Developed in the northern mountainous regions of Korea, the Pungsan (sometimes spelled Phungsan or Poongsan) is the rarest of the three dog breeds native to Korea; the other two breeds being the Jindo and Sapsaree. Old Korean folk tales depict the Pungsan as a clever, loyal, and fierce hunter. In one such story, a Pungsan defeats a Siberian tiger. Pungsans were bred to be hardy and ferocious hunters, able to sleep in the snow and hunt game in the mountains. They were used for hunting such large animals as panthers, tigers, wolves, and wild boar, as well as for protection and companionship. These spitz type dogs were developed in isolation in the Baikdu Mountains in the P’ungsan region, now called Gimhyeonggwon County.
The origin of the Pungsan can be traced back to the 1700s, but some breed historians think they may have originated even earlier, in the 1500s. Some speculate that the Pungsan descended from various Mastiff and Sheepdog breeds, and was crossed with wolves. Another theory is that they descended from the Laika dogs of Siberia, another spitz-type breed, which are also known to hunt tigers.
During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910 to 1945), the Pungsan and the Jindo were declared national treasures. A Japanese zoologist named Tamezo Mori, who was also a professor at the Keijo Imperial University, now Seoul National University, submitted research findings linking the two breeds to Japanese breeds, and advocated for their protection. The Japanese, like the Germans, were obsessed with national pride and genetic purity, even in their dogs, so Dr. Mori’s findings appealed to them. Mori’s advocacy for them also resonated with the occupying government’s overall strategy. The Japanese were attempting to obliterate Korea’s culture, replacing it with theirs, by subsuming significant aspects of Korean culture and recasting it as Japanese. For these self-serving reasons, the Japanese Imperial Government officially recognized the Pungsan and Jindo breeds in 1937, just in time for World War II.
This designation spared the lives of many Pungsans and Jindos, but unfortunately, not of the third native Korean dog, the Sapsaree. In 1940, the Japanese Imperial Government issued Order No. 26, calling for the slaughter of Korean domestic dogs in order to use their fur to make warm coats and boots for Japanese soldiers. Since the Pungsan and Jindo were designated national treasures, they were exempted. However, the Japanese viewed the Sapsaree as a mutt and therefore of no value. In the course of three years they slaughtered between 900,000 and 1.5 million Korean dogs, almost wiping out the Sapsaree forever. (Note: Fortunately, Dr. Sung-jin Ha came to their rescue in the 1960s, and his son Ji Hong Ha took over his work in 1985. Ji Hong Ha continued his father’s work until the Sapsaree breed was regenerated.)
By the end of the Korean War in 1953, with the country officially divided into the two separate countries of North and South Korea, Pungsans were confined to the north. The North Korean government forbade the dogs to be taken out of their homeland. In the 1990s, some Pungsan type dogs were smuggled into South Korea, but these dogs were not purebred specimens. After that, more Pungsans were taken out of the country by way of China. But it is doubtful that these dogs were purebreds, either.
However, in 2000, during South Korea’s “Sunshine Policy” with North Korea, former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung made a historic visit to Pyongyan, where the North Korean President, the late Kim Jong-il, gave him two pure Pungsans. These two pups were raised at the Blue House (a complex of buildings which includes the official residence of the South Korean President) in Seoul. Later the dogs were sent to live at the Seoul Grand Park Zoo. They were carefully bred and their lines are monitored, to this day. They have produced generations of puppies, some of which have been sent to other South Korean zoos. Others have ended up in private homes of South Korean dog enthusiasts.
Korean Animal Rights Association, along with other similar groups, are advocating to improve the way animals are treated, by changes to both the culture and enforcement of existing laws in South Korea, with hope it will also one day impact North Korea. Unfortunately eating dog meat is a part of the culture and “dog farms” accommodate the demand, where dogs are raised for slaughter in cruel and squalid conditions. These “farms” abound, even though the dog meat industry was outlawed in 1991. Enforcement has proven difficult because public demand for dog meat is great and the industry generates billions of dollars a year.
An animal rights activist visited the Pungsan Dog Center in Yongin, South Korea near Seoul. At the entrance to the park is large statue of a Pungsan dog, giving the impression the living ones are honored as well. Such was not the case; the visitor saw a sign just inside the park that said “weekend farm”. Upon visiting it, she found dogs sharing too-small spaces in feces-filled cages, with fetid food and filthy water. The odor was noxious; in one cage a puppy had an injured paw that was swollen and red; the puppies smelled bad from being left out in the rain in dirty cages. They were shivering. Other dogs had obvious eye problems, but they were not receiving treatment. Conditions were equally bad at a small dog farm, run by a husband and wife, outside the Center. The couple claimed they sold the pitiful Pungsan pooches to hunters. Such conditions are not unusual.
In North Korea, Pungsans are on display at the Pyongyang Zoo, along with foreign canine breeds such as the German Shepherd and the Labrador Retriever. North Korea has made supposed “nature documentaries” of rare animal species fighting in what they claim is “the wild”. It is obviously staged and the film footage is heavily spliced and edited, to show nonstop animal fights. The backgrounds match the Pyongyang Zoo. Sadly, it is also clear, according to numerous viewers reports, that the savage fighting is not at all natural, but orchestrated, pitting animals against each other to make the movie. In one such film, a Pungsan dog and a German Shepherd are recorded in a vicious fight.
On a less horrific note, in 2001 a South Korean dog breeder named Sung Kwang-soo came up with the idea of matching a highly valued North Korean breed with an equally esteemed South Korean breed. The purpose of the mix would be to “embody the nation’s wish for peaceful unification of the peninsula”. The Pungsan and the Jindo were chosen to create these “unification dogs”; eight male Pungsans were bred with fourteen Jindos. The project began in May, 2001; as of early 2006, two hundred unification puppies have been born. An internet search in 2012 turned up no further information, at least not in English, on the project or the resulting dogs.
Pungsans remain valued as hunting and companion dogs within North Korea. The North Korean government claims that the numbers of Pungsans remain stable today. While its close “cousin” the Jindo, is recognized by the Federation Cynological International (FCI), the Pungsan is not, and remains unrecognized by any major kennel clubs.
Pungsans are large, spitz-type dogs that on average weigh between 44 and 66 pounds and measure 21 1/2 to 23 1/2 inches at the withers making them bigger than the Korean Jindo, a breed which they closely resemble. The Poonsan is strong, agile, and athletic, possessing great stamina. Their bodies are muscular and rectangular in shape. They have broad, somewhat deep chests that do not go below their elbows. The belly is tucked up; the hindquarters are strong and muscular.
Pungsans have thick, fine hair for their undercoat and long, tough hair on the outer coat. These coats are so protective that they enable them to sleep in the snow and remain comfortable. Their coat color is whitish or cream colored.
Their heads are triangular and broad across the forehead. The muzzle is almost as long as the length of the skull. They have prick ears, set high on their heads. Their eyes are almondAmong experts, the use of Almonds, or Almond derived products in pet food appears to have been met with mixed reviews. While some feel that there is no issue and that the .... shaped and set somewhat close together, with dark pigmentation around the rims. They have a medium stop and noses that are black or, less frequently, flesh colored. They have thin, black lips and powerful jaws.
Their long tails are set high, curling over their backs; they are covered with an abundance of fluffy fur. Pungsans move slowly until they have reason to sprint into action, at which point they prove to be surprisingly swift.
Pungsans are intelligent, independent, and energetic dogs, who are protective and loyal to their humans. These athletic dogs need a great deal of outdoor exercise every day and require an experienced owner to handle them.
The Pungsan thrives on dependable, strong human relationships, looking to its owner for reassurance and leadership. They are loving and affectionate pets and need to live indoors with their human families. As long as they are socialized properly from an early age, they are sweet and gentle with children. They are friendly to other people as well, once they feel comfortable with them.
They will ignore strangers or people they do not know well, unless they feel someone has invaded their personal space or territory. They will then bark to warn them off, which should be heeded, because Pungsans only bark when they think it is necessary. Pungsans make excellent watch and guard dogs. Known for being territorial, the Pungsan is always alert and ready to do whatever is necessary to protect its owner and its owner’s property.
Pungsans are believed to be closely linked to wolves, which means they are aggressive and possess a high prey drive. Therefore if you have other pets in your household, or want to acquire them in the future, the Pungsan is not an appropriate dog to have in your home. Even with socialization from a young age, these dogs can still be aggressive, dominating, and jealous toward other animals. They may be a threat to not only your pets, but other neighborhood pets, and small woodland animals, as well. Therefore your Pungsan should be kept leashed at all times when outside of an enclosed area.
These rather stubborn and confident dogs can be challenging to train, requiring an owner who can command authority and is willing to devote the time to proper training. To have effective control of your Pungsan, you must immediately establish your dominance, consistently show and command respect, and build and nurture trust with your dog. Training a Pungsan requires not only leadership and firmness, but also gentleness, patience, and consistency. They are known to be difficult to house train and slow to mature.
Pungsans become easily bored with repetitive tasks, so training should be fun with a lot of variety and positive rewards. The puppies tend to need to chew a lot, so provide them safe and acceptable chew toys and keep other possible targets out of your dog’s reach. Pungsans love to dig holes and are escape artists, so you will need to have secure, high fences that your dog cannot dig under.
If you do not have the space, time, and energy this breed needs for vigorous physical activity, the Pungsan is not the right choice for you. Pungsans must have at least an hour, twice a day, of exercise outdoors, with plenty of room in which to run. They love to play games, like tug of war and need a long daily pack walk. A Pungsan deprived of enough exercise, physical space, and human attention will tend to destroy things, chew, bark, whine, and disregard even basic training like housebreaking.
They are ill suited for apartment life, doing best in a home with a large, enclosed yard, or out in the country. They have thick double coats to protect them in snowy mountainous regions, so they are not dogs that should live in tropical environments.
The Pungsans double coat sheds heavily twice a year. During the heavy shedding times, you will need to brush your dog’s coat every day to remove the excess hair. Giving your dog warm baths will also help to remove dead hair.
These dogs do not have a “doggie smell”, so bathe only as needed.