Let's talk Kai Kens

One of six spitz-type breeds native to Japan, the Kai Ken is an agile, athletic dog with impressive stamina and intrepid determination that originally made them ideal companions to Japanese hunters. Add to these qualities their unwavering loyalty and a protective instinct, and it’s easy to understand why the Japanese have declared the Kai Ken a Natural Monument. Curious and energetic, the striking Kai Ken makes a wonderful pet for anyone happy to indulge their mental and physical energy.

Official name: Kai Ken

Other names: Kai tora-ken

Origins: Japan

Black and white portrait of a Kai Ken
 Drooling tendencies   Warm weather?  Medium
 Shedding level  High Suited to apartment living?   
 Physical activity needs Moderate Kid-friendly?
 High
 Compatibility with other pets  Medium Can stay alone?  Medium

We advise against leaving pets alone for long stretches. Companionship can prevent emotional distress and destructive behaviour. Speak to your veterinarian for recommendations.

 
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Illustration of a Kai Ken
Male
47 - 53 cm Height
9 - 18 kg Weight
Female
42 - 48 cm Height
9 - 18 kg Weight

 

 Baby age  Birth to 2 months
 Puppy age  2 to 12 months
 Adult age  1 to 7 years
 Mature age  7 to 10 years
 Senior age  From 10 years

Kai Ken stood with front paws up on a rock in a stream

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Get to know the Kai Ken

All you need to know about the breed

Stunning, fearless, intelligent – all words that aptly describe the Kai Ken. ‘Cuddly’, not so much. But that doesn’t mean these aren’t deeply affectionate dogs. While not likely to curl up in your lap and snuggle, the Kai Ken will show attachment in their own way, whether that’s staying near you – rather than on you - as much as possible or not hesitating to shield you from danger. As guard dogs go, the Kai Ken is hard to outdo.

And while the breed’s independence can sometimes seem like stubbornness, the Kai Ken is generally eager to please those with whom they’ve formed a bond. As such, they can be a pleasure to train – particularly when given plenty of encouragement and motivation.

For all their bravery, energy, and strength, the Kai Ken is remarkably calm with children though, like any dog, they should be trained first. This and the fact that they happen to be quite clean make them great candidates for apartment living. Just be sure to give them the “you time” they so thrive on along with the exercise and mental stimulation needed to keep them healthy and content.

Kai Ken stood to the side looking to the camera in an urban setting

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2 facts about Kai Kens

1. Earning their stripes

One of the Kai Ken’s most distinguishing features is their coat, which comes in one of three variations: brindle, black brindle, and red brindle - a singular look that has earned them the nickname “Tiger Dog”. But they don’t get their “stripes” right away; Kai Ken puppies are often born with a solid coat whose colour and pattern change throughout the first 5 years of their life!

2. We two are one

Originally, there were two types of Kai Ken descended from two famous foundation studs. The first, named Kaikuro, produced the line known as “shishi-inu-gata”, known for their stockier builds and bear-like faces. The second stud, Dairo, produced the “shika-inu-gata” line, recognisable by their longer, leaner bodies and fox-like features. Because much “blurring” occurred between the two variations, the Japanese no longer distinguish between them and appreciate the Kai Ken as a single national treasure.

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History of the breed

Descended from medium-sized dogs present in ancient Japan, the Kai Ken emerged as a breed in the region of Kai, where they earned admiration and a reputation for their keen hunting prowess and agility. The Kai Ken remained isolated in the mountainous region until being discovered by outsiders until 1929.

In 1931, the breed’s oldest and largest registry, the Kai Ken Aigokai, was created and the dogs were officially recognised by the Japanese Kennel Club just three years later. It is thought that the first Kai Ken to arrive in America were brought over in the 1950s by U.S. servicemen returning home after serving overseas; however, nothing is known of their having produced any offspring. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that more puppies were imported to the U.S., forming the genetic pool for all American-bred Kai Ken. Today, most Kai Ken are still found in their native Japan where they enjoy widespread popularity as companion dogs.

Black and white portrait of a Kai Ken

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From head to tail

Physical characteristics of Kai Kens

1. Head

Broad forehead, dark brown eyes and triangular, pricked ears.

2. Body

Muscular body, straight back and moderately sprung ribs.

3. Tail

Thick, high-set tail curled tightly or carried curved over the back.

Kai Ken sat in long grass, tongue out

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Things to look out for

From specific breed traits to a general health overview, here are some interesting facts about your Kai Ken
Two Kai Kens bounding over grass

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Caring for your Kai Ken

Grooming, training and exercise tips

The Kai Ken sheds the undercoat of their double coat twice a year. However, aside from more frequent vacuuming and brushing during these periods, you can maintain your Kai Ken’s medium-length coat with an occasional brushing. In addition to regular teeth brushing, remember to check their ears for any debris or wax build-up that could lead to infection, and keep their nails trimmed to avoid splitting and cracking. An active and intelligent dog like the Kai Ken should get the physical and mental stimulation to match. This need can be met with two daily half-hour to hour-long walks on-lead coupled with play sessions (in an enclosed space if outdoors). Packed with stamina, the Kai Ken is also an excellent candidate for fast-paced sports like lure coursing, flyball, agility training – and even swimming! Their keenness for affection makes the Kai Ken somewhat amenable to training. Still, consistency and positive reinforcement are a must with this breed as well as positive early introductions to others to ensure best canine manners over the long term.

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All about Kai Kens

Though very protective of their human family, the Kai Ken is generally a calm, obedient dog once trained; however, this is not a breed recommended for first-time dog owners. While they will stand up to potential threats, they are not an aggressive breed.

As always, early socialisation and training are key to any dog’s successful cohabitation with humans and other pets. That said, while the Kai Ken usually gets along with other dogs, their natural prey drive means they could be unpredictable around cats and other smaller pets.

Other breeds that might interest you.

Sources

1 - Veterinary Centers of America https://vcahospitals.com/ 

2 - Royal Canin Dog Encyclopaedia. Ed 2010 and 2020

3 - Banfield Pet Hospital https://www.banfield.com/

4 - Royal Canin BHN Product Book

5 - American Kennel Club https://www.akc.org/