South Koreans rave about the islets' beauty, especially the twin peaks often clouded in an ethereal mist. On the rare days when rough seas permit, tourist boats unload retirees who want to see the islets one time before they die.
Many ask to shake fisherman Kim's hand. "He lives right on the front lines," said one boat captain. "He's our ambassador, even if he's a little rough around the edges."
Shucking oysters, Kim Shin-yeol describes her response to her husband's suggestion that they move to Dokdo all those years ago. "I said no way; I'm not raising my children on any deserted island," she recalled.
So her husband went alone as she raised their family on the closest island, 100 miles away. She joined him on Dokdo a decade ago when their daughter and two sons were grown.
Always a loner, Kim relished his reclusive life, but so much time alone has made him irascible. Many say there's still a bit of the caveman left in him from those early days.
One day recently, he gazed across the water at a boat that disgorged scores of wide-eyed tourists and a new squad of police, who rotate through duty here every two months. Some carried guitars to while away the lonely nights.
Kim sniffed. The visitors only make him nervous. When the boats come, he usually retreats.
"It's been a great life: quiet and serene with no one around to bother me," he said. "I go to Seoul now and then and am bothered by being around so many people."
But the most bothersome, he says, are Japanese fishermen who sometimes appear seeking help after breakdowns.
"My husband didn't want to talk to them, but knew if he didn't help, they'd have to stay, so he did it with a heavy heart," said Shin-yeol.
She said the trade-off for her husband's peace of mind has been a hardscrabble and often dangerous life. Water, for instance, has been an obsession.
For one, there was never enough drinking water. The old rope was long ago replaced by an impossibly steep set of stairs up the rock face to reach the spring. The climb was tiring and only recently has the government provided running water.
But the biggest threat has always been the sea. Winter storms can rage for days, with the waves crashing onto the first floor of their home, making them scramble to the top story.
"I've been scared so many times," she said. "But I tell myself that one day soon the sea will be calm again."
With a modern police presence that now includes patrol boats and lookout towers, Kim's vigilance on Dokdo is less necessary. But nobody should tell him that.
"The Japanese boats stay away these days," he said, scowling. "But if they try to come any closer, I'll be here waiting."
Jung-yoon Choi of The Times' Seoul bureau contributed to this report.