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 last decade of open communication and supportive community has brought a multitude of Kishu Ken owners from around the globe together to share their dogs online - in public forums of the earlier 2000 and 2010s and social media websites such as Instagram and Facebook, we can speak with others across the globe in the palm of our hands. In a rare breed with geographically distant ownership, this is has been invaluable for sharing anything from cute dog pictures to critical health information.
In the last handful of years in particular, health issues in the Kishu Ken are becoming better known. For decades since their introduction to the USA (the first breeding pair in the USA was born in 1991, our current data suggests), very little information on breed health had been known.
Because of this openness and sharing, we now know that allergies and skin conditions are commonplace in the breed.
But sometimes, skin issues aren't as simple as allergies and the cause has far deeper roots and can mean something much more nefarious for your dog.
At current, we know of the following autoimmune illnesses in Kishu Ken:
What does this mean?
For Owners of Kishu Ken:
For Breeders of Kishu Ken
At this time, the National Kishu Club is collecting registered names and pedigrees on dogs who are affected by autoimmune illness and allergies for research and education purposes. If your dog is affected by any diagnosed allergies or autoimmune illness, please consider submitting an email to email@example.com with your dog's pedigree name, diagnosis, and parentage. We will work to develop an easy submission form on the website to submit your dog.
You may also help in the form of a monetary donation to allow the club to collect pedigree data on ancestors via a NIPPO research pedigree request and even support our ability to collect data and research these illnesses in the breed.
This is a special breed with relatively few health issues, but the ones that we are seeing can be very scary for owners and breeders. Please know that no matter if your Kishu Ken is healthy or even currently affected, you and your dog are not alone, and you can always send the club an email if you think you need help, or you can join the Facebook group of Kishu Ken owners and enthusiasts to share and find a community that will love to see you and your dog.
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.