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Kai Ken

Nicole Cosgrove

June 18, 2021

The Kai Ken is a medium sized Japanese breed that has been around a long time and has even been declared as a national monument to help preserve them, one of 6 ancient Japanese breeds to be protected this wat. It is a rare dog even in Japan and its life span is about 14 to 16 years. It is unique and recognizable because of its markings like a Tiger which is why Tora Inu or Tiger Dog are other names it is known by as well as Tora Dog. There are two types of Kai Ken but they are not separated in their recognition. There is the shishi-inu-gata kind and the shika-inu-gata kind, the former being stockier and the latter being thinner and more fox like in the face.

The Kai Ken at a Glance
Name Kai Ken
Other names Tora Dog, Tora Inu or Tiger Dog
Nicknames Kai
Origin Japan
Average size Medium
Average weight 25 to 55 pounds
Average height 17 to 22 inches
Life span 14 to 16 years
Coat type Double, medium length
Hypoallergenic No
Color Red brindle, brindle, black brindle
Popularity Not recognized by the AKC
Intelligence Very good to excellent
Tolerance to heat Very good
Tolerance to cold Good to very good
Shedding Average – some hair will be around the home
Drooling Moderate – may be some when it drinks but not especially a slobbery dog
Obesity Average – measure its food and make sure it is well exercised
Grooming/brushing Average – brush twice a week apart from seasonal times when daily brushing may be needed
Barking Occasional – will be some barking but not constant
Exercise needs Very active – needs owners who are too
Trainability Easy to train
Friendliness Very good with socialization
Good first dog Good though experience does help
Good family pet Very good with socialization
Good with children Good to very good with socialization
Good with other dogs Good to very good with socialization
Good with other pets Good but needs socialization and it helps to be raised with them as has high prey drive
Good with strangers Good with socialization but wary
Good apartment dog Good – can adapt to apartment living if it gets enough exercise outside
Handles alone time well Moderate – prefers not to be left alone for long periods
Health issues Hardy breed, a few issues can include field injuries, eye problems and ear infections
Medical expenses $460 a year for basic health care and pet insurance
Food expenses $145 a year for a good quality dry dog food and dog treats
Miscellaneous expenses $220 a year for license, basic training, miscellaneous items and toys
Average annual expenses $825 a year as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $1,500
Rescue organizations North American Kai Association, also check local shelters and rescues
Biting Statistics None reported

The Kai Ken’s Beginnings

The Kai Ken descends from ancient dogs in Japan and come from the province called Kai hence its time. It was a natural hunter and valued because it would go to great lengths to keep on its game even if that meant swimming or even climbing trees. It is possible that because the mountainous area it comes from is more isolated that this Japanese dog is the purest of them all. It is able to work on the steep and mountainous terrain of the region and can hunt various game including boar, deer and bear and the Japanese serow (a goat/antelope like animal).

That isolation also meant it was little known elsewhere. When guns became more common though it meant big game hunting became more popular. As a result the Kai Ken became more known because of its skill in the field. It is a brave dog, determined, strong and focused. It was less a companion dog though and more a working dog. In 1928 the association for the preservation of the Japanese Dog was formed called NIPPO and in 1933 the Kai Ken was declared a national monument. In 1934 it was officially recognized by the Japanese Kennel Club.

New Lease on Life

In the 1950s the breed came to the US to Salt Lake City brought over by service men stationed there. What happened with those original dogs is unknown, but in the 1990s a couple of males and a few females were brought over and these are the dogs that became the foundation stock for Kai Ken bred in America. In 1997 the UKC recognized the breed but the AKC still has not though it is in the Foundation Stock Service. It has been featured in several Japanese series and video games but remains rare in Japan and even more rare elsewhere.

The Dog You See Today

The Kai is a medium sized dog weighing 25 to 55 pounds and standing 17 to 22 inches tall. It has an athletic and sturdy body with strong legs, shoulders and a thick fluffy tail it carries in a curl or sickle shape over its back. There are two types of Kai Ken, the shishi-inu-gata which is stocky and has a face that is bear like and the shika-inu-gata which is slimmer, longer and as a face that is fox like. The head is wedge shaped and it has priced triangular shaped ears, a tapered muzzle and a scissor bite. The coat is double and medium length. The under coat is soft, thick and dense and the outer is longer and harsh to touch. Common colors are black brindle called Kuro-tora, red brindle called Aka-tora and then in the middle are called Chu-tora. It has a striped appearance hence the comparison to tigers.

The Inner Kai Ken


The Kai is an intelligent, alert and brave dog making a good watchdog who will bark to let you know if there is an intruder. It is good but reserved with strangers and socialization is important to make sure it knows to stay polite not become suspicious or aggressive. It is very loyal to its family though and friendlier too. In fact it forms very close bonds, especially with the owner it hunts or trains with. It will need a good amount of affectionate and attention in return to be happy and is best kept as an indoor dog, being included in family activities. It does not like being left alone for long periods of time.

It is valued by the Japanese because as fearless and exceptional as it is when out hunting, when home it is a trusted companion that gets long well with children and can adapt to most kinds of living conditions. With good socialization this dog is rarely aggressive for no reason but it is a fairly dominant and stubborn breed. This means it is best suited to people who have experience.

Living with a Kai Ken

What will training look like?

Bred to hunt larger game this is a great dog if you like to hunt such animals and it comes naturally to it, so in that regard little training would be needed. It is very intelligent and actually does respond fairly well to training so it is quite easy to train especially when it is started from a young age. Also make sure you start socialization at this time too, introduce it to different people, places, sounds, situations and animals so it learns what is acceptable in response and how to differentiate between threats and non threats. Be consistent and firm in your approach to training, being fairly dominant it needs a confident and strong pack leader. Be positive though, keep things fun, reward and motivate it.

How active is the Kai Ken?

This is an active dog, it loves to swim, climb, run, hunt but it does not need as much outdoor activity as some hunting breeds. Give it about an hour a day of a couple of walks and play time with you and that should keep it happy. It can join you for a jog and or hike and it also should have time off leash somewhere safe too. It can actually adapt to apartment living if it gets enough outside time but of course a yard is still a good thing to have where it can sniff around and play. Make sure it also gets plenty of mental stimulation, being intelligent means it can get easily bored and destructive otherwise. Something like agility training is a good combination of mental and physical challenge. When out walking keep it leashed or it will run off after some prey it decides to chase.

Caring for the Kai Ken

Grooming needs

The Kai is a clean dog naturally, its coat rejects some dirt, it does not have a strong odor and it prefers not to be messy so will avoid foul smells. Its coat does shed though so there will be hair around the home, and that will be in larger clumps when it sheds seasonally a couple of times a year. Give it a brush a couple of times a week and then daily when the shedding is heavy. Only bathe as needed and only use a good quality canine shampoo so you do not damage its natural oils.

Its teeth should be brushed every other day to take care of its oral hygiene and keep its breath fresh! Check its ears once a week for infection, redness, swelling, discharge and a bad odor for example. This is also a good time to wipe them clean using a dog ear cleanser and cotton swabs or a damp cloth. Do not insert anything into the ears though, it hurts it and could actually do damage to its hearing that is permanent. Its nails too should be trimmed when they are too long. There are proper dog nail clippers you need to use and a certain place where you should not cut. Learn where if you are not familiar as cutting too low into those blood vessels and nerves will hurt and cause bleeding. Have a professional do it for you if you are worried.

Feeding Time

A Kai Ken needs about 1½ to 3 cups of a good to excellent quality dry dog food each day, and this needs to be split into at least two meals. How much food it eats exactly can vary from one dog to another depending on different things like its metabolism, level of activity, age, health and build. Always make sure it has access to water that is freshened when possible.

How is the Kai Ken with other animals and children?

With good socialization and in a suitable home the Kai Ken is good with children, especially too if raised with them. It can be playful, affectionate and protective of them. Make sure you teach the children how to touch and play with dogs in a kind and safe way. Around other dogs it does not tend to be aggressive towards them, again socialization is plays a part in that. It does have a high prey drive so will likely try to chase strange small animals. With socialization and if raised with them it can learn to accept pets in the home but an unsocialized Kai will see them as prey.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

This dog has a life span of about 14 to 16 years. It is genetically pure so there are no known congenital health issues. Some issues that could come up include eye problems, injuries on the field and ear infections.

Biting Statistics

When looking at reports of dog attacks causing bodily harm in Canada and the US over the last 35 years, the Kai Ken is not listed. However it is a rare dog so this does not mean it would never be involved just that there is less chance of seeing it happen there. It important to also point out that any dog breed has the potential to attack a person, while there are more aggressive breeds, and some that can do more harm, there is no completely safe dog. They can have off days, they may have been mistreated, teased, poorly raised, there are a number of reasons. That being said there are things a responsible owner can do to lessen the risk. Proper socialization and training, enough mental and physical stimulation, enough attention and affection can help.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

As mentioned this is a very rare breed so if this is absolutely the dog you want, it is probable you will have to go onto a waiting list for a decent breeder. Prices range but a Kai Ken puppy averages at about $1500 for a pet quality puppy from a good breeder. For something of show quality from a top breeder you can take that and probably double it. It is worth waiting for a good quality dog from a breeder that have good reviews. Avoid getting one from a back yard breeder, a puppy mill, pet stores or the like. Dog rescues and shelters are another option, cheaper too at $50 to $400, though the dog is more likely to be of adult age. There is also very low odds on finding a Kai in such a way.

There are initial costs other than just buying your new dog. There are some items you will need for it at home like a crate, food bowls, carrier, collar and leash for example. These will cost you around $220. There will also need to be a trip to a vet as soon as it is with you. It will need a check up, shots, deworming, micro chipping, spaying or neutering and blood tests. These will cost about $270.

Then there are the ongoing annual costs of owning a dog. It will need to be fed, and feeding it a a good or excellent quality dog food plus treats will come to about $145 a year. Medical basic care like check ups, flea and tick prevention, vaccinations and then pet insurance too will cost about $460 a year. Other costs covering basic training, license, toys and miscellaneous items come to about $220 a year. The average annual cost therefore for a Kai is $825 but that is just a starting figure.


Looking for a Kai Ken Name? Let select one from our list!

The Kai Ken is a rare dog even in Japan where it is from, but if you want a dog for large game hunting and you have experience this could be a great match for you. Make sure it is well socialized and trained and that it gets the mental stimulation and physical activity it needs. It does bond very closely to its owners so be sure this is the dog you are going to keep for the rest of its life. It is adaptable but it also needs lots of attention and needs people to be around more than out.

Featured Image Credit: Melissa Grisham, Shutterstock

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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