Japanese Dog Breeds List
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While forever popular in their country of origin, Japanese dog breeds such as the Akita Inu or the Kishu Inu have become more common elsewhere. It is easy to understand when you see how beautiful some of these breeds can be. But it's not until you experience their amazing temperament that you'll really understand this breed's popularity. Of course, not all of these breeds will behave the same, but many share characteristics thanks to years of working in and around Japan's unique territories.
In this AnimalWised article, we're going to show you an extensive Japanese dog breeds list, going into detail on the appearance, behavior and history of these fascinating pooches. Of course, we'll also provide pictures to show you just how compelling they can be. It will be hard not to want one as a pet after reading it.
The Akita Inu is a pure breed of Japanese dog, its history as human companion going back at least 3,000 years, it's wild ancestry extending even further. As a companion, this beautiful yet powerful dog has been used for many purposes such as bear hunting, use as a guard dog as well as many outdoor pursuits. Nowadays, it is also used as a family dog and even a therapy dog for those with anxiety or mental health issues. However, its fierce lineage has not completely left it and can be used as an intelligent working dog when needed.
Their fierceness comes in part from their breeding. Akita Inus would be used as hunting dogs, often cornering bears and keeping them at bat until the hunter could come and kill its prey. Any dog which can hold down a bear must be intimidating. This will make them dominant in many circumstances and they need to be socialized early to play well with other dogs and people. They are also incredibly loyal and will defend their family if they feel threatened. They are usually very good with kids, especially with early socialization. Like all dogs, however, they should not be left with young children unattended.
Their history is storied, but there are some dark points among it. During World War II famine hit parts of Japan and some Akita were eaten for survival. Also, the government ordered their culling to stop the spread of disease. Some were let out back into the wild where they bred with their ancestors, perhaps breeding back in some of their characteristic wilfulness. However, they managed to survive and some American military personnel fell in love with the breed. This led to the beginning of the American Akita breed which most kennel clubs distinguish between this and the original Japanese inu, the Japanese word for dog.
The Shiba Inu is one of the 6 endemic Japanese spitz dogs which have been part of their culture and ecology since antiquity. A spitz dog is one which has characteristic thick fur with pointed muzzles and ears. It is very similar in appearance to the Akita, differing mainly in terms of size as it is the smallest of these spitz Japanese dogs. Males don't usually exceed 40 cm in height. Despite this size, the Shiba is a muscled dog with a fox like double coat, making it great for cold climate countries.
In a similar ranking to the Shar Pei, it is one of the breeds closest to the grey wolf. However, many Sibu Inus are more red fox like in their coloration with red and white a common marking. However, you can also get white and cream or sesame colored Shibus. Like Akitas, they are very loyal and make great single owner dogs. However, this doesn't mean they can't also be great family pets.
They are very intelligent dogs and incredibly athletic. They can be bold, but with correct socialization and obedience training they will be well behaved. This is one reason they are not great for first time owners. They need to be with an owner which can devote the time and effort needed to help this dog reach their potential. Some people claim they can be quite feline in demeanor, especially when it comes to personal grooming.
They also have a distinct high pitched squeal known as the ‘Shiba scream’. It can be quite disconcerting, but it is deployed both during times of fear and joy, so it's important to recognize its other behavior.
Originally from the island of the same name, the Shikoku Inu was formerly used to hunt large prey such as wild boar or deer. The three varieties of this breed are known as the Awa, Hongawa and Hata. It is very similar in appearance to the Shiba Inu, although it is noticeably larger. This is why it is included in the medium sized dog breed category. It is known sometimes as the Japanese Wolfdog and looking at its lupine features, you can easily understand why.
It was bred similar to a deerhunter dog in other cultures, but some breeders and owners will take the dog out hunting for wild boar to keep its skills sharp. It is as brave a dog as it is loyal, making it an incredible companion dog. It can be socialized and its wilder nature easily tamed by a patient owner.
It's agility makes it great for going out into the wild with. They have great energy and will also help protect you in dangerous situations. Its similarity to wolves and huskies may make it close in ancestry to the now extinct Japanese wolf.
The Hokkaido Inu is a strong medium sized dog with a rectilinear shape and robust form. While it is definitively a Japanese dog, there is a possibility it originated from China over 3,000 years ago. They have beautiful pointed ears, with an angular appearance thanks to its triangular shaped head and angled eyes. Like many Japanese breeds it has a double coat and can come in many colors, usually ranging from red to grey or white.
This double coat helps it survive well in acute cold weather, but underneath lies a durable musculature which historically aided in the hunting of big game such as bears. As a rule, they are also durable with little health problems particularly congenital issues which can plague other breeds.
They are incredibly active dogs and will not be suited to sedentary or home living. They may need several daily walks or at the very least have a large open space to exercise on their own. If not, they can put on weight relatively easy which can lead to poor health. Ideally they should weight somewhere between 20 and 30 kilos. The most common color of this breed is beige, but they can present in a wide chromatic range.
Also named after the region from which it hails, the Kishu Inu (or sometimes Kishu Ken) is sometimes confused with the above Hokkaido. It is a dog which is rarely seen outside of Japan, but can sometimes be confused with other Japanese spitz dogs.
The loyalty of a Kishu makes it a dog suitable for only one owner or one family. They will not do well if their owner has to spend a lot of time away or leave it with other families for periods. It could lead to behavioral issues. However, this means that owners who do have the time and ability to interact with this breed will develop a close and strong relationship which will provide endless rewards.
Unlike the Shiba, Kishu may need to be cleaned fairly regularly and groomed at least once a week. Their coat is often white although markings are not uncommon. Like the Akita Inu, the Kishu Inu has been declared a natural monument in Japan with a lot of honor and respect given to these lovable dogs.
Unlike some of the ancient dogs in this list, the history of the Tosa Inu is relatively short. It derives from cross breeding which has involved breeds such as the Argentine Bulldog and the St Bernard. As many of the Japanese breeds tend to be medium sized dogs, the Tosa was bred to be a larger option. They have a shorter coat than most Japanese breeds and their head is a stocky and square shape usually with a longer snout.
Despite these dissimilarities, the temperament fits well with other Japanese dog breeds. They likely started from the Shikoku Inu breed, having similar loyalty, bravery and intelligence. There is also some Mastiff history in its breeding, giving it some familiar features.
It is believed that this breed was bred originally as a Japanese fighting dog. This can lead to it having a much fiercer side of its nature. This is not to say that it cannot be domesticated or be a lovely and friendly companion dog. It is to say that if it does not have the correct environment and training, then it will likely have behavioral problems. Due to this it has been banned in quite a few countries, with exceptions only for specifically licensed owners.
Perhaps the epitome of the spitz dog is one of Japan's smallest, the Japanese Spitz. It certainly is in the running for one of Japan's cutest dogs. It has a thick coat which only seems to come in white, but it shortens around the muzzle and ears. Like an Arctic fox, it has a thick white coat, but black eyes, nose and paw pads. It gives them an adorable ‘polar’ look which makes them very desirable as pets.
Although a smaller dog, it is still very intelligent and can be an incredibly loyal companion. They love being with a family and are great with children. Their size may not make them the greatest defensive dog, but they can be very effective guard dogs as they will bark at perceived threats. However, if well socialized they will be cautiously friednly with strangers.
Also unlike some of the other Japanese dog breeds in this list, the Japanese Spitz can be commonly found outside of the country, especially in parts of Europe like Sweden. They are great companions, but are also surprisingly low maintenance despite their thick coats. A wonderful dog to have as a pet, they can easily become part of the family. Being one of the longest living dogs, up to 16 years, then they can also be a long standing member of the family.
Originating from what was then known as the Kai province, the Kai Ken is one of the most striking Japanese dog breeds. They are amazing hunters and almost have a look of the wolf about them, their common brindle coloring giving them a certain wildness about their look. This develops as they grow. They have a squarer shaped head than the Akita, but there are still similarities. They are toned and muscular, making them very agile show dogs if you want them to be.
Also originally bred as hunters, they are brave and intelligent. The strong bonds they develop with their masters can be problematic in terms of socialization, but they can be incredibly companion dogs if well trained. They are great at learning tricks and need to be taken out a lot of expend their seemingly inexhaustible energy.
Kai Ken are also double coated, but do not need a lot of brushing or grooming for maintenance. Probably once a week is sufficient.
Also known as the Japanese Spaniel, the Japanese Chin was likely originally sourced from a breed outside of Japan. Like the Spitz, they are smaller dogs and bear a certain resemblance to the King Charles Spaniel. They will always have white on their fur, but their secondary color is usually either black or red. Some have longer or shorter hair, but they have a distinction between many other Japanese dogs in that they only have an outer layer coat. They also have slight cross eyes or wall eyes, something which makes some owners see them as being particularly cute.
Their history also sets them apart from other dogs on this Japanese dog breeds list. They are not worker or hunter dogs and have breen bred strictly for companionship. This means they are very loyal and dependent on their owners. This doesn't mean they aren't intelligent. They are alert and also a little feline in their behavior.
The Japanese Chin are good guard dogs as they will bark at threats. However, they can also be yappy and ill-disciplined if not well socialized and given proper training when they are young.
Another Japanese dog breed on our list which is slightly atypical is the Japanese Terrier. Deriving most likely from the Fox Terrier, this dog is sometimes known as the Nippon Terrier. They have interesting markings in that they almost always have a fully white body with a black or black and tan head. It is particularly small and is not considered a Japanese Spitz dog.
Like the Japanese Chin, it is also not a working dog, although it is possible it could have been bred as a ratter. This is a hypothesis as they were believed to have originated from dogs brought over on European ships. They are gentle and loyal in temperament, but do like to play and can have a lot of energy. They socialize well with other dogs, children and other pets. Bred as a lapdog, they can be kept indoors, but they will need regular walks and exercise like any other dog.
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