The Hokkaido

The Hokkaido Ken is one of the six, native, Japanese spitz type dogs. A medium sized breed that originated on the northernmost island of Japan, Hokkaido, they are often referred to as Ainu Ken after the original indigenous people of Japan. The Ainu called their dogs 'seta' or 'shita' and used them to hunt bear and deer. The Hokkaido Ken is thought to have crossed over to Hokkaido with the Ainu as they were pushed north by the arrival of the Yayoi from the Korean peninsula.

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An aka Hokkaido male

The Hokkaido are thought to carry more of the genes from the older type of dogs that arrived in Japan with the Jomon. Although they did interbreed with the dogs brought over by the Yayoi, due to their exodus across the sea to Hokkaido they were geographically isolated. Studies have shown they share DNA with the Ryukyu Ken of Okinawa which are also believed to carry more genes from the original Jomon dogs.
The Ainu passed on stories by word of mouth, and several legends featured dogs. In the legend of the birth of the Ainu people, a princess was washed ashore on a desolate beach. As she was crying over her plight a white dog appeared and brought her food. From that day on the dog lived with her, and one day a child was born between them. The child grew to be strong and powerful, and the forefather of the Ainu.

The Hokkaido was classified as a Living Natural Monument by the government of Japan in 1937. There are two main breed registries, the Hokkaido Ken Hozonkai (Hokkaido Dog Preservation Society) and the Hokkaido Ken Kyokai (Hokkaido Dog Association). Almost no Hokkaido are registered outside of these two clubs.

The breed was originally made up of several bloodlines named after Ainu villages where they originated, with the most famous lines being the Chitose, Biratori, Atsuma (Azuma), and Yuwamizawa. Today the Chitose line is the only true line remaining, with the rest of the breed being a mix of all original lines. White, smaller sized dogs with small ears and wide foreheads were common in the Chitose line. In comparison the Atsuma line had a large number of brindle dogs, with more tapered muzzles.

The Hokkaido is renowned for it's bravery. While very few are still used to hunt bear today, at breed shows hunting tests are conducted where the dogs are shown a live bear and scored on their movement, reaction, and hunting drive.

The Hokkaido Ken is a medium sized, strongly built dog. They have longer thicker coats than the other Japanese breeds, and also have wider chests, and smaller ears. Like all the Nihon Ken, they have a double coat made up of protective coarse outer guard hairs, and a fine thick undercoat that is shed seasonally. The breed comes in several colors: white, red, black, brindle, sesame, and wolf grey (HKH). Many Hokkaido also have spotting on their tongues. The breed has prick ears, and curl or sickle type tails. Dogs should be 48.5cm, and bitches 45.5cm at the withers with an allowance of +/−3cm (HKH). The JKC/FCI standard seems to have missed the mark in their standard, since they list the size as dogs 48.5-51.5cm, and bitches 45.5-48.5cm. NIPPO lumps the Hokkaido into the medium size category which lists dogs at 49-55cm, and bitches at 46-52cm.

The Hokkaido is a brave, energetic breed, capable of withstanding the cold temperatures of the Hokkaido winter. They have a life expectancy of around 15 years. The breed is extremely rare outside its native country. In Japan there is an estimated population of around 10,000-12,000, and yearly registrations of between 900-1000 (all registries). The breed has recently seen a rise in popularity in Japan due to a long running series of commercials featuring a white Hokkaido Ken called 'Otousan' (father).

At present there is little data regarding genetic health issues within the breed. However, some conditions that are known to affect the Hokkaido are heart murmurs, CEA, allergies, cataracts, and epiphora due to malformed or blocked tear ducts.

18 comments:

  1. Thats awsomeee!!!! i really want to get a Hokkaido ken!

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    1. There's just not that many around overseas yet.

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  2. What is the reason for the large discrepancy between the sizes allowed under the two standards?

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    1. When NIPPO wrote the standards for the Japanese breeds, they classified all the dogs into 3 categories: large, medium, and small. Unfortunately the Kai and Hokkaido did not fit into either the small or medium classifications, so rather than change the size of the dogs through selective breeding, the guardians of these breeds left NIPPO, and stick to their own specialty clubs. The Kai has the Kai Ken Aigokai, and the Hokkaido has the Hokkaido Ken Hozonkai and the Hokkaido Ken Kyokai.

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    2. So in other words it is Nippo that has it wrong in this case?

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    3. I wouldn't say they are wrong. They just had/have a different opinion about the breed.

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  3. Do you know anyone who still hunt with this breed, and whether or not is possible to ask for permission to obtain a photograph or two from them?

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    1. I do know of one kennel that still produces a working line of Hokkaido. http://hdknetwork.hustle.ne.jp/kensha/kensha_morita.html
      Please ask them for permission before using any of the photos on the above page.

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    2. Thank you!

      I am assuming it is bet to send them a letter? Can't seems to find an e-mail address or phone number.

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    3. Contact information is here on this page http://hdknetwork.hustle.ne.jp/wp/?page_id=81
      You'll be speaking to Mr.Sato. He runs the site, and most likely he'll call me and ask me to translate your request.

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  4. I've heard that the Hokkaido are not recommended to be kept in apartments. Is this true, and if yes, what's the reason for that? I speculate that their energy levels are a bit too high for apartment life, and perhaps that they may require outside areas/kennels to spend their days with, if they so choose.

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    1. They are high energy, and they are quite vocal as well. That's not to say it's impossible to own one in an apartment, it's just not recommended.

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  5. So the 'Softbank' dog is Hokkaido ken??

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  6. The US now has a breeding program and breed club with info at www.hokkaidoken.com and blog of litter progress at www.hokkaidousa.wordpress.com

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  7. Hello. I live in Gunma-ken. I am interested in getting a Ainu Ken but I worry the prefecture gets much too hot for them.

    Are any of the Nihon-ken particularly sensative to heat?

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    1. The Nihon Ken have evolved with the climate in Japan. That being said the Hokkaido and Akita, being from the north, tolerate heat worse than the other breeds. Summers are harsh on all dogs, but I don't consider Gunma being a problem climate.

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