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When thinking about which dog breed is right for you, you would be forgiven for narrowing that choice down to those that are in front of you. In the US, breeds like the Labrador Retriever and the American Staffordshire Terrier are increasingly popular, while we forget all about our eastern breeds.
While Wikipedia lists only three types of dog breed in Korea, we know that there are more than this. They choose the Donggyeongi, the Nureongi, and the Pungsan dog, as three good examples of Korean breeds.
The Donggyeongi is now a breed on the verge of extinction. With around 600 known to exist in the world, this spells trouble for the future of the species.
The Nureongi is the Korean word for ‘Mongrel’; most are a yellow color and, sadly, do not live as pets. Fortunately, the meat farming of dogs in South Korea has been coming to a halt – and these were the dogs that would traditionally have been kept as cattle and eaten.
Last but not least, the Pungsan dog is a hunting dog kept in North Korea. It is extremely rare to see this type of dog anywhere else in the world, although those fleeing to the south and to China have managed to smuggle a few of them out.
What is a Korean Dog Breed?
A Korean dog breed is any breed of dog that either originates in Korea or takes its ancestry from dogs in this area. In much the same way as dogs crossed the sea with the first American colonists, some of our breeds don’t always stay in their country of origin. Look at the Australian Shepherd, for example… It wasn’t even ever Australian to begin with.
Korean dog breeds vary in size, shape, and temperament. However, there is one story told time and time again that always manages to bring a tear to the eye. The tale goes that one Korean Jindo dog walked 300km to be reunited with his owner. The dog lived another seven happy years after it showed up.
Korean Dog Breeds: Quick Facts
Average height: 18 – 30 inches
Average weight: 20 – 185 lbs
Average lifespan: 10 – 15 years
Alternative name: Varies
Korean Dog Breed Characteristics:
- Adept Hunters
What’s the Difference Between a Korean and an American Dog Breed?
Americans can pick and choose what types of dog breed we would like to raise. In Korea, you have a more limited scope of dog. There isn’t a lot of difference between the two countries of origin, in terms of genetic material.
Korean dogs tend to be purpose focused. Since the people would historically eat dogs during hard times, the dog had to be worth more than its weight as a meal. Therefore, Korea has more hunting dogs, working dogs, and heavy lifters, than other countries of a similar ilk.
Are Korean Dogs Exclusive to Korea?
Not all of them. It is hard to smuggle dogs out of the North of Korea. However, you can get hold of a South Korean dog breed if you know where to look. They have their own version of the AKC so you should be able to reach out to registered breeders for any pup you choose.
Most Common Korean Dog Breeds
Below, we have listed the most common dog breeds in Korea, both north and south.
When we think of Korean dogs, it is the Jindo that first pops to mind. They are loyal, intelligent, and will sniff you out from 300 km away if you give them the chance. They were originally bred on a small island off the course of South Korea, where they were used as hunters by the local populace.
The Jindo is a high energy dog that is named for the island that it came from. They were originally left to roam the island and breed naturally, which has led to a semi-wild, extremely independent, high-energy dog breed. They are beautiful animals, but they are not for the faint of heart.
The Jindo has an alternative name in the history books. The Koreans have a Republic which documents every national treasure that is in the country. The Jindo is one of the only dog breeds in the world to therefore be a registered, card-carrying member of the National Treasure club. Its official title is the Korea National Treasure No. 53.
The Korean Jindo made the crossing to the States in 2008. This dog breed is known for large and frequent litters, therefore there is high hope for the future of the species. They have come a long, long way from the small island in southwestern Korea.
Jindo Dog Stats:
Average Height: From 18-22 inches
Average Weight: From 30-50 lbs
Average Lifespan: Up to 14 years
As mentioned, the Donggyeongi are considered to be an endangered breed. Where the Jindo is number 53 on the list of national treasures, the Donggyeongi is number 540. This dog is incredibly rare outside of South Korea. It is thought they take their name from the capital city of Shilla, which was a dynasty in Korea in the middle ages.
Nearly a thousand years ago, the Donggyeongi and the Jindo were the same breed. A split in the ancestry at this point caused the two deviations. To the native culture, the Donggyeongi is seen as a bad luck symbol. It is thought that they are lesser versions of the Jindo.
In the 1920’s, the Japanese engaged in the widespread slaughter of these dogs. We aren’t sure why, although sources suggest it is something to do with their resemblance to the Komainu. The Komainu are the soldier-type lions depicted in Japanese shrines. The Donggyeongi has a stubbed tail, a genetic feature passed down through the generations. Reportedly, natives see this stubbed tail as a bad omen.
Since the 40’s and the end of Colonialism in Japan, this dog breed was finally recognized as a symbol of cultural importance. Misconceptions about their tail being a deformation were resolved and the breed was made a national treasure. Further, the Donggyeongi were no longer killed for their thick winter coats. The breed is now a protected treasure of Korea.
Donggyeongi Dog Stats:
Average Height: 18-21 inches
Average Weight: 20-40 lbs
Average Lifespan: Up to 14 years
The Dosa Dog
The Dosa Dog is also referred to as the Korean Mastiff. It is a dignified breed that was bred to be a watchdog. They are thought to be cousins to the Japanese Tosa dog breed and are the largest (in weight) of the Korean dog breeds. They are large, have several folds around the neck, and have that distinctive square jaw that we see in mastiffs, again and again.
Similarly, to the Donggyeongi, the Dosa, or Dosa Gae, is a rare type of breed. Korean dog breeds are rare altogether, since the countries were closed to us for so long. As a result, the Dosa Dog is well known but not registered in the AKC. You would be hard pushed to find one of these dogs in the USA.
The Dosa tends to laze around. They are guard dogs that work best as a deterrent. They are available in red, brown, and with white chests. They have the familiar Mastiff face shape, large heavy paws, and a bite that will kill if properly (or improperly) trained. Be sure you take your Korean Dosa Dog for proper training if you are thinking of flying in a puppy.
The Korean Mastiff is a pack dog and must be taken for obedience training early on in its life. They tend to be lazy, so ensure a proper exercise regime is always in place. Their health is generally considered to be good, but they are prone to the occasional stomach problem and they will eat their weight in chow if left unattended. Don’t forget to stay on top of their nails if you can’t get them walking, too.
Dosa Dog Stats:
Average Height: Up to 30 inches
Average Weight: Up to 185 lbs
Average Lifespan: Up to 10 years
The Pungsan, or Poongsan, is a Korean hunting dog that is rarely seen outside its country of origin. Since April in 1956, this dog breed has been made into a National Monument of North Korea. These are symbolling the country adopted upon their liberation in the forties.
The Pungsan is similar to a smaller, less muscle-bound husky. Often, they are white or cream, but other colors are available. The dog breed itself was bred in isolation within North Korea for many decades, but the North Korean history books say that they were once used to hunt tigers, bears, and warthogs, in Russia.
Kim Jong-il gifted two Pungsan dogs to the South Korean President at the 2000 Inter-Korean Summit. The two dogs had 15 puppies in total. During the 2018 summit, his son Kim Jong-un gifted a further two dogs to the new president. The female dog gave birth within two months of the summit.
In November, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea was photographed with the puppies on the lawn of the Blue House, his residence. We’re not sure what happened to them after that, but a Pungsan puppy is an exceptionally rare gift out of either Korean country.
Pungsan Dog Stats:
Average Height: 20-24 inches
Average Weight: up to 70 lbs
Average Lifespan: 11-14 years
Sometimes called the Sapsaree as a sort of ‘cute’ version, the Sapsali is a rough, shaggy-haired Korean dog breed. With a gentle, friendly, and imperiously patient temperament, the Sapsali has long since been revered as a loyal, playful, family-orientated breed.
The Sapsali breed type was almost extinct in the 1980s. At the height of the problems in Korea, these dogs were treasured, yet scarce. The entire population of these dogs was resurrected using a single group of eight dogs. The genetics are there for incredibly limited and are likely to be restrained further in the coming years.
The Sapsali is a prime candidate for cross breeding at this point. Although not a member of the American Kennel Club, their common cousin, the Briard, is. The Sapsali is large, shaggy, and has a sort of hulking build. Their heads are round and wide, their hair likely to grow over their eyes so that they can’t see… you know the dog type.
This Korean breed of dog isn’t very common outside of Korea itself. If you are lucky enough to own one, ensure you keep it well-groomed with shampoos, conditioners, and de-shedding treatments. Regular visits to the doggy groomers might be needed. However, those with a confident outlook and a steady hand could save a small (but recurring) fortune by picking up a set of clippers and learning to shave.
The Sapsali Dog Stats:
Average Height: up to 23 inches
Average Weight: 35-65 lbs
Average Lifespan: 10-12 years
The Jeju Dog
Jeju is the largest island in South Korea, and it lends its name to the dog breed native to it. Although beautiful, this island has been the scene of political turmoil through the years, culminating in an uprising in 1949 at protest of the division of Korea as a whole. Nowadays, the southwestern island is a source of tourism.
The Jejuegae (Gae means ‘dog’ in Korean) was almost made extinct in the 80s, like a few other Korean breeds. Although the history books don’t specify why this was, we have seen it across a few of these breeds. In 1986, three dogs remained on the entire island. These same three were used to resurrect a species. There are currently around 70 purebred Jeju dogs left in the world.
Crossbreeding has led to a greater population of 300, although it is suspected that other breeds were used to ‘pad out’ that bloodline. In 2010 they were finally added to the list of National Treasures of the South Korean Republic. Why? Before that there weren’t even enough of them to do that with.
Their place on that register ought to be enough to secure the future of the Jeju dog breed inside of South Korea. They are used as guard dogs and working dogs in Korea, although the tide is turning. Nowadays, most guard dogs are kept as pets or examples of excellent breeding. Treat them well if you have one… they deserve all the luxuries we humans have to offer.
The Jeju Dog Stats:
Average Height: 18-22 inches
Average Weight: 45-60 lbs
Average Lifespan: 12-15 years
The Nureongi is the forgotten type of Korean dog… the kind that is of no breed. These dogs are commonly yellow in coat color and are usually kept in dog farms. According to USA today, these are the dogs that are most commonly consumed in South Korea, even to this day. They estimate that nearly 2 million dogs a year are still meeting this fate, even in a world where many of us are shirking eating farm animals.
We are not a political page but neither do we feel our silence on this matter would be conducive to dog-kind. Cultural differences aside, this is clearly an unacceptable practice. Although younger Koreans are changing this practice, there are still those for whom dog meat is an ingrained traditional dish.
Although a reported 70% of the population disagree with eating dogs in general, that still leaves 30% who need to change. Natives believe that eating dog meat during the hottest days of the year will increase their ability to fight the sapping of the sun.
There is hope on the horizon, with several Nureongi being rescued by humane societies in Korea itself. Dog meat eating is being shut down, farm by farm and year by year. With a little luck we will see the ultimate cessation of this practice within our lifetimes.
What can we do to help? Adopt a Nureongi and help fund the campaigns against dog meat farms. Just because we are a world away doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help.
The Nureongi Dog Stats:
Average Height: Varies
Average Weight: Varies
Average Lifespan: Short
The Guejae Gae
The Guejae dog breed is not dissimilar to the Jindo. Although probable cousins, the Guejae comes from Geoje Island specifically. The dog is noted throughout history, only to have been bred to the edge of extinction in the 60s and 70s. In the early 70s, a bridge was constructed over the river to connect the island to the mainland. This likely saved the breed.
While they might have been saved, the Guejae was interbred with other dogs to make up the shortfall in numbers. Many of those other dogs would have been Jindo or Jindo related species. This explains why they look a lot more like the Jindo than they perhaps previously have.
The Guejae was a hunting dog that would have survived on the island largely without human intervention, at least in its infancy. Attempts to place the breed and trace an exact bloodline in the early 90s were given up and deemed a failure. To this day, nobody knows where the Jindo breed starts and the Guejae dog ends.
Be aware that the Guejae are tough hunters with a ferocious persistence once they get going. They are also gentle as a dog can be, but you ought to be prepared to go through several dog toys. Try these tougher chew toys for a better result. Since they have a rough, collie-like coat, a good strong brush is a second vital component to happy dog keeping.
The Guejae Gae Dog Stats:
Average Height: 18-22 inches
Average Weight: 30-50 lbs
Average Lifespan: Up to 14 years
The Final Word on Korean Dog Breeds
One thing modern-day Korea is perhaps missing is the varied genetics that the rest of the east has in dog breeding. As a result, the Korean dog breed types aren’t as diverse in range as what we see throughout the surrounding countries.
Although this rarity is a curse in terms of the continuation of the species, it also makes each Korean dog breed a cherished possession to those who do have them. They are one of a handful of species still reserved for high governmental offices, and still given as gifts to foreign officials.
Distinctive, unique, and endangered, Korean dogs are strong, loyal animals who are often fiercely independent. Adept hunters, faithful friends, even the least regarded breed in Korea make the perfect companion for those who have the drive to rescue them.