8 Authentic Japanese Dog Breeds and Their Fascinating Histories


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Americans love their dogs, but sadly, we don’t have a national dog breed. Japan, on the other hand, has six. Called the “Nihon Ken,” or Japan’s dogs, these indigenous pups—the Shiba Inu, the Akita, the Kai Ken, the Kishu Ken, the Shikoku, and the Hokkaido—are descended from medium-sized dog breeds that used to roam Japan’s mountainous regions thousands of years ago. Because the six spitz-type breeds share a common ancestor, they’re somewhat similar—although they have notable differences. Each of the breeds has a double coat that’s suitable for a cooler climate, as well as thick fur and curly tails. They’re also highly revered in Japanese culture and are some of the cutest dog breeds with pointy ears.

Ahead, we’ve compiled information about each of the national Japanese dog breeds, as well as other non-indigenous breeds that were imported to the country and are closely associated with it. Prepare to be impressed by these pups’ interesting histories. From the rarest dog breed on this list, the Kai Ken, to the more well-known Shiba Inu, these are some delightful dogs. With their smiling faces—seriously, many of these breeds are known for their happy expressions—they’re excited to meet you. And for more country-specific dog breeds, don’t miss our roundups of the cutest Australian dog breeds, Chinese dog breeds, German dog breeds, Italian dog breeds, and Russian dog breeds.

japanese terrier dog standing by the water
Alberto Duran Photography/Getty Images

8. Japanese Terrier

The Japanese terrier may not be one of Japan’s ancient dog breeds, but they still have distinguished roots. The toy breed was established in the 1930s after careful breeding of the country’s Kobe and Kuro terriers. The Kobe terrier dates back to the 1700s and is a cross between native Japanese breeds and the smooth fox terrier that was brought to the country by Dutch settlers. The Kuro terrier is a cross between imported English toy terriers and toy bull terriers. However, the Japanese terrier was bred within the country and is considered to be a Japanese dog breed. These pups are considered one-person dogs and can be reserved with strangers. However, they’re curious, playful, and energetic pets that make great companions. Fun fact: They’re the only terrier breed that originated in Japan.

Breed Overview
Height: 11 to 13 inches
Weight: 5 to 10 pounds
Life expectancy: Unknown

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