Korea has more to offer than just K-pop and interesting dramas. Behind all the glitz and glamour of the massive entertainment industry are some of the most unique dog breeds ever. Korean dogs have all the qualities to deserve global recognition.
When most people think of “Korean dog breeds,” the Jindo dog first comes to mind. But in reality, there are a lot more amazing dog breeds indigenous to the “Land of the Morning Calm.” Many of which, you’ve probably never even heard of!
And despite the country’s unfathomable tradition of consuming dog meat, the data tells us this trend is quickly fading. What’s even more promising is the increasing rate of dog ownership in the country.
All signs point to one fact: Koreans are finally bringing dogs into the the comfort of their homes and treating them as friends. With that said, here are the 7 amazing native Korean dogs that you need to know about today.
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All Korean Dog Breeds
All 7 native Korean dog breeds include the Jindo, Korean Mastiff (Dosa), Sapsali, Jeju Dog, Nureongi, Donggyeongi, and the Pungsan Dog.
Several of these breeds are facing extinction. However, organizations all around the country are battling to save and preserve these dogs.
1. Korean Mastiff (Dosa)
Highlights: Friendly, Calm, Dominant
The Korean Mastiff, also known as the Korean Dosa or Mee Kyun Dosa, is easily the largest dog breed to originate out of Korea. Because these huge dogs are capable of reaching up to 185 lbs, this breed may seem intimidating or frightening.
However, the Korean Mastiff breaks the “mold” and is not like any other mastiff dog breeds. They are truly sweet-natured dogs, bred for companionship and as show dogs.
Their skin resembles that of a Bully Kutta or English Mastiff – loosely covering the body, head and neck. The coat is short, but extremely smooth with a shiny gloss. The colors are simply beautiful. They can be in a reddish mahogany or a deep brown chocolate.
The origin of the Dosa can be traced back to the late 1800’s, when they were first bred. Unfortunately, a lot of historians can’t agree on how the Korean Mastiff came about. But it’s likely they were developed by crossbreeding working dog breeds that arrived from Europe.
These imports included the Saint Bernard, English Mastiff, Dogue de Bordeaux among many others. But even so, the most common belief is that the Japanese Tosa were crossed with the Neapolitan Mastiff and Dogue de Bordeaux.
- The Korean Mastiff is the distant cousin of the Tosa Inu (Japanese breed).
- These “beauty dogs” were initially bred with selections based solely on appearance and temperament, which is why they’re such great show dogs.
- The most expensive dog ever imported into India was a Korean Mastiff – worth 10 million Indian Rupees ($140,000 USD).
Korean Mastiff Temperament
Unlike the Japanese Mastiff (Tosa Inu), the Korean Mastiff is good natured, easy-going and loves being with people. But it’s not all good. In fact, the most difficult part about keeping a Dosa is with obedience training, though it’s not because they’re dumb dogs.
They will try to assume the responsibility of pack leader because of their inherent instinct to form a pack hierarchy. It is crucial that you establish dominance in your training sessions, with a clear objective of achieving pack leader status.
The Korean Mastiff is what owners call a “gentle giant” – and for good reason! Like the Great Dane or the Bernese Mountain dog, these mastiffs are extremely friendly towards people and their loved ones. They’re relatively calm dogs too.
Dosas are typically reserved with unfamiliar people, but can open up easily. It doesn’t take long to be-friend this mastiff dog. And despite their size, they’re great around kids and can get along with other dogs. These dogs are what you call, a “giant lap dog.”
Highlights: Docile, Patient, Loving
The Sapsali dog is a native Korean breed most known for its long and shaggy coat. In fact, they resemble a small lion cub so much, that the locals often refer to them as “lion dogs” due to the similarities in coat and color.
For a medium sized dog, the Sapsali is somewhat bulky yet tall with hair covering its eyes. It’s what you see with an Old English Sheepdog. However, their coat color is not as consistent as other breeds, since they can come in gold, brown, red, grey, black or a mix.
The Sapsali is a highly regarded dog breed in Korea. And in 1992, the Korean government declared the Sapsali dog as a National Treasure of the country. But even so, this native Korean dog still has not been officially recognized by any major kennel clubs.
The Sapsali dogs were popular pets during the rule of the Silla Kingdom and kept by only aristocrats. The noblemen admired the Sapsali so much that they even enrolled these dogs into the Silla military, where they served as multi-purpose working dogs.
- After the Japanese slaughtered the Sapsali dogs, the Korean breed was revived using only the 8 remaining dogs.
- The Japanese slaughtered these dogs to make coats for their military troops residing in Manchuria.
- The Sapsali were thought to have the power to repel evil spirits and ghosts.
Upon first impression, this dog looks like a docile and pleasant dog – and that’s exactly spot on. The Sapsali is one of the most gentle and playful breeds among all the Korean dogs. They know when to have fun and when to calm down.
The Sapsali is known for being extremely patient and having innate friendliness towards humans and animals alike. It’s a big reason why these dogs make such excellent family and companion dogs for all types of families.
They’re social dogs and love playing around whether in a group of dogs or humans. Many owners tend to describe the Sapsali dog as loyal dogs that do what they can to please their owners. They don’t like to disappoint their owners.
It’s safe to say they get along great with children, other pets and strangers. As a result, they may not be the most ideal guardian. They would just befriend the intruder. So if you’re looking for a guard dog, look into a Jindo dog instead (see below).
Highlights: Calm, Friendly, Sociable
The Nureongi, otherwise known as the Korean Yellow Spitz, is a landrace breed native to Korea. As a medium-sized spitz, the Nureongi is eerily similar to the Jindo dog. However, they do have differences in physical traits and appearance.
This dog breed tends to have short coat with patches of yellow on the fur. Most Nureongi dogs will also have a melanistic mask, which is essentially a pattern on the coat that gives the appearance of the dog wearing a mask. But this isn’t always the case.
Korea has a long standing tradition of consuming dog meat, known as “Gaegogi,” which dates back to the ancient times of the first century AD. The most unfortunate part is that the Nureongi is reported to be the most popular choice of dog to consume.
Animal activists are actively fighting this practice and we hope the black market of dog consumption will end soon enough. The good news is that the fight to end this is working. And the even better part is that it’s actually working!
- The Nureongi is the only landrace breed in Korea. This means they were developed over time without the interference of humans.
- The Nureongi is the “dog of choice” for consumption in Korea, unfortunately.
- They are the oldest Korean dog breed that has been officially recorded, dating back to the 1st Century AD.
Nureongi Dog Temperament
The Nureongi dog is a fairly vocal dog. In other words, they love to bark and will bark as their method of communicating with humans. Many people describe them as excessive barkers because of they’re social dogs with a strong desire to communicate.
On the flip side, they are smart dog breeds and not known to be aggressive towards humans or other dogs. Rather, the Nureongi can be considered a “pack dog.” Many of these dogs spend their whole lives in a kennel and even then, it’s rare to see dog fights occur.
But because of their unfortunately circumstance, there just isn’t a lot of information and data on how this Korean dog breed interacts in a family environment. There are very few examples of this breed in homes. Hopefully, this will change in the near future.
4. Jindo Dog
Highlights: Brave, Loyal, Energetic
The Korean Jindo is probably the most famous breed to originate from Korea, as they’re the first Korean dog breed most people think of. In fact, the Jindo is the national dog breed of Korea. So, it’s really not a surprise why they’re popular in Korea.
But the real reason why they’re so popular is because they’re just that great of a dog. Indigenous to the Jindo Island of Korea, the Jindo dog is a formidable hunting dog known for loyalty and courage. But in the past few decades, they’ve evolved into superb family and guard dogs.
According to Korean legend, 3 Jindo dogs took down a single Siberian tiger. Whether this is true remains to be seen. But even so, we’d like to believe it’s true!
Thanks to the temperament of the Jindo, a lot of effort has been put into training them to be capable military dogs for the Korean army. However, they’re not as suited as German Shepherds because of their strong hunting instincts.
Experts believe that they are much better off as search and rescue dogs, where they have been thriving as of late. Furthermore, the Jindo Dog is the only Korean dog breed to be recognized by the Korean Kennel Federation.
- The Korean Jindo is celebrated as the national dog breed of South Korea and the 53rd National Treasure of the country.
- During the 1988 Summer Olympics held in Seoul, Korea, over a hundred Jindo dogs marched in the opening ceremony.
- Jindo dogs are known to be afraid of water, often refusing to cross flowing river streams and venturing out into the rain.
A big part of why the Korean Jindo dogs make such excellent hunting companions is because of their courageousness. They’re also known for having unwavering loyalty towards their owners. When you bring them in your home, they’ll protect it at all cost.
Although they’re often high in energy, they can be as gentle as any other breed. With socialization, they will get along with people and children just fine. I mean – there’s a reason they’re the most popular family dog to come from Korea.
The Korean Jindo is an extremely intelligent breed too. As a matter of fact, many owners claim that their dog may be too smart for its own good. Plenty owners believe they often think for themselves and learn from past mistakes and experiences.
However, this just means they need a lot of mental and physical stimulation for healthy living. These dogs will require plenty of exercise and enough space to roam around freely. That being said, it’s not a “walk in the park” to raise a happy Jindo.
Highlights: Friendly, Loyal, Dependable
The Donggyeongi dog is a rare Korean breed most famous for their bob-tail feature. They were named after the coastal city in which they originated from – Gyeongju, Korea. Physically, they look very similar to the Jindo dog, except for the exceptionally short-tail.
At one point, the Donggyeongi was relatively popular and locals made great efforts to preserve them due to their national characteristics. But by the time of the 20th century, the Japanese had invaded Korea and slaughtered most of this breed.
The Japanese intruders believed that these dogs resembled the Japanese Komainu, which somehow had offended the nation. This led to massive massacre. And when it was all done, the Donggyeongi could not fully recover. It was brutal and unfortunate.
After the National Liberation Day of Korea in 1945, the Donggyeongi dogs faced even more hardship. The short tails of the dog were viewed as a deformation and as a result, believed to bring bad luck. For this reason, people did not want these dogs anymore.
- The Donggyeongi is one of only 34 dog breeds that are naturally born with a bobtail.
- Koreans believed that the short bobtails were an indication of bad luck, which severely hindered the breed’s survival.
- When the Donggyeongi became a national treasure in 2012, there were only 460 of these dogs left in South Korea.
This breed is so rare that there isn’t much information on the temperament of Donggyeongi dogs. In the snippets of information found in Korean forums, we know that they were great companions that loved to please their owners.
Plenty of netizens speculate that they are friendly and loyal dogs, which is why they were once great family dogs that many people sought after. Their sizable frame and alertness could have meant that they were excellent guard dogs too.
6. Pungsan dog
Highlights: Lively, Dominant, Stubborn
Unlike the other Korean dog breeds on this list, the Pungsan dog is the only breed to have originated out of North Korea. They are skilled hunting dogs bred in the Kaema Plateau of North Korea, where elevation reaches 2,000 meters high.
To this day, the Pungsan is still considered a relatively rare dog breed and found mostly in North Korea and in some Northeastern regions of China. Because very few foreign people have even visited North Korea, there is little information on the origins of the breed.
Most people recognize the Pungsan dog as the official national dog of the Hermit Kingdom. What the Korean Jindo is to South Korea, the Pungsan dog is to North Korea.
Multiple times in our history, the leader of North Korea has gifted these dogs to other nations as a peace offering or present. For instance, at the Inter-Korean Summit of 2000, Kim Jong-il gave two Pungsan dogs to Kim Dae-jung (South Korean President).
These dogs lived in the South Korean President’s Blue House for many years before retiring at the Seoul Zoo. Eventually, they were honored with the special status as “guests of the state.”
- At the Inter-Korean Summit of September 2018, North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un gifted the South Korean President two white Pungsan dogs as a peace offering.
- Many people believe that the Pungsan is the result of wolves mating with dogs in the mountainous regions of Kaema highlands.
- Local Folklore has a famous story about a Pungsan dog that took down a Siberian Tiger.
Many owners describe the Korean Pungsan as “wolf-like” with a dominant personality and high prey drive. They are full of energy and tends to quickly assert their dominance over other animals (including humans). So a firm and consistent handler is needed.
With that said, these dogs are not easy to care for and recommended only for the most experienced trainers. Not only will obedience training be tough, but they require a minimum of two hours of physical activity per day.
Many Pungsan dogs like to dig holes in the yard as a method of expending energy. But, make sure your yard is safely secured, as they will try to escape. If they ever get out, it’ll be very difficult to track them down and bring them home.
Early socialization is key to getting them to play nice with humans and kids. As long as you’re consistent with training, they should have no problem in the future and can even become great guard dogs. If you want a reliable alpha dog, the Pungsan dog is ideal.
7. Jeju Dog
Highlights: Loyal, Agile, Protective
The Jeju dogs got their name from the island off the southern coast of Korea, Jeju Island, where they were originally bred. They’re considered to be one of the largest native Korean dogs and share many traits with the Korean Jindo.
The main difference is their wide and pointy foreheads. Many believe the female Jejus look like foxes, whereas the male Jejus look like wolves. Both of which, are fairly awesome comparisons in my opinion.
They are perhaps the rarest breed to originate from South Korea, with only 69 purebreds in existence as of 2010. At one point, they were on the brink of extinction before an aggressive breeding campaign brought them back from the dead, almost literally.
However, it wasn’t until 2010 that these dogs earned the distinction of “national heritage animals,” which brought them great protection with the goal of preservation.
There are many reasons why these dogs faded so quickly. At one point, they became one of the most consumed dog breeds in Korea, along with the Nureongi dog. Plus, the Japanese that colonized Korea and slaughtered their dogs certainly didn’t help either.
- The Jeju dog breed was revived from the only 3 remaining dogs found on Jeju Island in 1986.
- It’s believed that this dog breed came to Jeju Island over 3,000 years ago. However, historians aren’t certain how they actually got there.
- These dogs were once used in the South Korean military for various jobs, including search and rescue.
Jeju Dog Temperament
Jeju dogs are famously known for their loyalty, making them some of the best guard dogs you can find. Not only can they protect your home, but they’re extremely skilled hunters as well. However, very few are still hunting today.
Many hunters in the past brought along a Jeju as a trusted hunting companion. Their incredible sense of smell allows them to easily track animals. Jeju dogs have been known to take down deers, badgers and other medium-size game.
These dogs can make great family dogs because they do it all. They’re great as a family companion, but will also guard territory and protect their owners. However, it won’t be easy. They are difficult to train and should be reserved for only experienced owners.
Jeju dogs can also be difficult when playing with other dogs and pets, even with socialization training at an early age. It’s not impossible, though not an ideal situation for them. If possible, make sure you keep your Jeju dog in a one-dog household.
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Wednesday 16th of November 2022
Thank you for the detailed and educational history of Korean dog breeds.
Sunday 31st of July 2022
What I have always found unfathomable is dog culture here in the States. Yes, dogs, as with all animals, should be treated with respect and kindness. But it is an animal. No matter how any one individual feels about their own dog(s) doesn't change that fact. Any such self-righteous preaching about how unfathomable it is to eat dog is very off-putting, and ultimately any who make such comments are only demonstrating their own ignorance.
Yes, I'm American, and yes, I have tried dog, and yes, it is in fact delicious.
Sunday 21st of November 2021
WRT dog meat consumption, I've heard it's a relatively new phenomenon in Korea. It may not be only Korean dogs who've been at risk but also Western breeds kidnapped from their homes.
Thursday 16th of September 2021
This was interesting to read, yet I found the insights about restricted farmland and consumption of dog meat by Lee in the comments even more so. Being of European origin, I am not familiar with eating dog meat myself and would not readily consume it, because I view dogs with friendly affinity. However, I find the undifferentiated transfer of Western sensibilities and morals with the above specifics as needlessly forceful and not free of a degree of coercion. I am sensing that a cultural practice is put down to cater to the Western-minded comfort zone. Because when it comes to debating morals instead of shaming a good deal can be said, as Yoonmi Kim comments below. Still, thank you very much for raising awareness on the subject and for posting my comment.
Tuesday 15th of September 2020
Nice article however I don't get why mentioning kpop was necessary. Correlation is nowhere found.
Monday 21st of September 2020
You do know that the "k" in k-pop stands for "korean," right? This article is about KOREAN dog breeds...lol if you still don't understand the correlation than you can't be helped