Before I get started, I would
like to make it clear that the following article is based on my experience
with the Akita, Shiba Inu and Kai Ken. This article is written strictly
on my experiences and findings with these breeds. Having bred, trained,
and shown the Akita for over 20 years, the Shibas for about 10 years and
the Kai for 4 years. I have, also, had a great deal of experience with
rescue dogs of all three breeds that have been neglected, abused and under
There are 10 dogs that are native to Japan. About half of these dogs are of the Spitz type, and the UKC refers to these dogs as “Northern Breeds”. I will be writing about three of these breeds; the Akita, the Shiba Inu, and the Kai Ken. These dogs share several common physical characteristics, such as pricked ears, curled tails, small eyes and triangular shaped heads. All three breeds .have a thick double coat that does not shed on a continual basis, however, they do “blow coat” twice a year.
I have found all three breeds to be somewhat primitive in nature, very intelligent, quite clean, and easy to housebreak. These dogs all have terrific memories and even a brief meeting with people or another dog will be remembered. They will form habits easily, and it is up to his/her person to see that these habits are good ones.
At one time or another these three breeds have been used for hunting and still have strong hunting instincts, so care should be taken with small animals that could be considered prey. They can, however, learn to live with cats and other small pets with some early training.
Being extremely devoted to their family, they require a fair amount of love and attention from their owners to be happy and will do best kept as inside housedogs.
The Akita is the largest of the Japanese Spitz type dogs, with males averaging 26 to 28 inches tall at the shoulder and weighing 110 lbs. or more while the females are usually a little smaller. The Akita can be any color including solids, brindles and pintos. The tail should always be carried over the back, dipping to or below the level of the back and the tailbone reaches the hock when let down. Ears should be very small, thick, rounded at the corner, and carried slightly forward over the eyes. The Akita is naturally dominant and quietly in control of every situation. They rarely bark, preferring to communicate with their eyes and through body language. This breed generally does not get along well with other dogs of the same sex and seldom will allow another dog to dominate it. Akita’s are usually laid back and tend to reserve their energy for important things. The Akita will generally love and protect the children they are raised with, but may not be as patient with others.*
The middle size of the three breeds is the Kai Ken which is 18 to 22 inches at the shoulder, about 30 lbs., with females being somewhat smaller. Puppies are born black and fuzzy and develop their brindle markings as they grow and they will continue to brindle up to 5 years of age. Their brindle comes in several shades with black, gray, and red being equally acceptable, but the Kai must always have some type of brindle.** Most will have black spots on their tongues. The Kai will have slightly larger and more pointed ears than the Akita or Shiba and the tail is carried over the back in a curled or sickle position. Kai’s are very athletic and can often be seen perched on high objects like the back of the couch, or a picnic table so they can keep an eye on things. They can be aloof with strangers, but will devote their heart and soul to the ones they love. Never forgetting a friend, man or beast. Once you have earned a Kai’s trust and friendship he will be loyal and devoted for life. Kai’s take well to training and are very willing to please. While not a barker by nature, they will bark to alert his/her family of danger. Due to the primitive nature of the Kai it is very important that they be well socialized starting at birth and continuing well into adulthood. If raised with dogs or other pets they will usually get along with them. The Kai Ken usually loves children and is very patient with young ones.*
The Shiba Inu, which is the smallest of our Japanese Treasures, is possibly the biggest in attitude. Shibas are cocky, arrogant, and fear nothing. They are very independent and can give you that “I don’t need you” look whenever asked to do something they don’t want to do. The male Shiba Inu should be about 14 to 16 inches at the shoulder, weigh about 25 lbs., and the female is slightly smaller. The preferred colors are red, red sesame, or black and tan. Like the Kai, the Shiba’s tail is carried over the back in a curled or sickle position. They are very good hunters, and will do exactly that without a high fence and/or strong leash. They are very athletic and can run for days if they escape, which they are very good at doing. Shibas are known for “taking your number and getting back to you” when called. They can learn to live with other pets that will let them be the boss but do not always “play well with others”. They are generally good with kids that are good with them.* Shibas are not usually big barkers, but do tend to vocalize their objections when they feel they are being violated, such as leash breaking or toe nail trimming. Although, they love to run when loose they do make great housedogs, and like the Kai, love to perch on high objects to keep an eye on things. They are very alert and make great watchdogs.
In a future article I will be talking about some training methods that work well with our Japanese
* Most dogs are usually good with children, although it is important to teach children not to tease and torment the dog. And NEVER leave young children unattended with any dog no matter what the breed for the dogs safety as well as the child’s.
** As stated by the Kai Ken Aigokai preservation society