The Kai Ken is a member of the medium sized Nihon Ken originating from the Yamanashi Prefecture, originally known as the Kai Province. They were recognised as a National Treasure in 1933, and are considered a rare breed even in Japan.

Kai were originally used in hunting, with the breed having two types:

  • shishi-inu-gata, a bear faced dog used for hunting boar, featuring a stockier and heavier built dog.
  • shika-inu-gata, a fox faced dog used for hunting deer. The deer type has a thinner, lighter build with a longer body.

However, there is no longer a distinction made between the two types, and neither type is preferred by the Kai Ken Aigokai. While the Kai is primarily seen as a pet now, they are occasionally still used in hunting.

Of the medium sized dogs, the Kai lands on the small end of the spectrum, between the Shiba, the small sized Nihon Ken, and the Hokkaido, Kishu and Shikoku.

Kai are double coated and come in three coat colours: aka-tora (red brindle), chu-tora (medium brindle) and kuro-tora (black brindle). There is also a recessive gene for cream coloured Kai, though this colour is not recognised and is non-standard, as the cream colouring takes away from the Kai’s natural camouflage. They also often have black spots covering their tongues. Their tails can be curled (maki-o) or sickle (sashi-o).

Kai are an intelligent breed, often described as independent thinkers. They are naturally aloof with strangers and unknown dogs, but should not be overly shy or aggressive. They can be more flighty when spooked than the other Nihon Ken breeds, but become very attached to their owner and family. They are quick learners and are willing to please their owners if the owner puts in the effort to work with their Kai.

More information and breed standard can be found at the Nihon Ken Network.

Why the Kai?

We discovered the Kai in 2007 when we were introduced to the Nihon Ken breeds through a 1983 manga named Ginga Nagareboshi Gin. Only the Akita and Shiba are breeds currently recognised in the UK, so researching these breeds was difficult and took many years. When it came to learning about each breed, the Kai stood out to us, from their unusual brindle coats to their cheerful, bear-like faces. All we knew about the breed was what we had available online, and it was hard to get a true grasp until we met the breed in person when picking up Akiko.

To us, the Kai are very unlike any breed we have previously worked with. They are biddable and eager to please, and once bonded to their owner, they will be in tune with you and try to predict exactly what you want before you even ask. They are a breed who can happily hike for 3 miles off lead, or enjoy a race around the garden with a sturdy rope toy. They can be aloof with strangers, but shouldn’t be shy or aggressive, and are willing to make friends if you give them time to adapt instead of being forceful with them.

They are a breed who want to work for you, but if you keep the game the same, they will get bored and want to learn something new. Positive reinforcement with high reward treats is the best way to a Kai’s heart.

They are a sensitive breed, once upset they will make sure you know you have hurt them, and thus need a gentle but firm trainer.
As a primitive breed, they require a high degree of socialisation throughout their lives, from puppyhood into adulthood. Attending a puppy school is an excellent way to begin this crucial part of ownership. The breed can revert back to its primitive nature if not correctly trained.

As a hunting breed, they can have a strong prey drive, so it is important to ensure recall is perfect before considering allowing your Kai off leash, though be prepared that this may never be possible depending on the individual dog. While they can be territorial, they are not predisposed to dog aggression and work well as a pack animal. They can happily live with smaller animals assuming proper socialisation has taken place due to their prey drive.

We would describe Kai as being cat-like. They are often found cleaning themselves and much in the way cats do, and enjoy sitting high up, such as on the back of the sofa.

They are a funny breed, and are more often than not pulling ridiculous faces while racing around the garden. They are keen diggers and high jumpers, so having a secure garden is essential, but be prepared for the garden to be wrecked during puppyhood!

The breed sheds minimally throughout the year, and instead blow their coat twice a year. Their coat is thick, and does well at repelling water and dirt even in the messiest of hikes. Their grooming needs are minimal.

They are small but mighty, and often appear much larger in photos, when they are actually on the shorter end of the medium sized breeds. We would compare their size roughly to a Springer Spaniel.

If the Kai sounds like the breed for you, please reach out and contact us, we are happy to answer questions or even meet with you and help you understand the breed.