All About the Kai Ken Dog

Getting to know the Kai Ken dog breed is a challenge but worth the effort if you can accomplish it. The Kai Ken is a rare Japanese breed and has been around for centuries. Yet it is threatened today. Also known as the Tora Inu (Tiger Dog), it is a national monument in Japan.

History of the Kai Ken Dog

Being one of just six native Japanese dogs, the history of the Kai Ken Dog is a little mysterious. As opposed to being “bred” they were discovered. Near Mount Fuji in the in the mountains of the Kai Province, the Kai Ken was found in 1929. By 1931 the first, largest and oldest of the Kai Ken Registries was formed.

By 1934, the Japanese Kennel Club recognized the breed. The Kai Ken is a hunting dog adapted to the steep terrain of the mountains of Kai. They are built to climb and hunt wild boar, Japanese crow, pheasant, deer, and bear. They were named in 1933 as a national monument.

No one is sure but the theory is that the Kai came to the United States with military soldiers in the 1950’s. No knows if these dogs have any offspring surviving but in 1990 four dogs came over – one male and three female puppies. In ’91 there were 6 more and in 1992 there was one. These eleven dogs are the gene pool for all the Kai Ken Dogs bred in the U.S.

The Kai Ken comes in two varieties the Shika-Inu-gata type and the Shishi-Sugata type. They have tiger-like stripes in a variety of shades. The Shishi is stockier than the Shika and has more of a bear looking face. On the other hand, the Shika is a thinner, longer dog and his face is more foxlike.


The Shika is more geared to deer hunting than the stockier Shishi. The mountain-dwelling Kai Ken are the ancestors of the current breed and since they were fairly isolated for so many years, they are thought to be the purest of all Japanese breeds. The breed is not recognized by the AKC but they are in the Foundation Stock Service Program. They need 150 registered dogs in order to be recognized.

What Does a Kai Ken Look Like?

This medium-sized dog with the striking tiger strips has pricked ears and a wedged head. They are strong and muscular with the tail held up in a curled position. They come in a variety of shades including brindle, black, red, a mix of these. It can take up to five years before the brindle striped markings show up.

Red is the rarest of the colors. These colors were a great camouflage for the dog’s hunting in the mountainous forests. The coat is double, harsh and of medium length. They “blow” their undercoat twice a year. They need their ears cleaned and inspected regularly to prevent infection.

The black brindled dogs are called Kuro-Tora, the Chu-Tora is between black and red and the red brindles are called Aka-Tora.

Does the Kai Ken Fit into your Family?

This is a very intelligent breed. They are brave, alert and agile. This makes they both great guard dogs and great hunters. But do they fit into your family? They are incredibly loyal to their people but with strangers, they are reserved and alert. The Kai is good with older kids, loves to swim, and usually likes other dogs.

They are not good with small pets though as they see rabbits, hamsters, rats and guinea pigs as prey. Other Japanese breeds are more independent than the Kai mostly because they want to please their people. They make great companions and guardians. However, they can be stubborn and reserved. Early socialization is essential. They are only comfortable when they are in your presence. They will be loving and loyal to training. Be consistent.

What should you expect?

A Kai in your home will need mental and physical exercise daily. Remember these are working dogs and they will want a job. They can play inside or out. They are adaptable and can live anywhere if they get the moderate daily exercise that they need.

Being intelligent and quick learners, they love to learn and perform tricks. However, like any bored dog, if they do not get the mental and physical stimulation they need, they can become very destructive. In fact, the breed is in every way a primitive dog. They are not aggressive, but they can be territorial.

They will stand their ground. Be consistent if possible, with when you exercise them. Find out about any health concerns before you buy. They are generally healthy as a breed, but breeders should test for dysplasia of hips and elbows and any patella problems. The Kai Ken have a lifespan of 14 to 16 years. However, they can be susceptible to Lyme Disease, so watch for ticks.


These intelligent, agile and athletic dogs can fit into your family with some effort. Never forget they are great hunters and that hunting instinct doesn’t go away even if it is dormant. They need a leader and it needs to be you. If they have that leadership, enough exercise and training they make great family dogs.

They are even better if you are agile and athletic and love to participate in outdoor activities. They love to hike but they shouldn’t be off-leash, or they will run off after prey. They excel at agility trials, tracking and field trials. If you want a smart, good looking and very rare dog then the Kai Ken tiger dog just might be the one for you. Yes, they are rare and might be hard to find.

They might be expensive as well. Certainly, they are not cheap and from a good breeder, they can run anywhere from $1500 to $3000. If you can afford it and if you have the time and temperament for this rare breed, they are certainly worth the time and the cost.

Author: I’m Victoria Nelson, article author and owner of website. I have always been passionate about animals. I really enjoy writing about pets, especially when my articles can help people to understand animals better. I hope that you find a lot of useful information and it is been a pleasure for you to read it.

Last Updated on 16/07/2022 by Karen Snow