The Hawaiian Poi Dog: Everything You Need to Know

The Hawaiian Poi was a unique breed that originated from Polynesia, found its way to Hawaii, and played a significant role in Hawaiian culture.

In this article, we delve into the history, physical characteristics, temperament, and health of the sadly, now-extinct Hawaiian Poi dog breed.

History of the Hawaiian Poi Dog

Origins in Polynesia

The Polynesians who settled in Hawaii brought with them a breed of dog called the ʻīlio, which means dog in Hawaiian. The ʻīlio was a versatile dog that was used by the Polynesians for a variety of purposes.

The ʻīlio was a medium-sized dog that was well-suited for the Hawaiian climate. It had short, thick fur that protected them from the sun and kept them warm at night. 

Over time, the Polynesians selectively bred the ʻīlio to produce a specific type of dog known as the “poi dog.” The poi dog was named after the staple food of the islanders, poi, which the dogs were often fed.

Role in Hawaiian Culture

The Hawaiian Poi Dog played a significant role in modern Hawaiian culture. Breed members were used for hunting wild pigs and birds and to protect the crops and livestock from predators.

The Hawaiian Poi Dog was also considered a spiritual animal and was an integral part of many Hawaiian traditions and ceremonies. For example, they were used to guide the souls of the deceased to the afterlife.

Sadly, many tribes in Hawaii used these dogs as a food source. They would fatten the dogs and then eat them as a delicacy, which eventually impacted the dog’s population numbers. 

Decline and Extinctions

Unfortunately, the Hawaiian Poi Dog breed faced a significant decline in numbers in the 19th and 20th centuries due to disease, interbreeding with other breeds, and the introduction of Western dogs.

By the early 1900s, the Hawaiian Poi Dog was on the brink of extinction. In 1928, the last known purebred Hawaiian Poi Dog died, marking the end of an era.

Physical Characteristics of the Hawaiian Poi Dog

Size and Build

The Hawaiian Poi was a medium-sized breed that typically stood around 14 inches tall at the shoulders. There are no precise records regarding the breed’s weight. 

Coat and Color

The Hawaiian Poi Dog had a short, smooth coat that came in a variety of colors. The shortness of the coat allowed the dog to adapt to the warm Hawaiian climate. 

Unique Features

The Hawaiian Poi Dog had a long body, a large head, pricked ears, and a curled tail. However, there is no artwork or literature data to confirm other features unique to this breed. 

Temperament and Personality Traits

Social Behavior

The Hawaiian Poi Dog was a social animal that thrived on human companionship. It was loyal and devoted to its owner and got along well with children of all ages. It was protective and used to bark to alert the owner of potential danger. 

Intelligence and Trainability

The Hawaiian Poi Dog was not a particularly intelligent breed. The lack of proper nutrition in its native country took a toll on the dog’s cognition and made breed members sluggish and mentally underdeveloped. 

Health and Lifespan of the Hawaiian Poi Dog

Common Health Issues

Hawaiian Poi Dogs were obese and prone to deformities linked with improper nutrition. Namely, the dogs were fed a vegetarian diet which made them have distended bellies, poor cognition, and developed masticatory muscles due to excessive food chewing. 

Life Expectancy

The average lifespan of the Hawaiian Poi Dog was between 10 and 12 years. However, breed members rarely reached old age as they were often used as a food source. 


The Hawaiian Poi Dog was a unique and fascinating breed that has played a significant role in Hawaiian culture. Sadly, the breed is extinct and despite efforts, there has not been any success in reviving the Hawaiian Poi Dog. 

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