These ‘dog gone’ days – A Mongolian Tradition

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When my old dog died suddenly last week, I wondered how Mongolians treated the death of their family dog. 

Spend time in Mongolia and you will notice that a majority of families own a dog. Very rarely are they fashionable, small, pedigree dogs as traditionally the role of a dog in Mongolia was to alert it’s owners to the arrival of strangers arriving from the wide-open steppe, herding the livestock when families moved to new pasture and guarding against the threat of wolves (yes, wolves). 

In Mongolia, when you are invited into a herder’s home, there is very much a set pattern of introduction. There are many types of greeting in the Mongolian language that are used depending on the situation. People in the countryside often often salute each other with an enquiry about the wellness of the family, their livestock, the condition of the pasture or the grazing and also the weather. Only after  quite some time is it appropriate to discuss other matters.  There you sit in the ger, very aware that shortly the conversation will turn towards you and that informal interview is about to start – where are you from, what is the weather like, how good is the pasture, how many head of livestock does your country have…… Photographs help the conversation along and I have always shown photos of my dogs here in the UK. The response was they looked like they would be good against wolves. Do you have wolves in the UK?

The Mongolian ‘Bankhar’. In Mongolia, when approaching a ger  it is always a good idea to call out ‘Noikhoi
Khori’ – ‘Hold the Dog’!  Even if there is no dog, you can still shout it to let the host know that you are coming

Image taken from

Traditionally in Mongolia, dogs were one of few animals given their own name and treated with honour – a belief remains that dogs are the last stage before humans in the reincarnation process. When a dog dies, the owner whispers in the dog’s ear his wishes that the dog will return as a man in his next life. They are buried high in the hills so that people do not walk on their remains. Their tail is cut off and put beneath the head, and a piece of meat or fat is cut off and placed in the dog’s mouth to sustain its soul for its journey; before the dog is reincarnated, the dog’s soul is freed to travel the land, to run across the high open steppe for as long as it would like. 

My family will wait a while, but will eventually start looking for another dog as our second dog is definitely lonely without his best mate. We will bring him into our home in the Mongolian way – giving food to the mother dog and milk to the young dog and whisper it’s name into it’s ear.

It will be an English dog with Mongolian spirit.  

And now in 2013, introducing Walter!

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