Ainu Dog (aka Hokkaido Dog)
History, Characteristics, Personality and More

If you are looking for a rare native Japanese dog, the Ainu dog may be a splendid companion that comes packed with many desirable qualities.

But as with other Spitz-type breeds, you will need to carefully consider the overall temperament of this dog, which is not one of the easiest to raise and train, before you decide if it's right for you and your family.

Whether you are thinking about buying a puppy or adopting an adult dog and want to know if this is the right breed for you or just want to learn more about this breed, I hope this article will help you find the answers to your questions.

Breed History

Also known as Do-Ken, Ainu Inu, Ainu Ken, Hokkaido-Ken and Hokkaido Dog, this Japanese Spitz-type breed of unknown origin is named after the Ainu people, a tribe that introduced this breed's ancestors to Japan over 3,000 years ago. It's considered the oldest of the original Japanese breeds.

Over the years, the Ainus and their dogs migrated from the main island of Honshu to the island of Hokkaido, where these dogs developed pretty much isolated from other breeds.

With a history of hunting bears, guarding property and pulling carts, the Ainu dog breed was greatly appreciated for its strong working abilities.

Because most Ainu dogs have black spots on their tongue, and some have blue-black tongues, many experts suspect that this breed is somewhat related to the Chow Chow and Shar Pei breeds.

In 1937, the Ainu dog was declared a Japanese Natural Monument and became protected by law. Its official name was changed to Hokkaido Inu, or Hokkaido Dog in English, but the breed is still better known as the Ainu Dog.

This breed is not recognized by the American Kennel Club, but it is recognized by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale and the United Kennel Club. Considered as a rare breed, Ainus are rarely seen outside of Japan.

Physical Characteristics of the Ainu Dog

This sturdy-looking dog seems to be purposely built to withstand the bitter cold and heavy snowfall of its country of origin. The small eyes and long fur give this breed its typical appearance.

The body of this breed is medium in size, sturdy and well balanced. The neck is muscular and strong. The back is straight. The chest is deep and features well-sprung ribs. The tail is thick and set high and may curl or curve like a sickle.

The shoulders in this breed slope slightly. The forelegs are straight. Hindquarters are powerful with strong and sturdy hocks. The feet boast well-arched toes with hard pads. The nails are dark in color.

The broad skull is slightly flattened. The eyes are typically small and triangular in shape. The nose is typically black, although a flesh-colored hue is permitted in the white coat. The ears are small, triangular in shape and pricked. The teeth meet in a scissor bite.

The coat in this breed is double with a harsh and straight outer coat and a soft, fluffy undercoat. Accepted colors are sesame, brindle, black and tan, black, red and white.

    Height Weight
  Male 19 to 21 inches 45 to 65 pounds
  Female 18 to 19 inches 45 to 65 pounds


Ainu dogs boast several appealing and desirable qualities. They are very intelligent and can be quickly trained. However, they require a firm, consistent owner capable of providing no-nonsense leadership. For this reason, this breed does best with an experienced owner.

If you are looking for a good watchdog, this breed fills the role very well. While the Ainu dog is extremely loyal and gentle with his owner, he can be a fearless and determined guardian. These dogs can be wary of strangers, so socializing Ainu puppies from a young age is a must so they can learn how to properly differentiate friend from foe.

Ainus are also fearless hunters. How else would you call a 65 pound dog willing to attack a bear weighting 10 times his weight?

With other animals, the Ainu dog must be closely monitored. Because of its previous history as a hunter, this breed may see small and large pets as prey.

When properly socialized, the Ainu does fairly well with children, especially older ones. However, children must be taught how to approach and handle this dog properly. But even with older children, all interactions must always be supervised.

To show its owner that he is happy to see him, the Hokkaido Inu howls like a wolf. It also possesses a very good sense of direction and can return home from great distances.

Best Owner and Living Conditions

An experienced dog owner capable of providing firm, yet gentle leadership is the best match for this breed. Failure to be consistent may lead to a stubborn, headstrong dog and may lead to problematic behaviors.

Families with children should consider this breed with caution. While they make great family dogs, they need to be heavily socialized to children from an early age.

This breed is not well-suited for an apartment lifestyle.

Activity and Exercise

With a past as a hunter, guardian and sled dog, this breed has plenty of energy to spare. You want to find a job for this dog so he remains happy. After all, a tired dog is a good dog.

To drain off some of that pent up energy, it helps to walk this breed at least once a day and play some outdoor games such as Frisbee or fetch. Failure to provide sufficient exercise may lead to destructive behaviors such as chewing, excessive barking and whining.


This breed's double coat requires regular brushing to minimize the chances for mats and tangles. Brushing 2 to 3 times per week should be sufficient. However, you may want to brush daily during spring and fall when heavier shedding occurs.

Health Concerns

While this is a fairly healthy breed, it may be predisposed to a few health conditions. Hip dysplasia, entropion, ectropion, bloat and glaucoma are a few conditions seen in the Ainu dog breed.

Visit dog health problems to learn more about dog diseases and health care.

Purchasing puppies from reputable Ainu dog breeders that screen their breeding stock for congenital health disorders can help reduce the chances for such disorders.

Even healthy dogs get sick. While many health problems will require an immediate attention from your Vet, there are many others that you may handle on your own. Learn how to save time and money (and how to prevent small problems from becoming big problems) by diagnosing and treating dog health problems that don't require your Vet's attention.

Life Expectancy

The average life expectancy for healthy Hokkaido puppies is between 13 and 15 years.

Final Thoughts...

Raised correctly, the Hokkaido dog makes a loving, loyal and affectionate companion. However, keep in mind that this breed is rarely found outside of Japan. Expect some difficulty in locating a breeder, higher prices and possibly long waiting lists. However, the process seems to be well worth it as many owners refuse to own any other breed other than the Ainu dog.

Did you ever consider adopting your next pet?

If this is the breed you are interested in, and adoption appeals to you, consider contacting your local Ainu dog rescue. There are thousands of pets waiting for a loving home and, yes, it's possible to adopt a purebred dog.

Related Articles

You may also wish to explore the following articles:

Want to learn more?

Puppy Training

Not happy with your pet's behavior? Need help with training your dog for obedience? Then check this dog behavior and obedience training guide.


Find this article interesting? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and as always, your +1's, Shares, Facebook likes and retweets are appreciated.



Search this site or click here to search the Web


Ainu Dog » Dog Breeds

Association of Pet Dog Trainers - Dog Training Professionals Member#: 73641
Puppy Rescue Adoption in your Area
Puppy Rescue Adoption in your Area

Featured Article

Puppy Training

Crate Training Dogs to Fix Behavior Problems

"Crate training dogs that are destructive or prone to chewing and eating everything in sight can ultimately..."
...continue reading