Let's talk Kishus

Usually all-white with a regal stature, Kishu dogs are one of six Japanese spitz-type breeds and are named, like their cousins, after the region from which they originate. These intelligent, solid-bodied dogs were bred to hunt larger animals and have the swagger and confidence that comes with that initial reason for being. Now, however, Kishus make faithful, docile companions for their human families, once well-socialised and trained. Strangers, not so much. They do have a decent amount of energy to burn, so need an active owner, but once said energy has been addressed, your Kishu will enjoy nothing better than curling up if not with you, then at your feet.

Official name: Kishu

Other names: Kishū-ken, Kishu Inu

Origins: Japan

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

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

 
Inline Image 15
Illustration of a Kishu
Male
48 - 56 cm Height
13.5 - 27 kg Weight
Female
43 - 51 cm Height
13.5 - 27 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

Kishu curled up in the corner of a terrace in the sun

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Get to know the Kishu

All you need to know about the breed

Hailing from the mountainous region of Kishu in Japan, the Kishu dog breed, or Kishu Ken, is a medium-sized hardy animal with lots of endurance. Resembling nothing so much as a canine polar bear with their usually all-white double coats, the breed can also be found in rare red and sesame, or brindle-coated versions. While they were initially bred for the hunt, today they also make for super companions.

Kishus have an affable and docile temperament but they do have some limits. Like cohabiting with cats and other small mammals - their strong prey instincts make this a no-no unless they were raised with them. Smaller kids could also prove challenging. Kishus prefer calm living arrangements so children need to be taught how to respectfully interact with dogs (though in all fairness, this is a universal truism). Of course, your Kishu needs training and socialisation classes to learn how to get along with kids, too.

Kishus need a moderate amount of exercise each day but it needs to be kept interesting. Think mental stimulation, so change it up to keep them on their toes. Affectionate and loyal, Kishu dogs are quite protective of their human family, especially if someone new comes through. And while not overly barky, they will definitely sound the alarm. But that’s just your Kishu looking out for you. This is a dog that really takes their place as part of their human family.

Kishu stood looking to the side

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2 facts about Kishus

1. The kid’s all white

Initially bred in a variety of colours, demand for all-white, visible from afar Kishu dogs really pulled out in front, so breeders acquiesced with more selective breeding, making red and brindle-hued Kishus rather rare. Now they are found in the afore-mentioned snow white, as well as red and sesame.

2. Easy to train. And yet…

Kishus were bred to ‘think’ and act independently while hunting in extremely rugged surroundings. While they make excellent companions and can be quite docile with their humans, training a Kishu is a bit of a dance. If you find something that works – reward-based training, for example – it might not work as effectively the next. So you will have to engage your Kishu and keep things interesting in order to keep them invested in doing as you ask. The end result will be worth the work, though, as this highly intelligent breed makes for a close and affectionate companion.

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History of the breed

A beautiful legend passed down by Japanese canine historian, Shigeru Kato, has it that a hunter named Mineyakuro helped an injured she-wolf he met one night on his way home. In return, the wolf left a pup on his doorstep. The pup was named ‘Man’ and grew to be a great hunter. One day the lord of the region called all the hunters together for a hunt. That day Man saved the lord from a charging boar, earning great respect and reward. Legend has it the Kishu Ken dog is descended from this brave wolf.

While the Kishu’s exact origins are subject to much interpretation - they are a relatively new breed on paper - most experts in their native Japan agree this dignified breed’s heritage has ancient roots. Brave and smart, Kishu dogs are prized by the Matagi, traditional winter hunters of the Tōhoku region in the north of the country. Stories abound of Kishus having a hand in saving Matagi lives in the icy wilderness.

As with many other breeds, the Kishu’s numbers suffered during World War II. However, thanks to the isolated mountain region in which they are found and the hunters who valued them, they were able to get through this challenging time. The Kishu Ken was standardised in 1934 through the Nihon Ken Hozonkai (NIPPO) and declared a National Monument in Japan the same year. The Fédération Cynologique Internationale recognised them in 1982, the United Kennel Club in 2006. While not formally recognised by the American Kennel Club, the Kishu has been part of their Foundation Stock Service since 2005.

Black and white portrait of a Kishu

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From head to tail

Physical characteristics of Kishus

1. Body

Medium-sized, evenly balanced dog with well-developed muscles.

2. Ears

Pricked ears and a tick, curled or curved, sickle tail.

3. Coat

Primarily white but also comes in red or sesame solid coat colours.

Side profile of a Kishu's face

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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 Kishu
Kishu stood to the side on a pavement

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Caring for your Kishu

Grooming, training and exercise tips

When it comes to grooming, the Kishu’s thick double coat is pretty low maintenance. A weekly brushing will suffice. The exception: when they shed their undercoat twice a year. During these periods you will need to brush your Kishu – and vacuum – more often. Otherwise, keep their nails trimmed to avoid splitting and cracking and brush teeth regularly (daily is recommended) - to help keep periodontal disease at bay. On the exercise front, an active and intelligent dog like the Kishu will need physical and mental stimulation to match. Think long and varied walks on-lead coupled with lively play sessions (in an enclosed space if outdoors). New routes will keep things interesting, which is paramount to offset boredom. Keeping it interesting is also important when training a Kishu. Ultra intelligent, they are used to solving problems on their own muster out in the wild. So you will need to incentivise their training. It is said that Kishus are easy to train if you can figure out what motivates your particular dog. Once you do, consistency and positive reinforcement are a must with this breed as well as early introductions to others to ensure best canine manners over the long term.

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All about Kishus

Intelligent and independent, Kishu dogs were initially bred as hunting dogs. So while they are loyal companions, and do well with other dogs if well-trained and socialised early, their strong prey drive and dominating spirit might not bode well for smaller animals, cats included.

While the Kishu has a double coat - coarse, short and thick with a soft undercoat - they are normal shedders most of the time. However, once or twice a year they ‘blow’ their coat and shed an enormous amount of that thick coat. A small price to pay for the joys of living with a Kishu Ken?

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/