Many expats, especially those who have started to settle and are beginning to make plans for a long-term future, consider owning a dog in China. Pet dogs are very common in the West and make excellent companions, but there are many factors that should be considered before you decide to get a dog in China. Below is a guide to some of the issues to watch out for and what you can do to best prepare yourself for owning a dog in China.
Firstly, should I get a dog in China?
There are a few factors to consider before seriously deciding to get a dog in China. The first is how long you plan on staying in China. It’s an expensive and time-consuming process to transport a dog overseas. Experiences vary from case to case, but dog owners can expect to spend at least a couple of thousand US dollars and a few months of their lives sorting this out. You don't want to be that guy who adopts a dog and then leaves it behind.
The second factor to consider is how much time you actually spend in China. If you take frequent and long business trips or if you’re in education and enjoy ridiculously long vacations you should consider how you can take proper care of a dog during your time away. China’s big cities will have boarding facilities, but these vary in quality, can be expensive, and fill up quickly during busy periods.
The third factor is the number of hours you work per day. Unlike in most Western countries, a 9-5 job is no guarantee in China. Many foreigners are contracted to work longer hours and often overtime and weekends too. Potential pet owners should therefore assess how many hours they have each day for their dog. A dog should really be walked at least three times a day and, just like all of us, they don’t like being left alone for extended periods of time.
Before getting a dog in China, be honest with yourself about the above factors. Can you give a dog the time it deserves?
What type of dog should I get?
Before deciding what type of dog you want to get, it’s important to note that some breeds are technically banned in China. Like many things in China, you can never be 100 percent sure of the actual law from one place to another and from one day to the next but, as a rough guide, here is a current list of the banned dog breeds in Shenzhen, for example:
Tibetan Mastiff, Pit Bull Terrier, Dogo Argentina, Fila Braziiero, Japanese Tosa, Central Asian Shepherd Dog, Borzoi, Bull Terrier, Mastiff, Cane Corso, Great Dane, Caucasian Shepherd Dog, Neapolitan Mastiff, Staffordshire Terrier, Afghan Hound, Pointer, Weimaraner, Setter, Bloodhound, Basenji, Bull Dog, Akita, Newfoundland Dog, Bedlington Terrier and Kerry Blue Terrier.
After looking at which dogs you can legally own in China, you’ll also want to consider the size of the dog. You may be desperate for a Labrador or German Shepherd, but is that reasonable under the circumstances in China? Most people in China live in relatively small apartments with no gardens in heavily populated and urbanized areas. Is that a suitable environment for a big breed of dog?
Beyond concerns for the dog's quality of life, there are also safety concerns that accompany larger breeds of dog in China. Many locals are scared of dogs due to generational teachings stemming from an understandable fear of rabies. Big breeds are particularly feared, and some Chinese cities, such as Beijing, actually have height restrictions on dogs living within the city centre.
Regardless of whether locals’ fears are rational or not, you will be dealing with your Chinese neighbors on a daily basis. If they complain about your dog because they’re scared of it, you might find yourself having issues with the management of your complex, and even the police.
You should also consider the climate when looking at breeds with longer hair or thick fur. For example, if you’re living in China’s humid southern provinces, the summer heat is really not suitable for a dog like a Husky or Malamute.
Where should I get my dog from?
China’s dog breeding industry has boomed in recent years as the younger generation is increasingly keen on the idea of owning pets. This boom has meant that there is no shortage of online vendors and pet stores selling all kinds of breeds.
However, these so-called “puppy mills” are notorious for mass producing weak and diseased animals, some of which only live a month or two. And as you never know what such breeding facilities are like behind the scenes, animal lovers would be advised to avoid buying dogs in this way in China.
The issue is compounded by the fact that while there is an increasing number of people who want to own a dog in China, education on how to properly take care of dogs is sparse. This leads many to buy dogs or gift them to others without really understanding the responsibilities involved. Many dogs are later abandoned when the responsibility becomes too much.
Readers therefore should seriously consider adopting a dog from one of the many shelters emerging in China, especially in and around the bigger cities. Even if you’re set on having a particular breed, you’ll be surprised how many pedigrees you can find at shelters. If you still need convincing, dogs from shelters are usually free, with the signing of an adoption contract and a small charitable donation all that is asked of potential parents.
What injections will my dog need?
Although you may have been offered assurances that your new dog has had all the injections required, unless you have properly authorised documentation, it’s better to consult a vet to be completely sure.
At a minimum your dog will need annual rabies and distemper vaccinations. You should also make sure they take regular heart worm and worming tablets as well as flea prevention medication. Due to the large amount of strays in China, it’s also socially responsible to get your dog spayed/neutered. You’ll get a hefty discount when registering your pooch with the police (see below) for doing so.
Once your dog has received his/her vaccinations, you should be provided with a little red booklet with the treatments and dates. You can use this booklet in future when you need to repeat the injections or register with the police.
What? I need to register my dog with the police?
Yep, you sure do! Now that your dog has had all their injections, it’s time to register them with the local government authorities. While the idea of registering your dog with the government and getting them an ID card might seem excessive to some foreigners, it offers both you and your best friend a lot of protection.
Strictly speaking, if you don’t register your dog, it’s illegal, which means you run the risk of having them taken away (and destroyed) by the police at any time.
This becomes especially relevant when you consider, as mentioned above, how a lot of locals are scared of dogs. All it takes is one complaint, no matter how relevant it is, for the police to become involved. If they find your dog is not registered they can take it away for good.
To register your dog you will need the following: a 1-inch portrait photo of your dog’s face, a 3-inch landscape photo that shows all your dog clearly, the booklet with proof that your dog’s up-to-date with their injections, a copy of your rental agreement and a copy of your passport. You’ll need to register at the same district police station you register yourself at every darn time you come into the country.
Walking your dog
Many of us are used to taking our dogs on long walks in the countryside of our home countries. Off the lead, the dog is free to roam, chase sticks and play with other dogs. Unfortunately, the reality in China is very different, but no matter how frustrating that may be, it’s a reality that has to be accepted.
With so many locals scared of dogs and the potential fallout from any incident, it’s important to keep your dog on a lead pretty much all the time. Also, while all cities have parks, they’re usually out of bounds for dogs.
The best compromise is to find parks and countryside outside the city centre that are perhaps less frequented. That way you might have the chance to take your dog off the lead and allow them to enjoy the great outdoors as they deserve.
The truth is that owning a dog in China is not as straightforward as it is in many other countries. The typical size of homes and the heavily urbanised cities are not suitable for many larger breeds. Meanwhile, locals’ fears of dogs mean it’s important to keep your dog on a short leash and follow the unusually strict registration process.
That being said, if you’re willing to adjust to the local situation, there’s plenty of joy to be had from owning a dog in China. Just remember though, a dog is for life, not just for China.
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