Dog Talk: How Malaysian mutts melt hearts

Asli is 15 years old and very social. Photo: Janice Shun

There's no joy like being greeted by a dog friend. The wagging tail, the excited yip, and the wet nose in your hand or neck are a delight.

But being jumped on by an unknown dog can be frightening. In fact, dogs aren’t keen on having other dogs leap on them either.

Asli, a 15-year-old Telomian, a rare dog that comes from the Telom River in the rainforests of Peninsular Malaysia, is a social lady. She loves to be out and about meeting people and dog friends.

But as her mum, Janice Shun, a vacation rental host manager in Kuala Lumpur, explains, dogs have their own rules about how to greet each other.

“If the other dog is friendly, it’s all sniffing the face and body and that includes private parts,” Shun says.

Although it seems invasive from a human perspective, the bottom-sniffing is rooted in dog anatomy. Dogs have scent glands located in their bottoms, specifically in the area around the anus.

These glands are powerhouses when it comes to producing information-rich scents. As all dogs have excellent noses, a quick sniff provides and instant overview of the other dog’s identity, health, and emotional state.

“If that first sniff is done and it’s all OK, the two dogs go off and play together,” Shun explains.

But some dogs are not up for any kind of sniffing.

“If the other dog is not friendly, they will bark or growl and Asli won’t go near them,” Shun points out. “She will avoid them completely.”

Also, just like that awful uncle who asks the most shockingly rude questions at family gatherings, some dogs are clueless when it comes to boundaries and go completely overboard.

“We met a dog recently who sniffed Asli’s butt and would not stop,” Shun sighs.

The first time, the owner carried her rude pet away. But when Shun and Asli went out another time, the dog was there again. And this time, the owner was far away.

“The other dog was off-leash and insistent on butt-sniffing again,” Shun shares. “Asli didn’t like it. As she’s not the type to bite and I was there, holding on to her leash, I let Asli say no herself.”

It was polite, swift but unmistakable.

“Asli showed her teeth,” Shun says. “The dog got the message and left. So that was effective communication.”

Like Asli, I am social. Being out and about with dogs is always fun. But after talking to Shun, it occurred to me that something was missing.

In our old home, I knew every dog in the street. Leaving the house inevitably involved a high five with a furry friend.

When we relocated to Britain, I was delighted to see dogs on the bus, the train, and in many of the shops, including the local pub.

They are all extremely well behaved. Not only are there no high fives or other exuberant greetings for human friends, there is no bum-sniffing between dogs. British dogs have a traditional stiff upper lip. They walk past you with barely a nod.

Being covered in muddy paws isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so sensible dog owners train their pets to lounge and not leap. However, it is a bit weird to see so many dogs acting like they’re striving for a Canine Courtesy award.

So are Malaysian dogs open and familiar – and maybe a bit over-familiar, while British dogs are polite – and maybe a bit over-polite?

While it is tempting to delve into national stereotypes, and suggest that dogs are like their humans, scientists have debunked this.

In 2019, a team led by Dr Dora Szabo at Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest, Hungary, gave four sets of different cognitive tests to teams of dogs in Hungary, Austria, and Britain.

They found no significant differences, suggesting that a dog from Vienna is the same as a dog from Budapest and a dog from Lincoln.

Mental health experts who study behaviour have an adage: What you feed, grows. So I wondered if experience might be at the bottom of the difference in doggy culture.

I met almost all my dog friends in the street, with them jumping about excitedly while their mums and dads were holding the leash and apologising profusely.

Our neighbours trained their pets, but it wasn’t easy because except for the odd cafe and park, Malaysian dogs are largely banned from public life.

So when they go out and meet new people, they are super excited. Like kids at the amusement park, they forget their formal manners and just go for it.

In contrast, British dogs accompany their family to parks, busses, taxis, trains, and pubs. For them, meeting people isn’t very exciting.

Curiously enough, as we were leaving the pub a few days ago, we met a couple coming in with a Labrador puppy. He was wearing a high-visiblity vest and a brand-new collar, clearly on one of his first public outings.

Seeing us, he jumped up and down and then, like a kiddy at a posh prep school, he remembered his lessons: He sat and peered up at us expectantly.

We knew exactly what to do. As the cries of “What a good doggy!” and “Aren’t you a clever pup?” rang out, the little one glanced at his proud mum and dad, delighted with the fuss and praise.

It was totally adorable. But as we left, I considered that the happy pup will soon be a nicely trained dog, sitting quietly and minding his own business when out and about.

Stiff upper lip British dogs may have excellent manners but, secretly, I miss my Malaysian dog friends. Muddy paws can be inconvenient, but there is nothing like an open-hearted embrace from a good fur friend.

Adopt Me

Butter is six months old, fully vaccinated and about to be spayed. This sweet girl is playful, sweet and friendly. Just like Asli, Butter is super social and loves hanging out with other dogs. She’s a healthy girl with a great appetite.

Photo: KL Pooch Resort and Rescue/Shannon LamPhoto: KL Pooch Resort and Rescue/Shannon Lam

Interested adopters, please text or call Carol (012-396 0977) in Kalumpang, Selangor.

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Dogs , dog behaviour , Telomian dog


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