Hokkaido dog

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Hokkaido dog
Magdalena Niemiec / Wikipedia.org

A dog that originated in Japan many hundreds of years ago, the Hokkaido dog is a truly ancient breed. A Spitz type dog with a dense coat, prick ears, small eyes and curled tail, the Hokkaido dog bears close resemblance to the Shiba Inu. Their fur comes in an array of colours, the most unusual being ‘sesame’ – a fawn color with dark tips.

A natural born hunter, the Hokkaido dog will take on any challenge that is set to it, even if that means tackling large brown bears. While tolerant of other pet dogs in the family, this breed is not typically accepting of smaller animals. They do not have excessive exercise requirements, though do love to be outside.

About & History

The Hokkaido dog, or the Ainu, is an ancient Japanese Spitz-type dog that probably descended from a breed known as the Matagi-ken. With around 1,000 years of history to its name, the Hokkaido dog was one of the earliest dog breeds in existence, living alongside the indigenous Japanese people. Developed in a time long before written records were kept, it is impossible to say for sure how exactly this dog came to be.

Legend has it, that the Hokkaido dog was kept hidden from the rest of the world until it was discovered by a British zoologist called Thomas Blankiston in 1869. It was Mr. Blankiston who is said to have given the breed their name.

Traditionally, this dog would have hunted alongside the Japanese people, coming from a time long before guns were invented. Breed fanciers will boast about the ease with which a Hokkaido dog will hunt down a brown bear, fearless in its pursuit, clamping onto their neck until they go down. A resourceful hunter, the Hokkaido dog were also trained by the ancient Japanese people to catch fish from streams. On top of their hunting duties, these versatile dogs would also act as guard dogs for their families, as well as much loved companions. In recent years, the Hokkaido dog has been known to work in search and rescue missions, though nowadays is most often kept as a family pet. Many pets also serve to hunt local bears and wild boar in an aim to keep their numbers low.

In 1937, the breed was given the official name of Hokkaido-Inu and was elected to be a national monument. The breed was recognised by the UKC within their Northern Dog breed group in 1996. At that time, it was known as the Ainu, but the name was updated to the Hokkaido dog in 2008. Today, it would be rare to spot a Hokkaido dog outside of its native Japan.


Hokkaido dog Large Photo
Magdalena Niemiec / Wikipedia.org

A strong and imposing dog, the Hokkaido dog has the characteristic features of a Spitz type breed and carries itself with dignity and elegance. Their head is wide, with a wedge-shaped muzzle and defined stop. They have triangular shaped ears that stand up and are relatively small. Their eyes are also small and of a dark brown colour. Their nose is probably the most prominent feature of their face, and while usually black, it may be flesh coloured in those dogs with white fur. Some breed members will have dark colouring on their tongue. The rectangular body of the Hokkaido dog has a deep chest and a well-sprung rib cage. Their legs are straight and strong, ending in arched toes that have thick, dark claws. Their distinguishing bushy tail curves over their back and is set high.

The double coat of the Hokkaido dog has a soft undercoat and a thick, straight overcoat. Accepted colours include:

  • Black
  • White
  • Red
  • Brindle
  • Black & Tan
  • Sesame (Fawn with Black Tips)

Male breed members reach heights of 48cm to 52cm, while females stand at 46cm to 48cm. Typically, Hokkaido dogs weigh around 20kg-30kg.

Character & Temperament

The most fundamental personality trait of the Hokkaido dog has to be loyalty. A dog that will dedicate themselves to their master, this breed shows a real devotion that is not seen in most. In fact, this is a fact that can make a Hokkaido dog difficult to re-home, so attached do they become to their original owner. Incredibly brave, they will fight off fierce and intimidating predators without hesitation. Despite their strength and potential for aggression, they are known to make calm and gentle household companions.

The Hokkaido dog bonds closely with every member of its family and can tolerate children well if brought up with them from a young age. Due to the potential power of the dog, children should not be left unsupervised in its company. Dogs that have been raised together will usually get on well, but new arrivals may not be accepted. Smaller animals should be kept away from the Hokkaido dog, who is likely to see them as prey.


The Hokkaido dog is an inherent hunter, and, as such, needs little in the way of training when it comes to this task. This intelligent breed responds well to obedience training and is motivated by food. Recall can be an issue when in the outdoors, due to their high prey drive.

A trainer should assume the role of the ‘alpha’ in the relationship to ensure they have the respect of the dog. It is vital that they are consistent and firm, not allowing the dog to get away with misbehaving. While this holds true for all breeds of dog, it is especially important in a powerful, daring dog, such as the Hokkaido dog, who can be strong-willed.


The average lifespan of this breed is 12 to 15 years. While generally a robust breed, there are a number of conditions to be aware of when it comes to the Hokkaido dog. These include:

Collie Eye Anomaly

While this condition is more commonly associated with Border Collies, a number of dog breeds can develop this syndrome. Dogs are born affected and the disease affects both eyes.

The severity varies from patient to patient, with symptoms ranging from mild vision impairment to total blindness. Sadly, no treatment exists for this disease, and prudent breeding is advised to reduce the incidence within the population.

Hip & Elbow Dysplasia

These debilitating orthopaedic conditions both have a known genetic component and can dramatically reduce the quality of life of an animal. Mobility issues and chronic pain often leave a dog requiring daily mediation to cope. Prudent screening of breeding animals is essential to avoid passing these conditions on to future generations.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Hokkaido dog does not need excessive amounts of exercise and would typically only need 30 to 60 minutes of activity daily. They enjoy hikes and jogs and will happily accompany their owner when outdoors. Keeping this dog on a lead is advised, as they are known to chase small animals.

This is a dog that is keen to be outdoors at every opportunity, even if only to have a lie down in the fresh air. They love to play around, though will end the game once bored.

When interacting with other dogs, the ‘play’ signals of the Hokkaido dog can sometimes be mistaken for aggressive tendencies, as they can jump and crouch in a strange manner, while letting out intimidating barks and howls.


The thick coat of the Hokkaido dog should be brushed out once or twice a week to remove dead fur. The frequency of brushing needs to be increased during the shedding period, and a good quality wire comb should be used to reach the under coat.

Bathing of the Hokkaido dog can be a momentous task, and not one they tend to enjoy. They also take a very long time to fully dry due to the density of their fur. Baths are not recommended often and are generally only needed a few times a year.

Introducing the Hokkaido dog to tasks, such as claw clipping and ear checks, from a young age is highly advised. This can increase their tolerance and make the necessary chores more pleasant. Rewarding them with a food treat afterwards will encourage them to continue to accept the grooming activities readily.

Famous Hokkaido dogs

Otousan, meaning 'father' in Japanese, is the most famous breed member. He is a white Hokkaido dog who shot to celebrity status after appearing in a very successful advertising campaign for SoftBank in Japan. Luckily, we found a compilation of those adverts, so you too can enjoy them. He's quite the character! You can also follow him on Instagram.


There are no well-known cross-breed examples of the Hokkaido dog.

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