Hokkaido Dog: Hardy, Smart, and Reliable

two hokkaido dogs standing together
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The Japanese are known for their strong work ethic, loyalty, and integrity. Do these traits extend to their dogs? If we take a look at the Hokkaido dog, then the answer has to be yes.

The Hokkaido are powerful, faithful working dogs that are known for their strong hunting instincts. Additionally, they are known for their undisputed loyalty and love for their owners. They were widely used to hunt large game in mountainous regions of Japan, and their thick double coats make them the perfect hunting companions for areas with cold climate. Today, these versatile dogs are popular as guard dogs and family companions.

In this article, we share with you this dog’s behavioral traits, health issues, and grooming needs among others. After reading this article, you will have all relevant knowledge on the Hokkaido in the palm of your hand. This knowledge will help you figure out how to treat your best friend right. It will also be easier for you to decide whether this is the best companion for you or if you’d prefer a different breed.

Breed Characteristics

grown up white hokkaido dog

  • Adaptability: Good; the dog is known to withstand severe snowfall and cold weather

  • Trainability: Good; the dog is a quick learner with an independent personality, which makes training easy although some extra patience is needed

  • Health and Grooming: Average; the thick coat of the Hokkaido requires regular brushing

  • All Around Friendliness: Good; the dog does well with children especially if they are socialized early

  • Exercise Needs: High Maintenance; the Hokkaido is a high energy breed that needs a lot of daily and regular exercise. They love running, and they will do well with an active owner

Dog Breed GroupSpitz Dogs
HeightMales: 18-22 inches
Females: 18-20.5 inches
WeightMales: 45-66 pounds
Females: 44-57 pounds
Lifespan11-15 years

The Hokkaido dog is one of the six Japanese native Spitz dogs. It is said to have evolved from medium-sized hunting dogs of the Ainu people about 3,000 years ago. This is a primitive breed. In 1937, the Japanese government classified the dog as a living natural monument. This is a rare species that is protected by the law.

The dog originated on the northernmost island of Japan. The dog is often known as the Ainu Ken—named after the Japanese indigenous people. The Ainu often referred to the dog as Seta.

The main breed registries of the dog include the Hokkaido Ken Hozonkai or the Hokkaido Dog Preservation Society and the Hokkaido Ken Kyokai or the Hokkaido Dog Association. Almost all Hokkaido dogs are registered in these two associations.

This medium-sized dog is strongly built. Hokkaido dogs have wider chests and smaller ears compared to other Japanese dogs. Their tails are curled, and they are known for having spotting on their tongues.

The dog has a double coat comprising of a coarse-haired outer coat and a thick undercoat that is known to shed seasonally. The double coat means that the dog needs regular brushing to remove dead or loose hair.

These dogs are known to be loyal to their owners. They are the perfect family companion and will be submissive to their family members. When socialized early, they make the perfect children’s playmate.

See Also: How to Socialize a Dog

However, considering Hokkaido dogs are natural born, primitive hunters, they can be a nightmare to other pets if not trained and socialized early. They are known to chase smaller animals such as birds or hamsters.

Hokkaido dogs can also be very aggressive and dominant in the presence of unknown dogs; they are known to pick fights with dogs that they consider to be a threat to them or their family.

Main Highlights

hokkaido dog in mountains

  • Also known as Ainu-Ken, Ainu dog, and Seta.

  • Believed to be one of the oldest, purest, most primitive Japanese dog breeds.

  • A perfect family companion who is loyal to his/her owner. They also make wonderful watchdogs and guard dogs.

  • Hokkaido dogs are natural hunters known for their bravery, accurate judgment, and strength.

  • An active dog that requires daily physical exercises such as long walks and hikes—therefore, may not be the best dog for apartments.

  • The dog is very friendly toward children especially if he/she grew up with them.

  • These dogs need socialization early. Otherwise, they won’t tolerate other household pets and unknown dogs.

  • A seasonal shedder who needs regular brushing to remove loose and dead fur from the undercoat.

  • The dog was classified as a living natural monument by the Japanese government in 1937.

  • Easy to train due to their intelligence and eager-to-please nature.

  • They are curious and will do everything they can to explore their surroundings.

  • They are known to find their way home even after an escape or after traveling far from home.

  • A pack-oriented dog who loves to dominate but will defer to you, the owner.

Breed History

hokkaido dog standing on grass

The Hokkaido dog was first known as the Ainu dog and was named after an area in Japan believed to be their place of origin. An English zoologist called Thomas Blankiston gave the Hokkaido dog their name in 1869.

During the era of Kamakura in the 1140s, the dogs crossed over to Hokkaido with the Ainu people after they were pushed further north by the Yayoi from the Korean Peninsula.

This exodus across the sea as the Ainu traveled to Hokkaido saw the breed becoming isolated. Thus, the dog did not interbreed with other dogs. Some people believe that this is the purest and most primitive of all Japanese dog breeds.

The dog is believed to carry genes from an ancient dog breed that arrived in Japan with the Jomon. Studies show that the Hokkaido dogs do share DNA with the Ryukyu Ken of Okinawa that is also said to carry genes from the Jomon dogs.

The breed was originally made of different bloodlines with the most popular being the Biratori, Chitose, Yuwamiziwa, and the Atsuma. The only pure bloodline remaining is that of Chitose while the others are today a mix of several bloodlines.

In 1902, the breed was a part of a search mission when an expedition was caught in the heavy snow in Hakkoda Mountains. In 1937, the Japanese ministry of education declared the breed as a rare species that is today protected by the law.

This dog is very rare outside their native country, and the estimated population of the Hokkaido dog in Japan is about 10,000 to 12,000 dogs. The dog was accepted by the FCI in 1964. It belongs to cluster 5 of the Asian dog category.

The Ainu people used the dog to hunt large game including bear and mountain deer. These dogs are known for their bravery and stamina while on a hunt.

On a hunt, Hokkaido dogs will display strength and accurate judgment since they have an inborn sense of direction and smell. They hunt using signals such as howls and barks. These dogs can endure severe cold weather, making them the best companions for hunting bears and wild boars during the winter.

However, very few of the dogs are still used to hunt today. Today, most of them are used as watchdogs. These dogs make great guard dogs. Additionally, the Hokkaido dog is known to be the perfect family companion.


two hokkaido dog standing among autumn leaves

Hokkaido dogs have a broad head, a flat skull, and a pointed muzzle. The males are often 18 to 22 inches tall, but the female dogs are often shorter by an inch or two. The body mass of the dog is between 45 and 66 pounds. Hokkaido dogs bred outside of Japan are smaller.

The Hokkaido is a balance breed of sturdy build. These dogs are longer than they are tall at the withers. The breed has strong bones and can withstand heavy snowfall and severe cold. They have tough, clean-cut muscles that give them their strength.

The dog’s eyes are small, almond-shaped, and have a rising outline. The dog has dark-colored lips and nose. The teeth meet in a scissors bite.

The dog has a moderately thick and strong neck. Their back is also strong and straight. The tail is usually curled atop the dog’s back or set in a sickle shape. The dog’s legs are strong and well-muscled. They move quickly with a light trot. The Hokkaido can jump to incredible heights, run very quickly, and change directions quickly.

Personality and Character

hokkaido dog wanting to run

The Hokkaido is a working dog that is known to be loyal, brave, and has a protective nature. The dog is hardy, alert, and also gentle. They are eager to please and playful.

In the past, these dogs were used for large game hunting. They are usually very vocal during hunts. These smart dogs know not to bark excessively when indoors but they are known to howl when excited or happy.

The obedient nature and loyalty of the dog make them wonderful family companions. They are known to enjoy moments spent with the family.

They are very protective of their family and can be fierce and fearless in confrontations. They are also suspicious of strangers. They are always alert and cautious breed. All these characteristics make them the perfect watchdogs or guard dogs.

Regarding training, this dog is a quick learner and a people-pleaser, which makes training easy. Hokkaido dogs have a very good memory and will remember even the most complex of commands.

However, due to their independent personality, they require a trainer who is firm yet gentle. They are recommended for experienced owners, as they need a pack leader who is consistent. Tasty treats work as the best motivator for this dog. For the best results, training should start early at 7 to 9 weeks.

Their investigative character will prompt them to roam their surroundings. They will be eager to climb walls and fences to explore and can be escape artists. The best news is that these smart dogs are known to find their way back home even when they have traveled great distances. This proves their loyalty and devotion to their owners.

Health and Potential Problems

hokkaido dog ithching himself

The dog does not have many serious health problems but beware of a few relatively common issues such as:

#1: Collie Eye

This is also known as the collie eye defect. It is an inherited condition. It is caused by the mutation of the chromosomes that determine the eyes’ development—causing underdevelopment of the choroid.

The disease can also cause a thinning of the sclera, retinal detachment, and defect in the optical nerve. In some cases, it can lead to vision loss among other issues in your dog’s eyes.

Some dogs are lucky, and even if they are carriers of the gene, they might not show any sign of the defect. The defect ranges in five stages—from barely noticeable to complete blindness.

Unfortunately, the defect has no cure, and the best method to prevent it is to have your dog tested before breeding and buying puppies that are not carriers. Fortunately, the condition is not a deteriorating one. If your puppy is minimally affected at a young age, the condition will not get worse with age.

See Also: Blindness in Dogs: Learn How to Cope with Fido’s Condition

#2: Canine Hip Dysplasia

This is a painful inherited disorder that eventually leads to osteoarthritis (OA). Most of the dogs affected are medium to large breeds like the Hokkaido.

The disease occurs when the femoral head, which is a ball that is supposed to sit tightly at the hip socket, does not fit well in the socket. The laxity in the joint leads to pain and eventually to OA.

Common early signs include joint laxity, reluctance to move, difficulty rising, a swaying gait, hind limb lameness, and pain in hip joints among others.

Treatment might be in the form of surgery, but some dogs are treated as outpatients depending on the severity of the disease. Other forms of therapies that are known to work include swimming exercises, physiotherapy, and weight loss.

See Also: Best Dog Arthritis Supplements

#3: Idiopathic Seizures

This is the most common cause of seizures in dogs, and it is an inherited condition. Dogs with this condition will have their first episode at 6 months to 6 years of age. Dogs that are diagnosed with this disorder should not be used for breeding.

The seizure will occur in three phases: the aural phase, the ictal phase, and the postictal phase. During the first and the last phase, your dog might be restless or anxious. The second phase is when the seizure occurs, and they can last from a few seconds to a few minutes.

Seizures that last for more than five minutes require immediate medical attention. Other seizures require medication to control them.

#4: Heart Murmurs

This is another condition that is often seen in Hokkaido dogs. A heart murmur occurs when there is a disturbance in the blood flow to the dog’s heart. The murmur is an audible sound that can be distinguished using a stethoscope.

Heart murmurs in dogs are categorized into six grades with grade one murmurs being the least serious and grade six the most severe.

Different types of heart diseases can cause heart murmurs in your dog. Your vet will be in a better position to figure out the cause based on the test results. This will also be the basis for the treatment given.

See Also: Heart Murmur in Dogs: Should You Be Worried?

#5: Pica

This is a medical condition characterized by your dog’s craving for non-food items and the eating of these items. You will observe your dog eating items such as soap, rocks, dirt, or clay. The materials can endanger the dog’s health, causing diarrhea, loose stool, or vomiting.

Your dog might eat these foreign items due to malnutrition, increased appetite, vitamin deficiency, or medical conditions such as diabetes or thyroid disease. Emotional issues such as stress or separation may also cause pica in your dog.

Pica can be treated by addressing any health or behavioral issue that might be the cause. You can also get rid of the items that your dog tends to eat in case you are sure there is no underlying problem causing the behavior.

Care Features

hokkaido dog standing with his tongue out


Although they are very clean with little to no dog odor, the Hokkaido dogs are not the best dogs for apartments as they require regular exercise. The Hokkaido is an active dog that requires a large yard to run, play, and exercise in. If you live close to a forest, all the better as the dog will enjoy hunting and exploring the forest.

The dog also requires daily exercises including long walks. If you choose to keep your dog indoors, you should play with him or her, and keep them active to prevent destructive behavior.

Additionally, ensure you have at least 6 feet high fencing around the yard as these dogs are escape artists. If your dog manages to escape still, you should be glad to know that Hokkaido dogs tend to find their way back home even after traveling long distances.

See Also: DIY Dog Fence

Hokkaido dogs also need early socialization, and they need to be trained in obedience. Without those, they are known to chase household pets, as they are natural hunters. They will also pick fights with other dogs especially if the other is a dog of the same sex.

Feeding Schedule

Since these dogs are an active working breed, they require quality dry dog food with 20% fat content and 30% protein content. They also require a good amount of fresh and clean water.

You can divide their daily meals into two—given in the morning and the evening. It’s even better if your schedule allows you to divide their daily food intake into three separate meals.

Coat, Color, and Grooming

black hokkaido dog

Hokkaido dogs come in different colors including white, black, red, sesame, brindle, and black/tan. These dogs come with waterproof double coats. The undercoat is dense and soft while the outer coat is harsh and straight.

Compared to other Japanese dogs, the Hokkaido dog’s coat is longer and thicker, which makes the dog capable of withstanding very cold temperatures.

The coat does, however, require a bit more grooming. The coat should be brushed at least twice a week to prevent mats. During the shedding season, the coat will have to be brushed once or twice daily to remove dead and loose hair.

Hokkaido dogs also need the occasional bath. You should also inspect the dog’s ears and eyes at least once a month.

Children and Other Pets Compatibility

man petting hokkaido dog

These dogs can be wonderful playmates for children especially if brought up with them. However, the kids need to be taught how to respect and treat the dog.

The dog needs early socialization to know how to behave around other animals. If you have animals such as a hamster, a guinea pig, rodents, or birds as pets, do not leave them alone with your Hokkaido. These animals might be too tempting for this primitive hunting breed. However, the dog can learn to live with a cat, especially if they are brought up together.

Your Hokkaido can also be aggressive toward unknown dogs as Hokkaidos are territorial. This is a pack-oriented breed that will always respect hierarchy. These dogs will not tolerate any abuse or mistreatment from others they might consider as lower-ranked members and can be aggressive towards such members to consolidate their dominance.

This is why Hokkaido dogs are considered good guard dogs. They are protective of their family and will be fierce and fearless in a confrontation with any threat. They are alert to any changes in the surrounding and will announce the presence of strangers with loud barks.

Wrap Up

white hokkaido dog puppies

The Hokkaido is a great hunter as well as a loyal and lovable family companion. These dogs make the perfect guard and watchdogs due to their devotion to their owners and because of their bravery and alertness. A gentle and playful dog, the Hokkaido can also make a great playmate for your child.

If you have the time and the desire to train dogs, a Hokkaido dog will not disappoint as they are known to have an unmatched adoration and dedication to their owners. However, they are not the best apartment dogs, as they require an active lifestyle.

Do you have any experience with Hokkaido dogs? Alternatively, do you think this is the perfect dog for you? Let us know your experience or opinion on this Japanese breed in the comment section below. If you do decide to adopt a Hokkaido dog, check out our article on superhero names for dogs next. Your courageous, selfless Hokkaido deserves no less.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.