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
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