Owning a dog in Cambodia shouldn’t be any different from owning one in any Western country, or so you might think.
In most Western countries, dogs are considered an extension of the family and are sometimes treated just as well as the children. The basic difference in Cambodia is, at least in my experience, that a dog is just a dog here, although owning one has become somewhat of a status symbol among the emerging middle and upper middle class. They do treat them as pets but nowhere near like a member of the family. The most striking difference appears to me that dogs here don’t get any real training. People just let them out to do their business unsupervised. In other words, no one cleans up after them. Parks, the few there are, look accordingly. Especially the smaller dogs, but not only the, seem to be real vicious. They attack just about any other dog. This is the result of being kept in a rather small confine the whole day.
The dog population is huge judging from the many stray dogs running around everywhere, scavenging food from wherever they can find it. These dogs often end up with the dog catcher who will sell them to Vietnam or ethnic Vietnamese and Chinese here for food. There people consider it a normal staple, even a delicacy.
But in the more tony neighborhoods people seem to take pride in owning a pure-bred or a woolly smaller breed, which more often than not is just another mongrel in my book. Then, of course, you have the people that go for a real guard-dog. The German shepherd and the Rottweiler are the breeds of choice. I got the feeling that most people in those gated communities own a dog as an alarm system, never mind that you have the so-called guards who patrol the neighborhood at certain intervals. In my ‘borei’ this has not prevented burglars from entering one house getting away with a $10,000 loot, and struck the same house three times with varying success, but still up to a $1,000 each time. The irony was that these people had two dogs – one a lap dog and one a pretty aggressive larger mongrel. The burglar climbed the surrounding wall and then onto the second floor veranda and entered a daughter’s room via the open window. So much for guarding the house and protecting your property.
What bothered me most was that dogs, practically all of them, bark when someone passes by their house. The houses all have front yard with a fence. Since there are so many dogs in the neighborhood you really have a concert going at times – not really a nice interlude in the middle of the night. It got better when the aggressive dog that was also giving to howling at night was gone when the owners obviously got too many complaints.
Well, we have a house on a rather large lot in the countryside near Kompong Som. It is pretty isolated so my wife used to feel a little uncomfortable at night. Never mind that we have a caretaker there, not to forget myself. When her discomfort got too big we decided we needed a dog ourselves – a guard dog, of course. My choice fell on a Rottweiler. They are powerfully muscled dogs and look absolutely fearsome. But they are excellent guard dogs and very protective of their pack; the pack being us. I chose this breed with a little trepidation knowing that these animals have a reputation for being aggressive. But then it all depends on how you raise and train the puppy.
We found one expat breeder who was going to have his bitch mated in a couple a months. When he notified us we thought about it again and decided to forgo getting a dog. We wouldn’t have the time to train it properly, traveling overseas quite a bit.
One time, there were some strange sounds at night and my wife got frightened. She then said we do need to get a dog. As it happens just then I saw an ad for Rottweiler puppies. This was also an expat who had his bitch mated. You just can’t help but fall in love with little puppies. Here is ours.
Unfortunately, he didn’t stay with us very long. We kept him in our house in Phnom Penh. Like everywhere else people keep their trash outside for the garbage company to pick it up. This is a great feeding ground for rats, as you can imagine. There were plenty around, and they weren’t really shy either. What we didn’t know was that their urine contains bacteria called leptospirosis. We were right in the middle of the rainy season. So naturally the puppy licked up water from the front yard. This was obviously contaminated and he infected himself. We and the vet didn’t recognize this immediately, we had him treated for stomach flu. These bacteria attack the liver and eventually it will stop working. So after only three weeks our little puppy died.
We thought we really didn’t want another dog now. But after a few weeks we changed our minds and went looking for another one. Finding a Rottweiler puppy in Cambodia isn’t that easy. We contacted a local breeder who said she had very nice German Shepherd and Rottweiler cross-breed. We checked them out. The place didn’t look too inviting and the puppies looked really unkempt and uncared for. Still we bought one who looked closest to a Rottweiler, although you never know how they turn out once they are six months or a year old.
After washing and brushing him here is what he looked like:
We keep him with us all the time for the time being, that is, we take him to Kompong Som when we go there and keep him in Phnom Penh when we are there. We didn’t bother housebreaking him either. He stays outside night and day. We just cleaned up after him. Eventually we started taking him out for walks – I guess he was about 3 months old then. Keeping to a certain routine our puppy got used to his walks at certain times of the day and this is how he got housebroken, meaning he doesn’t do his business in our front yard any more, except for the occasional pee after a long night. He had become a very nice companion for the entire family – a very quiet dog. He didn’t bark at all. Of course, that would come later on, as we were to find out. When we take him for walk we take a plastic bag and clean up after him.
We have this small park in our neighborhood; it is full of dog piles. When people saw us picking up our dog’s pile they looked on with big eyes. They had obviously never seen such a thing. Although there supposedly was a campaign to that effect, no one seems to have heard of it. They handle this like they handle trash in general, which they simply drop wherever they are. So why bother with a dog’s pile?
He is now 8 months and, of course, he picked up this nasty habit of barking at passers-by, much to my dismay. He also does that early in the morning when other dogs return home from their morning walk (as mentioned, most people just let their dogs wander about by themselves). This noise woke me up so I put up a small wooden fence to the backyard where he stays at night. This way he couldn’t see the people or the dogs. The barking in the morning stopped. We are still working on the daytime barking. Of course, one mustn’t forget that this is in a dog’s nature. It’s his natural instinct to protect his territory, and after all that’s what we bought him for.
The house in Kompong Som is walled in so he will only bark at people whom he doesn’t know coming through the gate. So far, however, we still have to protect him, though, especially from other very aggressive and mean dogs that are likely to fight viciously with everything that comes close. After all, he is still a puppy; and there is always the risk of a rabies infection from those stray dogs.
These larger breeds grow very quickly but it takes them longer to develop all their natural instincts and drives. His sex drive seems to be fully developed already, though. He chases after all the females in heat and goes crazy. Here he is 7 months old:
For those who want to know: we paid $500 for the pure-bred Rottweiler, and $200 for mix. When the first puppy got sick we took him to Agrovet, a vet clinic run by two Frenchmen, and a Spanish vet. We also had his second shots administered there. Price tag: $60 for the shots, $80 for the first treatment against the infection with an overnight stay; $120 for the second treatment with an overnight stay, and the cost for the cremation after he died. Nothing but the best for a pure-bred dog.
With the second puppy we went to a Khmer vet (there are plenty around). Cost for a shot: $5; another shot for multiple kinds of protection: $15.00; and a third shot including a can of anti-itching spray: $10. The dog is healthy and strong.