The Hokkaido Dog Breed: Everything You Need to Know

The Hokkaido is an enduring and dignified spitz-type of dog from Japan, with a temperament described as faithful, docile, alert, and bold.  

In this article, we will provide you with all the information you need to know about the Hokkaido breed – from history to personality to health. 

History and Origin of the Hokkaido Dog Breed

The Hokkaido dog breed has a rich history that dates back centuries. The breed’s roots can be traced back to the Ainu people, who are the indigenous people of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan.

The breed’s name originates from the Ainu language, where “ken” means dog, and “hokkai” means the place where the dog comes from. This name reflects the breed’s deep connection to the Ainu people and their culture.

The Ainu People and Their Role in the Breed’s Development

The Ainu people used these dogs for hunting and as companions for centuries, and the breed played a vital role in their daily lives. The Ainu people were skilled hunters and relied on the Hokkaido dog breed to assist them in their hunts.

The dogs were trained to track and hunt animals such as deer, boar, and bear. They were also used to pull sleds and carts, making them a versatile breed that could perform a variety of tasks.

Recognition and Popularity in Japan and Beyond

The Hokkaido dog breed was officially recognized by the Japanese government in 1937 as a natural monument of Japan. This recognition helped to raise the breed’s profile in Japan and led to an increase in popularity.

Today, the Hokkaido dog breed is still predominantly found in Japan and is among the top ten most popular breeds. The breed is also accepted into the American Kennel Club’s Foundation Stock Service.  

Physical Characteristics and Appearance

Size and Weight

The Hokkaido is a medium-sized dog, weighing between 44 and 66 pounds and standing about 18 to 20 inches tall at the shoulders. Breed members are stocky dogs with well-developed muscles, giving them a powerful appearance. 

Coat and Colors

The Hokkaido has a double coat that provides excellent insulation. The coat is made up of a thick, soft undercoat and a straight, harsh outer coat. The coat comes in a range of colors, including red, white, black, brindle, sesame, and wolf-gray.

The Hokkaido’s coat requires regular brushing to keep them clean, healthy, and free from mats. Hokkaido dogs shed seasonally, and during this time, they require extra grooming to manage their shedding.

Distinctive Facial Features

The Hokkaido dog’s most distinctive facial feature is its triangular ears, which stand erect and give it an alert and wolf-like appearance. It also has almond-shaped, dark brown eyes with an intense gaze.

Breed members have a broad and powerful muzzle. The face is framed by thick fur, which grows around the cheeks and neck, giving a lion-like look. The fur is called the mane and is more prominent in males than females.

Hokkaido dogs also have thick, bushy tails that curl over their backs, adding to the majestic appearance. Despite the overall muscular build, they are agile and have a graceful gait. 

Personality and Temperament

Loyalty and Affection

The Hokkaido is fiercely loyal to its family and forms close bonds with its humans. It is extremely affectionate and enjoys spending quality time with family members. 

Hokkaido dogs are excellent with children. However, they can be wary of strangers and are natural watchdogs, making them excellent protectors of their homes and families.

Trainability and Socialization

The Hokkaido is intelligent and eager to please. It responds well to positive reinforcement training and enjoys learning new things. However, members of the breed can be independent and require consistent training.

Hokkaido dogs have a high prey drive and are natural hunters. They have a strong instinct to chase small animals, and it is essential to socialize them from an early age to prevent them from becoming aggressive towards other pets. 

Energy Levels and Exercise Needs

The Hokkaido is an active breed that requires regular exercise. It enjoys outdoor activities such as running, hiking, and playing fetch. If not given an outlet for its energy, it may become destructive.

Despite their relatively small size, breed members are not well-suited for apartment living and require homes with access to large and fenced yards where they can run and play.

Health and Lifespan

Common Health Issues

Like all dog breeds, the Hokkaido dog has some genetic health issues, such as: 

  • Orthopedic Issues: The two most common orthopedic issues in the breed include hip dysplasia and luxating patella
  • Idiopathic Epilepsy: A neurologic disease that results in sporadic seizure episodes varying in intensity and frequency 
  • Pica: Also known as allotriophagia, is an unusual condition of unknown origin in which the dog eats inedible items 

Preventative Care and Regular Checkups

In addition to regular veterinary checkups, preventative care is also essential to maintain the health of your Hokkaido dog. This includes regular grooming to keep their coat healthy, brushing their teeth to maintain dental hygiene, and providing them with a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Expected Lifespan

The Hokkaido dog breed has an expected lifespan of 12 to 15 years when properly cared for with a balanced diet, proper exercise, and regular veterinary care.


The Hokkaido dog breed is unique and fascinating, with a rich history and wonderful characteristics. They make excellent family pets for those who can commit to providing them with proper care and exercise.

Understanding the history, appearance, personality, and health needs is essential if you are considering getting a Hokkaido dog. With proper care and attention, it can bring joy and companionship for many years to come.

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