by Lindsey Hiscocks, Toboetsuki Inuits and Hokkaido Ken – 12th Sept 2018

So, you’re thinking of taking that big step and joining the relatively small group of Nihon Ken owners here in the UK? For most of the medium-sized Nihon Ken breeds (Kai Ken, Kishu Ken, Shikoku Ken) there are – at this present time – no breeders in the UK. So, maybe you’ve found a kennel in Europe and you’re interested in learning more? Here’s where you might want to start!

Please note this is a starting point guide drawn from my personal experiences and research only. It is not a comprehensive guide and was written only to give readers an insight into the process of importing a Nihon Ken to the UK.

Image © Kyuden Kitsune Kennel

Choosing a Breeder

When looking for a breeder of Nihon Ken, the very best advice I can give is: distance is not important! The closest breeder may not be the best and when you are putting the time, effort and money into importing a dog from overseas, you need to be confident that you are choosing the right breeder for you! Research is key, before you start looking for the right breeder, do as much reading about your chosen Nihon Ken breed as possible. Don’t just read the good parts and google photos of cute puppies (tempting I know…who doesn’t love a cute puppy?)… read the bad parts, read experiences from other owners and most importantly of all – find out if your breed suffers from any health issues.

So, you think you’ve found the right kennel? It’s time to make ‘first contact’.

From my own perspective as a future breeder – this is what I want to see when being contacted by someone interested in the breed: Tell me about yourself! How old are you? How active are you? Where do you live? Do you have other animals? Kids? Do you work full time? It might sound boring, but the more I know about you and your lifestyle, the easier it is for me to know whether my breed will fit into your family and routine.

Tell me what you are looking for! Are you hoping to do sports with your dog? Do you want to breed? Do you just want a family pet? (note: just wanting a pet is NOT a bad thing, don’t be afraid if you’re not interested in the other things) Are you hoping for a specific gender or colour?

Have you met the breed before? If not, what drew you to them and do you have any questions about living with this breed that I might be able to answer?

Don’t talk money straight off. Yes, I know it’s important to figure out the costs involved, but if your first message to me is “I would like a puppy. How much?” I’m not going to have the best first impression.

Ask about health testing! If your chosen breeder is health testing they will be happy to show your their results! If your chosen breeder is not health testing, ask why.

If your chosen kennel is in Europe, English is most likely not their first language. Most European breeders speak English, however it is considered courteous to approach someone in their first language rather than assume they speak fluent English. Google Translate is not always going to be your best friend, so in this case it’s best to keep it short and ask your chosen breeder if they mind being contacted in English before introducing yourself properly.

Always be truthful and upfront. If you think you might want to breed in the future let your chosen breeder know as it is likely to affect the choice of puppy they make for you. If there is something in your life that you think might cause an issue, talk about it – a breeder who knows their breed is best equipped to help you deal with the issue or to advise on what you need to change to be able to welcome a puppy into your home.
If you are planning to stay on multiple waiting lists, it is good etiquette to let all parties involved know. If you accept a puppy from one breeder, tell the others that you no longer wish to remain on their waiting list. If you change your mind and decide the breed isn’t right for you after all, let your breeder know, they won’t judge you (they’ll thank you for being honest). Some breeders will ask for a deposit when you join the waiting list. Some will not ask for a deposit until the bitch is confirmed pregnant or the puppies are born. Some will just ask that you pay the full balance on collection of your puppy. Make sure you are aware of what is expected of you.

So, you’ve chosen your breeder and put yourself on a waiting list, what next?

Kai Ken
Image © Takai Kennel (Kai Ken Belgium)

The Long Wait

It’s unlikely your breeder will have puppies looking for new homes when you contact them. Most Nihon Ken puppies are booked months or even years before they are born and most Nihon Ken have small litters. So expect to wait for your companion. The wait can seem like an eternity, but you can put this time to good use by continuing to research and find out all you can about your chosen Nihon Ken breed.

If you can, meet as many specimens of the breed as you are able to! The more time you can spend interacting with them and getting to know their unique mannerisms, the more prepared you will be for your own arrival! I appreciate that’s easier said than done here in the UK, where there are so few individuals to meet, but if you’re willing to travel it’s likely you’ll be able to find someone who will let you spend some time with their dog.

Start thinking about your travel plans early. How do you plan on bringing your puppy home? Are you going to fly? If so will you bring your puppy in the cabin as hand luggage (some airlines allow this for dogs under 7kg) or transport them in the hold? Will you drive (Eurotunnel allows pets to travel in your vehicle, some ferries also allow pets to travel in special cabins)? Check the restrictions on whichever route you choose. Be aware that some airlines will not fly into the UK with animals and you must travel on an approved route. You can never be too prepared!

Kai Ken
Image © Takai Kennel (Kai Ken Belgium)

Puppies are Here

Yay, congratulations! The puppies have been born and you’ve been chosen as one of the lucky new owners-to-be! Now the real work begins!

You will not be able to bring your puppy home until he/she is 15 weeks old. In order to import a puppy into the UK they MUST be vaccinated against rabies. The vaccination is given at 12 weeks old and then a period of 21 days must pass before the puppy can travel into the UK. This must be administered by a vet and entered into your puppy’s Pet Passport. Your breeder should be aware of this already. Some breeders may charge extra boarding costs for your puppy to keep them for these extra weeks.

Your puppy MUST also be microchipped BEFORE or at the same time as the rabies vaccination is administered. If it is not done before the rabies vaccination, the vaccination and quarantine period will have to be repeated.

It is worth checking with both DEFRA and the relevant government department of the country your puppy is born in, whether there are extra restrictions, vaccinations or documentation needed well in advance of bringing your puppy home.

Now, 15 weeks old doesn’t sound all that old, right? Well, unfortunately you are missing part of the bonding and socialisation stage, which is very important especially in primitive breeds. If you are able to take a trip and visit your puppy in person, this is a great opportunity to get in some early bonding! If not there are a few things you can do to make your puppy’s transition a little easier.

Check that your breeder is okay with you sending a parcel for the puppies first (most breeders will be fine with this)! Buy a puppy-safe teddy and a fleece blanket (it doesn’t have to be huge, remember, most Nihon Ken puppies – excluding Akita pups – are going to be pretty small) and start sleeping with it every night. Do this for 3 – 4 weeks and don’t put them through the wash: this will give the teddy and blanket your scent. Send it out to the breeder along with another clean blanket or some other toys. Ask the breeder to put it in with the pups when they are 6 weeks+. The theory is that the puppies will get to know your scent from the toys being in their sleeping/play area. A few days before you pick your puppy up, ask the breeder to put the blanket in with the puppies and not wash it, bring this piece of unwashed bedding home with you and it gives your puppy something that smells of home and their littermates to cuddle up to.

Puppy Care Pack
Puppy care pack! Toys, teddy that has been slept with and first collars!

This is the time to start buying supplies and puppy-proofing your home! I won’t bore you with all the individual things you’ll need, I’m sure you’re already well-prepared after all that waiting!

If you are planning to fly your puppy home in the hold, now is the time to look at purchasing a ‘kennel’ for the journey. Usually you will need to liase with your breeder to pick the right size for your pup and have it sent to them. It’s a good idea for your breeder to acclimatise your puppy to the kennel before they depart as flying will be a scary experience all on its own without it also being the first time they are confined to a small space. Airlines may have different specifications for kennels and items allowed in the kennel with your puppy. Check with your airline before making your purchase!

It’s Almost Pick-Up Day

Just a few days to go! It’s time to finalise your travel plans. Make sure there are no planned delays on your route, plan your rest stops if you can and take into account that you might need to stop more regularly than you normally would if your new puppy isn’t a good traveller.

It’s also time to get your travel pack ready! Check which countries you will be travelling through if you’re driving, and make sure you have the appropriate equipment with you for your journey (for example: when travelling through France you MUST have a disposable breathalyser on board).

For your puppy there are a few essential items that you will need to pack if you are undertaking your journey by car:

  • A crate or secure method of travelling your pup. Do NOT allow your puppy to travel loose in the car. Make sure they have a safe and secure space to travel in.
  • Vet bedding (snuggly for puppy to lie on, rubber backed so it doesn’t slide around and very absorbent in case of accidents).
  • Pee-pads (in case of those oops moments).
  • Kitchen towel.
  • Towels.
  • Poo bags.
  • Food and water (and bowls to put them in).
  • Collar/harness and lead (if not provided by the breeder). Make sure your collar and/or harness is VERY well fitted. Your puppy will not have bonded with you in such a short time and the last thing you want is a slipped collar or harness on your first day together.
  • A toy or two and something to chew on.
  • Don’t forget to pack your camera to document those first few hours together.
  • Your puppy will need to be treated for tapeworm by a vet and this must be recorded in the Pet Passport. This must be done no less than 24 hours and no more than 120 hours before entering the UK. Your breeder should sort this out on your behalf.

The Journey Home

I can only give you my personal experience on this one, but I hope others will come along and give their experiences too so they can be added here! I chose to drive to pick up my Hokkaido Ken, Kirin, in December 2016. I brought along a friend as company for the journey, took the Eurotunnel to Calais and drove from there. I arranged it so that I could spend some hours at the breeder’s home, meeting the puppies, parents and older dogs and getting all of that vital information that you forget about during ‘puppy fever’ as well as going through all of the documents, the puppy contract and paperwork.

First Cuddles!

I was extremely lucky that Kirin was a great traveler and we hardly heard a peep from her in the back of my van. She traveled in a 36” crate, with vet bedding and the blanket and toys that had been with her littermates. We stopped every 2 or 3 hours to see if she needed to toilet (and to stretch our legs) and made it back to Calais with plenty of time to spare.

If you are traveling by Eurotunnel you need to arrive at least 1 hour in advance to check in both yourself and your puppy. There is a dedicated pet area where staff will check your puppy’s microchip and pet passport and assuming everything is okay you’re good to go. They also have a couple of exercise areas you can use if you need to burn off some excess energy. The trip itself is really quite short. You are supposed to keep your puppy confined to your vehicle, however the staff are very accommodating.

Finally…you’ve made it back to the UK with your new puppy! Congratulations! If you would like to add your experience to this article please leave a comment and we will add it in! Also if I’ve forgotten anything (I almost certainly have) please let me know.

On The Eurotunnel