What Are The Japanese Breeds Like?

I did this puppy write up on the Japanese breeds quite a while ago, so it needed some editing and updating. I rewrote it for my export site http://japandogexport.com/index.php/what-are-the-japanese-breeds-like/
so I've written in from a 'we' viewpoint as opposed to an 'I' perceptive.

Since we have experienced all the Nihon Ken as pups, and as adults, we've got a fairly good feel for what they are like in comparison to each other. This is not to say they will all be like this, as every dog is unique. This is just an overall observation based on over 10 years of seeing many pups/dogs of many lines, in all the Japanese breeds.

Kishu pups: Usually pretty confident, a little stubborn and block headed. They don't usually cause too much trouble, but when their switch kicks in, all hell breaks loose. That goes for puppies and adults. All of a sudden they're strong, focused, and breathing fire. Otherwise, they're pretty happy go lucky, and not too vocal. They like to be with their family, but it's not the end of the world if I'm gone.

Shikoku pups: A bit more sensitive to their surroundings, not quite as confident as the Kishu, and they're usually rude players. They get themselves amped up and don't know how to turn it off (it's too much fun). The other pup/dog will be giving off all the stop signals, eventually snarling and snapping, and they'll still be play bowing, nipping, and bumping. They're tenacious, with less of an on/off switch than the Kishu. They make a little bit more noise too, most of that coming in the form of alarm barking. The breed does not handle stress that well, especially the females. They are very intelligent, and like to learn (dog sports are a good idea). They're usually pretty happy as long as they're with their people.

Hokkaido pups: Loud, just loud. They play loud, argue loud, whine loud, and they yodel. They also can tend to play like the Shikoku, but they have a Shiba like streak for snark thrown in as well. So they play rude, and when the other dog turns on them, they tend to react. They've got tons of energy, and drink tons of water. They're a bit of a velcro breed and prefer to be around their people, but not in the extreme. They tend to be a fairly energetic breed.

Shiba pups: They've got the most high pitch whine/bark of the Nihon Ken, and the Shiba scream... We've found them to be quite independent in character, and often a bit more aloof toward people than the other Nihon Ken. The medium sized breeds are usually a lot more attached to their owners and want to be close to them. The Shiba basically do whatever it is they want, whenever they want, but if they don't like something, you'll hear about it. I think the breed's motto should be something along the lines of, "The best defense is an offense." They've got a lot of attitude. Behaviors from other dogs that may set them off: breathing in their direction, attempting a play bow, bumping, and got forbid eye contact! They are smaller than the other Nihon Ken, which does help keep things manageable, and once they settle into a good routine they can be quite enjoyable to own.

Kai pups: All the puppies and dogs here at my place love Kai pups (and in the inverse, everyone takes a while to get over new Shikoku and Shiba pups). They're the Japanese breed that was born with social graces. That being said, there is a shy streak to the breed. They're not go, go, go, like the Shikoku or Hokkaido, but they have their moments. The breed is quite velcro, and we often have to work through some separation anxiety. We always have to handle this breed with kid gloves, as they have a long term memory bank for negative experiences. Kai tend to be the easiest to train (in obedience etc) with some even certified in Search and Rescue in Japan.

Akita pups: Akita pups tend to be quite happy-go-lucky. They're kind of like the clumsy kid in class with a good heart. An Akita pup's wail is almost cute, it's so plaintive. They usually are a bit mouthy as puppies and like to nip/chew a lot. Toilet training Akita puppies often takes a bit more work, whereas with the other Japanese breeds it comes almost naturally. As a large breed, the Akita definitely have a lower energy level than the other Nihon Ken, and enjoy being couch potatoes. 
All the Japanese breeds are based on dogs that were kept for thousands of years and hunters and watchdogs, so they carry many of these traits from their ancestors. They will probably want to chase and hunt small animals, and they will most likely alarm bark to let you know about anything they feel is odd. As watchdogs they also tend to show a wariness toward strangers and strange situations. This is why positive experiences and proper socialization when young is important, and is something that should be continued throughout the dog's life. It is also important to understand your dog however, and realize that just like people, dogs will like/dislike certain things. Maybe your dog will not like other dogs. You can work on managing it, but it will be a lot more enjoyable for you and your dog if you don't continually try to 'fix' things by forcing your dog into situations it does not like.

One of the joys of owning a primitive breed is getting to experience their independent intelligence. In the Japanese breeds there is definitely less refinement toward obedience or a specific skillset. They are more of an all round partner that co-exists with you, adapting to you and your environment. Your job as an owner is to protect, learn to communicate with, and guide your dog through the modern world efficiently.


  1. Thanks for this post, Shigeru! It made me laugh properly a few times. I've come to know that many think of all the nihon ken as "the same breed in different coats and sizes", and I know many people in the shiba community that thinks the medium sized dogs are "shibas in twice the size with twice the trouble". I'll def have to bookmark this and share it with them later on.

  2. I do experience Shikoku quite different it seems my dear friend. Shikoku is always easy with traveling or different house/Hotel situation. As long as we are around or in the area once in a while, never stress. My experience tells me that Shikoku have one big plus: Adjusting to any situation in a split minute..No stress, I never had it with one of our dogs, nor the puppies leaving to their new homes..Full or pride and ready for the big world...I do not see this reply as a comment,yust to add how I feel about it,oke?

  3. I love this write up. I think it concisely summarizes Kishu!

  4. Loved reading this! So far owning shikoku, your summary seems pretty spot on lol

  5. Great summary of the breeds. I would just like to add my experience (35+ years with Akitas, 30 with Shiba Inu), in that my Akita puppies were very easy to house train. Both breeds by 3 weeks want to get away from eating/sleeping area and once introduced to outside, cry to get there to potty. I do find Shiba Inu are getting more people oriented, much less aloof than they were even 15 years ago.


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