Do your research on how to get them back to your home country before you make the leap. If you’re ready to adopt, check out the Animal Rescue Network Korea Facebook group linked below.