Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Burmese Dogs: A Bark Worse Than Its Bite

A typical wild dog as found in Burma (Myanmar)


Haun lun thay kwe, lu ma lay: “A dog barking all the time will not bite.”

It is helpful to be attuned to canine behavior in Myanmar, especially as dogs usually know when someone unfamiliar enters their territory. If you happen upon a dog sniffing the ground, cowering its head or wagging its tail, these are all good signs that the animal does not pose any threat. However, a stiffened tail, frozen body posture, and alert eyes and head are all signs of possible aggression, though these are often nothing more than a prelude to a threatening bark. Most dogs in Myanmar don’t want to fight, but feel a need to defend their territory. 


If a dog looks like it might be trouble, you have some options of how to respond. Some yogis will menacingly raise their hand as if they are about to throw something—whether you have an object or not doesn’t matter, as many dogs know from experience what this gesture means. Others will walk on in a steady pace ignoring the dog entirely, making a loud clicking noise with the tongue that many Burmese dogs have been conditioned to understand that this is warning them to back off. Others may simply try for mettā. Whatever you do, it is unwise to show fear or uncertainty. If you are staying somewhere for a while, most often the nearby residents will eventually call the dog back, and after several days the dog will realize you are not an unwelcome intruder, and let you be.


However, many of the dogs in Myanmar are happy enough with their monastery leftovers and not looking for any trouble. Harold Fielding noted this more than one hundred years ago in Soul of a People, when he wrote: “Coming from half-starved, over-driven India, it is a revelation to see the animals in Burma. The village ponies and cattle and dogs in India are enough to make the heart bleed for their sordid misery, but in Burma they are a delight to the eye. They are all fat, every one of them— fat and comfortable and impertinent; even the ownerless dogs are well fed.”

While one may have little fear against actual dog bites, avoiding their bark is a much harder task, as one Burmese proverb illustrates. One says Sin paw ga lu kwe haun, meaning “the dog barks at the man on the elephant,” and refers to exerting effort towards something which is not going to be all that effective.