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Japanese Terrier

Nicole Cosgrove

June 18, 2021

The Japanese Terrier is a small purebred from Japan also called Nihon Terrier, Nippon Terrier and Nihon Teria. It looks similar to Fox Terriers and Rat Terriers but smaller and has life span of 10 to 12 years. It has been used a vermin hunter but is also often just a companion dog, often referred to as a lap dog because of its small size, and its love of cuddles. It is a cute dog with a cheerful and spirited personality but it is a rare breed even in its home country.

The Japanese Terrier at a Glance
Name Japanese Terrier
Other names Nippon Terrier, Nihon Terrier and Nihon Teria
Nicknames JT
Origin Japan
Average size Small
Average weight 5 to 9 pounds
Average height 8 to 13 inches
Life span 10 to 12 years
Coat type Short, slick, fine
Hypoallergenic No
Color White with tan or black spot, black, black with a tan head
Popularity Not yet a fully registered member of the AKC
Intelligence High
Tolerance to heat Good but will need protection when it is very hot
Tolerance to cold Moderate – may need additional care or covering in the cold
Shedding Low to moderate – may be some hair around the home
Drooling Low to moderate – not especially prone
Obesity Average – measure its food and make sure it gets enough exercise
Grooming/brushing Low to average – brush once or twice a week
Barking Occasional – does bark sometimes but not constantly
Exercise needs Quite active – being small its needs are easy to meet
Trainability Moderate to easy – avoid spoiling, even small dogs need at least basic training and socialization
Friendliness Good to very good with socialization
Good first dog Good to very good
Good family pet Very good
Good with children Very good with socialization but not to be homed with small children who can tread on it or hurt it
Good with other dogs Good to very good with socialization
Good with other pets Good but requires socialization and training especially with smaller pets
Good with strangers Good but wary – requires socialization
Good apartment dog Good to very good but needs training as barking may be a problem
Handles alone time well No – does not like being left alone for long periods
Health issues Quite a healthy breed some issues may include patellar luxation, eye problems and ear infections
Medical expenses $435 a year for basic health care and pet insurance
Food expenses $75 a year for a good quality dry dog food and dog treats
Miscellaneous expenses $195 a year for toys, basic training, miscellaneous items and license
Average annual expenses $705 a year as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $600
Rescue organizations None breed specific, check local rescues and shelters
Biting Statistics None reported

The Japanese Terrier’s Beginnings

It is believed the Japanese Terrier’s beginnings start in the 1600s when either Dutch or British sailors came to Japan to the one port open to Western trading, Nagasaki. They brought with them dogs like the Smooth Fox Terrier and the German Pinscher. These were bred with local Japanese dog breeds and small Pointers. Some say it was developed into a companion dog and some say it was first used as a vermin hunter and then transitioned to companion dog. Its popularity as a lap dog spread from Nagasaki to other regions.

In the 1920s planned breeding began to refine the breed using the Kobe Terrier. Through their work a bloodline that was more stable was successfully established. In 1930 a breed standard was written and it was recognized by the Japanese Kennel Club. However with World War II and its devastating impact on dog breeding around the world, numbers dropped and it nearly became extinct.

New Lease on Life

Fortunately a few survived and breeding continued. However while numbers in Japan are better than they were back then it is still a rare breed there, and even more unknown in the rest of the world. It does have a small presence in the UK and Europe and was also recognized by the United Kennel Club in 2006. It is not recognized though by the AKC as while there are some fans the numbers are not high enough.

The Dog You See Today

The Japanese Terrier is a small or toy dog weighing 5 to 9 pounds and standing 8 to 13 inches tall. It is a balanced, squared and compact dog with a sturdy body rather than a dainty one. Its tail is fairly thin and is commonly docked in places where that is still allowed. The chest is deep but not very broad and the belly is tucked up with an arched loin. Its coat is slick, smooth, silky, short and it has tight skin. Colors are commonly a black or tan head with a white body that has some black or tan spotting.

This dog has a wide forehead and a clearly defined muzzle with a skull that is somewhat narrow and flat. The muzzle should be the same length as that skull and then it has a scissor bit, tight and thin lips and a black nose. It has lean cheeks and its eyes are medium sized, oval and dark. The ears should be set high and are fold over but can be erect when the dog is alert.

The Inner Japanese Terrier


The JT is an active, lively and spirited breed. It is intelligent too, cheerful and very affectionate and loving. It will happily hop up onto your lap for cuddles and attention, and in fact be prepared for a dog that will demand a lot of attention and affection from you. It does not like being left alone for long periods of time, it is very loyal and devoted to its owners and family. It is likely it will become more attached to one person over the rest of the family and it can become possessive of that person. If its bonded owner is paying attention to another pet or even person when it wants them it is likely to bark its annoyance!

In general this dog is gentle and can be cautious and sensitive so it is best not in homes where there is a lot of stress and arguments. With strangers it should be wary but not aggressive. It is alert and will bark to let you know if someone is coming or trying to get in. With an introduction though it will accept them and can become friendly once it gets to know them. It loves to play and perform and act the clown and commonly gathers together its toys and lays in the middle of them.

Living with a Japanese Terrier

What will training look like?

Training the Japanese Terrier should be fairly easy as long as you keep it positive, gentle but still firm and consistent. Stay calm and patient with it and avoid being harsh as it does not respond well at all to that kind of handling. It likes to learn tricks and perform them so can be taken past just basic obedience training if you want to. Early socialization is important also, let it be introduced to different places, people, animals, situations and sounds so it learns what is acceptable and normal and what is not. Dogs that are well socialized are a lot happier, more confident and trustworthy.

How active is the Japanese Terrier?

It may be small but is is lively and active it is just that its small size means these needs are easy to meet even for people who cannot be very active. If you can take it for a couple of short walks, play with in the yard and a few times a week give it safe off leash run time, you can give it the physical exercise it needs. It does tend to play indoors too and can be a good apartment dog, though a small yard is a bonus place to play and explore if possible. Take care with the weather, it does not do well when it is too hot or too cold so think about the time of day and temperature to decide when to take it out safely. Make sure too that it gets enough mental stimulation, this can come from training or different types of toys.

Caring for the Japanese Terrier

Grooming needs

Japanese Terriers shed a low to moderate amount all year so expect some hair around the home. To keep up with the loose hair it should be brushed once or twice a week and that will also help remove debris and dirt. It will also move the natural oils in its skin around its coat keeping it healthy and shiny. It should not need regular trips to a professional groomer and should only be bathed when needed. Use a dog shampoo only. When you bathe it too frequently it can cause skin problems from damaging the natural oils.

It will need its ears checked for infection once a week and then give them a wipe clean. You can use a cloth dampened with water, or a cotton ball with a dog ear cleaning solution. Just do not put anything down its ear. Its teeth should be brushed at least two to three times a week. There are toothbrushes and toothpaste designed for dogs. Its nails will need to be clipped when they get too long, and this is something to be done carefully so you do not cut into the section that has blood vessels and nerves at that causes pain and bleeding. You could opt to have it done by someone with experience like a vet or professional groomer.

Feeding Time

It will want to eat somewhere between ½ to 1½ cup of a good to excellent quality dry dog food. That should be divided into two meals a day rather than one large one. The amount varies based on the dog’s size, health, metabolism, age and level of activity. Make sure it also has fresh water.

How is the Japanese Terrier with children and other animals?

It is a great dog around children, but because of its size it is easily injured or hurt and that can be a problem around smaller children who do not know better. Some Japanese Terrier breeders will specify owners need to not have young children in the home. It is affectionate and playful though with them as long as they are old enough to know how to do it carefully. Teach children how to play and be affectionate with it in a safe way. Most JTs can get on well with cats with socialization and being raised with them can help. It may be less accepting of smaller non-canine pets which it will want to chase. Finally it can get on well with dogs of its size particularly ones of the same breed, but larger dogs can be a problem so supervision is always a good idea.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

In general the Japanese Terrier is a fairly healthy dog with a life span of 10 to 12 years. There are some conditions it can suffer from including Patellar Luxation, Eye Problems, injuries from being small and ear infections. To get a healthy dog buy from a breeder who is trustworthy and can show you parental health clearances. Keep in mind a toy dog needs more care and awareness than other dogs.

Biting Statistics

When looking at reports over the last 35 years on dog attacks on people the Japanese Terrier can not be found to have been involved in any attacks. It is very rare in that part of the world though so that is not surprising. The fact is even despite its size a dog can be aggressive and can attack under certain circumstances. Make sure you get one you can give the right exercise to and food to, that you give training and socialization and treat it well. A dog is less likely to have issues with aggression when bred, raised and supervised properly.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

The Japanese Terrier puppy have an average price of $600. However some top breeders and show dog breeders charge a lot more than that! You can look at your local shelters and rescues for something for between $50 to $400 and have the joy of giving a dog a new chance and home. It will probably be a mature dog though not a puppy and most rescues are mixed breeds.

Initial costs also need to be considered. There are medical requirements, if it is female it will need spaying if it is male it will neutering. Other costs will include blood tests, shots, micro chipping and deworming as well as a physical exam. These come to about $260. It will need some items too such as a collar and leash, bowls, crate and carrier. These costs will start at $120.

Next there are annual costs to prepare for. Basic training, toys, miscellaneous items, license and other miscellaneous costs will come to about $195 a year. Food and dog treats will cost another $75 a year. Then basic health care like vaccinations, flea and tick prevention, check ups and pet health insurance will be another $435 a year or so. Overall the annual costs can expect to start at about $705.


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The Japanese Terrier is a great lap dog and companion and has a lot of personality, joy and energy it can bring to a home. It is not a common breed though so if this truly interests you expect to spend time doing research and possibly paying more on things like transportation. Care must be taken though, this is not a dog for homes with small children or small non-canine pets.

Featured Image Credit: Japanese Chin, Pixabay; Right: Toy Fox Terrier, PxHere

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.

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