The Formosan Mountain Dog is a multi-purpose working dog native to the island of Taiwan. Nearly driven to extinction in the 20th Century as a result of the introduction of foreign breeds, the Formosan Mountain Dog is slowly increasing in popularity in its homeland due to the lifelong efforts of a small number of fanciers. There is currently a divide between two groups of Formosan Mountain Dog breeders with one group supporting crossing the dog with foreign breeds to increase its gene pool and another that wants to keep it as pure as possible. The Formosan Mountain Dog is also known as the Formosan Native Dog, Formosan Aboriginal Dog, Formosan Dog, Formosan Hunting Dog, Formosan, Native Formosan Dog, Native Taiwanese Dog, Taiwanese Dog, Taiwanese Native Dog, Taiwanese Aboriginal Dog, Taiwanese Mountain Dog, and Taiwanese Dog.
The Formosan Mountain Dog was first developed centuries before written records were kept of dog breeding, and very little is known for sure about its ancestry. What is clear is that this breed is incredibly ancient, and has probably been present in its homeland for thousands of years. Genetic tests conducted by Japanese researchers have confirmed both that this breed is a direct descendant of ancient Southeast Asian hunting dogs, and that is in fact quite primitive and ancient. Found on Taiwan since time immemorial, the Formosan Mountain Dog is so-named because Formosa is an alternate (and somewhat outdated) name for the island of Taiwan.
Although there is a substantial amount of dispute among experts, almost all researchers now agree that the dog was first domesticated between 14,000 and 35,000 years ago. At one time, it was thought that the dog was actually domesticated multiple times across the world, but genetic tests have shown that all dogs are actually descended from either one or two small populations of domesticated wolves. Although the exact location will almost certainly never be determined precisely, the first dog’s were almost certainly tamed somewhere in Asia, most likely the Fertile Crescent, India, Tibet, or China. The wolves of southern Asia are significantly smaller than their northern cousins, as well as being less aggressive and more comfortable in the presence of man. These first dogs had not yet begun to differentiate into unique breeds and were all very similar in appearance. Not far removed from the wolf, the earliest dogs were probably identical in appearance to the Dingo of Australia and the New Guinea Singing Dog. The dog was almost certainly the first species to be domesticated, at a time when humans had not yet begun to settle in permanent locations. The first dogs accompanied bands of hunter-gatherers across the wilds of Asia, serving as hunting aides, camp guardians, beasts of burden, companions, and occasional sources of food and hides. The dog proved so valuable that it quickly spread around the world, eventually coming to live everywhere that humans did with the exceptions of a few isolated islands.
It is unclear when the first dogs arrived in Taiwan, but it was probably between 20,000 and 10,000 years ago. The first Taiwanese dogs were descended from the dogs of Southeast Asia, dogs which remained very similar to the earliest Dingo-like dogs. The Aboriginal tribes of Taiwan used their dogs primarily for hunting and guarding. Although they may have eaten dogs occasionally, records indicate that this was only done in times of great desperation such as during the height of winter. The Aboriginal Taiwanese did not practice deliberate dog breeding, although they did influence breeding by only keeping certain dogs to adulthood. This meant that the Formosan Mountain Dog developed very naturally and became ideally suited to life on the island. The comparative lack of available food meant that the breed became smaller than most similar hunting dogs. The rocky terrain of Taiwan necessitated that the breed become a skilled jumper and climber. Because natural selection became the primary means by which the breed developed, the Formosan Mountain Dog became the ultimate survivor. As the Aboriginal Taiwanese could only keep dogs that benefitted them, the breed became a superb hunter and a ferociously determined guardian. As was the case across much of Southeast Asia, the Aboriginal Taiwanese kept their dogs in a semi-feral state. While the dogs always lived in close association with humans and received food and protection from them, they were largely responsible for feeding and caring for themselves.
Although the historical evidence is sparse, what little evidence has survived indicates that the first Polynesians were a mixture of Taiwanese Aboriginals and New Guineans. The dog was one of the only domestic animals kept by the Polynesians, and along with the Chicken and Pig was taken across the Pacific Ocean by them. It is quite likely that the Formosan Mountain Dog was one of the primary ancestors of the Polynesian dogs, as a result of its longtime presence on Taiwan. At one point, most Pacific Island chains were home to unique dog breeds, such as the Kuri of New Zealand and the Poi Dog of Hawaii, meaning that the Formosan Mountain Dog had dozens of unique descendants. Unfortunately, the arrival of European and Japanese colonists drove these breeds to extinction.
Although it appears that the Chinese and Japanese may have been aware of Taiwan’s existence as early as 230 A.D., the island remained almost entirely isolated until the 17th Century. This meant that the Formosan Mountain Dog was kept almost entirely pure. This began to change during the 1600’s, when Dutch and Portuguese traders established permanent colonies on Taiwan, known to them as Formosa. The Dutch in particular formed major settlements, and dominated most of the island. Initially, the Dutch intended to use Formosa as a trading center for their operations in Japan and China. It quickly became clear that the island itself was very valuable. The Dutch were primarily interested in the vast herds of Sika Deer that inhabited Taiwan, herds that had long been a staple of the Aboriginal Taiwanese and the Formosan Mountain Dog. The Dutch began to export huge numbers of Sika skins back to Europe, decimating the deer’s population in the process. In order to prevent the Aboriginals from killing additional deer, the Dutch banned them from keeping dogs and slaughtered many animals deliberately. Perhaps more damaging, the Dutch imported a breed known only as the “Flying Dog” to Taiwan. Although it is unclear what the “Flying Dog” was, there are a number of possibilities of which the most frequently mentioned are the Greyhound and Pointer. In the opinion of this writer, the “Flying Dog” was probably not a single breed, but rather a collection of European hunting breeds such as the Greyhound, Germanic Pointers, various German Brackes, and possibly Mastiff-type dogs. During their many struggles with Dutch colonials, Taiwanese aboriginals acquired “Flying Dogs” and interbred them with their own Formosan Mountain Dogs, disturbing their traditional purity.
In 1684, Chinese forces drove the Dutch from Taiwan, and instituted a period of Chinese rule which lasted until 1895. China sought to protect aboriginal land claims to the greatest extent possible and greatly limited immigration to the island. This allowed the Formosan Mountain Dog to recover from the losses it experienced under Dutch rule. Disaster again struck the breed in 1895, when the Japanese occupied the island. Japanese occupation proved much harsher for the Taiwanese Aboriginals than Chinese occupation. Many mountain villages were forced to resettle closer to the coast, and substantial efforts were made to “Japanicize” the native population. Many of these efforts involved attempts at destroying traditional ways of life. Thousands of Formosan Mountain Dogs were deliberately killed, under the theory that it would prevent the Taiwanese Aboriginals from hunting in a traditional manner. Thousands of foreign dogs were imported into Taiwan by the Japanese, many of which subsequently interbred with the Formosan Mountain Dog. These dogs were generally of two distinct types, traditional Japanese breeds such as the Akita Inu, Shikoku Inu, and Shiba Inu, kept for hunting and companionship, and European military breeds such as the German Shepherd Dog. It was during the period from 1895 until 1945 that the dog population of Taiwan shifted from being primarily Formosan Mountain Dogs to being primarily foreign breeds.
At the end of World War II, the Chinese government under the control of the Kuomintang officially retook Taiwan. However, the Kuomintang itself almost immediately thereafter lost a long civil war to Communist forces under the leadership of Mao Zedong. Chiang Ching-Kuo, the son of Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-Shek, fled to Taiwan alongside most of the surviving Kuomintang government officials and their families. A flood of ethnic Chinese immigration to Taiwan followed, as all those who sought to escape Maoist rule attempted to flee to the few remaining democratic enclaves such as Taiwan, Macau, and Hong Kong. So many ethnic Chinese immigrated to Taiwan that the island’s Aboriginal population now only comprises about 2% of the island’s population (although a very large percentage of the island’s residents has some Aboriginal ancestry). Kuomintang rule introduced two new threats to the Formosan Mountain Dog. The more significant of the two was the practice of eating dogs. A traditional delicacy in China, a large number of Formosan Mountain Dogs ended up being consumed. An additional threat was the introduction of dozens of foreign dogs to the island. The ever-increasing wealth of Taiwan meant that ever-increasing numbers of foreign dogs were imported. As is the case everywhere in the world, some of these new breeds were abandoned by their owners and left to fend for themselves. On the streets of Taiwan, these foreign strays freely interbred with Formosan Mountain Dogs, destroying the breed’s former purity. Although the modern stray dog population of Taiwan is probably primarily descended from Formosan Mountain Dogs, the pure breed is very rare. The Formosan Mountain Dog, like the Aboriginal tribes who traditionally kept the breed, became limited to the most mountainous regions of its homeland.
Beginning in the late 1970’s, a number of fanciers of Formosan Mountain Dogs became greatly concerned about the breed’s increasing scarcity. These fanciers sought to save the breed from extinction. The two most important of which were ecologist Dr. Sung Yung-Yi and breeder Ming Nan Chen. Dr. Sung Yung-Yi spearheaded the efforts to save the Formosan Sika Deer from extinction, and began calling for government sponsored efforts to save the Formosan Mountain Dog at a conference in 1976. Dr. Sung Yung-Yi had become concerned about the breed’s future after his team of researchers had great difficulty locating purebred specimens during a study conducted between 1976 and 1980. After searching 29 mountain villages, he was only able to located 160 breed members, of which only 46 were considered “A-Grade” purity. Ming Nan Chen’s father kept a number of Formosan Mountain Dogs and gave one to his son as a gift when he was in the Third Grade. Although the dog ran away about a year later, Ming Nan Chen had become a life-long admirer of the breed. Eventually becoming a military dog trainer, Ming Nan Chen became convinced that foreign breeds were not inherently superior to native Formosan Mountain Dogs. After realizing that his beloved breed was on the verge of extinction, Ming Nan Chen took it upon himself to save the breed in 1986.
After failing to find any purebred Formosan Mountain Dogs in lowland or densely settled regions, Ming Nan Chen was advised to try looking among the Aboriginal Tribes of the Mountains. After several failed attempts at acquiring purebred animals, Ming Nan Chen succeeded in purchasing one from an aboriginal man for NT$30,000 (around $910 American dollars). Using that dog and a few others he subsequently acquired he founded a breeding program which has continued to the present day. Inspired by Ming Nan Chen and Dr. Sung Yung-Yi, a number of other breeders began combing the Taiwanese Mountains for the last remaining purebred Formosan Mountain Dogs and starting their own kennels. However, it is unclear how many purebred breed members were located. This has led to major disputes among breeders as to the purity of different lines of Formosan Mountain Dogs. In all probability most, (if not all) supposedly purebred lines have been influenced to some degree by foreign breeds, but the exact degree is debatable and highly varied.
Over the past two decades, a major dispute has emerged between two competing groups of Formosan Mountain Dog breeders. One group, led by Ming Nan Chen, claims that the breed is ideal just as it is and should be kept as pure as possible. The other group claims that the Formosan Mountain Dog has become so rare that it is not genetically feasible to maintain it as a purebred animal. This group maintains that some outcrosses are necessary not only to prevent genetically inherited diseases from becoming rampant, but to improve the breed’s inherent qualities as well. Currently, dogs bred by both groups are registered with the Taiwanese Kennel Club as purebred, which has caused some friction. In any case, the admittedly crossbred Formosan Mountain Dogs currently form the vast majority of the breed’s population, and the supposedly purebred animals remain very rare. It has been suggested that purebred lines be formally separated into a separate breed with the name Formosan Mountain Dog and foreign-influenced lines officially called the Taiwan Dog, but this movement has gained little traction.
In recent years, the Formosan Mountain Dog’s status has changed dramatically. Once considered inferior to foreign breeds, there is growing recognition throughout Taiwan that the Formosan Mountain Dog can be highly valuable as well. Although hunting is rare on Taiwan with the exception of a few Aboriginal tribes, the Formosan Mountain Dog is commonly used for that purpose. What has truly increased the breed’s popularity, however, is its use as a guard dog. The intensely loyal and devoted Formosan Mountain Dog has proven to be an excellent personal and property guardian, although it is slightly undersized for the purpose. Families across the island are beginning to keep these dogs as pets and protection animals, often with great success. At the same time, animal welfare groups have succeeded in banning the consumption of dogs on Taiwan, although in still continues illicitly in some areas. Perhaps the greatest signal that the breed’s future is changing is that the Air Force of the Republic of China (Taiwan) is considering replacing the German Shepherd Dog with the Formosan Mountain Dog. The ROCAF is currently experimenting with using the Formosan Mountain Dog as a military animal. Although study results are not yet complete, preliminary results show that the Formosan Mountain Dog’s sense of smell, hearing, dexterity, and defensiveness with strangers are all superior to that of the German Shepherd Dog’s, and also that the breed seems to be in better health and suffers from less paw bruising. However, the ROCAF does have serious concerns that the Formosan Mountain Dog is smaller and less physically intimidating than the German Shepherd Dog.
Despite these rescue attempts, it is apparently too late to save at least one variety of Formosan Mountain Dog. Early records of the breed indicate that at one point there were two distinct sizes of Formosan Mountain Dog. One variety stood around 16 inches tall at the shoulder while the other stood around 12 inches. However, Dr. Sung Yung-Yi was unable to locate any of the smaller type during his extensive searches, and others who have subsequently gone looking have failed as well. It is now widely accepted that the 12-inch Formosan Mountain Dog is extinct.
Although the debate between those who want to keep the breed as pure as possible and those who want to introduce some foreign blood will probably continue to rage, the Formosan Mountain Dog appears to be in better shape now than it has been since the 1940’s. Breed numbers are growing and its popularity is increasing. Formal recognition with the Taiwanese Kennel Club has apparently helped raised the breed’s global stature, and in 2004 the breed was provisionally accepted by the F.C.I. Despite F.C.I. recognition, the Formosan Mountain Dog remains almost exclusively limited to Taiwan. Very few of these dogs have been exported elsewhere, and the breed has yet to become established outside of Taiwan. It is unclear whether any Formosan Mountain Dogs have been exported to the United States, but it is unlikely. In any case, the breed is not currently recognized by either the United Kennel Club (UKC) or the American Kennel Club (AKC), and it is unlikely that that will change for the foreseeable future.
The Formosan Mountain Dog is very similar in appearance to other primitive dog breeds from across the world and especially resembles the Dingo and Basenji. The Formosan Mountain Dog is a medium-sized breed. The average male stands between 18 and 21 inches tall at the shoulders and weighs between 31 and 41 pounds. The average female stands between 16 and 19 inches tall at the shoulders and weighs between 26 and 36 pounds. The Formosan Mountain Dog is a lightly constructed breed, with most individuals having a body similar to that of a sighthound. Some breed members are more heavily built, however, with a body type more akin to that of a Chow Chow. The legs of the Formosan Mountain Dog are relatively long for its body size but not excessively so. This breed should always appear as though it is highly athletic, and most Formosan Mountain Dogs are visibly muscular. The tail of the Formosan Mountain Dog is somewhat variable. Most of these dogs possess a medium-length tail that is held in an erect sickle shape, though some curl entirely over the back.
The head and face of the Formosan Mountain dog are among its most primitive-looking features. The head is broad and roundish, and should lack any wrinkles. The skull and muzzle are not fully distinct and blend together almost seamlessly. The muzzle itself should be long, but not quite as long as the skull. The muzzle does taper but should not be pointy at the end. The nose of the Formosan Mountain Dog is usually black but may vary depending on the color of the dog’s coat. The ears of the Formosan Mountain dog are one of the breed’s defining features. They should be naturally erect and set on the sides of the skull at an angle of 45 degrees. The inner side of the ears is straight while the outer side is slightly rounded.
The coat of the Formosan Mountain Dog is short, hard, and close-fitting. The ideal length is between 3/5 inches and 1 1/5 inches. Most breed members have straight coats but occasionally a curly-coated puppy is born. The Formosan Mountain Dog is found in a number of acceptable colors including black, brindle, fawn, white, white and black, white and fawn, white and brindle. Although all of the acceptable colors are commonly seen, brindle is most common. Occasionally, one of the dogs is born with an alternately-colored coat such as black and tan. Such dogs are penalized in the show ring and should not be bred but make just as acceptable pets and working dogs as any other breed members.
The Formosan Mountain Dog has a temperament which is very similar to that of other primitive breeds, in particular the traditional dogs of Japan and China. The Formosan Mountain Dog is most known for its intense loyalty. This is a breed which tends to form an incredibly close bond with a single individual, and most breed members are definite one-person dogs. Even when raised in a family atmosphere Formosan Mountain Dogs have a tendency to select a single family member to become close to. It can be extremely challenging to rehome this breed, and many never adapt to a new owner. This breed can be affectionate with its family, but most Formosan Mountain Dogs are quite reserved and independent. When raised alongside children, most breed members are good with those individual children. However, this breed is probably not the best choice for families with young children. The Formosan Mountain Dog is not tolerant of rough play and may defend itself. Additionally, this is not a breed that knows that it should play more gently with children than adults.
Now primarily kept as guard dogs, the Formosan Mountain Dog is naturally very suspicious of strangers and highly territorial. Proper training and socialization is of the utmost importance for the Formosan Mountain Dog. Breed members which have been raised properly are usually tolerant of strangers, although they almost always remain aloof and distant from them. Those individuals which have not properly been exposed to new people from a young age tend to develop human aggression issues, both fear and territorial. This breed can take a very long time to warm up to new people such as spouses or roommates, and some never do even after years of close contact. Extremely territorial and constantly on high alert, the Formosan Mountain Dog makes a peerless watchdog that will scare off most potential intruders with its bark alone. This is definitely a breed whose bite is worse than its bark, however, and this breed makes an excellent guard dog. Although somewhat undersized for a traditional guard dog, Formosan Mountain Dogs will not permit any stranger to enter their territory unaccompanied and will not hesitate to resort to violence if necessary. This breed also makes an excellent personal protection animal as anyone attempting to physically harm a Formosan Mountain Dog’s family would have to go through a surprisingly fierce and powerful dog to do so.
The Formosan Mountain Dog has a mixed reputation with other animals. Dog aggression issues of all types are fairly common in this breed, including ones based on dominance, possessiveness, territoriality, same-sex competition, and predatory. When raised with other dogs from a young age, this breed tends to form a close-knit pack-like relationship with those individuals although it may still exhibit aggression towards strange dogs. In most situations, this breed does best as either as an only dog or with a single member of the opposite sex. Bred as a hunting dog for thousands of years, the Formosan Mountain Dog exhibits an extremely high prey drive and will chase down and kill small animals. When left alone outdoors for any length of time, A Formosan Mountain Dog will probably bring its owner home presents of dead animals ranging in size from a cockroach to a raccoon. If raised alongside other pets such as cats, most (but not all) breed members will come to accept those individual animals but will still almost certainly show aggression toward unknown creatures of the same species.
Considered highly intelligent, the Formosan Mountain Dog is an excellent problem solver and has been trained to perform advanced military tasks. However, this breed presents substantial training difficulties. These dogs are very independent-minded and certainly do not live to please. Most breed members are very stubborn, and many are outright willful. Training a Formosan Mountain Dog will take significantly more time, energy, and patience than working with most breeds, and the final results may still not be what the owner desires. This breed responds much better to rewards-based training methods than other means, but even these have their limits. It is especially important for owners to maintain a constant position of dominance as this breed will not obey anyone it does not see as being a true leader.
The Formosan Mountain Dog is a very energetic and athletic breed which has substantial exercise requirements. This dog should receive an absolute minimum of an hour of vigorous physical activity every day, and more would be preferable. Formosan Mountain Dogs which are not provided proper outlets for their energy will almost certainly develop behavioral issues such as destructiveness, hyperactivity, excessive barking, fearfulness, and aggression. These dogs need daily walks but truly crave an opportunity to run freely in a safely enclosed area. Due to their high energy levels, Formosan Mountain Dogs adapt poorly to apartment life and really need a house with a sizable yard.
The Formosan Mountain Dog is a very low maintenance breed. These dogs should never require professional grooming, only an occasional brushing. There are not many reports on the Formosan Mountain Dog’s shedding, but it is safe to assume that this breed is a heavy shedder based on what is known about closely related breeds. It is highly advisable for owners to introduce their Formosan Mountain Dogs to routine maintenance procedures such as bathing and nail clipping from as young an age and as carefully as possible, as many breed members hate the water and put up major resistance.
It does not appear that any health studies have been conducted on the Formosan Mountain Dog, which makes it impossible to make any definitive statements on the breed’s health. Even longtime fanciers are divided on the breed’s health. Some claim that the breed is very healthy, while others believe that the dog’s small gene pool has caused a number of genetically inherited health issues to become major concerns. The full truth is probably somewhere in between, with some lines displaying good health and others serious issues. Life expectancy estimates for this breed range from between 7 to 15 years, which may be more due to the prevalence of veterinary care in Taiwan than the breed’s actual longevity potential.
Because skeletal and visual problems are thought to occur in this breed, it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
Although health information on the Formosan Mountain Dog is extremely limited, the breed is likely at risk of the following health conditions: