Kishu Ken: The Epitome of a Perfect Dog

Kishu Ken lying on ground in the yard
John Walton
Written by John Walton

We know there is no such thing as a perfect dog. The Kishu Ken, however, might just change your mind. According to legends, the Japanese wanted to create the perfect dog, and the result was the Kishu Ken. This breed is not very well known in the States but is popular in its home country of Japan.

This dog is intelligent, loyal, easy to care for, and an excellent hunter. Also known as the Kishu Inu, the Kishu Ken was originally developed to hunt boar and deer. Nowadays they are sought after as friends and companions to many individuals and families.

When you look at a Kishu Ken, they look cuddly and perfect. But are they really the right breed for your family or lifestyle? In this article, we will talk about the Kishu Ken’s history, how to care for them, their potential health problems, and other characteristics so that you can decide if adopting this breed is a step in the right direction.

Breed Characteristics

Kishu Ken standing on ground

  • Adaptability: Moderate; needs space to move around in

  • Trainability: Good; they are smart but expect results to come gradually because they are also proud and stubborn

  • Health and Grooming: Moderate; needs extra grooming due to the thick undercoat

  • All Around Friendliness: Good; but wary towards strangers

  • Exercise Needs: High; has high stamina and energy

Dog Breed GroupHunting Dogs
Height17-22 inches (43-56 cm)
Weight30-60 pounds (13-27 kg)
Lifespan11-13 years

The Kishu Ken is a medium-sized dog with a coarse double coat and a soft, thick undercoat. Kishus are usually white in color, but it is not uncommon to see brindle, sesame, or red-colored dogs.

They are probably best described as faithful, noble, and docile. They have noteworthy endurance and are alert in disposition. They are loyal and loving towards their family. They possess great senses, agility, and can work in all weather and different terrains.

Potential owners should also remember that this is a hunting dog and has a high prey drive. They were bred to hunt boar and deer, so this breed is not a barker. They hunt their prey by stalking.

As a best friend and companion, this is probably one of the most faithful and loyal breeds. The Kishu Ken are pack animals and see themselves as members of your family. They can be a one-person or one-family dog and will be loyal to their masters. However, they need to be taught their place in the family because this breed has a tendency to dominate younger or smaller members of the pack. They do quite well with other dogs.

The Kishu Ken needs training from a consistent, firm, and patient handler. They are smart dogs, but they need repetition and constant reinforcement. This is probably due to their stubborn nature, so training needs to start early. Untrained Kishu Kens are willful and dominant and will become the leader of your pack if they don’t know their place.

See Also: Basic Dog Obedience Training Techniques

The short coat of the Kishu makes them easy to groom. Once a week brushing and regular bathing should be enough to keep them clean. This breed does shed, so you need to vacuum your home regularly to stop fur from accumulating in carpets and other furniture.

The Kishu Ken needs space to “hunt.” They like it best when they have a job to do. They need long daily walks or jogs to release pent-up energy. During exercise, Kishus need to be trained to heel behind the person holding their leash to enforce authority over them. They don’t do well in small spaces or apartments as they need space to roam and exercise.

This is a healthy dog breed with no known genetic health conditions. However, since they like to run and go on walks, problems like hip dysplasia and joint problems should be monitored through regular visits to the vet. This breed is also prone to entropion.

Main Highlights

Kishu Ken's head

  • Kishu Ken likes being a part of the family.

  • These dogs are loyal, calm, and intelligent.

  • This breed needs a patient, consistent, and firm trainer.

  • This is an intelligent breed, but results can come gradually, probably due to their stubborn nature.

  • The Kishu like being dominant and can sense if their humans do not have authority.

  • If you don’t show them that you are the leader, they can take over and assume the leadership position.

  • They have a tendency to form a strong bond with one member of the family but also see themselves as a one-family dog.

  • They are shy and aloof with strangers.

  • The Kishu is not an aggressive breed but will confront those they perceive as threats to their family.

  • They are enthusiastic playmates for kids. However, they still need to be socialized early to prevent dominance and curb their shyness and aloofness.

  • Make good watchdogs despite not being a barker as they will warn you when strangers approach.

  • This breed requires long daily walks or a jog for daily exercise because they have a lot of energy and high stamina.

  • Once their energy is spent, they are calm, gentle, and transform into couch potatoes.

  • Their energy and stamina mean that they can work all day long which is probably why they were a favorite among boar and deer hunters.

  • The Kishu likes being outside, but they make good indoor dogs too. They are easily housebroken, can keep themselves clean (like a cat), and their short hair is easy to maintain especially if brushed regularly.

  • They are known to be good climbers and can climb a tree.

  • This is a tough breed with a natural instinct for hunting.

Breed History

Kishu Ken playing with a toy

Almost all Japanese breeds came from one ancient common ancestor. Spitz-type dogs roamed the country 3,000 years ago. The Kishu Ken (ken means dog in Japanese) was developed from these dogs and was used to hunt deer and boar.

The Kishu Ken became an established breed in the mountains of Kishu where it got its name. There are also red and brindle Kishus, however, more owners began to favor solid-colored dogs, and nowadays all-white Kishus are preferred.

The Kishu Ken has a “protected status” in Japan since 1934, and the Japanese are proud of their dogs and often bestow honors and praise on them. This breed is recognized by the American Kennel Club and Japanese Kennel Club.


The Kishu Ken is a medium-sized dog breed with well-balanced and developed muscles. Their ears are pricked while their tails are curved or sickle-shaped.

The average size for this breed is approximately 17-22 inches (43-56 cm) at the withers, and the average weight is around 30-60 pounds (13-27 kg).

The Kishu Ken closely resembles its Shiba, Akita, and Ainu relatives. They have a compact and well-defined body with a short but thick double coat. Coat color can be white, sesame, or red. Their eyes are alert, and they have a noble appearance.

Personality and Character

Kishu Ken puppy standing on the beach

The Kishu dogs are energetic, intelligent, loyal, and agile. They possess high levels of stamina and can work all day. They love their people and are always keen to join them in various activities especially those that demand physical exertion. They are a recommended breed for active people who love the outdoors.

Their high energy level means that this breed needs a lot of exercises. Take them on long walks or jogs twice a day if possible. However, they also need mental stimulation. Games like hide and seek, fetch, tug o war, or treat-finding are also needed by Kishus.

It is important to always find something to do for your dog. Physical and mental stimulation will keep them happy and prevent boredom which leads to destructive behavior.

These dogs are extremely loyal and loving towards their family. When raised with children and other pets, they play and get along together really well. However, their high prey drive can make them want to hunt or herd anything smaller than they are, which is why early training is necessary for Kishu Kens.

These dogs tend to be shy and aloof with strangers. They are not a barking dog but will bark to alert you and let you know that there is a stranger approaching. They are also not an aggressive dog breed. However, they will protect and defend you against threats, making them good watchdogs.

This is an intelligent dog, but firm and consistent training is needed. They will dominate other members of the pack if they perceive you to be a weak leader. Lots of patience and training is needed to curb this behavior, so early training is needed. Despite this, the Kishu is easily housebroken most probably because they like being clean.

In the field, Kishu Kens are bred to be hunters. They take directions very well, and their intelligence can be seen in their problem-solving abilities. They will climb to the highest tree to better assess the situation and solve the problem. They hunt by stalking their prey similar to cats and can work in different kinds of weather and terrain.

They are lively, energetic, alert, and devoted. Just make sure that they know who the alpha is, and you will have a best friend for life.

Health and Potential Problems

Kishu Ken lying on ground

Like most medium-sized dogs, the Kishu has an average lifespan of around 11-13 years. This is a usually healthy breed with no known genetic problems. However, they are not completely immune to diseases.

Lately, there are cases of Kishus developing entropion where their eyelids turn inward, causing discomfort, pain, and sometimes loss of vision. Kishus can also develop allergies, hip dysplasia, and joint problems.

It is best to work with a responsible breeder so that you can adopt a healthy Kishu Ken. Regular trips to the vet and the proper immunization should also be observed. Kishus with access to good diets and regular exercise can live a long and healthy life.

Care Features

Kishu Ken puppy sitting on blanket

Kishus were bred to run and hunt, so they need ample exercise to stay healthy and fit. Two long daily walks or a jog should suffice. Alternative activities like fetch, hide and seek and other forms of mental stimulation can keep this breed from becoming bored.

The best living arrangement for this dog is a house with a large fenced backyard or a rural/suburban setting. Your yard should be big enough so that your Kishu can go exploring and run around a bit.

However, Kishus are good climbers, so your fence has to be high to prevent them from escaping. Ideally, there should be a dog park or woods nearby so that you can take your dog on walks or go exploring. These types of settings will also allow you to let your dog run off-leash without worrying about cars.

Kishu dogs are clean by nature, but regular bathing should get rid of debris and other dirt on their coats. They are prone to allergies so make sure to use the right shampoo or soap.

See Also: How to Choose a Right Shampoo for Dogs with Skin Allergies

This dog sheds so regular brushing of the coat is also recommended. At least once a week is the minimum. Nails should also be trimmed regularly. Ears should also be checked for wax buildup. Daily brushing of the teeth is recommended but once a week is better than nothing.

Feeding Schedule

Kishu Ken puppies eating bones

Owners should feed their Kishu Kens dog food that can cater to the different needs of the various stages of their lives. Dog food manufacturers have different feeds for puppies, adults, and senior dogs. What to feed your dog is a personal choice, but your breeder or veterinarian should have recommendations you can choose from.

They can also tell you the best frequency of meal-giving. Some professionals prefer 1 feeding a day while others prefer to halve one feeding into two. Always include fresh water with every meal and remember to give treats sparingly to prevent obesity.

Coat, Color, and Grooming

red Kishu Ken

The Kishu Ken has a coarse, short coat that is straight and dense. The undercoat is soft and thick, and the tail is also thick and bushy. Their coat color is mostly white, but there are also red, brindle, and sesame-colored dogs.

At the beginning of the breeding program in 1934, most Kishus were non-white like most Japanese breeds. However, white-colored dogs have gained popularity due to breeder preference, so white-colored Kishus became more common.

This breed is relatively low-maintenance especially when they are not shedding during the fall and spring seasons. However, since they have two coats, their undercoat sheds seasonally and requires grooming.

Daily brushing is recommended during shedding season to prevent loose hairs from gathering in your carpet or furniture. Their coat is not prone to tangling or matting. However, this can still happen when they shed.

See Also: Get Dog Hair Off Couch

The best practice is to brush their coat daily (even when not shedding) to remove loose hairs and to remove debris especially after exercising. Kishu Kens do not usually have an odor so you can bathe them only when necessary.

Children and Other Pets Compatibility

When raised together with kids and if they have proper training, this breed is quite welcoming. They are also friendly towards other dogs.

However, early training and socialization are needed since this breed has a high hunting drive. They will want to dominate and lead small children and training will help curb these tendencies.

This dog is aloof with strangers. They need socialization before they are comfortable with strangers. They should also be socialized at an early age with other pets particularly small ones such as hamsters and guinea pigs because this dog will “hunt” them.

Wrap Up

red Kishu Ken puppy

The Kishus are courageous hunters and loyal companions. These accolades make them the perfect dogs. However, as you can see, this breed is not without its quirks.

They see themselves as members of the pack and as such are protective, loyal, and have a tendency to dominate. They were bred to hunt so their hunting instinct is excellent and their stamina is overflowing. While these are good characteristics for a hunting dog, it also means long hours of exercise and physical activity.

At times, owning a Kishu Ken seems like walking a fine line between constant activity, training, and endless fun. However, their devotion, calmness, intelligence, and noble spirit make them an ideal companion.

Do you think you can curb this breed’s dominant nature? Do you think you have the stamina to keep up with a Kishu Ken? Is this the right breed for your lifestyle? Tell us by leaving your comments below.

If you live in an apartment, the Kishu Ken may not be suitable for you, but don’t worry because we have another Japanese breed that may suit you: the Japanese Spitz.

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.