Koreans keen to export national dog: the Jindo

SEOUL (Reuters) - 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.

Eunae, a 2-and-a-half-year-old female dog poses for a photograph with her breeder Park Jong-hwa in a field at Park's breeding farm for the Korean Jindo dog in Gwacheon, south of Seoul May 29, 2008. 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. Picture taken May 29. To match feature KOREA-DOG REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

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.

To add insult to injury, South Korea has been left behind in the dog race in Asia with neighbors China and Japan having their breeds registered and appearing at the highest pedigree dog shows in the world such as the British Kennel Club’s Crufts.

“Our indigenous breed was not recognized 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 recognized by the Kennel Club, but it is not yet in competition at Crufts. The American Kennel Club has started the process to recognize the Jindo.

“The breed is absolutely beautiful. I don’t see why they wouldn’t be popular overseas,” Lee said.

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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 recognized 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.

“In order to promote the Jindo as an international breed, we need active campaigning from the government and also for them to lift the ban on exports,” said Jung Tae-kyun, an official from the Korean Kennel Federation.

Only a handful of purebred Jindo are exported a year and those dogs are typically sent with the help of the government-run Jindo Dog Research and Testing Centre on the island of Jindo.

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

That leaves breeders on the South Korean mainland in a bind.

If they try to send purebreds overseas to establish Jindo lines, they can be charged with violating export control laws.

If they send purebreds abroad but without the proper pedigree, then it becomes difficult to establish the Jindo as a breed worthy of consideration by international kennel clubs.

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.

“In order for the Jindo to compete in the international market, it needs to be able to get along with other people, just like a family member,” Park said from his home over the sound of scores of dogs barking in the background.

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.”

Additional by Lee Jiyeon and Park Ju-min; editing by Megan Goldin