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Tosa | Dog Breed Info, Pictures, Characteristics & Facts

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By Nicole Cosgrove

tosa dog

Height: 21.5 – 23.5 inches
Weight: 100 – 200 pounds
Lifespan: 10 – 12 years
Colors: Apricot, fawn, red, brindle, black
Suitable for: Individuals and families looking for a patient dog that can protect their family
Temperament: Loyal, protective, independent, reserved

Few dogs command the presence like a Tosa. He is a dog that demands your attention because of his size and muscular frame. This pup’s history goes back to the 1300s in Japan. Enthusiasts selectively bred this pooch for one reason, fighting. One look at him, and you’ll know he has the brawn to hold his own against other opponents.

The Tosa, or Japanese Mastiff, is relatively new to the United States. The American Kennel Club (AKC) has the breed on its Foundation Stock Service roster, the first step toward becoming recognized in the organization’s ranks. The United Kennel Club (UKC) has given the pup his status since 1998. The Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) recognized him in 1997.

While the Tosa still fights in Japan, his role here is guardian and watchdog. Like many larger dogs, this pup is calm and laid back. The FCI’s breed standards consider aggression toward people a fault in the ring. Nevertheless, he carries himself with dignity and grace, which is evident in his gait. This pooch has nothing to prove in or out of the show circuit.

Divider 1Tosa Puppies

tosa puppy
Image Credit: Karel Resl, Shutterstock

In the right home, the Tosa will make an excellent pet. However, he is not a wise choice for a first-time pet owner because of his size and temperament. He needs a strong individual who will take charge of training from day one. He’s also not the best pick for a family with small children. This pup is fiercely loyal and will make a superb watchdog.

The Tosa is affectionate with his family, but he is aloof with people he doesn’t know. That makes early socialization imperative. This pup is instinctively aggressive toward other dogs, especially given his history. He’ll do best in a home where he is the only pet. Surprisingly, this pooch also has a softer side that is sensitive to harsh words or reprimands.

It’s worth noting that the Tosa is one of several breeds you cannot take aboard a United Airlines flight. We recommend that you contact your local and county governments before you buy a puppy. Many areas have breed-specific legislation that outright bans or restricts pet ownership of some dogs. Contact your rental or homeowner insurance, too. A phone call could save you a lot of hassle.

3 Little-Known Facts About the Tosa

1. The Tosa is the result of selective breeding with several well-known dogs.

Japan isolated itself from the Western world for 200 years, starting in the 1600s. When trade opened up again, it gave enthusiasts of the Tosa more opportunities to selectively breed the dog with other canines, including the Bull Terrier and Great Dane.

2. The Tosa is revered in his native land.

The Tosa is a warrior in the truest sense of the word. Thus, he is honored and revered in Japan. In many respects, he is a dog version of the Sumo wrestler.

3. The United Kingdom is one of several countries that ban this breed.

Whether it’s deserved or not, some countries have banned the Tosa because of its unfortunate history. The United Kingdom’s law, for example,  is very strict, giving the police the authority to take the dog from his owner, regardless of his behavior.

Image Credit: TMArt, Shutterstock

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Temperament & Intelligence of the Tosa 🧠

The aggression for which the Tosa is known is slowly diminishing with responsible breeding. However, it’s essential to understand the challenge you’ll have owning and raising this pup. He is strong and robust. Therefore, he needs an equally capable leader. It’s imperative that you establish the ranking from day one. He is a patient dog that is eager to please the right owner.

Are These Dogs Good for Families? 🏡

The Tosa will fare best in a home with adults or older children. We do not recommend this breed for families with younger kids. He’s just too big and strong to have around little ones who may not respect his space or size. This pup is a commitment with time and attention. You must establish trust between you and your pet with consistent training.

Does This Breed Get Along with Other Pets? 🐶 😽

We don’t recommend bringing a Tosa into a home with existing pets, no matter what the species. Unfortunately, he may become aggressive with other canines, especially if he senses a threat. While he isn’t a hunting dog, he may chase the family cat with grim consequences. The same caution applies to other small animals like rabbits.

nice Tosa Inu on blooming meadow
Image Credit: Vera Zinkova, Shutterstock

Divider 4Things to Know When Owning a Tosa:

By now, you know that owning a Tosa is a serious undertaking. It’s always essential to do your homework when you make a decision, like inviting a pet into your life. With this pup, it’s even more critical because of his temperament. Then, there is also his size. Giant breeds like this one are a more expensive financial investment, if just for his food alone. Our rundown will highlight other things you should know upfront.

Food & Diet Requirements 🦴

Food will make up a large portion of your pet budget whenever you get a giant breed like the Tosa. You should monitor his body condition closely. This pup isn’t overly active, which puts him at risk of unhealthy weight gain. Offer your pet three or four equal-sized meals spaced throughout the day. When he becomes an adult, you can scale back to two.

We recommend feeding your Tosa twice a day and not once. Broad-chested dogs like him are susceptible to bloat, a potentially life-threatening condition. It occurs when a pup eats too much, causing his stomach to expand. This risk is that it can cause it to twist, making it an emergency requiring immediate treatment.

Exercise 🐕

While the Tosa isn’t a couch potato, he isn’t an energetic dog. That means daily walks to ensure that he gets enough exercise to stay trim. As you’ve probably surmised, doggie parks are off the menu of activities for this pup. Use the time you spend with him to bond and build trust. It can also reinforce his social skills and leash manners. It will also prevent boredom.

Tosa inu male dog closeup
Image Credit: acceptphoto, Shutterstock

Training 🦮

As we’ve discussed, training begins the day you bring home your puppy. Consistency is imperative to maintain control. We suggest using treats as training aids to entice your Tosa to obey. Positive reinforcement works best with him. Be sure to limit them to no more than 10% of his daily intake. Remember that the bulk of his nutrition must come from his regular food.

Grooming ✂️

The Tosa is easy to groom. Weekly brushing sessions will keep his coat looking its best. We suggest checking his ears and toenails regularly. You’ll find these tasks a lot more manageable if you get your pet used to being handled as a puppy. Your veterinarian will appreciate it, too. Luckily, he sheds only occasionally, making your job easier.

Health and Conditions ❤️

The benefit of an uncommon breed is the lower risk of congenital conditions from overbreeding. Despite his diverse ancestry, the Tosa is relatively healthy, with few significant issues. The main ones are those shared with other dogs of his size. Because of his flat face, this pup is also susceptible to respiratory and eye problems associated with canines of this type.

We suggest that you discuss your pet’s risks with your veterinarian. They will likely recommend that you don’t overexert your dog.

Minor Conditions
  • Eye infections
  • Respiratory issues
Serious Conditions
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Bloat

Divider 5Male vs Female

Size is the primary consideration when choosing between a male or female Tosa. We suggest asking the breeder how big the sire and dam are to give you a better idea. The other thing to consider is the cost of neutering or spaying. The latter is considerably more expensive with a longer recovery period. Follow the advice of your vet regarding the timing of the surgery. It’s best to wait until your pet is sexually mature.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t discuss an essential caveat that may apply to your Tosa. When you research whether you can own a pet of this breed, find out about any restrictions. Some areas may allow you to have one but require you to neuter or spay your dog.

Divider 3Final Thoughts

The Tosa is a handsome dog with a dignified manner and confidence that few breeds can match. It makes him a pup that people notice, if not just for his size. Unfortunately, his history has branded him, a feeling that many enthusiasts would share. Nevertheless, he is not a pet for the novice owner. He requires someone who can understand the challenges of a giant breed.

If you choose to invite a Tosa into your home, you’ll have a loyal pet that will keep you and your family safe. After all, there’s a good reason why UKC put this breed into its Guardian Class.

Featured Image Credit: ZebraZ, Pixabay

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