The "Japanese Wolfdog" is often a term and alternate breed name given to the Kishu Ken's sibling breed, the Shikoku Ken. This is primarily due to the Shikoku Ken's somewhat more lupine appearance in coat color, and the opinion that the Honshu wolf native to Japan survived longest on the island of Shikoku. Sources like "Waiting for Wolves in Japan" and "Nihon Ookami wo Ou" tell that the Kishu-Honshu wolf connection is so strong, that this nickname may be better suited for the Kishu Ken, despite not looking the part of a more typical wolfdog breed.
These texts, and stories suggest that Japanese hunters crossed wolves to their hounds to produce better boar-hunting dogs. This may be because the Honshu wolf was a natural predator to the boar and deer that often invaded and destroyed fields and crops in Japanese villages, and that strength and skill was desirable to breed into the native hounds.
The Kishu Ken, specifically, has strong ties to this wolf in its history, and in the origin story of the breed itself. The origin story invariably goes something like this:
This origin story may have some truth to it, as genetic evidence has uncovered that some modern Kishu do - in fact - carry a maternal haplotype (A445) unique to Japan and not shared with any other Japanese breed. According to some modern day hunters, there are other traits Kishu Ken possess that are evidence of their wolf blood. These are not limited to their sharp, almond-shaped eyes, their narrow chests, or the "rounded triangle" shape of their well-furred ears. This evidence also lives in the very nature of the Kishu Ken - the "wonderful wildness" of their personalities. Some believe it is also seen in how easily they can navigate dense, mountainous terrain, and their overall robust physique.
Another alleged place Kishu show their "wolf's blood" is their teeth. Kishu Ken teeth are hard, strong, and large. According to the lore, Kishu teeth come out at an angle that is similar to that of the Honshu wolf. Some hunters say Kishu teeth do not break or get lost in a fight. This may be due to selection for hunting dogs who must work on the tough hide of a boar, rather than sure evidence of wolf blood. It could even be another myth... but Kishu teeth are nothing to disregard.
The Kishu Ken is not a wolf-dog cross in its modern incarnation, but between verbal storytelling, written accounts, and scientific study, it is is not difficult to believe that these wolf-dog crosses may have happened in the breed's history.
The Honshu wolf is long extinct, so the Kishu Ken may not have "wolf content", as is said among enthusiasts of real wolf-dog crosses, but it does not mean they are an "easier" dog because of it. They have a strong connection to the wilderness, and their wild ancestors, though intentional breeding, by merit of what they are meant to do and the way they hunt. The Kishu Ken has a "wonderful wildness", indeed, and this wildness needs to be both respected and nurtured for owners of these dogs to grow faithful, confident companions.
Written and edited by C.J. Hammond
The historical way of hunting with Kishu-Ken, and Nihon Ken in general, has many stark differences when compared with the traditional western methods that the majority of the world associates with hunting dogs. These differences are commonly what drive life long Western-Style hunters to start their journey of hunting with the Kishu-Ken. The Japanese have an ancient saying One Gun, One Dog, meaning one man, one gun, and one dog to complete the task of hunting. It's a difficult goal, and one that traditional boar hunters would say is unlikely to be achieved. It requires an immense connection and bond between the hunter, and his dog to be in total sync in the pursuit of wild game.
Kishu-Ken do not cast or range far in the sense most often associated with hounds, curs, or other wild boar hunting dogs. The Kishu-Ken is a close hunter, often times silent until actually baying or closing in on prey. There is a constant push and pull between the hunter and his dog to determine the correct positioning and technique in order to be successful.
There are two styles of hunting typically found within the Kishu-Ken; hoedome (baying), and kamidome (catching). These styles have been bred towards and are often inherited through the different ancestral bloodlines in Japan.
The Kishu-Ken is a versatile and agile dog able to work through the thick bamboo jungles of Japan as well scale the steep hills and mountain sides in pursuit of wild game. They are perfectly suited for the swamps and common areas in the United States where there are limited open-spaces and the majority of hunting takes place in thick underbrush that is too difficult for human hunters to get through quickly or efficiently.
There is very minimal training needed for the Kishu-Ken to be able to fulfill their role as a hunting dog. This is what draws many people to experiment with them in their hunting journeys. Due to the limited outside breeding influence, the Kishu-Ken has retained most, if not all, of their initial hunting instincts that made them a revered National Monument of Japan.
The dog's own problem solving skills and intelligence is something that allows hunters to simply give cues for instructions that are based off the behavior and signs that the dog is displaying. This communication and reading your dog is essential to being successful when hunting with a Kishu-Ken. Providing the proper handler guidance and giving the dog self-building experiences will ensure that the independent-thinking and intelligence of the dog does not allow the dog to create bad habits for himself.
The Kishu-Ken is not a handler-heavy dog in the sense most often associated with working dogs. Using shock collars and negative punishments often times will cause the dog to "shut down" from performing any type of work. This is another major difference with the traditional methods of western hunting styles. Force-Retrieving, or Force Recall are very difficult to work within the Kishu-Ken demeanor. More successful methods are seen by implementing positive reinforcement training, and a "lack of reward" for failure to follow a command. When reaching the "proofing" stage of training, there is more leeway for traditional methods, however the risk and likelihood of "shutting down" the dog completely is a valid concern; a dog’s drive should continue to be nurtured.
Written by Trey Smith. Edited by CJ Hammond. Photo by Gen Murofushi.
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