(Ainu ken, Hokkaido ken, Ainu dog, Hokkaido dog, choken)
The Hokkaido Inu 北海道犬 or Ainu dog is considered by some to be the oldest and the "wildest" of the Japanese breeds. It is said to have originated from medium-sized Japanese dogs that accompanied migrants from Honshu (the main island of Japan) to
Hokkaido during the Kamakura era (in the 1140s), when exchanges were developing between Hokkaido and the Tohoku District. It also came to be known as the "Ainu-ken" since 1869 when a British gentleman T. Blakiston named the dog the Ainu Dog, after the Ainu, the former inhabitants of Hokkaido. "Ainu" means "human." Actually, the Ainu people were the indigenous people of Japan archipelago
who were driven to the remote northern island of Hokkaido on the arrival of the Yamato people. They were described by the new conquerors as a "strange, white, hairy-bodied" race". These traits were overly exaggerated, leading many scholars to think that the Ainu were actually Caucasians, who only seemed "hairy-bodied and strange" from the Japanese point of view.
The Ainu people managed to survive in the rugged, often freezing conditions as gathereres-hunters and from the earliest times had dogs with them who they revered and buried in the same fashion as humans.
They seem to have been sedentary fishers and marine hunters, and their dogs were apparently trained to catch salmon during the heavy spring salmon runs. The only land animal that was hunted was the bear where the the Ainu dog, with his fearless and sharp character also proved very helpful and was appreciated for its accurate judgment and great stamina.
Although the Ainu dog is strongly related to the history of the Ainu people, these dogs have almost always been called Hokkaido-Ken by the Japanese. In 1937 Hokkaido-inu was declared the official name of the breed.
The physique of the Hokkaido enables it to withstand severe cold and heavy snowfalls. It is a wild and powerful dog by nature. It is always alert and suspicious by nature, making him an excellent watch dog. In addition to being a fearless hunter, it is extremely loyal and devoted to its owner. To show its owner that he is happy to see him, the Hokkaido inu howls like a wolf. He is impulsive and fast and has a light gait. Coat colors are usually red or white, but black, sesame, brindle and fawn are also acceptable. Most dogs have black spots on their tongue, suggesting an ancestral genetic link with the Chinese Chow Chow and the Shar pei.
Send us your
Hokkaido dog photos
to illustrate this page !
(PLS specify "Hokkaido dog" in the subject line)
The Atlas of Dog Breeds of the World
The Ainu by Edward J. Vajda
Dogs by Desmond Morris
Canine Lexicon by Andrew De Prisco