The Formosan Mountain Dog (Taiwan Dog) is one of the oldest and most primitive dog breeds in the world. These dogs predate the first human inhabitants on the island, Austronesians, who migrated to Taiwan some 6.000 years ago. So, it is not surprising that very little is known about the true origin of these dogs. This breed, or better to say landrace, is in fact much older than any written records of dog breeding. A recent genetic study confirmed that the Formosan Mountain Dog descended from ancient Pariah hunting dogs from Southeast Asia, which had arrived in Taiwan sometime between 20.000 and 10.000 years ago. According to Japanese researchers who conducted this study, these ancient progenitor dogs were closely related to the Dingo and the New Guinea Singing Dog, with whom Taiwan Native Dogs share many similarities.
The early Formosans were very primitive and hardy dogs perfectly adapted for life in subtropical forests as well as mountainous wilderness of Taiwan, the island of extremes. They were primarily used for hunting and guarding by the Aboriginal Taiwanese tribes, who usually kept them as semi-wild companions. In other words, dogs were mostly on their own concerning food or care, but were protected by the Aborigines. However, only the most beneficial Formosans could have enjoyed such privilege, others were probably consumed, especially during the food scarce periods. Thanks to such rigorous treatment and selection, Formosan Mountain Dogs in time became outstanding hunters and fierce guardians. The breed actually survived to this very day thanks to these qualities above all.
The natural isolation of Taiwan greatly helped in keeping the gene pool of the Formosan Mountain Dog intact for centuries. However, in 1624, the Dutch made Taiwan a colony by establishing a commercial base at Tayoan (Anping in Tainan). They brought with them a breed of hunting dog known as the “Flying Dog” (thought to be Pointer or Greyhound, but probably not a single breed) to hunt the native Formosan Sika deer. The Dutch colonist not only greatly contributed to the extinction of several deer subspecies, but to the huge reduction in numbers of Taiwan Dogs by prohibiting natives from owning them. They also slaughtered many of native dogs. On top of that, their hunting dogs started cross-bred with Formosans – this was actually the first time the genetic purity of these indigenous dogs had been disturbed.
Sadly, the cross-breeding continued in the coming years, or better to say centuries, especially during the Japanese rule of the island (from 1895 until 1945 – from the Treaty of Shimonoseki until the end of the WWII). Japanese imported a few of their native breeds (Akita Inu, Shiba Inu, Shikoku Inu) as well as some European breeds, including the German Shepherd Dog, which all together greatly affected the population of Taiwan Dogs. Also, during the WWII, Taiwanese Aborigines were in constant conflict with the Japanese, who invaded their lands. They were conducting attacks on Japanese military bases together with their Formosan Dogs, during which they killed many of Japanese military dogs (mostly German Shepherds). For revenge, Japanese slaughtered every Taiwan Dog they saw. In this long period of time, for the first time the population of purebred Formosans dwindled to the point it was outnumbered by foreign dog breeds.
Like that wasn’t enough, another disaster struck the Formosan Mountain Dog population with the arrival of Chinese after the Chinese government led by the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) occupied Taiwan. Soon afterwards, at the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the government officials and members of this party all retreated with their families to Taiwan and other democratic enclaves after the loss to the Soviet-supported Communist Party of China (led by Mao Zedong). Unfortunately, they brought with them their traditional dog eating culture, which further reduced already crippled population of the Formosan Mountain Dogs. In fact, according to Dr. Sung Yung-yi, a man responsible for bringing the breed back from the brink of extinction, this was the most devastating blow to the population of Taiwanese Native Dogs that has almost led to their extinction.
In the coming years, under the rule of Chiang Ching-kuo, the son of Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek, Taiwan became a true economic miracle, attracting foreign businessmen and investors from all around the world. Of course, many of them brought their pets to Taiwan, including a large number of foreign dog breeds. Many of these dogs were abandoned by their owners or they escaped. These stray dogs from abroad freely interbred with Takasago Dogs, further disrupting their genetic purity. In fact, many of today stray dogs in the streets of coastal towns and villages in Taiwan are actually some sort of mixed Formosans. The rare purebred dogs that can be found today kept their genetic purity only because their forefathers were located in highly inaccessible Aboriginal villages in the mountainous parts of the island.
Breed Rescuers – Dr. Sung Yung-yi And His Son Ming-Nan Chen
All of these unfortunate events led to the almost complete wipe-out of the Formosan Native Dog breed. That’s why in 1976 a group of breed admirers from the National Taiwan University and the Nagoya and Gifu universities of Japan, led by the already mentioned Dr. Sung Yung-yi (National Taiwan University), begun an impressive task of saving the Native Taiwan Dog. At the same time, Dr. Sung Yung-yi organized the efforts to save the Formosan Sika deer, a traditional source of food for these dogs. However, due to difficulties in finding the purebred Formosans, the project was almost canceled. Yeah, they were that scarce. Fortunately, Dr. Sung Yung-yi and his fellow researchers learned that the purebred dogs can still be found only in the mountainous regions of Taiwan.
So, they’ve mounted an extensive (4 years long) Formosan Mountain Dog search operation throughout 29 Aboriginal villages in the mountains. They found 160 dogs, of which only 46 were considered completely purebred. Unfortunately, not a single of these dogs was of the smallest type – other two types of Formosan Dogs are small and medium (most common). The smallest type of Formosan Dog is considered extinct today. Anyhow, he gave one of the dogs he found to his son, Ming-Nan Chen, who eventually continued his work of saving the Taiwan Dog breed. In 1986, Ming-Nan Chen acquired a few of purebred dogs from Taiwanese mountain villages and started a national breeding program (becoming a high-profile breeder), which is still under way. The program itself helped in growing the awareness of these dogs among the non-Aboriginal locals in Taiwan. Thanks to it the breed was finally saved from extinction.
Inspired by the hard work of these two wonderful men, many other people on the island shown a renewed interest in Formosan Mountain Dogs and some of them even became breeders. In recent years, a lot more new breeders appeared in Taiwan and today the breed numbers are growing and Taiwan Dogs are becoming increasingly popular not just in Taiwan, but in other parts of the world. However, the purebred Formosans are still extremely rare even in Taiwan, so there is still a long way to go until the full reconstruction of this wonderful breed. Luckily, things are slowly but surely moving in the right direction and since last year the Taiwan Dog has been recognized by the FCI on a definitive basis. However, there are still some obstacles along the way. In fact, there is an ongoing dispute between two groups of the Formosan Mountain Dog breeders.
The first group, led by Ming-Nan Chen, claims that the breed’s genetic purity should stay intact as much as possible. Led by such idea, these breeders are all against any form of interbreeding between purebred Formosan Dogs and foreign dogs. The second group, on the other hand, supports the controlled interbreeding with foreign dogs as a necessary precaution to maintain the breed’s genetic stability and to prevent the occurrence of inherent diseases in future generations of dogs. It is even suggested that only purebred dogs should be registered as the Formosan Mountain Dog, while all other should be registered as a separate breed – the Taiwan Dog. Anyhow, the Formosan Mountain Dog breed is in much better shape now than it was a few decades ago, and it’s finally gaining its much deserved recognition.