Streets dogs in Vietnam

How do you say “bad dog!” in Vietnamese?

photo credit: Dogs Life in Vietnam

Dog – Con chó (pronounced “con chah”); flat-tone, up-tone.

If you are the type of traveller in Vietnam who wants to explore rural, non-touristy places, then you need to know the following two phrases when you inevitably encounter scary rural dogs:

  • Chó ngoan – Good dog! (literally, dog good)
  • Chó hư – Bad dog! (literally, dog bad)

These two phrases can be useful during long, vulnerable hikes in remote mountain villages or rice paddies. Why? Rural people generally have a lot of free-running animals defending their property, such as quasi-stray dogs. As a nervous stranger, they will smell your strangeness and try to intimidate you. So, prepare to get into stand-offs with unfriendly dogs who block your path (so much for care-free adventuring as a backpacker!).

Arm yourself with these Vietnamese phrases to try to calm-down the canine defenders.

“Chó ngoan” (good dog; pronounced like chaah wan) is a fun expression, featuring the infamous ng sound (sounds like the “(i)ng” in “running“). Forunately, in casual spoken Vietnamese, it is actually pronounced like “wan”: the “ng” becomes a straight-forward English “w” sound. This is only true for this one expression.

“Ngoan” is also a flirty word for “good”(man). Listen for it as you get cat-called from wet-market ladies yelling “ngoan ngoan ngoan!”.

“Chó hư” (bad dog; pronounced like chaah ewwuhh) is fun to say to cute pets. Western backpackers often feel a pang of yearning to play with pets. If you are fortunate enough to befriend young urban Vietnamese who have well-groomed indoor pets, you may get a little one-on-one cuddle time. Such dogs, although superficially well-groomed and indoorsy like in the West, will probably go nuts for the attention and quickly devolve into going some bawdy behaviour (e.g., maybe they will chew your shoes or get familiar with your leg).

A stern “Chó hư” will go a long way.

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