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Kishu Ken

Nicole Cosgrove

June 9, 2021

The Kishu Ken is a medium to large sized purebred from Japan also called Kishu Inu or just Kishu. It is an ancient breed and has been around developing in the region after which it is named (now called the Mie Prefecture and Wakayama Prefecture) for thousands of years. It was used once for hunting deer and boar though today is more a show dog and companion. It is similar to other Japanese breeds like the Kai Ken, Shikoku and Hokkaido. It is an intelligent and athletic breed and does well in competitions for agility, obedience and rally. It has a life span of 11 to 13 years and is a Spitz-type dog.

The Kishu Ken at a Glance
Name Kishu Ken
Other names Kishu, Kishu-Inu
Nicknames KK
Origin Japan
Average size Medium to large
Average weight 30 to 60 pounds
Average height 17 to 22 inches
Life span 11 to 13 years
Coat type Double coat, soft inner, short harsh and straight outer
Hypoallergenic No
Color Black, tan, red, brindle, white
Popularity Not yet registered with the AKC
Intelligence Above average
Tolerance to heat Good to very good
Tolerance to cold Very good
Shedding Average but heavier during seasonal times – expect some hair around the home and heavy clumps once or twice a year
Drooling Moderate – not especially prone to slobber or drool
Obesity Average – measure its food and make sure it is well exercised
Grooming/brushing Average – brush twice a year usually or daily during heavy shedding times
Barking Rare barking
Exercise needs Active – needs a good amount of physical activity
Trainability Moderately easy for those with experience
Friendliness Good to very good
Good first dog Good but best with experienced owners
Good family pet Very good with socialization
Good with children Good with socialization and when raised with them
Good with other dogs Moderate – socialization and training essential
Good with other pets Moderate – socialization and training essential, have high prey drive
Good with strangers Moderate to good with socialization – wary
Good apartment dog Moderate – best in homes with space that have a yard
Handles alone time well Moderate – prefers not to be left alone for long periods
Health issues Fairly healthy but some issues include eye problems, allergies and hypothyroidism
Medical expenses $485 a year for basic health needs and pet insurance
Food expenses $260 a year for a good quality dry dog food and doggy treats
Miscellaneous expenses $315 a year for basic training, license, toys and miscellaneous items
Average annual expenses $1060 as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $1,200
Rescue organizations None breed specific, look to shelters and rescues local to you
Biting Statistics None reported

The Kishu Ken’s Beginnings

The Kishu Ken is a primitive dog breed that has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. It has developed over the years to be used to hunt small game like rabbit and larger game like deer, occasionally bear and wild boar in the mountainous area of Kishu, now called the Mie Prefecture and Wakayama Prefecture. In fact there were three types to suit what they hunted, an agile and slender type for the deer hunting, more muscular and bolder type for boar hunting and smaller dog for the rabbit hunting. Before the influence from the west concerning breed purity in Japan all the native dogs were seen as one breed but in different sizes and places. This meant there were frequent crossings and mixings and the dogs became closely related apart from the isolated ones like the Hokkaido Ken.

It is one of four other similar Japanese breeds, the Kai Ken, Hokkaido Ken and Shikoku Ken are the other three. There are similarities in size, looks and temperaments. It was not standardized though until the early 1930s and became a Japanese natural monument in 1934 at which point it became a protected species. Its name comes from the area it is from and the words Ken or Inu are both words meaning dog. An expression Japanese hunters use for this dog is ‘one dog, one shot’. This means the Kishu would keep the prey cornered until the hunter caught up and took one shot to take it down.

New Lease on Life

It is recognized by the Japan Kennel Club, NIPPO also in Japan, and some other registries around the world but it is not yet a full member of the AKC. It is rare though in Europe and North America so numbers are low and breeders are hard to find outside of Japan. In its homeland it is still used sometimes to hunt boar with but is more commonly kept as a companion. Yoshihiro Takahashi a famous Japanese artist has portrayed Kishu Kens as talented fighters in his anime and manga works.

The Dog You See Today

The Kishu Ken is a medium to large dog weighing 30 to 60 pounds and standing 17 to 22 inches tall. It is a compact and sturdy dog and it holds its tail in a sickle shape or curled over its back. In show dogs colors are to be solid but companions do not have to be as strict about such things. White has been a preferred color for many years but other like sesame and red can happen too. The coat is doubled with a soft and thick inner coat and a short, straight, harsh outer coat. There is a longer fringe of fur on the tail and cheeks. This dog has a fairly wide head and a black nose usually though that does depend on the coat color and it can be pink or brownish. The bite is level or scissor and the ears are on the small side, pricked and leaning a little forwards.

The Inner Kishu Ken

Temperament

These dogs are brave and bold hunters and as a result can be quite willful and stubborn. This makes them best suited to experienced owners who know how to deal with them. This is a do best suited to homes where there it is the only dog or pet, it is very loyal and devoted to its owner and wants all of the attention. It is a watchful and alert dog, makes a good watch dog that will let you know about intruders or strangers approaching. Otherwise it is not a noisy dog, it only barks rarely in fact. It is quiet and calm in the home when it has been well trained.

It likes to find high places in the home to watch over things and with strangers is aloof and wary so socialization is important. It is an intelligent and affectionate dog towards its family and can be friendly. It is also faithful, noble and dedicated. It is likely to attach itself to one person in the family over the others and its commitment means it is hard to re-home.

Living with a Kishu Ken

What will training look like?

The Kishu Ken needs experienced and confident owners who are able to be consistent, firm, calm and authoritative. It is moderately easy to train for such owners and it is intelligent. Because of its strong will and dominance it is definitely not a dog to be owned by meek people as it will become very difficult to live with. House training will happen quickly and early socialization is another area that needs to have some focus placed on it. Bring it to different people, places, situations, sounds and animals so it learns how to react appropriately to them. Results will come but they will be gradual. Use positive training techniques, offer it praise and encouragement, motivate it with treats for example and rewards its successes. Be patient and fair in how you deal with it but stay in charge.

How active is the Kishu Ken?

The Kishu is an agile and active dog and needs active owners who are happy to be out every day either hunting with it or exercising it. It is a tough dog and needs space to live in so is best in a rural setting and in a home with a yard rather than an apartment. It likes to have jobs to do and it should be walked for at least an hour a day, two long walks and then on top of that some play time with you too. It would enjoy going on runs with you, hiking and so on. Always make sure it is on a leash when you are out so it does not chase after other animals. Also make sure it gets some safe time off leash where it can run and explore.

Caring for the Kishu Ken

Grooming needs

The grooming of this breed should not be too detailed but there is some work to do. The coats should be brushed twice a week to keep the mats away and remove burs and such. Use a firm bristled brush and be prepared it does shed an average amount so there will be some hair around the home. There will also be seasonal shedding once or twice a year where the fur will come out in heavy clumps and daily brushing will be needed. Only give it a bath when it needs one though, when it is really dirty, as doing it too often can damage the natural oils it has and needs. Only use a canine shampoo when you bathe it for the same reasons.

The nails will need trimming when they get too long, taking care to cut only a certain way down so you avoid the quick of the nail. In that part there are blood vessels and nerves so clipping or even nicking them will cause bleeding and pain. Some dogs do wear their nails down naturally with enough activity. Its ears should be cleaned as needed taking care not to push anything into them. Wipe with a damp cloth where it is easy to reach, or use a dog ear cleanser and cotton ball. The teeth will also need care, brush them two to three times a week using a toothbrush and toothpaste for dogs.

Feeding Time

The Kishu Ken should be fed 1½ to 3 cups of a good quality dry dog food a day, split into at least two meals to prevent problems with bloat. The amount varies as it depends on their size, metabolism, activity level, health and age. It should also have access to water that is changed for fresh when possible.

How is the Kishu Ken with other animals and children?

The KK is a hunting dog so it has a strong prey drive. This means it needs excellent socialization to teach it to recognize and separate prey from other pets, but even then some can not be trusted with small pets. Again with that socialization and strong leadership some can learn to accept other dogs in the home when raised with them, but some will always have dominance issues with other dogs. It is used though to hunt with in packs. It can also get along fine with children if socialized and raised with them. Make sure children are taught though not to tease and how to touch and play appropriately.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

A Kishu Ken lives for around 11 to 13 years and is a fairly healthy dog breed though some issues include hypothyroidism, allergies and eye problems.

Biting Statistics

There is not a lot of opportunity for it to be reported in biting incidents in North America as it is a rare breed. As a result over the last 35 years of reports on dogs attacking people and doing bodily harm, there is no mention of the Kishu Ken. It is not a people aggressive dog but it does have some dog dominance issues and a high prey drive. Any breed can also have an off day, there is always the potential for an incident even if it is small. Things dog owners should do to lessen those chances are to make sure its well socialized, trained, cared for, and given enough activity and attention.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

Being a rare breed the price tag on the Kishu Ken is higher and decent breeders outside of Japan are harder to find. Expect to pay around $1200 for a pet quality dog and then even more for something from a top breeder. If you opt to use a Japanese breeder and are not living there, you also have transportation fees and such to consider. Be prepared to be placed on a waiting list and avoid the temptation to turn to quicker but less respectable options like backyard breeders, puppy mills or pet stores. Another option is to look at local shelters or rescues though there you are more likely to find a mix breed companion. Adoption fees tend to range between $50 to $400.

If you do find a Kishu Ken and are ready to bring it home with you, there are some initial costs to take care of. Medical checks and concerns like shots, micro chip, blood tests, deworming, spaying or neutering and a physical examination by the vet will cost around $290. Items you should have ready for your dog like a crate, collar and leash, bowls and so on will cost around $240.

Then there are also ongoing costs to cover, for example feeding it a good to excellent quality dry dog food and doggy treats will cost about $260 a year. Basic health care which covers needs like flea and tick prevention, shots, check ups and pet insurance will be around $485 a year. Other costs like basic training, license, miscellaneous items and toys will cost $315 a year. This gives a yearly starting figure cost of around $1060.

Names

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The Kishu Ken is a medium-sized and active breed that becomes very devoted to its owner and will need a certain level of attention, socialization and training. It does not bark a lot and is fairly easy to live with in terms of grooming, though it does shed so is not for people who want a dog that does not leave fur behind on furniture or clothes. This is a dog that needs something to do and if not being used to hunt with other possibilities include dog sporting events.


Featured Image Credit: Moica an, 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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