shiba inu standing in snow
© Shutterstock

10 incredible Japanese dog breeds

By Justine Seraphin Country Manager

Updated on the

Native breeds are considered national treasures in Japan, so it’s no wonder Japanese dog lovers take so much pride in preserving them.

There are only six breeds that are considered truly native breeds in Japan: the Shikoku Inu, Kishu Inu, Kai Inu, Hokkaido Inu, Akita Inu, and Shiba Inu. None of these breeds are related - ‘inu’ just means dog in Japanese! Many other breeds hail from Japan too, but they are not officially considered as native. Some Japanese dogs remain extremely rare outside of their native country, but others have gained worldwide recognition.

Japanese dog breeds are primitive, meaning they’re very ancient breeds which have hardly been modified since they were first created. Due to this, most Japanese dog breeds are independant, stubborn, and difficult to train. Despite their indisputable beauty, they are not for everyone! But if you’re an experienced owner looking for a unique breed, check out these incredible Japanese dog breeds!

The Akita Inu

The Japanese Akita Inu ©Shutterstock

Akita Inus are the largest of the Japanese breeds. They are a rare breed outside of Japan - the more common Akita in the Western-world is the American Akita, which is a different version of the breed. The American Akita is larger, more muscular, and comes in a large variety of coat colours, while the Japanese Akita Inu most commonly comes in an orange and white colour combination. Akitas are territorial and protective, so they’re not for first-time owners. They’re considered high-risk by many insurance companies and may also be banned from living in certain properties. An ideal Akita owner is someone who is experienced, has no other pets or young children, and can devote lots of time to socialising their dog properly. For the right owner though, they can be the most loyal of pets! Read about Hachiko’s story if you don’t believe us!

Find out more about the Akita!

The Shikoku Inu

The Shikoku Inu ©Shutterstock

Shikokus are wolf-like medium-sized dogs. Originally bred as hunting dogs, Shikokus still have a strong prey drive, so they’re not recommended for families who own small pets. Despite being a primitive breed, the Shikoku is one of the most friendly, easy-going, and trainable of the Japanese breeds. They can do well in active families who will keep them mentally and physically stimulated. 

Find out more about the Shikoku!

The Kishu Inu or Kishu Ken

The Kishu Ken ©Shutterstock

The Kishu Ken is another spitz breed which was originally bred to stalk prey, so it’s a very quiet dog. Kishu Kens are highly intelligent and extremely loyal to those they consider as their pack. However, due to their strong-willed natures, they require experienced handling and an owner who will devote time and effort to proper training and socialization. 

The Kai Inu or Kai Ken

The Kai Ken ©Shutterstock

Kai Kens are brindle dogs bred for hunting. They are incredibly endurant and agile - they have been known to swim across rivers and climb trees to catch game. Like most native Japanese breeds, they are known to be independent and aloof towards strangers, but fiercely protective of and loyal to their masters. They are one of the rare Japanese breeds who remained unaffected by World War II.

Find out more about the Kai Ken!

The Hokkaido Inu

The Hokkaido Inu ©Shutterstock

Hokkaido Inus were originally bred to hunt bears! As such, they are powerful, fearless dogs. Like many native Japanese dog breeds, the Hokkaido Inu tends to be a one-person dog. They bond strongly to their owner, but can be aggressive towards other dogs and even humans if not properly trained or socialized.

Find out more about the Hokkaido!

The Shiba Inu

The Shiba Inu ©Shutterstock

Shibas are the smallest of the native Japanese dog breeds, and they are also the most popular. Originally bred to hunt wild boar, they are today only kept as companion dogs. Shiba Inus are notoriously hard to train, and are therefore not recommended for first-time owners. They are also very independent and may be unfriendly towards strangers. However, they are very affectionate with their owners, and due to their compact size, can also make good apartment dogs.

Find out more about the Shiba Inu!

The Japanese Terrier

Unlike Japan’s native breeds, the Japanese Terrier was bred for the sole purpose of companionship. This makes it an excellent lapdog. Additionally, its small size and short, smooth coat means it is relatively low maintenance and can do well in apartments. Known for its cheerful and lively personality, the Japanese Terrier also does great with children.

Find out more about the Japanese Terrier!

The Japanese Chin

The Japanese Chin ©Shutterstock

It is thought that Japanese Chins actually originated in China, but they became famous in Japan, where they were literally used as lap warmers for the aristocracy as far back as 520 AD. Because they were bred as companions, Japanese Chins excel at this! They are loyal and affectionate dogs who, due to their size and laid-back natures, are also suitable for apartment living. They are well-known for their “Chin spins” - the adorable bouncing they do when they’re excited.

Find out more about the Japanese Chin!

The Ryukyu Inu

With only 400 of these dogs thought to exist today, this may be the rarest of the Japanese breeds. Originally bred to hunt wild boar, this is an athletic breed which will require lots of exercise and mental stimulation. The Ryukyu Inu has a gentle nature and can bond closely with several people that it considers to be in its “pack”, but it does need lots of early and frequent training and socialization for it to be a well-mannered dog.

The Tosa Inu

The Tosa Inu ©Shutterstock

Japanese Tosa Inus were originally bred as fighting dogs in Japan. Due to this, they are large, athletic, and intimidating animals who can also be quite reactive towards other dogs. While they are affectionate towards their family members, Tosa Inus are actually one of the rare breeds that are banned in the UK. 

Find out more about the Japanese Tosa!

The Japanese Spitz

The Japanese Spitz ©Shutterstock

The Japanese Spitz was created in Japan in the 1920’s and is closely related to the German Spitz, Samoyed and American Eskimo Dog. These are truly people-oriented dogs who love to participate in family activities. They are affectionate and playful, but also very alert, making them effective watchdogs. However, due to their small/medium size, they are not a good choice for people wanting a guard dog.

Find out more about the Japanese Spitz!

So there you have it! From lap dogs to guard dogs, there’s a Japanese dog breed for everyone! Which one is your favourite?

Other dog breeds by country or continent:

More advice on...

What did you think of this advice article?

Thanks for your feedback !

Thanks for your feedback !

Leave a comment
Connect to comment
Want to share this article?