How Thais Think of their Pets
Some True Observations on Thai Dogs
There are cultural differences between how Thais and Westerners think about their pets
1 min ago
Had to go into Chiangmai for some garden plants. Came back and there was no sign of my dog.
Where had Talley gone this time? Cycled round for an hour or so trying to find him. Eventually found my pet playing with some of the dogs at the local wat (temple).
My neighbour, Khun Fon, had lit some candles in our spirit house and was praying for his safe return.
At what time did you actually find Talley?
Ten minutes ago.
That was precisely when I lit the candles.
Fon said we must go to the wat tomorrow with some gifts for the monks as a token of thanks.
It will give you merit. That’s why you must go.
Actually, I think whistling and calling out Talley’s name was how I found him. But best to go along with some of the more interesting Thai traditions.
An overview of Dogs in Thailand
There are many dogs on Thai roads in rural Thailand. Most houses have dogs roaming in the garden, though they may be caged or chained at night.
One often sees a dog asleep in the middle of the road, cars sounding their horns or swerving to avoid. Some are wild or temple dogs. Thais are not allowed to euthanise their pets and sick or unwanted dogs are left at the temple for the monks to care for.
Thailand’s hot weather probably makes dogs lethargic and not want to move out of the way of approaching vehicles. They may be clever enough to realise drivers will do all they can not to hit them.
Motor cyclists have a similar view that cars will make way for them.
The Thai culture of blaming someone else when things go wrong
I was surprised some weeks ago when I read on Suda’s Facebook page, just under a picture of her son’s pet.
“Some nasty man hit my dog”
Today she told me what had actually happened. Her husband had hit Lamyai for misbehaving. Whether it was appropriate or not is questionable. Shaking the dog immediately after the event and saying “no” in a firm voice would probably have been better.
But I now understood her comment on Facebook. She was blaming someone else and not criticising her husband.
It is the Thai way of taking out one’s frustrations and anger without involving the person you are really annoyed with. You may notice it a great deal in Thailand. It is called prachut in Thai.
The Thai is actually directing his venom against the person who has wronged him. He is letting him know what he really wants to tell him if culture allowed such openness face to face. One’s rage is projected at another person, animal or an inanimate object.
The person, animal, or object is being made the scapegoat in place of the real target for anger. It is a means of staying friends with someone by not directly chastising the person who is the real object of your displeasure.
Suda was blaming the “nasty man” but not her husband. The anthropological term is projected vilification. Thais also use something similar to projected vilification when referring contemptuously to someone. Instead of using the person’s name, they may say, “farang insists on talking to the manager” or “kwai (buffalo or stupid person) is late for work again.”
Thais fear dogs
Geng came over to check where I wanted the water feture positioned. He was petrified of one of my dogs, Nam Som. She has a loud bark and is wary of those she does not know well but she is not dangerous and would not bite anyone. He should have ignored her instead of showing he was scared.
Once an animal senses someone is afraid, it has the upper hand. Nam Som would not stop barking at him. Her instinct told her that he was afraid. Apparently it’s called operant conditioning. Not many people know that! (Apologies for using a Michael Caine catchphrase)
Thais don’t like losing Face
As Talley was due to have a neutering operation, we took him to the surgery last night for a blood check, the results of which will be available later today.
Yee normally got on well with Talley. I am sure no pet looks forward to a visit to a vet but Talley has always liked Yee, wagging his tail whenever he saw her. Last night was different. She tried to wrap a piece of linen around his jaws to keep them closed when she took the blood sample. My dog does not bite and he has had injections before. It was a sensible precaution.
However, Talley was having none of it. The vet had been too quick in trying to tie his jaws together. A few soothing words and a pat on the back first might have got him in a more cooperative mood.
The more she tried to use the cloth to keep his mouth closed, the more he resisted. I was surprised she had no muzzle. All vets, wherever in the world they practice, have situations like this. I imagine they rack their brains to find a solution or perhaps get a colleague to see if he can regain the animal’s confidence.
But Yee is Thai. She walked out of the consulting room without any explanation, returning a minute or so later. Took a look at Talley and then went out again. She was exhibiting the Thai trait of walking away from a problem which she did not know how to solve. And she also did not want to lose face. I’ve seen it so often in Thailand though I will admit to not thinking it would have applied to Yee.
I went to the local market to buy a muzzle and held Talley myself while he had his blood sample taken. It took about two minutes. When paying the bill at reception, I made a point of making a fuss of Talley and, more importantly, getting Yee to do the same. Talley was wagging his tail and that made her feel better about the entire episode.
By playing this little game of praising and patting Talley for being a good boy I was ensuring that Yee was not losing face. A Thai would do that instinctively. I’m slowly learning to do it too.
Thais don’t believe in Euthanasia for their pets
Generally, Thais won’t neuter their pets. A government initiative, in collaboration with European veterinary surgeons, has not been as successful as was hoped. UK vets get disillusioned with the slow spaying and castrating speed of local vets. They begin to get bored and lose interest in helping in a voluntary capacity in a cultural climate that does not believe in sterilisation.
Thinking of dogs as pets is not a Thai cultural trait.
Dogs are principally kept to guard property. Usually chained during the day or kept in cages, they are released at night to roam freely in the compound as a deterrent against the kamoey, the petty thieves that one finds in every community. There is no redress on the owner if a dog bites or injures a thief or indeed anyone else on your own property.
If you are attacked on the road it may be difficult to prove who the dogs’ owners are and more difficult still to get any compensation for hospital costs. Dogs running in packs may well be feral and rabid. They scrounge for food from neighbours and the monks at the temples.
Ordinary folk may shoo them away but the monks will feed them. You’ll see many dogs at the wats. They are discouraged from going inside temple buildings though they are free to go anywhere else in the temple precincts. Theoretically, Buddhists will not kill or harm any animal. That also explains the reluctance to sterilise.
Lying to cover up killing a dog
Although most Thais won’t harm dogs, there is a minority that will kill the animal if it is misbehaving or no longer wanted. I recall hearing gun shots on one occasion and, looking down the soi, saw a man dragging away a dog by its hind legs. Where he took it I do not know and the next morning everyone denied a dog had been killed.
A Thai boy playing with one of my dogs
Eight year old Adisak was throwing a ball for one of the dogs to retrieve. They both seemed to be having fun and loving the game. It was a change to see them having a good time. Thais don’t usually feel interacting with their dogs is important. They’re kept for guarding the house rather than as pets. They aren’t part of the family as they would be in the West.
Thais would find it hilarious, perhaps unbelievable, if they were told some English families send them greetings cards and gifts at Christmas. “From my dog to your dog.” I was pleased that Adisak was doing something that was keeping him out of mischief.
I doubt there’s an adolescent alive who does not have some naughtiness in him but Adisak can be a little horror at times. His parents can’t control him and he takes advantage of their lax discipline. I was to learn later that there was a little more to the cause of his mischief-making.
My dog started barking around the well in the garden. Adisak had disappeared. I went over to see what the commotion was. Had my puppy found a snake? No, he was distressed because his ball had been thrown into the well. Fortunately he had not jumped in to retrieve it. The well is deep and he would have drowned if we could not have got him out.
I asked Adisak if he had thrown the ball in the well but he said he had not. His face was expressionless and he walked off. Leading questions don’t always get the truth or an explanation from a Thai, child or adult.
Later I called him over and said, “You threw the ball in the well. The dog could have drowned. That’s not good”. He took the point. So perhaps a direct talking to will improve his behaviour in future. Given his home circumstances, that might be wishful thinking.
Thai men and boys can be very obstinate and aware that cultural norms favour male supremacy. It’s as if they are given “get out of jail free” cards because family values encourage the idea that the male of the species can do no wrong. Even in divorce cases the justice system seems unsympathetic to the woman.