Information about the Formosan Mountain Dog

The Formosan Mountain Dog (or Formosan) is a breed of small or medium dogs indigenous to Taiwan. These dogs are also known as Taiwanese Dog/Canis or Taiwanese Native Dog. They are well-adapted to the uneven and thickly forested terrain of Taiwan, having become a semi-wild breed prior to the arrival of several colonial reigns and foreign powers. Notwithstanding these adaptations, Formosans retained the potential to be trained, and are now used as hunting dogs, guard dogs, stunt dogs, rescue dogs, or simply as companions. Formosans are classified into one medium type and two small types. However, now the pureblood Formosan Mountain Dog is still close to extinction due to limited conservation efforts of the Taiwanese and their government. Native Dog is the common name in Taiwan nowadays to indicate that the dog is a offspring of Formosan with foreign dogs, it is commonly confused with Taiwan Native Dog.

There are two small types of the Formosan Mountain Dog; one is about 40 centimetres (16 in) tall at the shoulder, and the other is around 30 centimetres (12 in). However, the latter one was not found during the research conducted by Dr. Sung Yung-yi in 1976. The medium type of the Formosan Mountain Dog has a shoulder height under 50 centimetres (20 in), with a firm and fit body, slim waist, big chest, and half-covered ears. The most common type of these three in recent years, is the medium-sized dog. Its color can range from black to earthy yellow or yellowish brown, and the nose is black. Black coating on the tongue is one of the most distinguished traits of the Formosan Mountain Dog.

Dr. Sung of National Taiwan University and Mr. Ming Jie, Xu of Formosan Dog & Guard Dogs Breeding Center described a typical Formosan as having almond eyes, firm jaw strength, black coating on the tongue, a triangular face, thin prick ears, and a sickle tail. The tail is upright or curved with a thick fur coat, but the belly is hairless; the tail is used to warm the belly, and may even be long enough to protect the snout from insects. The dog is also well known for being well-balanced.

Formosan dogs are particularly agile, they are known for their hopping skill. Especially, when they are hunting small animals, such as rats. When they are startled or trying to intimidate their target, they will hop sideways back and forth. Unlike Rottweilers or German Shepherds, Formosan dogs will release their bite – it does not hold its bite on the target. This habit is adopted and may be traced back to early boar hunting. Taiwanese aborigines used 5-6 Formosan dogs to circle a wild boar, and each dog would work to wound the boar. They would release their bite once they had attacked it, and wait for the next attack again and again until the boar was exhausted enough for their master move in for the final kill using a spear.

The Formosan is a high energy, loyal, affectionate, and intelligent breed that learns very quickly. In unfamiliar situations though, they tend to be wary of strangers and sounds, and at times, they can possibly become fear-aggressive. In new situations where the dog is fear-aggressive, it can take a few days before the dog will calm down.

If comfortable and well-trained, the Formosan will be friendly to people and other animals, though they tend to be a bit aloof or suspicious of strangers, once they have bonded with their owner. Once bonded, they are extremely loyal and affectionate to their owners.

Due to the breed’s alertness, these dogs can make great guard dogs, but if not well-trained, the Formosan can become overly protective and aggressive towards strangers.

There are four catastrophic events described by Dr. Sung Yung-yi that have been critical in the development of the Formosan Mountain Dog: the Dutch settlement of Formosa, the Japanese rule, World War II, and the Kuomintang era.

The Dutch settlement

Dutch, Spanish, and Han Colonization in the 17th century with sketch of the “Flying Dog.” Many Dutchmen kept dogs to help in the hunt. Detail from “Landdag Ceremony on Taiwan”, drawing by Caspar Schmalkalden in 1652.
Hunting Deer: Before this piece was drawn, the natives hunted for subsistence, calling the act “stepping onto the grass”. When the grass grew lush in spring, the tribes harkened to the call for the hunt, bringing all tools and hunting dogs, Formosan Mountain Dog. Painted in 1746.

In 1624, the Dutch established a commercial base at Tayoan, the colonial capital (present-day Anping in Tainan). After the Dutch made Taiwan a colony, they began to import workers from Fujian and Penghu (Pescadores) as laborers, many of whom settled.

The Dutch military presence was concentrated at a stronghold called Castle Zeelandia. The Dutch colonists imported a hunting dog (known as the “Flying Dog) to Taiwan and started to hunt the native Formosan Sika deer (Cervus nippon taioanus) that inhabited Taiwan. Dutch East India Company, established a trading post whose main business was the export of sika skins to Europe. During the six decades of Dutch activity two to four million sika skins were exported to Europe. Contributing to the eventual extinction of the subspecies on the island. The “Flying Dog” was thought to be Greyhound or Pointer.

Exporting was reduced when the Dutch were forced out of Taiwan in 1684, but continued throughout the Qing period with a switch to Japan as the major export market.

During the settlement, the Dutch hunting dog started cross-bred with the Formosan Mountain Dog; this was the first time that foreign breeds had influenced the Formosan Mountain Dog. Furthermore, the Dutch prohibited native tribes from owning dogs, slaughtering large numbers of indigenous dogs.

Japanese rule

The Qing Empire was defeated in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95. When the Treaty of Shimonoseki was signed on April 17, 1895, Taiwan was ceded to Japan, which sought to transform Taiwan into the supply-end of an extremely unequal flow of assets (Gold 1986:36). The Japanese made efforts to exert full control over the Aborigines, the first time this had ever been carried out. The means of accomplishing this goal took three main forms: anthropological study of the natives of Taiwan, attempts to reshape the Aborigines in the mould of the Japanese, and military suppression. During Japanese occupation, Taiwanese aboriginals were under repressive rule, and the Formosan Mountain Dog was intensively cross-bred with Japanese dogs, due to the Japanese government relocating many remote high-mountain villages closer to administrative control (Takekoshi 1907:210-219). Furthermore, Japanese immigrants massively explored the east coast, currently called Hualien and Taitung Counties. The east coast expeditions further provided a chance of cross-breeding Japanese dogs with the Formosan.

World War II

At the end of World War II, for military purposes and preventing US Army landing on the east coast of Taiwan, Japan started to build the Central and Southern Cross-Island Highway. During the construction, there were military dogs traveling with the highway workers, the German Shepherds. This led to cross-breeding between the Formosan and the military dog. If it were not for these strategic constructions, the Formosan may have had a chance to preserve their bloodline high in the mountains. Furthermore, during this period, there was evidence showing that the Japanese military launched a massacre to reduce the population of the Formosan Mountain Dog. However, the true reason for this may not be known.

Dr. Sung Yung-yi told a New Taiwan journalist: “Formosan dogs are very smart and agile, but they are more primitive animal, and do not want to be caged. For example, during birth period, they will find a cave and usually will not return until few months later with their puppies. Another example will be the masters do not need to provide a lot of foods for them, they have the habit of finding their own foods. These were the reason Formosan was called the barbarian dog, by Japanese. Using sanitation as an excuse, Japanese military launched a large-scale massacre of Formosan to reduce the local dog population.”

During the time when the Japanese military was building the Central and Southern Cross-Island Highway, they were constantly encountered by the aborigines. The aborigines launched numerous assaults to the Japanese military bases. During the night time, Formosan dogs gathered and hunted down Japanese military dogs, leaving a bloody scene in the morning. For revenge, the Japanese military killed every Formosan dog they saw to reduce the Formosan population.

Kuomintang Era

Dr. Sung Yung-yi believes that the true reason that lead to Formosan Mountain Dog’s extinction is the dog-eating culture. It was brought in along with the Chinese Nationalist Party’s retreat in 1945, due to the loss to the Soviet-supported Communist Party of China (led by Mao Zedong) at the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1945.

Furthermore, after Kuomintang occupied Taiwan, the son of Chiang Kai-shek, Chiang Ching-kuo successfully reformed Taiwan to an economic little dragon (Four Asian Tigers), he was credited for the Taiwan economic miracle, and has served as role model for many developing countries. Nevertheless, great economic comes with great price, with economic development and open society, businessmen from around the world start to introduce high-priced foreign dogs and Japanese dogs into Taiwan. With lack of conservative and pet care knowledge, many foreign dogs were abandoned and start crossbreeding with Formosan Dogs. Dr. Sung Yung-yi believes that these are the two true reason that affect Formosan Mountain Dog’s living space and the space for existence.