Shikoku Inu

Peter Richards
Peter Richards (BVSc, MRCVS, University of Bristol)
Photo of adult Shikoku Inu

The Shikoku Inu is one of the oldest native Japanese dog breeds. They originate from the mountainous Kochi prefecture on the island of Shikoku, so may be referred to as Kochi-ken. The Shikoku Inu was originally bred as a hunting dog. Rather than hunting in packs like European hounds, the breed was tasked with tracking prey animals, mainly deer and boar, through the mountains of Kochi. Once they had found their quarry, they had to keep the animal trapped in one place for the hunter to find and kill. The combination of working alone in difficult terrain under dangerous circumstances has produced a dog breed that is known for its intelligence, hardiness, loyalty and bravery.

In terms of appearance, the Shikoku Inu is very similar to other Spitz-type dogs, particularly the Shiba Inu, although they tend to be bigger than this breed. They have also retained their thirst for activity and exercise from their hunting backgrounds. They require regular exercise, and although this doesn’t exclude them from apartment living, they would do best with an owner who maintains and active and outdoor lifestyle. Shikoku Inu are an intelligent breed so they would take well to activities like agility training or fly-ball that would help to fulfill their exercise needs. Around the home, they are quiet dogs who like to spend time around their owners.

About & History

There is little written history about the dogs in Japan. The Nihon Shoki, written in 720, records dogs being imported from other parts of Asia and speaks briefly about hunting dogs. These dogs would go on to form the basis for the breeding of six native Japanese dog breeds of which the Shikoku Inu is one. Shikoku is Japan’s fourth largest island, lying close to the south coast of the largest. While the modern island is closely linked to the mainland by roads, Shikoku would have been a more remote place in the past. In fact, travel was difficult within the island and several strains of the Shikoku Inu are said to have existed. Only three of these remain, including the Aki, Honkawa and Hata lines, named after their villages of origin.

Like other Japanese Spitz-type dogs, the Shikoku Inu was bred for hunting. They were not developed to hunt in packs, but rather work with their human companion to track and trap large game, such as deer and wild boar. The mountainous terrain, covered in thick bamboo undergrowth, led to the development of the characteristics visible in the Shikoku Inu. They were bred to be agile and hardy dogs, capable of working independently and intelligently. Their job on a hunt was to track an animal then hold it in position long enough for the hunter to arrive and dispatch it for them. Cornering a boar and holding it in position requires loyalty and bravery, both of which remain etched into the modern Shikoku Inu’s character.

Japan’s foreign policy of isolation during the Tokugawa period preserved the Shikoku Inu for centuries. However, once Western influence began to creep into Japanese culture, foreign dog breeds began to be more highly valued than their Japanese counterparts leading to a decline in native breeds. However, the rise of Japanese nationalism in the early 20th century spurred a revival in native breeds. This culminated in the designation of several Japanese breeds, including the Shikoku Inu, as “Living National Monuments” in 1937 which afforded them certain protections.

The Shikoku Inu remains rare outside of Japan and is not widely recognised in other Kennel Clubs, however, exports are increasing and they may become more common in Western countries.


Shikoku Inu Large Photo

The Shikoku Inu is a medium-sized, Spitz-type dog. They are similar in appearance to the Shiba Inu. Males reach an adult height of 48 to 53cm and weight 18 to 23kg. Females are slightly smaller, standing at 43 to 48cm tall and weighing 16 to 20.5kg. The Shikoku Inu’s face has the typical characteristics of a Spitz-type dog. They have triangular shaped faces and triangular, erect ears. Their wolf-like appearance has led to them being called “Japanese Wolfdogs” leading to incorrect assumptions about their lineage and breeding history. They are muscular animals with a distinct abdominal tuck. Their tails are similar to other Japanese breeds, curling over their backs.

Shikoku Inu have thick, double coats. In general, they have a darker base coat colour that covers most of their body and head. The muzzle, undercarriage, chest and eyebrows tend to be highlighted in white or tan. The most common colours are:

  • Red Sesame – Predominantly red base coat
  • Sesame – A mixture of red & black base coat
  • Black Sesame – Mainly black base coat with some red
  • Black & Tan
  • White

Character & Temperament

Shikoku Inu are known for their loyalty. Whilst they will greet all members of the family warmly, they tend to fixate on a single person and show more loyalty and affection to them. Strangers are generally treated with suspicion and aloofness but a Shikoku Inu is unlikely to be aggressive if well trained. They can get along well with children but will not tolerate rough play or teasing.

Supervision with visiting children is recommended as a teased Shikoku Inu might decide to discipline unruly children. They are energetic dogs with a very playful nature. Their natural stamina and endurance makes them suitable for people with an outdoor lifestyle. Although they are energetic outside, inside the home, Shikoku Inu are quiet and polite. They are not prone to excessive barking but will warn their owners if they hear something untoward.

Another facet to the Shikoku Inu’s character is their intelligence. They are a highly independent breed, capable of problem solving and learning complex skills. They learn quickly and enjoy mentally stimulating tasks. While they are generally considered to be less stubborn than other intelligent dog breeds, their capacity to react badly to overt displays of authority should not be underestimated. Equally, it should be stressed that their capacity to pick up bad habits is equal to their ability to learn good ones. Consistency and strict adherence to the rules will help to stop bad habits from developing.

Shikoku Inu have retained a strong hunting instinct. Whilst they may be able to coexist with cats they have grown up with, smaller animals, such as rabbits, will be regarded as prey. When out on walks, it’s important to maintain good control of them, they are liable to forget themselves whilst following a scent, disappearing for hours.


Photo of Shikoku Inu puppy

Shikoku Inu are highly intelligent with an excellent memory and learning capacity. However, this doesn’t make them suitable for inexperience trainers. The key to training a Shikoku Inu lies in motivation. As an independent breed, they need convincing that your idea of what to do is better than their own. Training should start gradually from an early age and not be forceful in nature.

Ideally, tasks should be short and entertaining, making sure to avoid repetition. One of the most important things to master is a good recall to rein in the Shikoku Inu’s tendency to get carried away whilst following a scent.


The average lifespan of a Shikoku Inu is 10 to 12 years. They are a generally healthy breed with no known genetic predispositions for diseases. However, this may be due to a lack of studies and the rarity of the breed, so potential owners should be prepared to ask breeders about the health of parents and grandparents. General health check-ups that can be coordinated with regular vaccine boosters are recommended throughout life just to keep things ticking over and catch any potential problems sooner rather than later.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Shikoku Inu are an active breed. They love to play with their owners and spend plenty of time outdoors. Whilst they’re not excluded from apartment living, you would need to ensure that they are getting plenty of exercise with several walks during a day. Shikoku Inu would enjoy taking part in mentally as well as physically stimulating activities such as agility or obedience training.

These activities can help to strengthen the owner-dog bond. If a Shikoku Inu has access to a backyard or garden, it should be well fenced. As a hunting breed, they are likely to escape and following scents or prey of their own accord.


Shikoku Inu have a double coat that sheds twice a year. Outside of shedding, they will need weekly brushing. During shedding seasons, daily brushing is recommended. When Shikoku Inu are shedding, their hair is liable to get everywhere! Other basic grooming that should be carried out on a regular basis include trimming nails and ensuring ears are clean and free from infection.

Famous Shikoku Inus

As a breed that is rare outside of Japan, the Shikoku Inu has yet to enter the public eye. You can, however, follow the adventures of the every day Shikoku on Instagram.


There are no recognised cross-breeds that use a Shikoku Inu.

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