So You Want to Adopt a Dog in Korea

Friends, family, strangers in the park... pretty much everyone asks me questions about the logistics of adopting and owning a dog (especially a large dog) in Korea. Pet ownership is still a pretty new thing in Korean culture so finding resources and information can be pretty tricky and finding ways to help your pet live its best life while remaining culturally sensitive can sometimes be pretty frustrating. So let's tackle some of the most commonly asked questions.

1. Aren't people afraid of your dogs?

This is by far my mostly commonly asked question, by Koreans and expats alike. The answer is: yes and no.

We get a lot of "handsome" and "pretty" as we walk by, or sometimes just "ohhh, husky". If I take the dogs up to Seoul Tower they get droves of people petting them and taking selfies. People are especially enamored of Ada's heterochromia ("odd eye, odd eye"). My favorite comments are from the ajushis that give me thumbs up and say things like "Dog #1!" or "strong dog, strong dog, Russia" (nope, didn't make that up). On the flip side, I have had people literally scream and run away from me when my dogs weren't even looking at them and there are days where it feels like every single person in the park is giving me stink eye while my dogs walk calmly by them. My biggest frustration is that there are many small dog owners who let their completely untrained, unsocialized dogs wander off leash in the park and then completely freak out when they see my dogs and start yelling and running to collect them, freaking out both their dogs and mine.

Here are some things we do to combat fear of our dogs:

  • We essentially treat our dogs, especially Ada, as big dog goodwill ambassadors. She knows basic commands in Korean, she loves babies and at this point, she'll often sit and pose when somebody pulls out a phone or camera (and then immediately look at me for a treat). Obviously, not all dogs want to be pet by ten strangers at a time but if your dog can handle it and you walk in the same place every day, seeing many of the same faces, stopping and letting people pet your dogs is a great way to show the people that are truly afraid that the dogs are non-threatening. I can't tell you how many times I've had people watching from a distance decide to come over and cautiously give the dogs a pet or try to get them to shake when they see other people doing it.
  • Ada and Shadow are trained to sit and wait when they see other dogs. This is both for my sake because they will pull my shoulder out of its socket because they're so excited to see a potential playmate and because it shows other dog owners that even though they're big, I have them under control. It also means that the small off leash dogs come running up to them instead of Ada and Shadow jumping after the small dogs and freaking everyone out. Once people we see every day realize they actually just want to play with their small dogs, interactions are a lot less stressful for everyone. If it's not people we see every day, this gives them an opportunity to pick up or leash their dog.
  • We spend a lot of time saying "it's ok" and "they don't bite" in Korean, often it really does just take those two phrases to assuage people's fears.
  • This isn't something we do, but many people in pet groups say that people are way friendlier to their dogs (especially jindos) when they're wearing a bandanna or t-shirt.
Tips and Resources for Expat Dog Owners

2. What do you do when you go on vacation?

I think this question comes up a lot more here than it would in the US because one of the perks of living in Seoul is definitely easy travel around Asia, so a lot of expats hop on a plane every major holiday. The answer to this is the same as it would be in America, we hire a dog sitter. It's hard to find dog boarding in Seoul for larger dogs and because Ada was in a shelter here, we just feel like it's better for her to stay at our home or somebody else's. Our dogs love our current dog sitter so much that they lose their minds and all their good behavior and jump all over her when she comes over or we run into her walking other dogs in the park. You can find her on facebook on her page Sae-hee's Sanctuary. We originally found her through the Pet Sitting Network- South Korea page where you can post looking for a dog sitter, search for boarding recommendations or offer to trade other owners walking and pet sitting services. If you're planning on traveling for a major holiday, I recommend getting this figured out as far in advance as possible. Right now it seems like everybody is looking for somebody for Chuseok and I am very happy I asked Vanessa if she was available over a month ago and don't have to think about it.

3. What do you feed them? Where do you get their food?

Our dogs eat Kirkland brand Grain-Free Nature's Domain Salmon and Sweet Potato food. Yep, I buy our dog's food at Costco, in Korea. We feed our dogs grain-free food because huskies tend to be really picky eaters and often won't eat food with a lot of fillers. Also, the Nature's Domain food is affordable and has an average rating on Dog Food Adviser. It's possible to find Orijen or other high-end foods at vets and some pet stores but I've only ever seen it in small bags and if you think Orijen is expensive in America, wait until you see the price in Korea. I do sometimes buy bags of Orijen and mix it in with the Kirkland food but this is mostly a "huskies are picky eaters who get bored" thing. Some people order Taste of the Wild on Gmarket and if you have a smaller dog, you might be able to afford the bags of Natural Balance or Orijen sold in stores here. For treats, at Costco they also often have dehydrated chicken and duck breast treats that are disgustingly stinky and the dogs love, we bring back Orijen treats from the US or send visiting friends Amazon orders to bring with them and occasionally order other treats from Gmarket.

4. Is my dog allowed off leash in parks? Where can I socialize my dogs?

Ok, this one isn't a real question people have asked me but I feel like it's so so so important to socialize your dogs so I'm gonna talk about it anyways. First of all, NO, your dog is not allowed off leash and there is a potential fine for having your dog off leash. Also, there are a lot of dogs that have not been well socialized and may act aggressive towards your dog and a leash can allow you to keep your dog far away from them. Technically, your dog also should be microchipped and wearing a dog tag.

There are, however, two dog parks in Seoul. One at World Cup Stadium Park and one in Children's Grand Park. I haven't been to either because they are nowhere near us and we don't have a car. I've been told there often aren't a lot of big dogs. There are also some private dog parks on the outskirts of the city. You can search for recommendations in the Everything Paws facebook group. We live in an area with a lot of foreigners and, consequently, a lot of dogs so we see dog friends almost every day walking around Namsan Park. There's a Namsan Dog Pack group that arranges meet up in the Haebongchan/Kyungridan/Itaewon area. We're also super happy that a dog cafe has opened relatively near us so we can give the dogs off leash playtime. Dog cafes are all over Seoul and are probably your best opportunity for socializing or for putting your dog in doggy daycare.

5. Does your vet speak English?

Yes! Again, we live in a neighborhood with a lot of foreigners, so there are multiple vets nearby where the staff speaks English. You can search or ask in the Everything Paws group for vet recommendations in your area.

6. Where did you actually get your dogs?

So, uh, we got Ada on craigslist. True Story. Before that though she was in the Empathy for Life shelter. Empathy for Life is a no-kill shelter that often rescues dogs from the government shelters that sadly are in pretty horrible shape and are super overcrowded. They both organize fosters for dogs and have a shelter. You can check out their available dogs for adoption or learn about volunteering on their facebook page. You can find more dogs in foster care or in shelters at Rescue Korea and the Animal Rescue Network Korea facebook page. People also will occasionally post about rehoming in some of the facebook groups I've mentioned previously. We got Shadow when somebody posted about him in the South Korea Husky Club group. Yes, all the information about pets (and everything really) in Korea is found in facebook groups.

7. Can I take my dog on public transit?

Your pets are allowed on public transit in a carrier. So, my dogs have never been on public transit because one weighs 50 lbs and the other is still growing but currently is probably around 60 lbs. I've heard that some regular cab drivers will take dogs and some won't. Your best bet if you need to transport your dog is finding a friend with a car or asking for a referral for a pet taxi in one of the pet related facebook groups.

8. Are you going to take your dogs with you when you leave?

I actually can't believe how often I get asked this question. YES, of course we are. Yes, they will have to fly cargo. No, they won't have to spend anytime in quarantine in the U.S. if we have the correct paperwork. Depending on what country you're flying back to, your timeline will be different, but for the U.S. and the E.U. you'll need a titer test for rabies antibodies. For the U.S. they need to have been tested within thirty days and for the E.U. you have to wait ninety days after testing. I haven't looked up requirements for anywhere else. The Airborne Animals group is a great resource for all your pet travel questions. There are also pet relocations businesses that will help you with figuring out paperwork, timelines, booking flights and transport to the airport. Obviously we have yet to use one but the ones I've seen mentioned the most are First Class Pets and Pawsome Pet Travel.

9. I have one million more questions can I email you?

Yep. Send me a message at agidycz at gmail dot com and I'll do my best to answer any of your dogs in Seoul questions.