In Thailand, a dog has a different connotation than many western countries. A pet dog in Thailand usually is a stray that gets food from a home or store front and therefore casually spends its days lounging around that area. At most, these dogs may get a worn collar, but a dog on a leash is a rare sight. A large leashed Dutch Shepherd led by a white farang (foreigner) is a sight worthy of stares and even photographs.
Many homes, temples, and stores are the place of residence for several soi dogs. Usually they form packs of 2-3 dogs, sometimes more. Even if the home front is fenced, these dogs will simply jump over. They are very territorial and a daily part of life when living in Thailand, especially for pet owners. It can be very intimidating when a pack of barking, high hackled dogs come rushing toward you and your dog.
The fact is, every stray soi dog has been hit, kicked, or had a stone thrown at it throughout its life. These are dogs that have learned the art of survival. Although territorial, they take care not to get injured because this can mean life or death to them. These situations can be smoothly handled if you remain confident and in control.
When traveling down a new street, carry a stick or (my favorite) a water bottle. When a pack of stray dogs come rushing up, use a confident voice and raise your hand as if to throw or drag your stick against the ground. These dogs know a faker when they see one, empty handed threats mean very little to them. Do not yell or get agitated. This will only excite the dogs, and you will lose respect with any local Thais within ear shot for ‘losing face’. This will deter the majority of strays, for those brave few that continue coming (my dog came in heat upon arrival in Thailand), I will give them a splash of water from my bottle. They will never forget and will leave you alone from there on out. I do not actually throw objects or attempt to harm these dogs, a mere threat is more than enough to set boundaries.
If you walk the same area regularly, these dogs will accept you within a few days. Furthermore, stray dogs can have better socialization skills than most house dogs. I don’t fear my dog being attacked as much as the transfer of disease or illness from close interaction. If you are someone who abhors the use of a leash and feels confident in your control over your dog, this is the country for you. Locals who actually do take their dogs on walks usually don’t have them on a leash.
Owners with small or fearful dogs should take extra care in new neighborhoods. I have had a few instances with small shop dogs lunging out and biting at my dog. My dog is now accepted in the neighborhood, and we can walk peacefully around followed by nothing more than a few halfhearted barks. It also helps that Zala is bigger than all the dogs around her. As stated earlier, these strays have learned the art of survival and will not take on a fight without cause, especially with a dog that is a head taller. I will add that my Dutch Shepherd not only scares the local strays but also the local Thais of the area. Keep this in mind when you bring a large dog with you to restaurants and coffee shops.
Although a dramatic change from dog walking lifestyle in western countries, bringing your dog to Thailand can be done if you remain actively aware of your environment and take extra care in reading the dog behavior around you. This experience may actual strengthen your bond with your dog as you will be assuming the role of pack leader and protecting your dog from others. Best of luck and be aware of your dog’s personal tolerance of this kind of environment and always keep their safety first.