There are over 340 dog breeds known throughout the world. The American Kennel Club recognizes 199 breeds. As you take a stroll in the park, you would have come across some of these pedigree breeds like Golden Retriever, Border Collie, Beagle, Corgi, Chihuahua, Chow Chow, Dachshund, Japanese Spit, Labrador Retriever, Maltese, Pomeranian, Poodle, Pug and many more.
Apart from these pedigree breeds, there are mixed-breed dogs. These mixed breeds do not belong to one officially recognised breed, and some of these dogs have no known purebred ancestors. Our Singapore Special is a local, mixed breed. It is believed that they are descendants of free-breeding kampong (village) dogs. As such, the term “Singapore Special” does not refer to a specific breed. It is a term given to our local mixed-breed dogs, a mishmash of different breeds of dogs. As a mixed breed, each Singapore Special is unique in its appearance. They come in all sizes, colours, and patterns. Typically, they weigh between 15 to 20 kg and can be up to 50 cm tall. Singapore Specials generally live for 15 years and more.
The misunderstood dog
For thousands of years, humans bred dogs toward the physical and mental traits best suited for the work expected of them like hunting, guarding, or herding. Each breed’s ideal physical traits, movement, and temperament are set down in a written document called a “breed standard.” Anyone wanting to have a general idea of a breed’s temperaments, quirks or trainability can easily obtain such information online.
Unlike the pedigrees, Singapore Specials are not bred for a purpose. These are independent street dogs. Unfortunately for these creatures, there isn’t much information that anyone can refer to, and this can sometimes lead to a misconception that Singapore Specials are aggressive and cannot be trained. Being street dogs, living in an environment where nothing is certain would mean that they are often fearful and skittish.
Being “skittish” is a survival instinct – to run or fight for their livelihood. Most observed behaviour and temperaments of the Singapore Special are not genetic but reflect the environment in which they grew up. While some Singapore Special may have been rescued when they were only a few days old, many spent months or even years scavenging for food before they were introduced to shelter life. Some have spent their entire lives hiding from humans and have never been touched or loved by a human. Caring for a Special do requires a mountain of patience. You'll need to invest plenty of time and effort into building trust with your Special. Having said this, every Singapore Special is an individual with different background. Some Specials will warm up to their human companions rather quickly, while others will need time and patience.
One common concern is that Singapore Specials are not trainable. They are either too “wild” or “not as smart as pedigree”. This is simply not true. Street dogs like Singapore Specials are very smart dogs and many paw parents of these special dogs can attest to this. Surviving in the streets and fending for themselves have made them sharp and they are fast learners too. These dogs are independent thinkers - navigating the streets on their own devices.
For any training to work, trust must be present between you and your Specials. Your dog must trust that you are not going to hurt them, or cause them pain or fear. With the Singapore Specials - smart, and independent but nervous at the same time - it is going to take some work. Singapore Specials are definitely trainable but be prepared to put in the hard work and you will gain one of the most loving, loyal, and devoted companions.
Like most dogs, food is a great motivator. A training treat like this ZIWI Peak Good Dog Rewards Lamb Dog Treats will work well with most dogs including your Specials. Be generous with your rewards and give them a treat when they exhibit good behaviour.
Singapore Specials do tend to be more reactive to new people and dogs. Due to their upbringing, they are more fearful and can be more reactive in a new environment. This is a general statement and does not apply to all Specials. Some Specials are friendly to all and have no problems interacting with anyone. Given the fact that Specials are generally more fearful and nervous, it is recommended that paw parents invest time into obedience training.
It would also be a good idea to invest in a proper harness and leash. A harness will give you better control of your dog when you go on walks, especially if you have a reactive dog. The FREEDOM No-Pull Harness & Leash (Red/Black) For Dogs is highly recommended by dog trainers for skittish, reactive dogs. The main connection on the back of the harness tightens gently around the chest to discourage pulling behaviour, while the connection on the front of the harness allows you to redirect your dog's attention back to you for training and treats. Pair this is the Ruffwear Roamer™ Multi-Function Bungee Dog Leash (Red Sumac), an adjustable stretch-webbing running dog leash that can be hand-held or worn around the waist.
Street dogs spend most of their time roaming the streets. So, a rehomed Singapore Special will need plenty of walks. Aim for at least one 30-minute walk daily. If your Special is young and active, then two walks are often needed. Occasionally, bring them to the dog parks or visit the local doggy pool for a swim.
We must not forget the importance of mental stimulation for these highly intelligent dogs. They need adequate mental exercise too, on top of physical exercise. A bored dog will make his own fun and often, his fun won’t work for you. Play games with them and make them work for treats. Use puzzle toys or stuff some dog treats into a KONG Extreme Dog Toy to challenge their problem-solving skills and keep them mentally stimulated. This KONG Extreme Dog Toy is made with all-natural rubber and is ultra-durable. It is non-toxic and safe even for determined chewers.
The natural breeding cycles over many generations meant the Singapore Special derived from a more diversified gene pool. Their diversified genes have made Singapore Specials more resilient and less likely to inherit defective (diseased) genes. A 2018 study by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) found that purebred dogs were 2.8 times more likely than mixed breed dogs to develop genetic disorders.
This does not mean that Singapore Specials are void of all health issues that dogs face. They are still susceptible to lifestyle and aging health issues like dental diseases, arthritis, allergies, obesity, and cancer. As a preventive measure, some paw parents will include a multi-nutrient supplement like this Augustine Approved SuperBoost Original Powder for Dogs to support their Specials’ overall health.
Grooming is important for all dogs’ health regardless of their breed. So, just like any other breed, the Singapore Special requires care and grooming too. They need oral care, regular bathing, coat trimming and brushing, ear cleaning, and nail clipping.
Where Can I Adopt a Singapore Special?
Singapore Specials are often overlooked, and Singapore’s animal shelters are sadly overflowing with them. Save a life and give these misunderstood dogs a chance. Here are a few shelters where you can adopt a Singapore Special.
Please take note that different shelters may have different adoption policies. Do approach the individual shelters for more details.
Katherine is a Pet Nutrition Specialist and GDP’s Pet Wellness Advisor. She is committed to helping pet owners make informed dietary and lifestyle choices in nurturing healthy pets. Katherine is also a practicing Nutritional Therapist (human nutrition) and has been helping hundreds of clients to heal naturally with nutrients.