When you share your life with a Bali Dog it doesn’t take long before you know you are living with a pretty special animal. Unique, amazingly intelligent, stubborn, loyal, and protective companions, they can also be arrogant and downright rude sometimes, but this just seems to add to their appeal. It is these traits that give them their umami – that something special that domestic dogs just don’t have.
The Balinese refer to this as the ‘spirit of the Bali Dog’ with the dogs being seen as independent subjects and not participants in a dependent relationship with human beings (Orr 2016).
This differs greatly from the Western cultural approach to pet ownership in which we live, sleep, talk and play with our adult dogs and is a constant source of tension as both Balinese and foreigners make value judgements about the two different paradigms in managing and handling the Bali Dog.
(Note that this is separate from deliberate acts of cruelty and neglect. Handling and management in this context refers to decisions about where the animal roams, plays, sleeps, what it eats and the general community attitude towards its guardianship).
A wise old Bali man once said that the worst thing you can do to a Bali Dog is cage or confine it. They are born to be free-roaming. It’s a fair enough assertion particularly if you consider what happens to the psyche of a Border Collie, a Blue Heeler or a Malamute if you confine and don’t allow them to engage in what comes naturally. Expats who have tried to confine a once free roaming Bali Dog in their yard have no doubt experienced the destruction that quickly ensues.
Sadly, this free roaming, independent spirit is now under threat. Human behaviour change is now threatening to add to the growing list of risks facing the Bali Dog.
Balinese people are being required to change the way in which they handle their Indigenous Dog. Rabies, legislation, and education are now enforcing and requesting that the Bali Dog be treated like a domesticated dog in a Western style of pet ownership. Collars, leads and confinement are slowly becoming the new normal. This changed human behaviour will result in changed dog behaviour as this recent study shows.
In time the Bali Street Dog that we know and admire today will be shaped and moulded by their changed environment. But, until that time comes we all need to continue to celebrate this most unique Indigenous Dog of Bali.