Small Japanese Dog Breeds You’ll Surely Love

No other country preserves its native dogs like Japan. The six native Japanese dog breeds have a fascinating history of evolution and preservation ebbed on by their unique geographical topography.  There are six small Japanese dog breeds recognized as authentic native breeds. They include Akita, Shiba Inu, Kishu, Hokkaido, Kai, and Shikoku. These dogs’ historical roots date back to the Paleolithic age — thousands of years ago. 

At first, these native Japanese dog breeds may seem to have similar temperaments and appearances. But each of them has its unique traits. Read on to find out all you need to know about these native dog breeds and how they make lovely pets. 

1. Akita Inu

Quick Facts

  • Weight: 7 – 100 lbs (32 – 45 kg)
  • Size: 24 – 28 inches tall (61 – 71 cm)
  • Personality: Dominant dogs that don’t cohabit well with same-sex members. However, they’re good with children and other pets

Characteristics and Temperament

. Akita Inu

Akita Inus are the largest native Japanese dog breeds. They were originally medium-sized hunting dogs from Akita in Japan. These dogs were used extensively for fighting and were crossed with Tosas, Mastiffs, and other Western dogs to enhance their power and size.

Their size increased, but they lost most of their original Spitz-type traits. Diseases and wars caused more issues for the Akita breed, almost leading them to extinction.

Luckily, with much effort and difficulty, Akita preservationists restored the breed to its pure strain. The Akita Inu breed is still scarce — even in Japan. Akita Inus are very expensive to acquire, except you’re importing from Japan. In fact, they’re among the costliest dog breeds. 

The Akita Inu is confident, reserved, and independent. It’s very loyal and can be protective of its family members to a fault. The dominating nature and sheer size of the Akita Inu make it suitable only for owners who understand and can manage primitive dog breeds like Akitas. 

Like several other primitive breeds, Akitas are territorial and don’t cohabit well with same-sex members. Early training and socialization are vital for their health and the safety of their household members. While socialized and well-trained Akitas should be unaggressive and well-behaved, some poorly trained Akita Inus can be dangerous and aggressive if not appropriately controlled. 

In the United States and a few other countries, the Akita breed is labeled as a dangerous dog, hindering an owner’s housing options.

2. Hokkaido Inu

Quick Facts

  • Weight: ~44 lbs (~20 kg)
  • Size: 18 – 20 in high (46 – 52 cm)
  • Personality: Strong, intelligent, and devoted

Characteristics and Temperament

Hokkaido Inu

The Hokkaido Inu or Hokkaido dog is thought to possess more original genes from their earliest ancestors — the Jomon dog. The Japanese mostly refer to the Hokkaido Inu as the Hokkaido or Hokkaido Ken — the word Ken translates to a dog. 

The Hokkaido dogs are medium-sized, and they share similar physical characteristics with the Shiba Inu, though they’re slightly larger. The Hokkaido breed has a denser undercoat and a thicker outer coat due to their region’s frigid temperatures. Their harsh environment also enabled the Hokkaido dogs to have smaller ears and larger paws to withstand the unforgiving cold and snow. 

Their coat colors include black, red, wolf grey, brindle, and white. They were bred to be fierce hunting dogs because they could easily handle small bears. Hokkaidos were revered for their hunting ability, bravery, and loyalty. 

Their storied hunting past still reflects in their keen judgment, alertness, and tremendous physical fortitude. The Hokkaidos can be fiery at times, wary of strangers, and strong-willed. They are sensitive and can be very obedient with proper training. 

The Hokkaido dog builds strong bonds with its owner and requires affection and attention from its master. Although Hokkaido dogs are not typically barking dogs, they are known to sing or howl in delight whenever their master returns.

3. Kai Ken

Quick Facts

  • Weight: 10 – 20 lbs (4 – 9 kg)
  • Size: 13 – 17 inches high (33 – 43 cm)
  • Personality: Active, independent, and highly intelligent

Characteristics and Temperament 

Kai Ken

The Kai dog breed has a striking brindle coat that gives it the most unusual appearance among native Japanese dogs. Its brindle coat also allows it to have a cool name, “the tiger dog,” translated from a Japanese word for tiger fur or torage. 

Like the Hokkaido, the Kai dogs are classified as medium-sized dogs, though some argue about the two dog breeds as not big enough for the medium class. Due to the inaccessible and isolated region of the Kai dog’s origin, their bloodline has remained pure and untouched. Their coats come in three colors: red brindle, medium brindle, and black brindle. Black is the most common. 

Physically, Kai dogs are highly athletic, sturdily built, and well-balanced. They have well-developed muscles that likely evolved from harsh, mountainous environments. 

Kai dogs were bred to be excellent hunters of wild boars, mountain antelopes, and deers. Today, their hunting instinct remains with the Kai dogs being alert, ready to pounce, and quick thinking abilities. 

The Kai dog has a similar temperament to the other native Japanese dogs — loyal and independent but fierce. A Kai can fight to the death to protect its master. While it might look wild, the Kai dog is known to be highly sensitive and perceptive to its owner’s feelings. 

The Kai dogs are among the few native dog breeds to remain unaffected by the Second World War. The government even gave tax incentives to Kai dog owners to protect these national treasures. 

4. Shiba Inu

Quick Facts

  • Weight: 16 – 22 lbs (7 – 10 kg)
  • Size: 13 – 17 inches high (33 – 45 cm)
  • Personality: Territorial, proud, and independent. They require early socialization.

Characteristics and Temperament 

 Shiba Inu

Shiba Inu are independent, territorial, and proud. They need to be socialized early. The Shiba Inu dog breed is the smallest and the most popular native Japanese dog breed due to its size and looks. 

They have a muscular, compact, and well-balanced body. They were originally used for hunting and still have the hunting instinct. The Shiba coat colors include cream, black and tan, sesame, and red. The cream-colored coat is the least desirable, while the red color is the most popular.

The Shiba Inus are the only native dog breed not named after their geographical region. And this was due to the modern-day Shibas being bred from several Shiba-type dogs in diverse regions. The Shibas nearly faced extinction during the Second World War. Luckily, the preservation society got specimens to bring up breed numbers. 

The Shiba is currently a source of pride for Japan and is their national dog. They are also popular globally, especially on the Internet — cute puppy videos, viral memes, and celebrity Shiba Inus like Bodhi and Marutaro. 

Several potential first-time dog owners are attracted by the Shiba Inu’s stunning good looks and compact size. But their good looks shouldn’t fool you — Shibas are also stubborn, aloof, and tough to train. 

However, Shiba Inu displays the least wild traits and is the most “domesticated” of the native breeds, making them good for kids

5. Shikoku 

Quick Facts

  • Weight: 33 – 45 lbs (15 – 20 kg)
  • Size: 17 – 21 inches tall (43 –53 cm)
  • Personality: Excellent companion dogs suitable for outdoors.

Characteristics and Temperament 


The Shikoku dogs are the most wolf-like and the rarest of the native Japanese breeds. The Shikoku dogs have a striking look with fierce, steely features that symbolize their innate hunting ability. The NIPPO selected the Kishu and Shikoku as the requirement of the standards of every Japanese dog breed. 

The current Shikoku dogs originated from two major lines of Shikoku — the Hongawa Line and Hata Line. The Hongawa line Shikoku had a slimmer and elegant build quality, while the Hata line had a heavier, stickier build with longer, thicker coats. The Hongawa line was considered to be more preferred and became the modern-day Shikoku dog. 

The Shikoku dog breed comes in four recognized coat colors: white, sesame, red, and black/tan. White coats are usually penalized at shows as it’s not a desirable color. 

The Shikokus are high-energy dogs that require extensive mental and physical stimulation. Like other native dogs, Shikokus can be aggressive to strangers and are independent thinkers. 

The Shikoku builds strong bonds with its owner and is more willing to please them than others. However, they still have that stubborn streak and require a handler who understands primitive dog breeds’ needs. You’ll hardly find a Shikoku dog outside of Japan. 

6. Kishu Ken

Quick Facts

  • Weight: 31 – 59 lbs (14 – 27 kg)
  • Size: 17 – 22 inches high (43 – 55 cm)
  • Personality: Intelligent, active, and brave

Characteristics and Temperament 

Kishu Ken

The Kishu Ken dogs are the most popular medium-sized native Japanese breeds. However, the breed is still very rare, even in Japan. 

Almost all the current Kishu dogs are white, though they initially had similar coat colors to other native Japanese dogs. The change occurred when some breeders heavily bred the white Ouchiyama line. Despite being easily visible to preys, the Ouchiyama Kishu dogs were excellent hunters. They lived in isolated mountains, which helped them to survive the Second World War relatively unharmed. 

The Kishu dogs are slightly heavier than other medium-sized Japanese dogs and have more developed muscles. They are natural athletes with a passion for hunting. They are powerful, always keenly alert, and quick. 

While the Kishu dog breed shares similar temperaments with the other breeds, it’s a bit more friendly. However, it’s also known to cun predators that patiently wait for their prey to appear. 

Kishu dogs have primitive, wolf-like features, making them similar to the Shikoku breed. These two dog breeds possess the purest bloodlines resulting from the isolated environment they originally lived. Some legends say that both the Shikoku and Kishu breeds descended from wolves.

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