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Breed Spotlight: The Kai Ken

Over thousands of years the dogs of historic Japan remained essentially the same due to the country’s geography and isolationist policies. However, as Japan opened up to the outside world, the native dogs crossbred with Western dog breeds, leaving fewer and fewer of the original Nihon Ken (Japanese Dog). As the Showa period began (1926) efforts were made to classify and preserve the remaining Nihon Ken. Research teams scoured the country searching for and cataloging the remaining pockets of those native dogs. Thanks to those that were kept and bred in the mountainous terrain with limited accessibility, and therefore very few crossbreedings, there were considerable numbers of quality specimens that were able to be found.

In 1931, a Japanese man named Dasuke Adachi saw one of these brindle coated dogs and it made a strong impression on him. After some research he discovered that these dogs could be found in Ashiyasu village. He began efforts with other prominent citizens to locate and preserve this rare type of Nihon Ken. After much difficulty he was able to locate and return to Kofu city with 2 of the best available specimens. This began the preservation of the Kai Ken as a distinct breed. In November of the same year the Kai Ken Association was formed with Mr. Adachi as its chairman. At the first Nihon Ken Association (Japanese Dog Preservation Society or NIPPO) show, the Kai drew much attention from the attendees, which helped lead to the classification of the Kai as a "Living Natural Monument" by the government of Japan in 1933.

The first Kai Ken to reach the US were gifted to a Utah zoo in the 1960’s. They lived there all their lives as zoo exhibits and did not produce pups. It was not until the 1990’s that the Kai arrived in the US to stay. Minimeadow Kennel imported 8 Kai Ken dogs from numerous Japan Kennel Club breeders. When that kennel relocated and got out of the breed late in the decade, the dogs were acquired by Classy Kennel, and Mijikai Kennel. These two subsequent breeding programs worked hard to preserve the best in these lines and produced many terrific dogs and champions in UKC, and provided the foundation stock and mentorship to new breeders as the Kai became established and people fell in love with this sincere, rugged hunting dog.

Twenty years later, sensing the critical need for diversity in the breed, Yamabushi Kennel imported 22 Kai Ken Aigokai dogs from each of the various lines in Japan, beginning around 2010. This infusion of dogs with the established US lines is the reason why the Kai Ken enjoys the greatest genetic diversity of all the Nihon Ken breeds today. Yamabushi’s imports and the generations they produced continue to enrich all active breeders today and gave them a large palette to work with and the flexibility to breed out any health issues as they learned about them through testing protocols, without facing crippling loss of diversity.

The Kai Ken is intelligent, agile, alert and brave. They are natural hunters and make good watch dogs, being reserved with strangers but loyal to their families. They are friendly, often good with children and are not usually aggressive towards other dogs. Many of them love to swim, and they have been known to cross rivers and climb trees while chasing small prey.

The handling and training of this breed should be approached similarly to the handling and training of a guardian breed. Confidence in corrections, and unwavering consistency will help in the success of Kai Ken ownership. Enrolling in general obedience training would be ideal. Although, if you decide you want to bring one of these home you are likely in for an extended waiting period. These are exceedingly rare. Only the occasional puppy is made available from a handful of American breeders, and many fanciers end up importing their Kai Ken puppy from overseas.

  • Personality: Loyal, intelligent, agile

  • Energy Level: Energetic

  • Good with Children: With Supervision

  • Good with other Dogs: With Supervision

  • Shedding: Moderate

  • Grooming: Monthly

  • Trainability: Agreeable

  • Height: 18.5 - 19.5 inches (males), 15.5 - 17 inches (females)

  • Weight: 30-40 lbs (males), 25-35 lbs (females)

  • Life Expectancy: 12-15 years

  • Barking Level: Occasional

If you would like to see the Kai Ken in motion, the above is a video of one interacting with a Hokkaido at a foreign dog show.



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