KEEPING DOGS AS PETS IN JAPAN TODAY
By Eggi Chromecek
Japan has a very long tradition of keeping dogs as pets. Sadly, though, it also has a long tradition of raising fighting dogs. Dog races bred for that purpose such as the Kai, Akita, and Tosa Inu have a long history. However, numerous little "lap dogs" have existed simultaneously, such as the Japanese Chin or Japanese Spitz. Many Japanese dog breeds, such as the Akita, have become beloved family dogs the world over. In this article I would like to describe the way the human/dog relationship manifests itself in Today's Japan.
30 years ago in Japan, the role of many "family dogs" doubled to that of watchdog as well. These animals lived out-of-doors, often in the garden or tied up to the doghouse and were kept as "chained guard dogs." Regrettably, this is a condition one partly still encounters even to this day. The smaller breeds, such as the Maltese and mixed breeds, were the ones who lived the lives of lap dogs inside the home. Japanese really love their dogs, but when it comes to a true and proper keeping of a dog particular to the species in a contemporary sense, it is extremely difficult for a variety of reasons. Some of the problems stem from lack of space, and some from plain, old-fashioned notions.
In spite of this, there have been some changes for the better in how dogs are kept. Much improvement has been demonstrated especially within dog training schools when compared to 30 years ago.
One could say that there are roughly four types of dog owners in Japan today.
|Group A: This is the most common way in which dogs are kept. The smaller lap dogs are kept in apartments and houses, while the medium-sized dogs are kept in dog houses (kennels). They are taken on walks twice or three times a day and, due to a lack of possibility have hardly any contact with other dogs.|
|Group B: This is the life of the "fashionable" dog. These dogs are kept as play things. They are humanized and made to wear dog booties, hats, and coats. Not only small dogs belong to this group, but also the large breeds such as Golden Retrievers and other large dogs. Various dog magazines offer numerous dog boutiques that display their latest fashions.|
Group C: The "dog sportsman." These people purchase expensive, highly-bred dogs (especially the German Shepherd) from foreign countries. They are raised by trainers and for the purpose of becoming IPO -(international trial regulations) trained. Most of the IPO participant dogs originate from this group. (Editor's note: IPO is a range of tests in obedience, tracking and protection work, under the rules of the Federation Cynologique Internationale)
|Group D: The "hobby dog sportsman." Of late, this possibility has become more accessible to Japanese as they take part in such hobby sports as Agility, Heelwork to Music, etc. This type of activity is quickly growing into a trend. I am unable to comment more precisely on the quality of life these dogs otherwise have, as this development is new to me. I do speculate that they are better off than other dogs in Japan.|
In spite of all the positive developments, much is still in a dismal state. As I have been informed by colleagues and through the perusal of dog magazines, "positive punishment" is still considered the norm as far as training methods go. An ever-popular method, even "modern" dog trainers in state-of-the-art dog schools continue its perpetration. The use of a halter is still a thing of the future. The magazines show many photos of dogs with regular collars or even choke collars. When compared to the Western world, the overall picture for dogs in Japan is rather for the worse.
30 years ago, for lack of public animal protection agencies, stray dogs were euthanized seven days after the dog catcher brought them in. As I recently discovered, this practice continues to this day. The Japanese public is largely unaware of this condition. Many apartment owners in large cities have basically forbidden dog ownership, whereby it is obvious that such tight living quarters and minuscule front yards are not conducive to adequately keep a dog.
In spite of these unfavorable conditions, many dog lovers are to be found attempting to keep a dog, or else rescuing a street dog from extermination. As far as I am aware (I am not sufficiently informed here) it is possible that it is still illegal, or, at least, not customary to take dogs to public places such as restaurants, cafes, or on trains and buses.
Several years ago I had as a guest a Japanese dog trainer who, upon seeing a sign in the Viennese underground railway depicting a dog with a leash and muzzle asked me what that was all about. Upon hearing my explanation that dogs were allowed onto the public transportation system in Vienna as long as they wore a muzzle, leash, and had a valid child's ticket, the man reacted with great astonishment. His enthusiasm over our "well-behaved" dogs that are allowed to travel in the public realm was so tremendous he felt compelled to photograph the sign.
His astonishment was complete when, later at a coffeehouse, a waitress brought, of her own accord, a bowl of water and dog treats for my dog. Unable to speak and with a great questioning look on his face, he gaped at me. I chuckled quietly to myself. Actually, I understand his surprise quite well myself.
I had the same experience when I first moved here. Viennese dogs were especially well- socialized. Wire-haired, long-haired shorthaired dachshunds, poodles, cocker spaniels, and the typical Viennese mix (dachshund crossed with German shepherd) were all out and about with their owners, peacefully sharing space, paths, benches, sun and shade. Nobody had any reason to grumble. Sadly, even in Vienna the times have changed a bit for the worse. More and more people are finding dogs a nuisance, or even thinking of them as dangerous. Dogs may not... dogs should not... etc.
And it seems like, the more extreme that this unfriendly outlook of "dog politics" grows, the worse the socialization of Viennese dogs becomes.
I would wish for all Japanese dogs that the day will come when the "traditional" style of keeping dogs disappears, to be replaced by the development of a contemporary, dog-righteous way.
And for the Viennese dog I wish for the restoration of the traditional, unrestrained, and natural companionship between dog and human in everyday life.
I am Japanese and have lived in Vienna with my husband since 1975. We have a dog.
Having grown up with dogs, my extraordinary relationship to them is certainly a result of my childhood. Due to my mother's illness I was often left alone and consequently felt very lonely. Being the youngest child with brothers and sisters much older than me, I was always welcome home after school by our dogs which accompanied me always and everywhere. They gave me the feeling of not being alone.
My first dog in Vienna was Bibi, a West Highland Terrier. She was very funny, lively, easygoing and popular with everybody - everything but a problem dog. She died in 1994 at the age of 12 years.
In 1996 we got our present dog, Dixie. She was very sensitive, easily scared and sometimes even aggressive towards strangers. Although only 9 weeks old, she already was a problem dog. Before she came to us she had lived with another family from the 8th to the 9th week. I have no idea what she might have experienced at that time, I only know that Dixie has been different from all the other dogs I ever had before.
Thus I decided to attend a puppy training course with Dixie. Unfortunately this course took place at ÖGV (Utility dog club of Austria). Not everything was achieved with positive encouragement, but also partly with positive punishment. Already then I instinctively used positive encouragement (praise and treat) which Dixie reacted very finely to and which consequently spared her trouble in the course. This was also a reason why the instructor didn't take much notice of us most of the time. For seven years I stayed with ÖGV and during that time I tried to convince people of the evident advantages of the positive-encouragement training method. I've had little success. I'm still trying to convey my attitudes and convictions in my own dog school.