A Comparison Between Brothers
The Kishu Ken and Shikoku Ken are both medium-sized boar hunting dogs from Japan. Like the Kishu, the Shikoku comes from its namesake of Shikoku island, where it was bred mostly in isolation for the pursuit of deer and boar, like the Kishu on the Kii peninsula. Wakayama Bay separates the area of Tokushima on Shikoku from Wakayama on the Kii peninsula, making the Kishu and Shikoku quite similar by geography and by function. They are, perhaps, two of the most similar breeds among the 6 native Japanese breeds declared natural monuments, recognized by NIPPO.
At a Glance
Physically, Kishu and Shikoku are similar in body type, expression, and overall presentation, abiding by the same general standard in the country of origin (outlined by the Nihon Ken Hozonkai, or NIPPO.) Upon closer examination, the Shikoku may present as a more refined dog, with less variation between individuals, and somewhat lighter of bone or narrower in the chest. The Kishu, by comparison, may be broader and have a less refined skull and a more abrupt stop. It is said that the Kishu is a slightly larger dog than the Shikoku, but this is not easy to measure among our few US dogs.
These at-a-glance generalizations are difficult because Kishu and Shikoku seem to exist along the same temperament scale, but merely have different distribution frequency on where individuals fall. There are some Shikoku who are friendlier and receptive to strangers, and some Kishu who are highly suspicious of or even dislike strangers. In the end, you may find as much variation in attitudes and personalities of dogs between different kennels within these breeds as you do between the breeds themselves as listed here.
More Alike Than Different?
For better or worse, the Kishu and Shikoku are more alike than they are different, at a glance or under examination. Both the Shikoku and Kishu are intelligent, inquisitive, extremely athletic, with very high prey drive, making them forces to be reckoned with when they put their mind to something. Both the Shikoku and the Kishu should be bold, assertive dogs, and generally recover quickly from being startled. They can be absolute pleasures to train and love to work with their people as long as that training and work is not monotonous. Neither Kishu or Shikoku can flourish when training is too repetitive, or corrections are frequent or harsh. A Shikoku may shut down under such conditions or become confused and frustrated, while a Kishu will become contentious and combative. Training should be a positive experience for both breeds.
Perhaps a big way in which they are different is the trends in breeding in their limited populations. In Shikoku, breeders have been able to focus on and refine breed type for many generations in and out of Japan. Kishu Ken, comparatively, are still very close to their hunting roots, particularly in our lines in the USA, and this shows in their temperament and more varied appearance.
The Kishu Ken, still very in-tune with its job as a hunting dog, is sharp, intense, and full of attitude, but may be a less impulsive dog than the Shikoku. A Kishu is aware of its surroundings and always hunting for something. When a Kishu is reacting, there is never any question on what she is reacting to, and she may not stop until the offending stimulus is dealt with. When a Shikoku reacts to an offending stimulus, she is "flashier" or "showy", puffing-up and reacting with sharp and frenetic energy to be released, rather than the intense directness of the Kishu. The Shikoku may recover faster from these reactions, and they may stop when a certain distance has been put between them, or line of sight has been broken. A Kishu, by comparison, may continue seeking line-of-sight or become vocal when distance is put between them and the stimulus. Training diminishes these reactions. Teaching impulse control is imperative for both breeds.
It is important to note that though both breeds may experience barrier frustration and can be reactive, particularly when leashed or held back, this is a trait that can be diminished or managed through early and consistent training. Both breeds may be combative with other dogs and the Shikoku has a mouthier and "ruder" play style. A Shikoku likes to push their playmate's buttons with barking, hip-checking, and tail-pulling all in the name of good fun. Kishu Ken are also very physical players to dogs they are friendly with, but handicap themselves well and are more likely to take turns playing different roles during play. So, for those who do not want to pick between the breeds, there is good news: Shikoku-Kishu households generally report the breeds are suitable companions for one another. The Kishu attitude of being accepting and humoring to familiar dogs meshes well with the Shikoku habit of button-pushing and instigating to get their friends to play.
The Ideal Owner
The ideal owner for Shikoku and Kishu are similar - perhaps even the same. Both breeds need an owner who understands that these dogs are energetic and long-lived, staying fit and active into their teens. They require daily stimulation through mental or physical exercise. An owner who can accept that these dogs are not "dog park dogs" and provide a structured, healthy environment in which they can grow into the best dog they can be is a must. Lastly, these dogs need an owner who is not too proud to reach out for help in the community if things do not go as expected, for any reason. The Kishu and Shikoku breed communities are open and helpful places who want to see others succeed and dogs thrive in their households.
These breeds can make troublesome pets without the proper amount of care and work, but are ideal adventure dogs who can be active all day in the field hiking, sporting, or hunting, but have an admirable "off switch" for the home, where they might curl up on a bed or next to you on the couch and not bother you until your next adventure.
What Does it Mean?
In the end, if you are asking yourself if the Shikoku or Kishu is right for your household, either breed may honestly be a good fit. They share much in common, have similar needs, similar temperaments, and if your household is a good fit for one breed, it is likely to be a good fit for the other. There are key differences that may help you decide, otherwise.
Yuushoku Kishu (specifically, sesame Kishu) have been used throughout this article to create an easier visual illustration on similarities and differences between the breeds. Please consider that the average Kishu Ken is white-coated.
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