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The 5 Best Japanese Dog Breeds

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

The Japanese Chin starts out small...and does not grow much.

The Japanese Chin starts out small...and does not grow much.

Looking for a great dog but want something a little different? The small country of Japan has some special dog breeds that most of us like. Here are the five Japanese dog breeds I like best.

  1. Japanese Chin
  2. Shiba Inu
  3. Kai Ken
  4. Akita
  5. Tosa

1. Japanese Chin

Several “experts” claim that the Japanese Chin is not really Japanese since it came from China. That is like claiming that the Irish Wolfhound is not Irish and the French Bulldog is not French. Maybe the Lhasa Apso is really Tibetan, but the rest of us (dogs and humans alike) are cross-bred and the product of migrations.

They are small, sometimes as small as a Chihuahua, but they're usually the size of a Maltese, about 4 or 5 kilos (8 or 9 pounds); their small size makes them ideal dogs for an apartment. They do not bark much, are quiet, and are unlikely to run roughshod through a house. If they are well-socialized, they are good with new people.

If you like their little smushed-in faces, you need to accept a few health issues. They don’t put up with excessive heat because of their anatomy, some of them have heart murmurs, luxating patellas (trick knees), and their large eyes are prone to scratches. They live about 10 years.

Japanese Chin do not require excessive grooming. They have a thin coat, and, if you brush them every week, they are a clean and easy-to-care-for small Japanese breed.

2. Shiba Inu

These dogs are not tiny like the Chin, but they are the smallest of the spitz-type Japanese dogs; the Shiba Inu usually weighs less than 10 kilograms (22 pounds) and has become a popular pet for those living in small Japanese apartments. Besides their size, they are popular apartment dogs because they do not bark much, are affectionate, and are very clean (which makes them easy to housetrain).

They are known to be aggressive to other dogs at times and have a high prey drive. Despite that prey drive, they get along with cats. For a Shiba Inu to get along with other dogs and kids, she should be well-socialized.

Some of them have allergies, eye problems, and joint diseases like hip dysplasia or a luxating patella, but most of them are healthy and live 12-15 years.

If you are willing to put up with their heavy yearly shedding and want a dog that doesn’t bark much but does vocalize (the "shiba scream"), this small Japanese dog is a great choice.

The Kai Ken is a rare Japanese dog breed.

The Kai Ken is a rare Japanese dog breed.

3. Kai Ken

This rare medium-sized Japanese breed is a little bigger than a Shiba, and at about 20 kilos (45 pounds) he is a lot smaller than an Akita. The dog looks a little like a Shiba Inu and was used for hunting like an Akita, but this dog has been kept as a companion since about the 1930s.

Like a Siberian Husky, they have a wild streak and are good at escaping. Also, like the Siberian, the Kai Ken has a thick undercoat, so they are heavy shedders during the time when they blow their coat.

There are no special health concerns with the breed, but they do sometimes suffer from hip dysplasia, arthritis, and bloat. There are not enough dogs available to predict how often a problem might occur.

Kai Ken are hard to obtain and expensive, so a dog from a shelter is a lot better choice. If you are looking for a very Japanese breed that almost no one will recognize, though, the Kai Ken is a good choice.

4. Akita

This breed of dog was originally from the northern part of Honshu and was developed to hunt bears and boars. So of course he is big, independent, and strong. The American variety are often over 50 kilos (110 pounds), but those bred in Japan are a little smaller.

The Akita is another one of the Japanese dog breeds which has been bred to foreign breeds, in this case, to gain some size. They were involved in a cross-breeding program with Great Danes and Mastiffs (to develop a large fighting dog) and later were crossed with German Shepherd dogs to prevent the government from killing them off during World War II, when almost all non-military dogs were slaughtered.

Despite that, the Akita that we see now is all Japanese.

He can be territorial and aggressive with other dogs, but the Akita usually protects his family. Hachiko, the dog who returned to the train station every day to wait for his deceased master, is a symbol of this breed´s loyalty. Hachiko only stopped visiting the station when he died.

If you want a large and handsome dog that is loyal and a great companion, the Akita is a great choice.

5. Tosa

The largest Japanese dog is accused of being non-Japanese, just like the smallest, the Chin. When the Japanese in the Tosa region wanted to develop a sumo-type wrestling dog, they bred their local breed with Mastiffs, Great Danes, Bull Terriers, and St. Bernards. Despite the crossing, the Japanese Tosa is still Japanese.

The breeding program worked so well that the Japanese Tosa is now considered a dangerous dog in some countries and is banned in others. They have to be well-socialized, like many big dogs, and obedience training is important since they are so big. Tosa weighs up to 100 kilos (220 pounds), but 35–60 kilos (75–130 pounds) is a lot more common. They make good guard dogs because of their size.

The Japanese Tosa has a few giant dog health problems, like hip dysplasia and bloat, but most dogs still manage to live about 10 years.

If they are not banned in your area, and you have experience handling large dogs and do not rent a house where they might be banned, they can be a good companion when given plenty of exercise.

Some of the Japanese dog breeds have serious issues (like the rarity of the Kai Ken or the size of the Tosa Inu), so they are not the best choice for most dog owners. If there is a quality you find very attractive, be sure to do more research and find out if the dog is right for you. Visit a dog show to meet dogs from that breed, and visit several breeders to see how the puppies and adults behave.

Check with Petfinder and pet rescues before you make a final choice.

© 2013 Mark dos Anjos DVM


Nettlemere from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on March 10, 2013:

Interesting to meet a breed I'd never heard of - the Kai Ken. Informative hub as always DrMark.

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 08, 2013:

That is such a great story. You never know who is going to click with who!

I really appreciate hearing that about your Chin.

Thanks for coming by and leaving that interesting comment.

toknowinfo on March 08, 2013:

This is a great article. I have a Japanese Chin and I love the breed. He is sweet and smart, protective, and very loyal. Japanese Chins tend to pick one family member and be most loyal to them. He picked my golden retriever and he loved her so. When we lost her, he grieved for a long time. When we got another golden puppy, he wanted nothing to do with her and still grieved. My golden puppy kept trying to play with our pug, who is too old, so I had to get my golden a puppy. We got a standard poodle and this dog, pulled my chin out of his depression. Now we have a lot of dogs, but they are all pretty happy. I have some pictures of them on my many hubs about dogs, if you want to see what they look like.

Thanks for a wonderful hub. Your information is well put together and very useful. I look forward to reading more.

wetnosedogs from Alabama on March 07, 2013:

Love that brave akita puppy video!