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If you are curious about Japanese dog breeds, you probably have plenty of questions. Dogs in Japan come in many shapes and forms, and many people have a favorite Japanese dog breed from a comic book, TV show, or even a visit to Japan.
Regardless of whether you are looking for a Japanese hunting dog, a Japanese guard dog, or even a small Japanese dog to carry around in your backpack, you need to know where these dogs come from and how their history impacts their breed’s characteristics. That way, you can find the right Japanese dog breed to meet your needs.
History Of Japanese Dog Breeds
It is widely believed that the first dogs entered the Japanese archipelago from either Southern or Northern Continental Asia sometime during the Jomon period. Eventually, these dogs would make their way throughout the rest of Japan.
During the Kofun and Yayoi periods, some dogs were brought over from the Korean peninsula, also known as Joseon. During that time, crossbreeding took place, leading to many of the Japanese dogs that we know and love today.
Based on studies that have been conducted, there are some unique behavioral traits that Japanese dogs possess. In general, they are more protective than most European dogs, which is why lots of people are interested in Japanese hunting dogs and Japanese guard dogs.
Early in Japanese history, it was not unusual for dogs to be smaller. They might have been the size of a popular Japanese small dog today, the Shiba Inu. In addition, Japanese dog skulls tend to have a shallow stop and long muzzle. In some cases, they might not have a stop at all.
Researchers believe that the dogs from the Jomon period are the ancestors of the six main Japanese dog breeds today. Ultimately, ancestral Japanese dogs are a combination of dogs that made their way to the Islands during the Jomon period in addition to the next wave during the Yayoi period.1
The 6 Authentic Japanese Dog Breeds
If you are interested in Japanese dogs, there are six authentic dog breeds that you need to know about. They include:
1. Shiba Inu
- Height: 15-16”
- Weight: 17-23 lbs
- Lifespan: 13-16 years
In general, this is a dog breed that is very affectionate with its family members. If you are looking for a dog that will follow you around the house, this dog breed might be a good choice. Even though this dog gets along well with young children, a dog always has to be supervised when it is around kids. This is a dog that sheds moderately throughout the year, but it does not shed nearly as much as other dogs.
This dog also has a short, double coat. It will be welcoming to strangers, but it might be a bit hesitant at first. The Shiba Inu makes a vigilant watchdog that wants to keep the house safe.
2. Kishu Ken
- Height: 19-22”
- Weight: 30-60 lbs
- Lifespan: 12-15 years
The Kishu Ken is a dog that gets along well with every member of the family. It tends to be good with young children, but it sometimes does not know its own strength. It needs to be watched carefully to make sure it does not knock over little kids. It also gets along well with other dogs, but it does not necessarily treat every dog like its best friend. It also sheds moderately throughout the year.
The Kishu Ken should have its coat groomed monthly to minimize shedding. It has a short, double coat, and is open to playing with strangers. It has a lot of energy, and it also makes a decent watchdog. This is a dog that is relatively eager to please, making them a great companion for training exercises and activities.
3. Hokkaido Ken
- Height: 18-20”
- Weight: 44-66 lbs
- Lifespan: 12-15 years
The Hokkaido Ken is a breed that’s always alert and ready to play with his or her family members. They have a lot of endurance and enjoy being physically active. This is a smart dog that is relatively easy to train and loves to learn new commands and tricks.
When compared to other dog breeds, this dog has a slightly wider chest with shorter ears. Like many other Japanese dog breeds, the Hokkaido Ken has a short, double coat, including a thick undercoat that sheds seasonally. Hokkaido Kens usually have a white, red, black, or gray coat.
This dog is a very loyal companion that wants to get along well with every member of the family. As long as they’re socialized from a young age, they will get along well with other dogs and strangers. However, if not socialized early, particularly during their first 6 weeks of age, they might have a difficult time learning how to be social later in life.
4. Kai Ken
- Height: 17-19”
- Weight: 25-40 lbs
- Lifespan: 12-15 years
The Kai Ken is a medium-sized dog that has traditionally been used for hunting. It is frequently found in the mountains of Japan, but still rarely seen in the cities. This is a very smart breed that is capable of learning a lot in a short amount of time. They are not as independent as other Japanese dog breeds, and they are always found close to their owners.
This is a very athletic dog with a natural desire to hunt. They are strong swimmers and climbers, and they have even been known to climb trees to pursue their prey. They can be found in red and black, with red being the rarest color. They also have distinct patterns that have, historically, helped them blend in with the mountainous environments on hunts. Even though they are not necessarily the best apartment dogs, they can do well in apartments as long as they are taken outside for regular exercise.
5. Shikoku Ken
- Height: 17-22”
- Weight: 35-55 lbs
- Lifespan: 10-12 years
The Shikoku Ken is a dog that is known for its endurance and energetic devotion to its master. It is frequently spotted in the mountains, as it is a dog that can track game very well. In the past, they were used to hunt wild boar, but now, these medium-sized dogs are found frequently throughout households in Japan.
This dog is known for its pricked ears, sickle tail, and compact bone structure. The outer coat is very straight and coarse, but the undercoat is very soft and dense. The Shikoku Ken sheds moderately throughout the year, so it should be taken to the groomer regularly. The coat can be a red, sesame, tan, or black color.
6. Akita Inu
- Height: 24-28”
- Weight: 70-130 lbs
- Lifespan: 10-14 years
This is the largest of the Japanese dog breeds. It is known for its dignity, loyalty, and courage. They are widely revered as important members of the family, and they will always protect their owners. Physically, their head is large when compared to the body, and the tail is always curled.
This is a dog that gets along well with its family members, but it tends to struggle with other animals and strangers. Human companionship is very important for this dog, but they are still relatively independent. If you want the Akita to get along well with other people and dogs, it has to be socialized from a young age.
Modern Japanese Dog Breeds
Even though there are only six authentic, original Japanese dog breeds, there are a few others that people love as well, including, the Japanese Chin, the Tosa Inu, the Ryukyu Inu, and the Japanese Spritz.
Japanese dog breeds are lovable, loyal, and active companions. As intelligent and protective creatures, many of these breeds are not ideal for first time owners. Finding the right breed for your household ultimately depends on your experience, preferences, and lifestyle. Whether you’re looking for an apartment dog or need training resources to address destructive behavior, Dutch can help.
Our network of vets are experienced in treating and managing a variety of issues, including behavioral challenges and medical conditions. The best part? We do it all from the comfort of home with our veterinary telemedicine platform. Learn why pet parents trust and love Dutch with a consultation today.
Tanabe, Yuichi. “Phylogenetic Studies of Dogs with Emphasis on Japanese and Asian Breeds.” Proceedings of the Japan Academy. Series B, Physical and Biological Sciences, The Japan Academy, Jan. 2007, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4338834/.
Kato. “The Nihon Ken.” The Nihon Ken, 1 Jan. 1970, http://www.nihonken.co/
“Dog Breeds - Types of Dogs.” American Kennel Club, https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/.