Let's Talk About Eyes

Let's talk about Shikoku eyes. Someone asked me about this recently, and there's a thunder storm going on. I'm going to wait it out and walk the dogs afterward.

There's different types of eye sets in the 6 Japanese breeds. The basic rules of the shape are the same however.

The angles however, are slightly different, and what is preferred in a male or female are different. A male can have a sharper eye, while that would not be a very feminine look (and vice versa). Sexual dimorphism is a very important part of the Nihon Ken standard.

In the Shikoku, the different 'lines' also have slightly different eye types. What is acceptable for one line, may not really suit a dog from another line. When you start out-crossing dogs (which happens a lot especially overseas) you are mixing types, so will see a lot of dogs that are a mix-match of the lines.

The standard calls for a 'roughly triangular shape, with the outer line of the eye angling upward'. Round eyes are a no-no, as are eyes that are not 'okume' (set back in the skull). What is 奥目 okume? Think of it as the eyes looking like they were pushed back into the skull with your thumbs. Not a great analogy? Maybe. But this is what gives the Nihon Ken that strong, deep, piercing gaze. The polar opposite of this would be a Chihuahua eye, all beady and popping out of the skull.
In the medium size breeds, the lower line of the eye should point upward toward the bottom outer corner of the ear. In the above diagram you can see that 'A' is the line for the medium size breeds (most angled, sharpest eye), 'B' for the Shiba, and 'C' for the Akita. The Akita has the least angled, least sharp eye.

A round eye is bad in the NK, but roundness is a good thing, especially in a female dog’s eye. It’s just that the angles have to be right and present. Of course the eyeball of a dog will be round, the angles we're talking about are the outer lines. There are a lot of Nihon Ken out there with eyes that are too small, or too angled, or too round.

Personally, I like this female's eye. She throws true to the eye type seen in this line.

You can see how the inner line of the eye rises well, the top line of the eye has good angle and length going toward the cheeks. The bottom line also has proper angles, while also showing some roundness, and it angles toward the bottom outside corner of the ear. The eyes are set back well in the skull, they have good size (length/width), and they really make this female's expression. 

一に眼、二に眼、三に眼 This is something I was told way back when by the former NIPPO vice chairman when we were discussing what traits were most important to look for and preserve in the Nihon Ken. ichi ni manako, ni ni manako, san ni manako 1st, the eyes. 2nd, the eyes. 3rd, the eyes. Obviously this is an exaggeration, but it explains the weight that the eyes have on a dog's expression. Perhaps this is what  draws one to the look of the Nihon Ken, without often being aware of what we are seeing?

What do we want in a Nihon Ken's eye? Well what do we want to see in the entire dog? 力 chikara which means strength. From the tip of the nose, to the tip of the tail, in all aspects of the dog. But what is encapsulated in this strength? It's not over angulated, hyper typed, showiness. Strength comes from fullness, having those proper angles with fullness, functionality, and depth. So we're not looking for an eye that looks so thin that you wonder how the dog can even see out of it. That's the extreme end of the spectrum. At the other end, you start going toward round eye (hence my Chihuahua comment). The truth (and strength) is in balance, somewhere in the middle. To see the fullness of all the standard's criteria being met in the dog's expression.

So, say you're trying to decide which puppy to keep, and you're looking at eye type.
A point to keep in mind is that a puppy’s eye should not look like an adult dog’s eye. The outline will change as the head and skull develop. A puppy that already has a harsh, angled eye, is only going to get more so as they mature. In the end, the expression will most likely be harsh, but lack strength and fullness. So one should not expect a puppy or young dog to have the perfect eye. That’s something that we can judge in a adult dog (once they’ve stopped growing and we can see if all the proportions are correct), but we do want to get a general idea of what we want in an adult dog, and then understand what type of puppy eye, develops into that eye.

All judging and judgement of a dog before it is an adult comes with an asterisk.
The true quality of the dog is ascertained once it is an adult.


  1. Love posts like these! They're super informative and interesting, and you explain it simply enough that a even a noob like me understand.

    1. Thanks! Trying to keep it understandable, and cover the basics so more people can follow the conversation. As we move forward, we can get into the more complicated details haha

  2. Thank you so much for sharing information like this (just read the latest post on boar and hunting instincts too) it really helps to better understand what I should be looking for. And I feel like sometimes I understand it but don't quite have the right verbage to explain it correctly to other people.


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