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kai ken dog breed pictures 5 scaled - Kai Ken

Kai Ken

The Kai Ken was discovered in the mountains of Kai, right near Mt. Fuji. Believed to be one of the purest and most ancient dog breeds of Japan, this rare dog is a skilled hunter and highly intelligent. Today, advocates of the breed work tirelessly to build up the dogs’ small population, especially in the United States and Japan.

In their native land, Kai Ken are sometimes referred to as Kai Uni or Tora Inu. They’ve also earned the nickname of Tiger Dog, thanks to their signature striped, brindle coats. Although these are rather rare purebreds, you may still find them at local shelters and rescue groups. Remember to adopt! Don’t shop if this is the breed for you.

Dogs of this breed are incredibly loyal and affectionate, which makes them a great choice for both families and single-dwellers. This ancient breed does have high energy levels though, and could turn to bored, destructive behavior if forced to lead a more sedentary lifestyle. They can also be a bit stubborn, which doesn’t make them an ideal choice for novice pet parents. If you want a companion for your active life and have experience with dog ownership, then this might be the right breed for you.

Breed Characteristics:


Contrary to popular belief, small size doesn’t necessarily an apartment dog make. Plenty of small dogs are too high-energy and yappy for life in a high-rise. Being quiet, low energy, fairly calm indoors, and polite with the other residents are all good qualities in an apartment dog.

Some dogs are simply easier than others; they take to training better and are fairly easygoing. They’re also resilient enough to bounce back from your mistakes or inconsistencies.

Dogs who are highly sensitive, independent thinking, or assertive may be harder for a first-time dog parent to manage. You’ll get your best match if you take your dog-owning experience into account as you choose your new pooch.

If you’re new to dog parenting, take a look at 101 Dog Tricks and read up on how to train your dog!

Some dogs will let a stern reprimand roll off their backs, while others take even a dirty look to heart. Low-sensitivity dogs, also called “easygoing,” “tolerant,” “resilient,” and even “thick-skinned,” can better handle a noisy, chaotic household, a louder or more assertive owner, and an inconsistent or variable routine. Do you have young kids, throw lots of dinner parties, play in a garage band, or lead a hectic life? Go with a low-sensitivity dog.

Some breeds bond very closely with their family and are more prone to worry or even panic when left alone by their owner. An anxious dog can be very destructive–barking, whining, chewing, and otherwise causing mayhem. These breeds do best when a family member is home during the day or if you can take the dog to work.

Breeds with very short coats and little or no undercoat or body fat, such as Greyhounds, are vulnerable to the cold. Dogs with a low cold tolerance need to live inside in cool climates and should have a jacket or sweater for chilly walks.

Dogs with thick, double coats are more vulnerable to overheating. So are breeds with short noses, like Bulldogs or Pugs, since they can’t pant as well to cool themselves off. If you want a heat-sensitive breed, your dog will need to stay indoors with you on warm or humid days, and you’ll need to be extra cautious about exercising your dog in the heat.

All Around Friendliness

Some breeds are independent and aloof, even if they’ve been raised by the same person since puppyhood; others bond closely to one person and are indifferent to everyone else; and some shower the whole family with affection. Breed isn’t the only factor that goes into affection levels; dogs who were raised inside a home with people around feel more comfortable with humans and bond more easily.

See Dogs Less Affectionate with Family

Being gentle with children, sturdy enough to handle the heavy-handed pets and hugs they can dish out, and having a blasé attitude toward running, screaming children are all traits that make a kid-friendly dog. You may be surprised by who’s on that list: Fierce-looking Boxers are considered good with children, as are American Staffordshire Terriers (which are considered Pit Bulls). Small, delicate, and potentially snappy dogs such as Chihuahuas aren’t always so family-friendly.

**All dogs are individuals. Our ratings are generalizations, and they’re not a guarantee of how any breed or individual dog will behave. Dogs from any breed can be good with children based on their past experiences, training on how to get along with kids, and personality. No matter what the breed or breed type, all dogs have strong jaws, sharp pointy teeth, and may bite in stressful circumstances. Young children and dogs of any breed should always be supervised by an adult and never left alone together, period.

Friendliness toward dogs and friendliness toward humans are two completely different things. Some dogs may attack or try to dominate other dogs, even if they’re love-bugs with people; others would rather play than fight; and some will turn tail and run. Breed isn’t the only factor. Dogs who lived with their littermates and mother until at least six to eight weeks of age and who spent lots of time playing with other dogs during puppyhood, are more likely to have good canine social skills.

Stranger-friendly dogs will greet guests with wagging tails and nuzzles; others are shy, indifferent, or even aggressive. However, no matter what the breed, a dog who was socialized and exposed to lots of different types, ages, sizes, and shapes of people as a puppy will respond better to strangers as an adult. Remember that even friendly dogs should stay on a good, strong leash like this one in public!

Health And Grooming Needs

If you’re going to share your home with a dog, you’ll need to deal with some level of dog hair on your clothes and in your house. However, shedding does vary greatly among the breeds. Some dogs shed year-round, some “blow” seasonally, some do both, and some shed hardly at all. If you’re a neatnik, you’ll need to either pick a low-shedding breed or relax your standards. To help keep your home a little cleaner, you can find a great de-shedding tool

Drool-prone dogs may drape ropes of slobber on your arm and leave big, wet spots on your clothes when they come over to say hello. If you’ve got a laid-back attitude toward slobber, fine; but if you’re a neatnik, you may want to choose a dog who rates low in the drool department.

Some breeds are brush-and-go dogs; others require regular bathing, clipping, and other grooming just to stay clean and healthy. Consider whether you have the time and patience for a dog who needs a lot of grooming, or the money to pay someone else to do it.

Due to poor breeding practices, some breeds are prone to certain genetic health problems, such as hip dysplasia. This doesn’t mean that every dog of that breed will develop those diseases; it just means that they’re at an increased risk.

If you’re adopting a puppy, it’s a good idea to find out which genetic illnesses are common to the breed you’re interested in. You may also want to ask if your shelter or rescue has information about the physical health of your potential pup’s parents and other relatives.

Some breeds have hearty appetites and tend to put on weight easily. As in humans, being overweight can cause health problems in dogs. If you pick a breed that’s prone to packing on pounds, you’ll need to limit treats, make sure they get enough exercise, and measure out their daily food servings into regular meals rather than leaving food out all the time.

Ask your vet about your dog’s diet and what they recommend for feeding your pooch to keep them at a healthy weight. Weight gain can lead to other health issues or worsen problems like arthritis.

Dogs come in all sizes, from the world’s smallest pooch, the Chihuahua, to the towering Great Dane, how much space a dog takes up is a key factor in deciding if they’re compatible with you and your living space. Large dog breeds might seem overpowering and intimidating, but some of them are incredibly sweet! Take a look and find the right sized dog for you!


Easy-to-train dogs are more adept at forming an association between a prompt (such as the word “sit”), an action (sitting), and a consequence (getting a treat) very quickly. Other dogs need more time, patience, and repetition during training.

Many breeds are intelligent but approach training with a “What’s in it for me?” attitude, in which case you’ll need to use rewards and games to teach them to want to comply with your requests.

Dogs who were bred for jobs that require decision making, intelligence, and concentration, such as herding livestock, need to exercise their brains, just as dogs who were bred to run all day need to exercise their bodies. If they don’t get the mental stimulation they need, they’ll make their own work–usually with projects you won’t like, such as digging and chewing. Obedience training and interactive dog toys are good ways to give a dog a brain workout, as are dog sports and careers, such as agility and search and rescue.

Common in most breeds during puppyhood and in Retriever breeds at all ages, mouthiness means a tendency to nip, chew, and play-bite (a soft, fairly painless bite that doesn’t puncture the skin). Mouthy dogs are more likely to use their mouths to hold or “herd” their human family members, and they need training to learn that it’s fine to gnaw on chew toys, but not on people. Mouthy breeds tend to really enjoy a game of fetch, as well as a good chew on a toy that’s been stuffed with kibble and treats.

Dogs who were bred to hunt, such as Terriers, have an inborn desire to chase–and sometimes kill–other animals. Anything whizzing by, such as cats, squirrels, and perhaps even cars, can trigger that instinct. Dogs who like to chase need to be leashed or kept in a fenced area when outdoors, and you’ll need a high, secure fence in your yard. These breeds generally aren’t a good fit for homes with smaller pets that can look like prey, such as cats, hamsters, or small dogs. Breeds that were originally used for bird hunting, on the other hand, generally won’t chase, but you’ll probably have a hard time getting their attention when there are birds flying by.

Some breeds sound off more often than others. When choosing a breed, think about how often the dog vocalizes with barks or howls. If you’re considering a hound, would you find their trademark howls musical or maddening? If you’re considering a watchdog, will a city full of suspicious “strangers” put your pup on permanent alert? Will the local wildlife literally drive your dog wild? Do you live in housing with noise restrictions? Do you have neighbors nearby? Then you may wish to choose a quieter dog.

Some breeds are more free-spirited than others. Nordic dogs such as Siberian Huskies were bred to range long distances, and given the chance, they’ll take off after anything that catches their interest. And many hounds simply must follow their noses–or that bunny that just ran across the path–even if it means leaving you behind.

Physical Needs

High-energy dogs are always ready and waiting for action. Originally bred to perform a canine job of some sort, such as retrieving game for hunters or herding livestock, they have the stamina to put in a full workday. They need a significant amount of exercise and mental stimulation, and they’re more likely to spend time jumping, playing, and investigating any new sights and smells.

Low-energy dogs are the canine equivalent of a couch potato, content to doze the day away. When picking a breed, consider your own activity level and lifestyle, and think about whether you’ll find a frisky, energetic dog invigorating or annoying.

A vigorous dog may or may not have high energy, but everything they do, they do with vigor: they strain on the leash (until you train them not to), try to plow through obstacles, and even eats and drinks with great big gulps. These dynamos need lots of training to learn good manners, and may not be the best fit for a home with young kids or someone who’s elderly or frail. A low-vigor dog, on the other hand, has a more subdued approach to life.

Some breeds do fine with a slow evening stroll around the block. Others need daily, vigorous exercise, especially those that were originally bred for physically demanding jobs, like herding or hunting.

Without enough exercise, these breeds may put on weight and vent their pent-up energy in ways you don’t like, such as barking, chewing, and digging. Breeds that need a lot of exercise are good for outdoorsy, active people, or those interested in training their dog to compete in a high-energy dog sport, such as agility.

Some dogs are perpetual puppies — always begging for a game — while others are more serious and sedate. Although a playful pup sounds endearing, consider how many games of fetch or tag you want to play each day, and whether you have kids or other dogs who can stand in as playmates for the dog.

Vital Stats:

Dog Breed Group:Companion DogsHeight:17 to 22 inchesWeight:25 to 45 poundsLife Span:12 to 16 years

More About This Breed


  • The Kai Ken is sometimes referred to as Tiger Dog for their distinctive, brindle coat, which typically comes in three variations: black brindle (Kuro-Tora), brindle (Chu-Tora), and red brindle (Aka-Tora), with red being the rarest of them all.
  • The Kai Ken’s fur is also a double coat, which they will seasonally blow (shed). This might not make them the best choice for allergy sufferers.
  • Kai Ken dogs have high energy levels. Make sure your dog gets at least one good half-hour- to hour-long walk per day with a few good, active play sessions and shorter walks mixed in.
  • The Kai Ken makes an incredible calm companion for kids. This dog isn’t one for much rough-housing, but they typically don’t become aggressive towards rambunctious children.
  • Typically, the Tiger Dog doesn’t have many issues with other dogs, but their hunting instincts may be too hard to ignore in the presence of a cat or other small pet.


The Kai Ken is one of the six native Japanese spitz-type dogs and also the one that arguably has the purest bloodline. The breed originated in Kai (hence the name), a mountainous region in modern day Yamanashi. Surrounded by mountains, the breed stayed isolated and wild.

Kai Ken dogs are known for their hunting prowess and will swim or even climb up trees to catch their prey.

In 1934, the Japanese government classified the Kai Ken as a Living Natural Monument. Around the 1950s, it is believed that American service men brought some Tiger Dogs back to the States from Japan, although no one knows what happened to them.

From 1990 to 1992, eleven Kai Ken dogs were brought over to the States for breeding purposes. Most Kai Ken reside in their native land of Japan, with an estimated 12,000 to 14,000 Tiger Dogs. Many are modern day companion dogs, while some are still used to help hunt larger game like boar and deer.


Kai Ken stand anywhere between 17 and 22 inches from the shoulder and weigh in between 25 and 45 pounds.

The male Kai Ken tends to be larger than the female, standing around 20 to 22 inches and weighing in between 35 and 45 pounds, while the female hovers around 17 to 19 inches and weighs between 25 and 35 pounds.

That said, some Kai Ken may be larger or smaller than average for their breed.


Fans of Japanese Spitz breeds often describe their dogs as both stoic and stubborn, and the Kai Ken is no exception. They are not typically jump-in-your-lap type of dogs. Instead, the Kai Ken is content lounging in their own designated space in the same room as you.

This doesn’t mean that the Kai Ken isn’t affectionate, though. For the most part, it just has to happen on their terms!

The Kai Ken is an incredibly loyal dog. The ancient breed will show small or reserved gestures of affection to everyone in the family, but they have a tendency to have a special human who’s “theirs.” This special human is likely the person who takes care of them the most.

Tiger Dogs will stick by their special human’s side, and it’s beneficial if that human keeps up firm and consistent training. This is especially important when it comes to strangers and having guests over in the home. Kai Ken don’t typically become physically aggressive to protect their family, but they will alert you of what they perceive as potential danger. This makes them excellent guard and watch dogs for single-dwellers and families alike.

Kai Ken also need high levels of mental and physical stimulation. If you’re active and are prepared to give your dog lots of positive reinforcement and attention, the Kai Ken may be the right dog breed for you.


Kai Ken are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they can be subject to certain health conditions. Not all Tiger Dogs will get any or all of these diseases, but it’s important to be aware of them if you’re considering this rare breed.

Some of the more common health problems Kai Ken suffer from include:

  • Allergies
  • Eye issues like Progressive Retinol Atrophy
  • Hip Issues
  • Cancer
  • Luxating Patellas
  • Heart Murmurs


As with all dogs, you should keep up with your Kai Ken’s regular veterinary checkups to detect any health concerns early. Your vet can help you develop a care routine that will keep your dog healthy.

Kai Ken are somewhat prone to weight gain, and they have high energy levels. Make sure your dog gets at least one good half-hour- to hour-long walk per day with a few good, active play sessions and shorter walks mixed in. Since Kai Ken thrive off positive reinforcement, training your Kai Ken for obedience or agility drills could be a great way to keep your dog both mentally and physically fit.

Check their ears for debris and pests daily and clean them as recommended by your vet. Trim your dog’s nails before they get too long — usually once or twice per month. They should not be clicking against the floor. Your groomer can help with this.

Be sure to maintain their oral health. You should brush their teeth daily. Your veterinarian can instruct you on how to brush your dog’s teeth properly.


An ideal Kai Ken diet should be formulated for a medium breed with high energy levels. If under-exercised, they can be prone to weight gain. Keep your Kai Ken in good shape by measuring their food and feeding them twice a day, rather than leaving food out all the time.

As with all dogs, the Kai Ken’s dietary needs will change from puppyhood to adulthood and will continue to change into their senior years. You should ask your veterinarian for recommendations about your Kai Ken’s diet, as there is far too much variation among individual dogs — including weight, energy, and health — to make a specific recommendation.

Coat Color And Grooming

The Kai Ken is sometimes referred to as Tiger Dog for their distinctive brindle coat, which typically comes in three variations: black brindle (Kuro-Tora), brindle (Chu-Tora), and red brindle (Aka-Tora), with red being the rarest of them all.

The Kai Ken’s fur is also a double coat, which they will seasonally blow (shed). This might not make them the best choice for allergy sufferers.

While the shedding might make it necessary for more vacuuming, it doesn’t mean you have to do much more than brush out your Kai Ken’s coat. Tiger Dogs are famously immaculate, as they keep themselves groomed and kempt.

Their double coat shouldn’t be shaved, as it protects them from both the heat and the cold. As with all dogs, you should not leave your Kai Ken outside in any extreme weather condition or temperature.

Children And Other Pets

When it comes to kids, the Kai Ken makes an incredible calm companion. This dog isn’t one for much rough-housing, but they typically don’t become aggressive towards rambunctious children. Still, be sure to socialize your Kai Ken as early as possible in order to get them used to living with children. It is equally as important to teach kids how to safely interact with your Kai Ken. Always supervise playtime between kids and dogs, even with trained dogs.

Since the Kai Ken is a hunting breed, it is best to slowly introduce them to any other animals in the household. Typically, the Tiger Dog doesn’t have many issues with other dogs, but their hunting instincts may be too hard to ignore in the presence of a cat or other small pet.

At the end of the day, how well your Kai Ken can get along with children and other pets comes down to socialization, training, and luck of the draw.

Rescue Groups

Rescues specifically for Kai Ken dogs might be hard to come by. However, you can always check with your local shelter, and you may want to try a rescue that caters to all kinds of dogs. You can take a look at the following:

  • Wright-Way Rescue
  • Angels Among Us Pet Rescue

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