The Kishu (Ken) Dog Breed: Everything You Need to Know

The Kishu, also known as Kishu Ken, is an ancient Japanese breed originally used to hunt deer and boar in the mountainous terrains of Japan. 

In this article, we will explore everything you need to know about the Kishu dog breed, including its history, appearance, temperament, and health.

History and Origin of the Kishu Dog Breed

The Kishu Ken (“ken” meaning dog in Japanese) has ancient roots in Japan and was developed as a hunting canine. The Kishu received a “Memorial of Nature” status in 1934, and today, it is a popular pet. 

Ancient Roots in Japan

The Kishu dog’s ancestors roamed the Japanese mountains centuries ago and were known as the matagi’s dogs – used for hunting wild boar and deer. They were medium-sized bit very robust, and highly valued for their hunting skills. 

Development as a Hunting Dog

The Kishu Ken was developed in the Japanese region called Wakayama. At first, breed members came in different colors (white, red, and brindle) and even spotted patterns. 

However, hunters preferred solid colors, especially white, due to its easy visibility at night. Breeders started selecting carefully for this trait, and by 1945 the spotted Kishu disappeared. 

Recognition and Popularity 

In 1934, the Kishu dog breed was recognized as a National Treasure in Japan. Today, the breed is accepted into the American Kennel Club’s Foundation Stock Service and is gaining popularity in the United States. However, its export from Japan is highly regulated. 

Physical Characteristics and Appearance

Size and Weight

Adult Kishu dogs typically weigh between 30 and 60 pounds and stand around 19 to 22 inches tall at the shoulders. Male Kishu Kens are much stronger and larger than females. 

Despite being medium-sized, Kishus are not small dogs. They require plenty of space to run and play, so they are best suited for homes with large yards or access to open spaces.

Coat and Colors

The Kishu dog breed has a short, dense coat that is generally white or red. Some Kishus also have black or brindle markings on their coats. These dogs shed seasonally and require regular grooming to keep their coats healthy and clean.

Distinctive Features

The Kishu dog has a broad, flat head with a blunt muzzle and triangular ears that stand erect. It also has a curly tail and strong jaws, which it uses for hunting and play.

Kishus have small, almond-shaped eyes that are deep-set and give the dog an intense, focused expression. They are muscular build with sturdy frames, broad chests, and powerful legs. 

Temperament and Personality Traits

Loyalty and Devotion

Kishu dogs are known for their loyalty and devotion. They bond closely with their owners and are protective of their loved ones. They can be reserved or aloof with strangers, but they are still loving and affectionate with those they trust.

Love and Affection 

One of the most endearing qualities of Kishus is their unwavering affection. They stick by their owners through thick and thin and will always be there to offer comfort and support. They are incredibly affectionate and love nothing more than snuggling up with their owners.

Intelligence and Trainability

Training a Kishu is a rewarding experience. They are incredibly intelligent and love to learn new things. Breed members are quick learners and respond to positive reinforcement. With consistent training, Kishus can excel in obedience, agility, and other dog sports.

Energy Levels and Exercise

Kishu dogs are energetic and require regular exercise to stay healthy and happy. They love to run and play and need plenty of physical activity to burn off excess energy. Kishus should have access to a secure yard or be taken on daily walks or runs to meet their exercise needs.

Health and Lifespan

Common Health Issues

Kishu dogs are generally healthy, but some breed members suffer from: 

  • Orthopedic Issues: Hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and patella-related conditions are common in the breed
  • Eye Problems: Common eye issues in the breed include progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and lens luxation 
  • Thyroid Conditions: The breed’s thyroid gland may not produce enough hormones causing hypothyroidism 

Preventative Care and Regular Checkups

To keep your Kishu dog healthy, it’s essential to schedule regular check-ups with your veterinarian. Routine vaccinations and preventative care can help to prevent common health issues and keep your pet in top condition. 

Expected Lifespan

The average lifespan for a Kishu dog is between 12 and 15 years. With proper care and attention to their health and wellness, Kishus can live long, happy lives and bring joy to their families for many years.


If thinking about a new pet, a Kishu is definitely worth considering. This dog has a fascinating history and outstanding physical characteristics, and it is known for its loyalty and affection.

With proper care and attention to their health and wellness, Kishu dogs can be loving and devoted companions for many years to come. Just ensure that you find a trustworthy dog breeder. 

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