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Kai Ken: Dog Breed Info, Pictures, Care Guide & Facts

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

closeup kaiken

Height: 17-20 inches
Weight: 25-55 pounds
Lifespan: 14-16 years
Colors: Black, brown, brindle
Suitable for: Affectionate and attentive owners, families of any size, owners with large yards, active owners, experienced dog owners
Temperament: Reserved, Friendly, Dominant, Alert, Affectionate

The Kai Ken is a little-known and rare dog breed that originated as a wild dog in Japan. They are beautiful dogs that often resemble bear cubs when they’re puppies. As cute as they are in their first few months, they grow up into muscular and alert dogs that can look quite intimidating, despite their medium size.

Kai Kens make wonderful guard dogs given how alert and loyal they are, but don’t let this fool you into thinking this breed isn’t affectionate. Kai Kens will be cautious and reserved around strangers, but they love interaction with their owners and can be wonderfully attentive and emotionally needy dogs.

Their origin as mountain dogs makes them active and intelligent, and they’ll naturally have a high prey drive and a dominant nature. However, if you know what to expect from your Kai Ken and are prepared to give this dog the attention they need, this could be the perfect breed to bring into your home.divider 10

Kai Ken Puppies

kai ken puppy
Photo Credit: Melissa Grisham, Shutterstock

Most people don’t know much about these dogs given how rare the breed is, so knowing what kind of personality and behavior you’ll see in a Kai Ken puppy is essential for both your and your dog’s happiness.

First, you should know that this breed is adaptable to living with just about any sized family, but they need to be socialized and trained early on. Kai Kens are often distrustful of strangers, so the earlier they are introduced to and can become acquainted with your family and friends the better.

Next, you’ll need to be prepared to deal with the Kai Ken’s shedding. This breed has a thick coat, which protects them in colder temperatures. Their dense double coat also means you should expect a lot of shedding in your home. If you have allergies to dogs or don’t think you can keep up with regular brushing and weekly vacuuming, this may not be the best dog for you.

Their double coat also means that they don’t fare well in hot climates. They’re best suited for cold to moderate temperatures, and they can become overheated if they play or exercise in warm weather.

Lastly, these dogs need training and exercise from a very early age. Their personalities do best with regimented lifestyles and training schedules, so make sure you have the time to dedicate to training and daily exercise starting right when you take your Kai Ken puppy home.

3 Little-Known Facts About the Kai Ken

1. There Are Several Different Types

Kai Kens are classified into a few different sub-categories. The first distinction is made based on their size and build. One type is stockier and a bit more muscular, and Kai Kens that fit into this category are referred to as “shishi-inu-gata.” The more slender and lean Kai Kens are referred to as “shika-inu-gata.”

The second distinction is made based on the dog’s coloring. Kai Kens that are predominantly black with some very minor brown striping are referred to as “Kuro-tora,” which translates to “black tiger.” Kai Kens with a predominantly reddish or rusty coat are referred to as “Aka-tora,” which translates to “red tiger.” The striping on their bodies, regardless of the dominant color, is why they were referred to as “tigers.”

2. The U.S. Kai Ken Population Started Very Small

Kai Kens originated on the island of Honshu in Japan, which is enclosed by tall mountains. For a long time, humans didn’t have a way to export this breed given the terrain, and when we did begin bringing them to the United States, it was in very small numbers.

The entire population of Kai Ken in the United States is believed to have started with just ten individual dogs! Given the small gene pool, it’s incredible that these dogs still have nearly perfect health and no known ailments.

3. They Are Excellent Hunters

Kai Kens have a high prey drive. While a desire to hunt isn’t uncommon in dogs, the way this breed hunts is extremely rare.

Kai Kens have been known to climb trees and venture into the water to catch their prey. Tree climbing is very uncommon in dogs, and hunting in the water isn’t something many breeds take part in. There’s just about no type of terrain that will keep a determined Kai Ken from their prey.

kaiken snow
Photo Credit: Kai-ken by RonjaV licensed by CC 2.0

Temperament & Intelligence of the Kai Ken 🧠

Kai Kens are very friendly dogs if they’re socialized properly from an early age. As much as they make wonderful guard dogs, thanks to their alertness and general wariness of strangers, they aren’t very aggressive and will very rarely attack or bite anyone, including people they don’t know. With family members, these dogs are extremely friendly.

Kai Kens are very intelligent and alert, and they’re also affectionate and loyal. You can expect your Kai Ken to be assertive and dominant, but these traits rarely come out in aggressive ways.

Are These Dogs Good for Families? 🏡

Kai Kens are wonderful family dogs. They’re extremely loyal and will stand by your family’s side no matter what, and their tendency to be attentive and protective makes them great guard dogs for your home.

This is a very active and affectionate breed, so they really do best with families where there is always someone around to show them attention and exercise with them. They thrive on human interaction, and although they aren’t the most playful breed, they certainly won’t turn down some backyard fun.

Kai Kens are great with people of all ages, including children. You won’t ever have to worry about even young children playing with your Kai Ken. However, given their distrust of strangers, you should keep your kids and your dog separated during playdates. Rough play from a child’s friend could be misunderstood as aggression and danger, and your dog may intervene to protect your child. Kai Kens likely wouldn’t hurt even a stranger, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry!

Kai Kens will get along well with any member of your family, but you’ll find that they will attach themselves to one member in particular and regard them as their closest ally and friend. This person will usually be obeyed more than others, and they may be lucky enough to get additional attention and affection. It’s unclear why this attachment to a single person is common for these dogs, but it may have to do with establishing and respecting a leader like they might do in a dog pack.

Does This Breed Get Along with Other Pets? 🐶 😽

Just like with children, early introduction and socialization from puppyhood will make your Kai Ken’s relationship with other dogs positive and healthy. If you bring your Kai Ken puppy into a home with other canine friends, they’ll usually get along perfectly well with them. They may be distrusting of dogs on walks or at a dog park, but it’s very unlikely that they will show any aggression.

Cats and other small animals are a different story with Kai Kens. Given their high prey drive, you’ll probably find this breed engaging in chasing and even pinning down your cat or other animals like rabbits and rats. Even early introductions probably won’t quell your Kai Ken’s desire to hunt, so it’s strongly recommended not to commit to this breed if you have cats or pet rodents in your home.

Nederlands: kai ken tora inu tiger dog belgie belgium by Plopperdeplop1 licensed by CC 4.0

Divider 4Things to Know When Owning a Kai Ken:

Food & Diet Requirements 🦴

Kai Kens are a highly active, medium-sized breed, so they require a food that is designed for high energy. Their dry food should be from a commercial dog food supplier that includes high-quality protein from multiple sources.

Expect to feed your Kai Ken about two cups of food each day. You should plan to split this up into two meals. To avoid discomfort and indigestion, don’t exercise your pup immediately after eating or drinking large amounts of water.

Exercise 🐕

Kai Kens are very energetic dogs that need a lot of exercise each day. You should expect to set aside around an hour and a half each day for vigorous exercise to keep your pup in the best shape possible. Ample exercise will help keep them healthy, and it will also limit destructive behavior that is common with active dogs who don’t get the exercise they need.

These dogs are also extremely intelligent, so providing some games or puzzle toys for your Kai Ken is a great way to stimulate them mentally. Mental stimulation is key and can be provided in the form of agility as well. Less active mental stimulation shouldn’t replace physical exercise in any capacity, but it will keep your dog’s mind sharp and alert.

Training 🦮

Kai Kens are very smart, and they will learn commands and tricks faster than just about any other dog. It’s possible for Kai Kens to become housebroken in under a week! That should give you a good idea of just how intelligent this breed is.

However, Kai Kens can also be dominant and stubborn, and these tendencies can get in the way of your dog actually doing what you want them to. They’ll learn in an instant but choose if they want to obey you slowly.

For this reason, Kai Kens are only recommended for experienced dog owners who can train their pups from a young age and continue obedience training throughout their lives. These dogs will gladly take the alpha position in your home if no one else steps up to take it, so you must be able and willing to establish dominance and authority early and often. For an experienced and knowledgeable owner, training the Kai Ken won’t be too difficult and will result in a wonderfully obedient dog.

Nederlands: kai ken kaiken tora inu tigerdog belgie belgium ras akatora chibi by Plopperdeplop1 licensed by CC 4.0

Grooming ✂️

We mentioned earlier that Kai Kens have a double coat, and your grooming process will dictate how difficult it is to keep up with their shedding. These dogs will naturally shed most heavily in the spring and fall as they prepare for warmer weather in the summer and colder temperatures in the winter. Although shedding is extra concentrated during these seasons, these pups will shed year-round.

To help prevent your home from getting overtaken by fur, plan to brush your Kai Ken at least once or twice a week. This will help remove loose fur that would otherwise come off all over your floors. You won’t be able to avoid indoor shedding no matter what you do, so invest in a good vacuum if you’re committing to this breed.

You shouldn’t bathe your Kai Ken often, as shampoo and soaps can wash away your pup’s natural skin oils, which are great for healthy skin and a shiny coat. You won’t find that they need a bath more often than once every few months anyway, as they’re known for their cleanliness and their lack of that very recognizable dog smell.

You should plan to trim your dog’s nails once a week or so, as active dogs have a tendency to break or crack their nails if they get too long. Wiping your Kai Ken’s ears with a clean cloth once a week will help prevent ear infections, and brushing their teeth once every other week will limit tooth and gum problems.

Health and Conditions ❤️

Kai Kens are recognized as one of the healthiest dog breeds around, and they really have no major health issues. There are some very minor complications that can occur, so you should be on the lookout for symptoms of the below problems. Even though this breed is very hearty and healthy, you still need to schedule regular checkups with your vet to ensure your dog remains in tip-top shape.

Minor Conditions
  • Patellar Luxation
  • Allergies
Serious Conditions
  • None

Divider 5Male vs Female

Male Kai Kens tend to be a bit larger than females in height but are usually around the same weight. The appearance and build of your Kai Ken depend more on the sub-categories we discussed earlier than they do on gender. Males tend to be a bit more distrusting around strangers, and they can also be more stubborn and willful than females. Both sexes have very high prey drives, but you may find that a male Kai Ken is a bit more insistent on catching its prey.

Divider 3Final Thoughts

The Kai Ken is as beautiful and regal as it is rare. They’re very active and healthy dogs with a very long lifespan, especially given that they are medium-sized dogs.

Kai Kens make great family pets and will get along with family members of all ages. They usually are noticeably closest to one family member, and they’ll typically treat that person with more affection. However, these dogs will be loving and welcoming toward all familiar faces.

They can be somewhat difficult to train, as they often display dominance and stubbornness. If you’re willing to put time and energy into training and exercise, the Kai Ken will supply you with a whole lot of love, loyalty, and companionship.

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Featured Image Credit: IMGP0163 by ginbi44 licensed by CC 2.0

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