The dog is an important part of Balinese life and mythology. A popular tale from the Mahabharata (Buck, 1973) describes King Yudisthira’s journey to the gate of heaven and his love for a dog that befriended him on his arduous and tragic journey. The origin of the people of Bali is clouded by myths and a lack of archaeological finds. Therefore, the origin of the dog in Bali is also speculative. Excavations have revealed that there was a major expansion from China to Indonesia 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, which may have contributed to the fact that a population of these dogs already existed on Bali (Hobart et al., 1996).
Depending on the phenotype, Bali Village Dogs have different names and perform different functions. Red dogs with a black muzzle are called “Blang Bungkem” and were sacrificed for religious reasons. Reddish or brown dogs with a current are called “Asu bulu barak layah bolong” and are said to be able to drive away evil spirits and neutralise negative moods. Black dogs with red ears, “asu selem”, bring good luck (Sorenson and Matusoka, 2019).
Genetically, the Bali Street Dog is related to the Australian Dingo, the Chow Chow and the Akita. The relationship of the Bali Street Dog to the Australian Dingo and the Chow Chow is evidenced by shared unique alleles and allele frequencies despite the very different genetic diversity between the subpopulations (Iron et al., 2005). Values from a study by Brown et al. (2011) suggest that the Middle Eastern clade was 2-3 times older than the Bali clade (3000 BP), and the Southeast Asian clade was even about 4 times older than the Bali clade.
The Bali Dog is phenotypically more diverse than the Kintamani dog, however all Kintamani traits are also evident in the Bali Dog population. Bali street dogs are generally short-haired and visually resemble the proto-dog type.
The Bali dog was not narrowly selected, as is the case with modern western dog breeds. They were probably not intentionally selected for specific phenotypic traits, including morphological or behavioural traits (Corrieri et al., 2018). However, Bali dogs are known to be very good watchdogs, so it is likely that this trait has been unintentionally favoured over centuries and has therefore become a common characteristic of the Bali dog.
Text by Hana Sanders-Høstløvet