There are a number of different Japanese dog breeds, although they are all different, many have very similar features and are often confused for each other! These wonderful dogs originate from Japan yet many have traveled to the United States and can make an excellent companion to those who understand their needs.
Many of these dogs have the word “Inu” or “Ken” added to their name, which simply means “dog” in Japanese. There are 6 official Japanese Spitz breeds — the Akita, Shiba Inu, Kai Ken, Shikoku, Hokkaido and the Kishu Ken, who are the most popular, but we discuss a few other breeds below too.
What is a Japanese Dog?
Simply put, a Japanese dog is a breed of dog that originates from Japan! Many of the dogs on the list below still only live in Japan, yet many are now bred overseas too. The majority of Japanese dogs were originally bred to be hunting dogs, helping to hunt for boar and deer or game. Because of this and thanks to the cold weather, these dogs usually have a thick fur coat that can be a handle to take care of! They’re also normally very agile and powerful dogs that can adapt to many different situations.
Despite their origin, Japanese dogs do have different personalities and some breeds are better suited to family life than others. Many of these breeds are excellent with children and other animals, while others do better in single-pet homes or as a watchdog or guard dog. If you’re interested in learning more about Japanese dog breeds and seeing whether one could be right for you, keep reading below.
Most Popular Japanese Dog Breeds
The Japanese Akita, instead of the American Akita, is the original Akita dog as this purebred originated in Japan and is a type of Spitz dog. Their original purpose was to hunt wild boar, deer and bear, but soon they became family companions thanks to their power and their ability to protect. Owners also noticed how loyal and friendly these dogs were with children.
This pup loves their people more than anything and will be friendly, kind, affectionate and playful with all their family members. However, they are a historic guarding dog and haven’t forgotten this trait, and are therefore often very aloof with strangers.
Akita’s are known to bark when they feel something is out of place or if there is something or someone they don’t trust. However, when they feel happy they will be the quietest dog in the world! Proper socialization from a young age will be essential for the Akita so they learn what they should and shouldn’t be scared of.
Akita Inus make a wonderful family pet for those families who have experience with large breed dogs. This dog has high care needs and is certainly not for first time dog owners. They require a lot of exercise every day and a lot of grooming thanks to their high-shedding coats!
The Shiba Inu is the most popular breed of Japanese dog in the world. These small dogs originated from the mountainous regions of Japan and were originally bred to hunt small game. For this reason they are very athletic and agile and, despite their small size, don’t make good lapdogs because they want to be outside exercising!
These independent dogs first came to America in 1954. They have a good-natured personality but thanks to their independence they do not get on well with other dogs and are much more likely to get on well with cats! They also do better in a single-pet household and will benefit from a home without children.
That being said, they are not difficult to live with as long as you keep up with their needs and keep them exercised! The Shiba Inu can be stubborn at times and so training and socialization is very important from a young age, yet they are easy to train and easy to housebreak!
The Tosa Inu is a rare dog breed that hails from the indigenous region of Tosa in Japan. Bred in the 19th century from the Shikoku Inu and other European dog breeds, these dogs are very big and are often referred to as the Japanese Mastiff. Like other Mastiff dogs, they were originally bred to be fighting dogs but are now mainly used as guard dogs and watch dogs for families.
In many countries, Tosa Inus are banned or you have to have a license to own one. They are an aggressive and potentially dangerous breed of dog, so they don’t get on well with other dogs and certainly don’t do well with cats! However, these dogs are less aggressive towards humans that they know. That being said, you should never leave a child unsupervised with a Tosa Inu as it can be very dangerous.
The Tosa Inu has a very strong personality and is therefore not for first time dog owners. They will need an owner who is very firm and consistent with them so they have someone to look up to and guide them. The younger they are socialized and given attention, the less likely they are to hurt humans as they grow up.
The Shikoku Inu is named after the Shikoku Island of Southern Japan. These dogs were bred for hunting in the mountain of the island and are therefore very versatile dogs with power and speed. The Shikoku Inu is a small pup and this only helps their agility. They can move very quickly and have a wonderful sense of smell for out on the field.
The Shikoku Inu is a very brave and cautious dog. They have a tough personality and are not afraid of anything, hunting down their prey over any terrain! As a companion, they are more laid back and very loyal and affectionate with their owners. This means that they can make an excellent family dog, even for those with children.
The Shikoku Inu has a thick coat that requires a lot of grooming. Alongside high grooming needs, this pup also has high exercise needs and will need to be with a family that can meet all their requirements. Don’t let this put you off though — they make a wonderful pet to those who understand them.
The Japanese Spitz Dog is one of the smallest Japanese dogs and were bred in the 1920s as companion dogs. These pups were bred from the Pomeranian, Samoyed and the American Eskimo dog and were originally bred in lots of different sizes. Since they were first bred, the Spitz has grown in popularity thanks to their size and ease of care.
Because they are so small, the Spitz can fit into even the smallest of apartments and therefore makes a great companion to many. They do best in a family environment where they can be the center of attention and love to show affection and love their owners.
The Spitz can make a great watchdog for families because they will bark when a stranger approaches. This means that socialization and training will need to take place from a young age, otherwise they may develop braking habits. That being said, the Spitz really is a people person with those that they know and can make an excellent playmate for children.
The Kai Ken is an uncommon Japanese dog breed that was bred to hunt deer, boar and bears in the steep mountainous regions of Yamanashi. An excellent hunting dog, these pups are also great in water and fantastic at climbing trees, making them extremely versatile.
A very intelligent dog, the Kai Ken has natural hunting instincts. This means that they make great watchdogs because they are very brave. They can also sometimes be aloof with strangers and will want you when someone is at the door.
Although independent, the Kai Ken loves their people and likes to feel like they’re in a pack. For this reason, they get on very well with their humans, especially children, and can make an excellent playmate. They are also loving and affectionate towards their family members.
You shouldn’t think about getting a Kai Ken if you aren’t prepared to do some serious exercise! These dogs love to be outside and love to run, so you must be able to dedicate a lot of your time to them for this. They also like to go swimming and will thrive in an active family where they can join in the fun.
The Japanese Chin, sometimes referred to as the Japanese Spaniel, is a toy breed of dog that was originally popular with the aristocrats and elite of Japan. These dogs are independent and alert dogs that are very loyal to their family members and can even make great therapy dogs when trained properly.
Thanks to their intelligence, the Chin dog is very easy to train and can easily learn tricks, loving to please their owners and show off. They will certainly love to entertain those around them and there is never a dull moment at home. They will also make a great playmate for children.
The Japanese Chin has a lot of “cat-like” personalities — they will use their paws to clean their face and they have an exceptionally good sense of balance. Another unique trait of this dog is that their eyes are naturally crossed and they have an undercoat that can take almost two years to grow out!
The Hokkaido Inu is native to the Hokkaido region of Japan and were originally bred to be hunting companions to the Ainu people. Although these dogs look very similar to the Shiba Inu and the Akita, they are actually the only Japanese breed to have a double coat. This coat was likely bred to protect them from harsh climates, yet nowadays means that they have very high grooming needs!
The Hokkaido Inu can be traced back to 1140 AD. They are extremely intelligent and have excellent endurance, meaning they can work no matter what the weather is and stay agile. As a companion dog they are very loyal and will dedicate themselves to their owners. They’re also very confident and won’t might showing their owner that they can please them!
Thanks to their intelligence, the Hokkaido Inu is an easy dog to train. When raised in a family environment this dog is very docile and much less likely to display the hunting instinct that other Hokkaido’s may have. You will need to train these dogs properly, but thanks to their excellent sense of smell they usually can find their way home even if they get lost.
The Kishu Ken, sometimes called the Kishu Inu, is one of the most ancient Japanese breeds. They’re likely to have been around for a couple of thousand years and originate from the old Kishu region of Japan. These dogs were originally bred for hunting deer and boar and are known as the “silent hunters”. This name came from their ability to stalk their prey, being very light and agile on their feet.
These dogs are extremely active and would even go as far as climbing trees to hunt their prey! They’re going to need to be brought into a family who like to exercise and can keep them entertained at all times.
Despite their exercise needs, the Kishu Ken can make a wonderful family pet that loves their humans, including children. This is thanks to their pack like nature, and they will believe it is their duty to protect their humans. They can also make excellent watchdogs and are extremely loyal and courageous.
Although they are known for their hunting abilities, Kishu Kens can get on very well with other animals — particularly dogs and cats. They can sometimes possess a dominant streak and so proper socialization and training is required from a young age.
As you can see, there are many wonderful Japanese dog breeds! With many originating as hunting breeds, these dogs can have high care needs and certainly need to be placed with those who understand them. That being said, these dogs can make excellent family dogs and wonderful protectors and even great playmates for children! Despite their often high grooming requirements, do you think you’ll be adding a Japanese dog to your home?