Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Kishu
Motdakasha /

A loyal and honorable dog, the Japanese Kishu Ken has been in existence for many centuries and is likely over 3,000 years old. Originating in the Southeast of Japan, this breed is thought to be closely related to the other Japanese Spitz breeds, including the Hokkaido Ken. It was once used to hunt over mountainous terrain, silently pursuing its prey and then holding it until the huntsmen arrived.

Both headstrong and willful, the Kishu benefits from a sensible owner who is willing to put lots of time into training it. This bred instinctively bonds with its family and will defend them at all costs. It is for this reason that they are kept as watch dogs within many Japanese family homes today.

About & History

Sometimes referred to as the Kishu Inu or the Kishu Ken, the noble Kishu dog is an ancient Japanese dog that not many Westerners have heard of. The word ‘Kishu’ is a reference to the province in Japan from which it originated; a hilly region that no longer exists but is in the same location as the Wakayama and Mie prefectures. ‘Ken’ and ‘Inu’ are two Japanese words for dog.

The Kishu is a medium-sized dog that is often grouped alongside three similar Japanese breeds of similar stature and appearance: the Hokkaido Ken, Kai Ken and Shikoku Ken. It was not until the 1930s that the Kishu breed began to be standardised, and at this time, it became established as a national treasure of Japan.

Traditionally, the Kishu was used by the Japanese people to hunt a variety of animals, including boar and deer. They are renowned for their ability to stalk their prey silently, not barking like many other hunting dogs will. Once they have cornered their target, they will wait with it until the human hunter arrives to finish the job. Sometimes, this breed will even climb trees to search for their prey. While some dogs are still used to work, nowadays, most are kept as beloved family pets within Japan.

The UKC recognised the Kishu within their Northern Breed group in 2006 and they are also part of the AKC’s Foundation Stock Service. Within the USA, the Kishu is an extremely rare breed.


Kishu Large Photo
CJ Hammond /

Relatively similar in appearance to the Japanese Hokkaido dog, these breeds are often mistaken for one another. Like other Spitz type dogs, the Kishu is medium-sized with plush fur, erect ears and a plumed tail that curls up and over their back.

The head of the dog is relatively small with a broad forehead and obvious stop. Their muzzle is wedge-shaped and ends in a nose that may be black or flesh-coloured. Their small, dark eyes should not be set too close together and are said to have a ‘triangular’ shape. Similarly, their triangular ears are not over-sized and should sit widely apart on top of the skull. Their body is robust and rectangular with a deep chest and straight back. Their limbs should be densely boned and sturdy. The limbs end in well-arched toes, thick pads and dark claws.

The double coat of the Kishu feels harsh to the touch. While white coats were once uncommon, these dogs have been bred so that white coats are now the most frequently seen. This trend is thought to have occurred because white is easily visible when out on the hunt and is sometimes thought of as being a ‘clean’ dog colour within Japan. Red and sesame (red with black tips) are also acceptable colours.

There is a sexual dimorphism within the breed and it should be possible to tell males and females apart by their conformation and size. Males reach heights of 49.5cm to 54.5cm, while the shorter female does not exceed heights of 48cm. There is a great variability of weight within the breed, with dogs weighing anything between 13.5kg and 27kg.

Character & Temperament

When used for hunting, the Kishu is respected for its courage and dedication it has for the job. They are stealthy and never back down from a challenge. While mainly used to hunt animals, such as wild boar, they also have a strong small animal prey drive and will eagerly pursue cats. This instinct can even extend to small dogs, so owners attempting to introduce a Kishu to a household that already has pets should be extremely cautious and patient. The earlier a Kishu is socialised with other pets, the higher the chance that they will accept them as part of the family.

Particularly revered for their loyalty, the Kishu is often described as a ‘one family dog’. They will bond themselves tightly to their owners and respect them above anybody else, showing affection and kindness towards the children within the home. With this devotion, comes a territorial attitude and the Kishu has a tendency to be a possessive dog, warning intruders away from its property and family with gusto. If well socialised, they will likely ignore new guests, but if owners fail to provide adequate socialisation and training from puppyhood, they can potentially become defensive and unwelcoming. While often silent, the Kishu is always alert to its surrounding and makes a very effective watch dog.


Photo of Kishu puppy
Motdakasha /

Undeniably intelligent, it is said that the Kishu is quite easy to train and will become house-trained quicker than most. They often try to dominate their family and other animals, so require a firm hand and to be made aware of the hierarchy within the home. It is essential that trainers establish themselves as the ‘alpha’, ensuring the Kishu’s respect. The independent nature and strong will of this breed mean that first-time owners should probably opt for a different breed, as Kishus can become a real handful without a proper training regime.

Many breed members participate in canine competitions, their brains and brawn making them fierce competitors. Agility and obedience are both areas in which the Kishu can do very well indeed. Kishu dogs respond best to positive reinforcement training, with tasty food often acting as a strong motivating tool!


The Kishu is not thought of as being a particularly unhealthy breed and there are just a small number of conditions to keep on the radar. These include:

Hip Dysplasia

An orthopaedic condition that affects the hip joints in the hind limbs, hip dysplasia is extremely common in the canine world. It is most important to screen breeding dogs for this condition, as it is known to be passed on genetically.


An underactive thyroid gland will result in a sluggish metabolism and a dog that ‘just isn’t doing right’. Signs can vary between individuals but can include weight gain, lethargy, skin infections and alopecia. A blood test can help to diagnose the condition, and the treatment consists of lifelong medication. Luckily, most dogs respond very well to therapy, though will require frequent monitoring.


Eyelids that turn inwards pose an issue as they lead to eye lashes rubbing along the surface of the eye. This will cause irritation and tearing and may even result in ulceration of the cornea. Surgical therapy is advised and should be curative.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Due to the athleticism of the breed, they need to live in a large house with an ample garden and should also be provided with outdoor exercise each day. They should be kept on a lead when walked outside the home, due to their hunting tendencies and intolerance of some small dogs. For this reason also, any garden in which they roam should be well secured.

This smart cookie needs more than just mundane walks in the park to keep him happy. This breed loves the opportunity to play new games, solve puzzles, participate in doggy sports and to perform their natural behavior: hunting.


The thick double coat of the Kishu is not as difficult to care for as one may initially think. During the shedding season, their undercoat will need to be combed out and they should get a twice weekly brushing all year round.

Famous Kishu Inus

Interestingly, the Kishu breed of dog is very famous within Manga comics, where they are represented as cartoon fighting dogs.


The Kishu has been kept relatively isolated on the island of Japan during its millennia of existence. While it is thought to be closely related to several other Japanese dog breeds, there are no reported, well-established cross-breeds.

User comments

There are no user comments for this listing.