hokkaido dog breed

Hokkaido Dog Breed: A Complete Guide To This Classic Japanese Breed

Americans are familiar with the Shiba Inu — its curly tail and fox-like features. Popular amongst this breed is the Hokkaido dog, a rare Japanese breed that’s become quite popular in its home country thanks to its outstanding loyalty, bravery, warmth, and intelligence.


The Hokkaido dog is unique, not only because of its distinctive face and long coat but also because of its unwavering loyalty. This is a family dog that loves nothing more than protecting and pleasing you. Find out what it takes to care for the Hokkaido dog here.



Hokkaido Characteristics

Balanced, clean-cut, and well-muscled, this is a dog that always looks alert and dignified. Some key characteristics that set it apart from similar breeds are their thick double coat and bulging wide chests.



Hokkaido Dog Size

The Hokkaido dog is considered a medium-sized dog breed. Male Hokkaido dogs are around 20 inches tall and weigh between 53 and 66 pounds. Female Hokkaido dogs are around 18 to 20 inches and weigh 44 to 57 pounds, making them a bit smaller.



The Hokkaido’s neck is strong. Atop their neck is a skinny fox-like head with a distinct face. The Hokkaido dog has a wide forehead and strongly developed cheeks. Their ears and eyes are both triangular. Their ears are small and thick, standing at a 90-degree angle. The eyes, often dark brown, lift upwards and give them a careful and wary expression.



The Hokkaido dog has a deep chest with a well-developed chest. Their ribs are well sprung, giving them a fuller look. This dog breed’s back is straight and strong. The Hokkaido has slightly sloping shoulders and angled forearms. Their front limbs are straight. The breed’s rear is also moderately angled, described as “strong” and “resilient.” This dog has a very thick and muscular tail.



Hokkaido dogs have a double coat with a soft undercoat and a thick, straight overcoat. It’s a lot of fur, and the breed is not hypoallergenic. This breed will often be red, white, brindle, black, black and tan, or sesame.



woman holding hokkaido puppy high



Hokkaido Dog Personality

One thing people notice immediately about the Hokkaido dog is their devotion to their family. This is a pack-oriented dog with a strong sense of hierarchy. They have great respect for their family when adequately trained. In fact, this dog may even get upset when it disappoints you.


Dog Breed Characteristics

This dog breed has a devotion to their owner that’s rarely seen in other breeds. Sometimes, their loyalty leads to them grow extremely attached to their favorite humans. You’ll often notice this dog breed trotting after you from room to room. They love to be involved in whatever it is you’re doing.


Since this dog (like many other dog breeds) is so attached to their family, they thrive in a home that has a lot of time to give. If you’re gone a lot for work, this dog breed may not be the best dog for you. Prolonged separation can lead to destructive behavior or anxiety whenever you’re not around. This is an intelligent breed that needs to be around their family as often as possible.


The Hokkaido’s loyalty to family makes them fantastic guard dogs. They can be very protective of their loved ones and somewhat wary of strangers. While they won’t be aggressive or hostile, the Hokkaido is known to be a little reserved around new people. Friends and extended family will have to approach the Hokkaido politely and calmly, earning their trust.


This is an agile and alert dog that’s known for its prey drive. Their strong desire to chase can make them hyper at times. The Hokkaido loves nothing more than playing fetch and chasing after animals in your backyard.


The Hokkaido’s history of hunting and searching dogs also makes them extremely aware of their surroundings. If they notice anything out of the ordinary, you might notice them starting to bark; this is their way of alerting you. They are otherwise quiet dogs.



Hokkaido Dog Exercise

The Hokkaido dog doesn’t require as much exercise as other more hyperactive breeds. Spending 30 to 60 minutes exercising with your dog each day is necessary.


The exercise this dog craves is spending time outdoors with their owners. They are very fond of hikes and jogs. Just make sure to keep the Hokkaido on a leash since it may run off after small animals. It’s a determined breed that might not give up the hunt easily. But, they make great hiking companions when leashed.


The Hokkaido likes being outside in general. If you’re unable to get to a park or trail, spend some time with them outside. You’ll notice that they love to lie down and soak in the fresh air. Casually toss a ball, or play other games to bond in nature.


A dog park is another viable option for exercise. Just be sure to keep a close eye on your Hokkaido. When interacting with other dogs, their playfulness can get mistaken for aggression. They’ll often crouch and jump, letting out loud barks and howls. This behavior might intimidate other dogs, so be aware of how your Hokkaido interacts with other pets at the park.



Hokkaido Dog Training

This is a brilliant dog that loves nothing more than pleasing you. While the Hokkaido may become distracted by small animals or other moving objects, they are usually easy to train. It’s best to start training and socialization when they are puppies, getting them used to give you their full attention as early as possible.


Begin training inside to avoid outdoor distractions. It can be hard for this breed to focus on repetitive tasks or commands when they notice something moving around them. You can use food or a clicker to keep them focused.


It’s imperative to establish your role as the “alpha” as soon as possible. You need your Hokkaido to respect you. You can do this by being very firm and consistent with them. Never let them get away with something! While you never want to punish your Hokkaido, you must ensure that they understand that you are in charge, and they must follow your command.


Obedience is important for intelligent, strong-willed dogs like the Hokkaido. They might try to be sneaky at first, getting away with various things. They are a daring dog who isn’t afraid of very much, but they are afraid of disappointing their favorite humans. When you gain their respect, they will want to do everything in their power to please you.



Hokkaido Dog History

The history of the Hokkaido dog is quite extensive. They are believed to be one of the oldest dog breeds in existence. The Hokkaido is one of the most primitive of all the Japanese dog breeds, originating from the main island of Hokkaido. Some think they originated from dogs brought by immigrants of Honshu in the tenth century. At that time, they were working dogs used for hunting.


Long before the invention of guns, the Japanese would hunt with these well-trained and loyal dogs by their side. The Hokkaido was made to be fearless, often taking on large bears and other big game. Intelligently, the Hokkaido can catch fish in moving streams with no difficulty. Later, this breed’s bravery and intelligence lent to their ability to search and rescue dogs.


In 1869, a British zoologist named Thomas Blankinston came across the Hokkaido dog to visit Japan. He gave them their name, taken from the island they originally inhabited.


Despite their long history, the Hokkaido breed has rarely bred with other purebred pooches. Still, they have a blue and black tongue that hints at relation to Chow-Chows or Shar-Pei dogs. Though they may share some blood, the Hokkaido has been a breed for a long time.


In 1937, Japan recognized the breed as a living natural monument, protecting them by law. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in the early 2000s placing them alongside hundreds of dog breeds established by the AKC.



Hokkaido Health Problems

Although the Hokkaido is a stout, strong dog. It is vulnerable to ailments other dog breeds face in their lifetimes. Below is a list of the common illnesses found in this breed.


Collie Eye Anomaly

This breed has a very high rate of Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA). About one-third of Hokkaido’s get affected by this. Two-thirds are carriers of this disease. There is now genetic testing for CEA, so Hokkaido breeders should ensure their dogs don’t carry this defect before breeding them.


CEA occurs when a gene mutation affects the eye’s development. This causes the blood vessels that support the retina to remain underdeveloped. In some cases, the retina may even detach.


Many people won’t realize their dog has Collie Eye Anomaly until they notice their dog’s vision gets impaired. CEA eventually leads to blindness. You may notice cloudiness over your dog’s eye in some cases.


CEA is a disease that can only be diagnosed by a veterinarian evaluating their retina, so always ask your vet to take a look at their eyes during regular checkups.


While there isn’t a cure for Collie Eye Anomaly and no way to reverse its effects, you can minimize the cloudiness with laser surgery in some cases. Surgery is also available to re-attach their retina. The most important thing to do is discuss CEA with breeders to ensure they have a health guarantee. Then, visit a vet regularly, making them aware of the possibility of CEA.



According to the American Animal Hospital Association, cancer is quite common in dogs. One in four dogs will develop cancer at some point. Fifty percent of dogs will get cancer over the age of 10. Fortunately, most cases are treatable if caught early.


Your dog may have cancer if you notice:


  • Inability to walk or move
  • Difficulty using the bathroom
  • Problems eating
  • Struggling to breathe
  • Swelling that grows rapidly
  • Sores that don’t heal
  • Excessive bleeding from wounds


Below is a list of the common types of cancer in dogs.



Lymphoma makes up 20% of all canine cancers. Dogs are more to develop this disease than humans, and it can happen at any age. It commonly appears as swollen lymph nodes behind the knee, in front of the shoulder, or under their jaw.


Mast Cell Tumors 

These tumors grow on your dog’s skin, spreading to other parts of their body if left untreated. You’ll notice your dog vomiting, having loose stools, and refusing to eat. If they have mast cell tumors, it may require surgery to remove the growths.



This is a common form of bone cancer in canines. It often appears in the larger breeds, attacking the long leg bones in their limbs. It’s an aggressive kind of cancer that spreads rapidly, leading many owners to opt for limb amputation before it spreads. Fewer than 10% of dogs who go through treatment for osteosarcoma will survive longer than three years.



This form of cancer often affects dogs with dark tongues and gums, like the Hokkaido. It’s sadly incurable. There is usually no way to completely remove the cancer, even through surgery, and radiation therapy isn’t very effective against metastasized cells.


While your dog may have to live with melanoma, you can ease their discomfort with CBD oil. CBD is a non-intoxicating, naturally occurring phytocannabinoid that reacts with the cannabinoid receptors in your dog’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). CBD can help your dog with any soreness, discomfort, or mood swings, soothing and calming them in the process.


Mammary Gland Carcinomas

This is a common tumor found in unspayed female dogs that reduce life expectancy and longevity in these animals. They quickly grow into large, painful tumors, sometimes becoming open wounds. Mammary gland tumors cure through surgical removals if they haven’t metastasized. Unfortunately, 50% of malignant masses are fatal. Reduce this risk by spaying your dog immediately.



This cancer will often attack the spleen, liver, heart, and skin. You’ll notice that your dog has extreme blood loss, pale gums, labored breathing, and weakness. If you notice these symptoms, your dog will need emergency surgery, followed by chemotherapy.



How to Care for a Hokkaido Dog


Like most dogs, the Hokkaido sheds quite a bit. Brush this ainu dog twice a week to remove excess hair from their coat. This will also make their coat shinier and healthier. You can also trim their nails and clean their ears as part of their grooming routine. Brush their teeth regularly as well.


Hokkaido dogs shed their undercoat about twice each year. During this time, you can remove the excess dead hair with a bath. You will also need to brush them frequently to remove the dead fur. Keep in mind they do not like baths at all, so you’ll have to train this stubborn breed to allow bathing at an early age.


Related: How to Bathe a Dog: A Step-by-Step Guide for Responsible Owners


Socialized your Hokkaido dog at an early age. Try bringing them to obedience school or dog parks regularly. You want them to become used to interacting with other pets as soon as possible. You also want them to be around people.


Socialization gives them a better understanding of how to behave with guests and friends. While the Hokkaido isn’t aggressive, they will often be wary of strangers. This results in nervousness. You should let your dog know from puppyhood that other people are safe!


This is a dog that loves having tasks. The Hokkaido excels at performance events, including agility, flyball, dock diving, and lure coursing. We recommend that you sign them up for these types of activities! They will love training for them, as well as the thrill of competing.



hokkaido on a blue sofa



Nutrition and Feeding for Hokkaido Dog

Since the Hokkaido is often very active, they need a diet that consists of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Try speaking with your veterinarian about what type of food to provide for your growing Hokkaido and how you should go about creating their meal plan.



Children And Other Pets

The Hokkaido dog breed is good-natured with children when socialized at an early age. They will become used to the humans in their household, including younger kids, treating them as their pack to protect and cherish. Just be sure to keep an eye on their interactions with younger children since the Hokkaido’s playful behavior can sometimes come off as aggressive.


A pack dog, Hokkaido’s, will enjoy being with other dogs if introduced properly. But because of their prey drive, it’s often noted that they are not as accepting of small animals. Hokkaido’s and cats learn to get along with patience and care, but it’s often recommended no other species be in the home. They could end up chasing the cat, making it quite terrified.



Rescue Groups

There are no known Hokkaido rescue groups in North America due to the scarcity of the breed. If you find a Hokkaido at a pet shelter, make sure you are well aware of their behavior, personality, and needs before adopting. This dog makes a great family pet when given the proper attention and care.


An adult Hokkaido should eat 2.5 – 4.5 cups of food daily, split into two meals. You should always make sure to balance the dog’s caloric intake and activity level.



Breed Organizations

The Hokkaido Association of America started in 2011, back when only about four dogs of this breed lived in America. The purpose was to breed preservation in North America and keep an eye on emerging health studies. The HANA claims there is a “strong American gene pool for the Hokkaido breed” underway.


“HANA promotes sound and responsible breeding practices dedicated to the improvement and advancement of the Hokkaido breed. We advocate the highest ethical standards among breeders, owners, and fanciers; and encourage good sportsmanship and cooperation among its membership” – Hokkaido Association of America. 


The club supports Hokkaido breed education for judges, fanciers, and the general dog-loving public. HANA also promotes obedience trials, working trials, and specialty shows for these dogs and their owners. Obedience, rally, and agility events sanctioned by the AKC are also in the works.



More About This Dog Breed

With their loyal and loving personalities and majestic appearance, it’s no wonder the Hokkaido has become popular in Japan. A Hokkaido dog named Kai-kun gained fame in commercial campaigns for a Japanese company, SoftBank, in 2007. The ad was a hit with Japanese audiences, giving them awards and recognition. It also expanded the history of dog the Hokkaido, a classic means of documenting the influence of this breed.


The Hokkaido dog often costs around $500. But keep in mind that you will most likely have to pay to transport the dog out of Japan. While the dog is huge in its native country, it’s extremely rare to see a Hokkaido inu elsewhere.


The American Kennel Club states that there nearly 12,000 Hokkaido registered in Japan. But outside of Japan, there are only about 1,000 yearly registrations at most.


While rare, the Hokkaido is loyal and brave. It’s a dog that’s worth searching for! They respect their family, often taking pride in protecting each pack member. Intelligent and energetic, this is a dog that loves spending time with you outside. You will most definitely find a new hiking partner and a loyal, trusting friend.

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