Image © Toboetsuki Inuits & Hokkaido Ken

The Hokkaido Ken is a member of the medium sized Nihon Ken with its origins lying with the Ainu of Tōhoku, Honshū. The breed accompanied the Ainu people when travelling from Honshū to Hokkaido, from which the breed took its name. It was recognised as a National Treasure in 1937. The Hokkaido was used to hunt many different animals, including boar, deer and bears and was also used as a guardian of the home.

Hokkaido are a double coated breed which come in sesame, red, white, black and tan, brindle and black. Their tail may be carried curled (maki-o) or sickle (sashi-o). Their coats are thicker and denser than other Nihon Ken, making them more able to withstand the cold weather conditions of Hokkaido. They are a hardy and durable breed and, like the Kai, are considered on the small end of the spectrum of the medium sized dogs.

The Hokkaido maintains its strong will and courage from its use as a hunting dog, in particular in its use of hunting bear. The Hokkaido has a strong predatory instinct which can result in a fight or flight response to keep them from harm. They can be a very vocal breed, with a multitude of different barks, howls and ‘yells’ which they use to express happiness, fear and warning. Although they can be a ‘sticky’ breed, they are also very prey-driven and will often take off after a scent. Like the other medium sized Nihon Ken, the breed is generally healthy, though it has a high rate of Collie Eye Anomaly.

Image © Toboetsuki Inuits & Hokkaido Ken

FCI Breed Standard

Standard for FCI

UTILISATION: Hunting dog, companion.

FCI-CLASSIFICATION: Group 5 Spitz and primitive type. Section 5 Asian Spitz and related breeds.

General Appearance:

Medium-sized dog with sexual dimorphism strongly marked, well balanced, sturdily built and well boned. Muscles tough and clean cut.

Important Proportions:

  • The ratio of height at withers to length of body is 10:11, but the body can be slightly longer in bitches.
  • The ratio of skull to length of nasal bridge is 3:2.
  • Length of skull equal to width of cheeks.

Behaviour / Temperament:

Dog of noteworthy endurance, showing dignity and naive feeling. The temperament is faithful, docile, very alert and bold. It also shows accurate judgement and great stamina.


Skull and forehead: Broad and slightly flat.
Stop: Shallow, but defined.

Nose: Black. Slight lack of pigmentation in white dogs is accepted.
Muzzle: Wedge-shaped. Nasal bridge straight.
Lips: Tight, with black edges. Blue-Black colour in tongue is not a fault.
Jaws/Teeth: Strong, with a scissor bite.
Cheeks: Well developed.
Eyes: Nearly triangular, not too small, and dark brown in colour. The outer corners of the eyes are slightly upturned.
Ears: Small, triangular, slightly inclining forward and firmly pricked.


Powerful and muscular, free from dewlap.


Withers: High.
Back: Straight and strong.
Loin: Moderately broad and muscular.
Croup: Properly sloping.
Chest: Forechest well developed. Chest deep and moderately broad; ribs well sprung.
Belly: Slightly tucked up.


Set on high, thick and carried over the back vigorously curled or curved like a sickle, the tip nearly reaching hocks when let down.


Shoulders: Moderately sloping.
Upper arm: Forming a moderate angle with shoulder blade.
Forearm: Straight, clean cut.
Metacarpus (Pastern): Slightly oblique.
Forefeet: Toes well arched and tightly closed; pads thick and elastic; nails hard and black or dark colour.

General appearance: Well developed, strong and moderately angulated.
Hocks: Tough, sufficiently strong.
Hind Feet: Toes well arched and tightly closed; pads thick and elastic; nails hard and black or dark colour.

Gait / Movement:

Active, quick, light and resilient.


Hair: Outer coat harsh and straight; undercoat soft and dense. The hair on the tail fairly long and off-standing.

Colour: Sesame (well mixture of black, red and white hairs in whole), brindle, red, black, black and tan, white.


Height at withers: Males 48,5 – 51,5 cm. Females 45,5 – 48,5 cm.


Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog.

  • Lack of sexual dimorphism.
  • Slightly overshot or undershot mouth.
  • Shyness.
  • Pinto colour.

Disqualifying Faults:

  • Aggressive or overly shy.
  • Any dog clearly showing physical or behavioural abnormalities shall be disqualified.
  • Extremely overshot or undershot mouth.
  • Ears not pricked.
  • Hanging tail, short tail.
  • Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.
  • Only functionally and clinically healthy dogs, with breed typical conformation, should be used for breeding.

NIPPO Breed Standard

The NIPPO standard for the Hokkaido Ken is outlined in a single standard for all four of the medium sized Nihon Ken. An excellent translation of the NIPPO standard can be viewed at Kazeshimasou (Shiba Inu Ireland)’s website.

Image © Fédération Cynologique Internationale
Image © Toboetsuki Inuits & Hokkaido Ken

Hokkaido Ken in Media

Ryu, a Hokkaido Ken, appears in Satoru Noda’s Golden Kamuy.

Image © Satoru Noda

A Hokkaido mix named North appears in Yoshihiro Takahashi’s Ginga Densetsu Weed.

Image © Yoshihiro Takahashi

A white Hokkaido Ken named Kai-Kun appears in Japanese telecom company SoftBank’s commercials as Otōsan.

Image © SoftBank Group Corp.