Aggression is incredibly useful to humans and we have bred hundreds of breeds to assist us by exhibiting aggressive behaviors. From terriers to herding dogs to livestock guardians to hunting dogs, they are all bred for some degree of aggression or perpetuate aggressive behavior.
But at some point it seems we became uncomfortable calling useful aggression what it was and reserved it only for the aggression that seemed out of place in a pet home. The trouble is that we have spent hundreds and thousands of years breeding the domestic dogs of different populations to exhibit these aggressive behaviors and then become frustrated or perplexed when those behaviors follow us home.
Kishu Ken are an aggressive breed. For a while I became so offended at people twisting and manipulating this to imply Kishu Ken were horrible dogs who would rather eat you than be your friend (untrue) and may have stopped being as frank about this as I could be. If you are interested in the breed, you must know this and be prepared for it. I would say all Japanese dog breeds are bred for aggression in one way or another, but I'm going to focus on the Kishu Ken and how this aggression manifests.
Kishu Ken are a boar hound. No shrinking flower of a dog will ever be a successful boar hound. These dogs are brave and tough and will fight when challenged.
In my opinion and experience, the aggression Kishu tend to exhibit is entirely animal directed or born from frustration and more rarely, their response to fear. A Kishu Ken who is aggressive toward their owner/hunter or their family has no place, IMO, in the population and cannot be safe in the most basic function of the dog. Kishu Ken who are aggressive towards strangers are rare in my experience so far and I would shy away from breeding such a dog if better options existed. That, simply, is not what I prefer in a dog or a Kishu. Other breeders may feel differently.
Kishu Ken come from a foundation population that has been bred for thousands of years to chase, bay, and hold large game. This is instinct. Kishu Ken have a high prey drive and indulging it tends to be supremely self rewarding for individuals in the breed. Strange animals they are not acclimated to are all prey. While Kishu Ken can be socialized to cats and dogs they live with (and even rabbits in the case of one of my puppy homes!), I will always tell people that animal aggression and reactivity should be something an owner prepares for and trains for at a young age. Some Kishu, when they have this early intervention, may never become reactive or aggressive toward dogs, but may still like to chase and kill squirrels, rabbits, hares, deer, snakes, vole. You name it: if it runs and bleeds, it will instigate the prey drive to cause your Kishu Ken to react unless you have specifically worked on impulse control and engagement.
Thankfully, Kishu Ken seem to have decent pack drive. They like hanging out with their friends and once you are "in" their friend group the Kishu is Ride or Die. Additionally, a dog with a high prey drive is a dog with a clear motivation-- and if you can harness that motivation, the dogs are trainable. But this is one of those make or break "is this dog for me" traits so it deserves mentioning and repeating.
impulse control & Barrier Frustration
Kishu Ken are a breed that wears their heart on their sleeve and can feel very intensely. I venture that no Kishu Ken owner ever is unfamiliar with the ball-clenching sense of dread that comes right when you see your dog launch at something furry that just crossed the road. In an untrained dog, we can all hear the scream-song and the hopping and yanking that follows when your lovely, cuddly Kishu Ken puppy becomes a dragon you seem to have become accidentally tethered to through a series of bad life decisions. Barrier frustration and impulse control are Day One training activities. Do not slack on these. Kishu Ken are very smart dogs and can pick things up quickly when they are motivated to do so. Work to figure out what makes your dog tick when they are young while working on their engagement and impulse control and you will be set for the future.
Kishu Ken are likely to choose fight over flight.
This is not always true, but the majority of Kishu Ken I have met, from my production or others, are likely to fight if they feel threatened. This can make mundane tasks seem very difficult. It's a nail trim that turns into a writhing, wrestling match. It's a routine vet visit that turns into a shrieking dog with two techs to hold him down. It is the job of the breeder to best prepare the Kishu for the future by adequate early life experience and the job of the owner to continue that and keep their dog acclimated to handling to make routine care as easy and stress free as possible.
The breed is not without its fearful individuals. These dogs are less common and can be fearful from genetic temperament inclination, environmental experience, or both. A fearful Kishu doesn't usually present, in my experience so far, as a cowering or withering dog. They are proactive about protecting their interests and will do so with dramatic displays of hackles up, booming voices, or shows of teeth. If your Kishu ever reaches this point it is important not to push them to address their fears without 1) a vet check to assure the health of the dog is not complicating their behavior (eyesight check and thyroid panel are a good place to start) and 2) a visit with a behaviorist to develop a solid plan for the future.
As a parting note, after reading this, keep in mind any aggression towards the handler is a disqualifying fault in the Kishu Ken, as are any excessively aggressive or excessively shy individuals. This is a post to prepare you on the possibilities of what a Kishu Ken can be. Every dog requires training and work and the Kishu Ken is no exception.
Copied from Akiyama no Roushya's Facebook Post on aggression in the Kishu Ken
The Kishu Ken as a Companion dog
Keeping a high-energy, primitive dog as a household pet can be a challenging, but rewarding task. Generally speaking, the breed is high in physical energy, working drive, and prey drive. The combination can present difficulties to a pet owner, particularly when her Kishu Ken is in his adolescent months, testing boundaries and learning quickly.
Despite this, the Kishu Ken can make a wonderful, intelligent, and affectionate companion in the home. Kishu Ken thrive in an environment where they can holistically develop a bond with their owner. An environment that is consistent, but never harsh or too repetitive - the latter can cause contention and disharmony between dog and owner.
As companions, Kish Ken require daily stimulation. This stimulation may come in many forms, not limited to: regular, long leash-walks, hiking, camping, brain puzzles, and training games! Exercising your Kishu Ken is important to their physical and emotional well-being. They are always eager to meet adventure, no matter the form, as long as they have the experience to understand the environment. In the home, however, a Kishu owner will note his dog often turns into an affectionate creature, just as happy to curl up on the couch and cuddle with their family.
The Young Kishu Ken
As a warning, the most difficult time in a Kishu's life - for dog and owner - is the tumultuous adolescent stage, between 8 months and maturity when the juvenile Kishu is testing her boundaries. Kishu Ken in this stage of development are wont to become destructive when bored, combative with other dogs, and potentially challenging of their owners. Special care must be taken during this stage to keep a healthy, strong bond between dog and family, until they grow into their maturity. Consistent, fun training and experience can help through this period of growth.
This adolescence comes at a particular surprise because Kishu Ken puppies tend to be hyper-intelligent, biddable, and learn very quickly. Kishu Ken puppies have a habit of absorbing experience and training like a sponge, and rarely have the "rebellious streak" of their teenage counterparts. Creating a solid foundation during their formative puppy weeks and months is key to a confident and well-trained adult.
The Perfect Home
The ideal home for a Kishu Ken as a companion animal is in an active home. Kishu Ken can tirelessly go for miles when physically exercised due to their long-standing hunting background. Their unique "off switch" in the home, when not on adventure, makes them a possible pet for even the "weekend warrior" active home, as long as they can stimulate their Kishu in different ways during their busy-times.
Many Kishu Ken owners in North America are active families, looking for a relatively no-frills, generally healthy companion dog.
Written and edited by C.J. Hammond
Kishu Ken centric articles written by club members. If you are a club member who would like to submit an article for the website, please contact us.