- Dog Breeds
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Japanese nature lovers
Although less stubborn than the rest of the Spitz breeds, the Shikoku is still a typical strong character and is little known outside of its country of origin. We will introduce you to these dogs from the Land of the Rising Sun.
The Shikoku showcases the typical Spitz silhouette: it has relatively small, upright ears and a compact body. It holds its tail high and rolled over its back. With a shoulder height of around 53cm, these medium-sized dogs are between the bulkier Akita Inu and smaller Shiba Inu in terms of size within the Japanese Spitz family. These dogs also remind many non-experts in Europe of the Siberian Husky, a breed much more commonly found here. The Shikoku's fur can be black and sesame or white and sesame in colour. Typically for Spitz dogs, the thick coat consists of coarse, long top hair over a soft, abundant undercoat.
Hunting dogs with tradition
Japanese ceramic figures from antiquity depict dogs similar to this type. The present-day breed can be traced back to pairings with the now-extinct Nippon Inu. These dogs were originally deployed for hunting, or more precisely for hunting on the island of Shikoku in the prefecture of Kochi. Hence, the breed is partly also called the Kochi. In contrast, the name Tosa Isu sometimes used in Japan can be misleading, because Tosa can also indicate another Japanese breed. In addition, there are three known varieties of Shikoku named after the region in which they live: Awa, Hongawa and Hata. Since the Hongawa region was the hardest to reach in the past, this variety has been changed least by external influences and comes closest to the Shikoku ideal. Nowadays, the Shikoku is considered Japan's national dog along with the Akita Inu.
Character: friendly Spitz with rough edges
The character of these agile nature lovers is defined by loyalty, intelligence and a certain stubbornness. They are alert and act in a neutral or even distanced manner towards strangers. There can be conflicts with fellow dogs, especially between males, because the Shikoku has dominant tendencies. As a hunting dog, it stands out thanks to its astuteness. Its primal behaviour can be seen in contact with humans too – it likes to lick its caregiver and seeks out physical contact. At times, these dogs show a remarkable fondness of smells that are unpleasant for humans. The Shikoku is very agile and loves being outdoors – impetuous though it may be when out and about, a well-stimulated Shikoku is equally calm and pleasant indoors and enjoys periods of calm and cuddling sessions. Although this is a stubborn breed, it is seen to a lesser extent than with the other Spitz breeds from Japan. The special Spitz character is not suitable for all dog lovers.
Training with canine knowledge
If the Shikoku respects its two-legged pack leader for being intelligent and fair, it will happily follow their instructions. However, the first task is gaining the respect of this breed. Be consistent and show a certain tolerance for its stubborn tendencies, which mean that it will never fully subordinate. Shouting or severity definitely won't help you make progress and will destroy your bond with your loyal companion. A solid knowledge of dog training is required in order to steer the Shikoku's dominance and hunting instinct in the right direction. Bear in mind too that only a dog stimulated in a species-appropriate manner can be well trained, because otherwise it will look for alternative activities. Attending puppy play sessions or a dog school in general can be a big advantage, so that the dominant Shikoku's social skills are strengthened with it learning how to cope with other dogs. Males in particular can pose a challenge for you, so you should try to counteract this as early as the puppy phase. Don't underestimate the importance of the socialisation phase, because any failures are difficult to correct later down the line.
Lots of time outdoors, naturally
If you're considering taking a Shikoku into your home, you should be able to guarantee it the opportunity to undergo daily tours of discovery. Though these original hunting dogs are very energetic outdoors, they equally enjoy relaxing indoors, where they can turn into real cuddly little things. You're best off consciously planning downtime that you and your dog can spend together. It's mostly not possible to let a Shikoku off its lead on walks, because its strong hunting instinct means it cannot be guaranteed that it will come back when called. Hence, you should adapt to having to keep your Shikoku under control on the lead even when you go jogging. Find a type of dog sport that you and your dog enjoy doing together: playing fetch will soon bore your Shikoku, though tracking work or agility could keep it interested in the longer term. Since Shikokus can also be rather playful, your companion will probably love dog toys too.
Food for Shikokus: fit thanks to an ideal diet
Diet has a significant influence on a species-appropriate canine life. Ensure that your Shikoku gets a dog food containing plenty of meat. If this is the first ingredient listed on the packaging, it is a sign of a good quality dog food. It should also contain no grain, which applies both to wet and dry food. Bear in mind that your dog should drink more if it just eats dry food than with wet food or a mix of the two. The quantity of food should be based upon your dog's condition and daily energy consumption – the manufacturer's indications of daily portions are merely a guideline. Reduce the quantity accordingly if your dog is starting to gain weight. Don't forget to deduct any treats from the daily calorie allowance. For treats, you're best off choosing healthy snacks like freeze-dried chunks of meat for dogs or dental care snacks. Dry food can also be an appropriate reward, especially if it isn't in the food bowl and your dog needs to seek it out. Dried chew products like pig ears satisfy your canine companion's urge to chew. Consider that it should always have enough fresh drinking water readily available.
Healthy and cared-for
These robust dogs are considered tough with great endurance. They hardly have any genetic disposition towards diseases if breeding is carried out responsibly. It goes without saying that you should only purchase puppies from a responsible breeder belonging to an association. This breeder will give you expert information on the healthcare provision they put in place for their puppies and will show you the relevant evidence. In good health, the Shikoku reaches an average age of around 13 years.
The fur of these Japanese hunting dogs is robust and low-maintenance in equal measures, though should be brushed regularly, especially during the biennial moulting phase. A top tip is that brushing your dog on a daily basis at this time massively reduces hair loss within your home and reduces the moulting period to just a few days. Apart from these few weeks of the year, grooming every few days is sufficient. When you do so, also check the ears, which may need cleaning with an ear cleanser for dogs. You should only give your companion a bath very infrequently – at the most every few months – and use a mild dog shampoo. It does make sense though to get your dog used to having a bath when it is still a puppy. Nevertheless, simply brushing dried dirt out of the fur is generally enough. Especially with older dogs, check the length on the claws and possibly trim claws that have got too long with special claw clippers. This helps to prevent injuries.
Who is a Shikoku right for?
Nature lovers with enough time for long journeys of discovery and an escape-proof garden can consider taking a primal Shikoku into their home. The Shikoku can be kept as part of a family, though it is a typical one-man dog, meaning that it mostly shows great loyalty to one specific caregiver. It generally gets on wonderfully with children, though should always have the opportunity to retreat. Check beforehand whether anyone in your family is allergic to animal fur. Typically of the Spitz, these dogs can make an unpleasant impression on your neighbours due to their love of barking. Although you can control this with good training, it makes sense not to live cheek-to-cheek with neighbours who are sensitive to noise. In any case, a dog like this belongs in a spacious environment with room to roam freely. It can also fulfil a valuable role as a watchdog. City apartments are not advisable. Cats and other small animals can be viewed as prey by these hunters and should not live in the same household. Exceptions are possible when it comes to cats, though the dog should already have become acquainted with cats in their breeder's home and learnt to live in harmony with them.
Bear in mind that choosing to make a Shikoku part of your life means taking on a huge responsibility: it will accompany you for the next 10 to 14 years and will need appropriate attention. If you aren't keen on leaving your home in bad weather, you aren't advised to take on a Shikoku. In addition, the expenses that will be incurred need to be taken into account. As well as the price of buying from a responsible breeder, in most cases there will also be not insignificant travel costs due to the exclusivity of this breed in Europe. Check beforehand to what extent you have in place the basic equipment for your new canine companion and what needs to be added. It can also be practical to estimate the ongoing costs you can expect before your dog moves in with you: a high-quality food, dog tax and liability insurance, check-ups at the vet and vaccines are all on the list. You should also have enough money saved up for unexpected trips to the vet.
A Shikoku can either accompany you on your holidays – many hotels now welcome four-legged guests too – or you can clarify in advance who will take care of it when you are away. Ideally, this should be a family member or another individual who is already familiar with your Shikoku or another dog owner who you know from trips out.
Where do I find my Shikoku?
The Shikoku is a breed only rarely found outside of Japan. As a result, it can be difficult to find a Shikoku puppy if you decided to give a new home to one. Don't lose heart though, because there is a handful of responsible breeders in Europe who have devoted themselves to the Shikoku. The first official litter outside of Japan was born in 2000 in the Netherlands, where Shikoku breeders still to this regularly hand over litters to responsible owners. If necessary though, you may have to cover longer distances before you can make a Shikoku puppy your own. Regardless of how rare the breed is, you shouldn't lower the demands that you can and should place on a serious breed. Find out the healthcare provision the breeder has put in place and ask them to show you relevant documentation, for instance, regarding examinations for hip dysplasia. Of course, the breeder should also belong to an association. They will gladly give you advice, though in return will have some questions for you to find out whether you can offer their charges a good home.
If you're looking for an adult Shikoku in Europe, you will need a huge amount of luck. You're more likely to be successful looking in animal shelters for Spitz-type hybrids and getting an impression of the Nordic Spitz breeds. Perhaps an adult dog from one of these breeds is looking for a new home and can win you over with its charm.
We wish you plenty of joy with your intelligent and diverse Shikoku!
Also read our articles on Settling in Puppies: Basic Equipment & Tips.
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