KAI KEN, also known as Tora Inu (Tiger Dogs), are a primitive aboriginal dog native to the Kai region of Japan, known today as Yamanashi Prefecture.
The Kai were historically hunting companions and were used to hunt many types of game, including Kamoshika (a small mountain antelope) and wild boar. They were also used to flush small game and game birds such as pheasant.
The Kai Ken Aigokai (KKA) breed standard description of the Kai is of a medium-sized dog, well balanced, sturdily built, with well developed muscles. The dog should show proper sexual dimorphism (the females should look like females, the males should look like males) . The height is roughly 40-50 cm at the withers. The movement should be light and nimble. The breed is agile and powerful with a strong homing instinct.
The forehead should be wide falling to a moderate stop, the neck having appropriate thickness and length, without looseness. The ears should be moderately thick, erect, triangular in form, of good shape and angled forward, and slightly larger than the other Japanese spitz-type dog breeds. The spacing between the ears should be neither too wide apart or close together. The eyes should be triangular in shape, the iris dark brown, which depending on coat color may show some shading. The lips should be tight with good pigmentation, the teeth strong with none missing and a proper bite.
The line of the back should be straight with hips powerful and tight. The tail should be thick and strong, either sickle or curled, roughly reaching the hocks in length. The limbs should be robust with hocks well developed providing for excellent leaping ability and speed.
The Kai were bred to hunt specific game and as a result, two "types" were distinguishable, the shishi-inu-gata type and the shika-inu-gata type. The shishi-inu has a stockier body and bear-like face and was used to hunt boar. The shika-inu was famed for deer hunting and had a longer, thinner body and fox-like face. Today, the Japanese do not distinguish between the two types as both played a significant role in the development of the breed.
A distinguishing feature of the Kai is its brindled coat. The Kai come in three brindle colors: Kuro-tora (black brindle), Chu-tora (brindle), and Aka-tora (red brindle). There is also a recessive gene that occasionally produces cream colored Kai. The creams are not shown or used for breeding in Japan.
Most puppies are born black and then brindle as they mature. Aka-toras (red brindles) are born lighter in color. Like all northern breeds, Kai have a double coat, which they blow (shed) twice per year, in the spring and in the fall. At other times they shed minimally. Their outer coat consists of longer guard hairs that stand upright and are somewhat water repellent. Their undercoat is thick and soft. The animal should have a mane. They rarely need bathing, they groom themselves and do not have a strong dog smell.
More about grooming your Kai Ken here or click on the Health & Behavior tab above.
The temperament is keen and very alert with a composed boldness. The Kai has a propensity toward loyalty to one master for life. These dogs are independent thinkers, quick learners, and great fun to hang out with. They have not lost their natural survival instincts like some domesticated dog breeds. Which means they are more likely to base their decisions on self-interest. They are resourceful, curious and can be stubborn.
The Kai are sometimes described as cat-like. They will stalk small game and birds the way large wild cats do. They stalk each other in play. They hunt mice and other burrowing rodents like foxes. They are very adept with their paws, they like to perch on high places, and they will play mind games with other dogs or cats. They also use an intense stare the same way cats do. If you have more than one cat, you probably know what I'm talking about. Cats will stare at each other until one blinks or looks away. The cat that blinks or looks away loses. Usually the one that loses leaves the room or at least moves from where it was sitting. Sachi can somehow get me to give her a piece of cheese using a Kai Ken mind trick. I will suddenly find myself standing by the open refrigerator door holding a package of cheese wondering what happened as she is walking away licking her lips. :)
The Kai Ken stare can be a precursor to a dog fight so please read more about this here or click on the Health & Behavior tab above.
KAI are pack-oriented. They want to be with their family as much as possible. Puppies should always be crated or otherwise safely confined to keep them safe when you are not directly supervising. If properly handled as puppies, trained throughout their adolescence and adequately exercised, adults typically do fine being left loose in their home with safe toys while you are gone. When they are not with you, their favorite place will be a high vantage point to look out a window. Kai are always on the watch for intruders, human or animal, and will bark to alert you. Mine do not bark excessively and barking can be modified a great deal by proper training when they are young.
They are often described as one-person dogs because they tend to bond strongly with one person in the family. They are still affectionate toward other family members but seem to have a favorite. This is usually but not always the person who cares for them, feeds them, and exercises them. Or most likely the person who gives the best belly rubs.
KAI are naturally reserved with strangers but if properly handled by the breeder and socialized as puppies and adolescents, they should not be fearful or extremely shy. Kai Ken have long memories for good and bad experiences so early socialization by the breeder and continuing socialization by the new owner is crucial. This will produce confident pups who can cope with stress and communicate appropriately with you, other people, and other dogs. Read about developmental stages of pups here.
Read about how to socialize your puppy here or click on the Health & Behavior tab above.
Just like human siblings, puppies from the same litter can have a variety of personalities and different levels of drives. Drives are instinctual survival behaviors that in combination with organs of sense and temperament, form a puppy's "doggy" character. You can read more about drives here. This is one of the reasons I ask so many questions on my questionnaire. I want to match each puppy with the family best suited for his personality, taking into consideration the plans you have for your pup. For example, do you want a family dog or hiking companion? Are you going to show your pup? Do you want to do agility? Are you looking for a dog to hunt with?
KAI are very athletic, agile and are a hardy dog with great endurance. I often laugh out loud at their antics. Kai have been known to climb trees going after prey and scale walls or fences to escape or hunt. They are also great diggers and can dig under a fence in record time. They can jump incredibly high and run like the wind. Remember, they are an ancient hunting breed and their instincts have not been bred out of them. The natural environment in the Yamanashi Prefecture is characterized by steep mountains (Japan‘s highest, including Mount Fiji), fast moving streams and rivers, and thick forests. I like to think of them as small but powerful. They do not like being confined and should never be tied out in a yard unsupervised. I believe puppies should be crate trained for their safety while you are gone and I will start crate training your puppy before he goes home with you. That said, Kai should not spend 8-9 hours/day, five days a week, in a crate, while you are at work. They can develop behavior issues and anxiety from spending long hours in a crate with nothing to do.
You can read about crate training your puppy here or click on the Health & Behavior tab above.
So to sum up, a Kai Ken‘s physical abilities combined with his curiosity can get him into all sorts of trouble. Yep, this dog is a great escape artist. They want to know what’s going on in the neighborhood. The Kai's ideal home and family is a house with a large fenced yard in a rural or suburban setting. An active family is best, who like to be outdoors. If you live in an apartment, be aware of the Kai’s propensity to bark (with cause) and also know that you will have to commit to more than one daily walk so he gets enough exercise. Whether you live in the country or city, you will have to mentally stimulate your Kai as well. They are very intelligent and will get bored if not engaged. Kai make great hiking companions and excel in all kinds of dog sports, such as agility, lure coursing, barn hunt, and tracking. They need stimulation for their minds as much as they need regular physical exercise. These dogs are not for everyone but for the person committed to the time and effort in engaging them, the reward is huge. They will keep you on your toes. And oh yeah, mine never miss their afternoon nap on the back of the couch in front of the window :)
Links to more Kai information and resources: