About the Kai Ken


     The Kai ken is a medium sized brindle spitz type hunting dog, which shares many conformational and behavioral traits with the other native Japanese breeds (the six Nihon Ken, which are the small shiba inu, the large Akita inu and three more medium hunting breeds: the Shikoku ken, Kishu ken and Hokkaido ken). Kai is the old name for Yamanashi prefecture in Japan, a mountainous region just west of Tokyo that includes Mt Fuji and five famous lakes. As such, the native dogs breed of this region are rugged mountain dogs adapted for steep land, self-reliance, and relatively small scale social living.

Temperament and Behavior

     Because diversity and function are driving criteria in Kai Ken breeding, dogs at this time can show a variety of temperaments. There are bold Kai and shy Kai, there are lazy Kai and active Kai, there are Kai who like to socialize with dogs and Kai who prefer their own small circle of friends. It is important for breeders and owners of Kai dogs to raise them with understanding and guidance to grow up to be their best selves.

     Kai are hunting dogs- they prefer to share the quest with you, and we recommend engaging with them in their curiosity and using their senses on walks and in sports and games. If this part of their nature is not satisfied in their play and work with you- which they prefer! – they are self-reliant enough to seek to fulfill their drive without you. Keep them on leash and get outside and see what your Kai has to show you!

     With training, a strong connection and positive reinforcement training the Kai can develop an excellent recall habit and enjoy controlled off leash work such as dog sports and hunting afield with you, but these activities are partnership- focused and require the owner’s total investment of attention and cooperation, regular practice and lots of training. If that engagement or connection isn’t finely cultivated, or just not present today, the dog is at higher risk than most breeds of choosing their own adventure without you, so only work Kai off leash with stepwise, thorough training and in a safe area under circumstances in which you can devote your full attention to being present with them. A GPS collar and a bell is mandatory for any off leash work. It is helpful to think of a Kai off-leash policy the same way you would think of more familiar high drive hound breeds such as beagles or greyhounds. Because a Kai forms such a close bond with their owner, their primary motivation is to do fun things with you, and keeping them on leash while exploring is safe and satisfying to them. As long as they receive lots of outdoor exercise and satisfy their curiosity and cooperation with you, they are perfectly happy and are not missing out by being kept on leash, or running and playing in a secure, fenced area.


     Kai ken in the United States have very few health concerns. As a Club, the Kai Society promotes health testing by breeders and owners and the consolidation and sharing of data so breeders can make the most informed decisions with regards to parings for the future of the breed. Issues that have been identified in the breed either via testing or clinical findings are as follows.

Luxating patellas-  Seen rarely and seldom requiring surgical intervention. The loose kneecaps (pushable in puppies, but not slipping on their own) have been seen to tighten up with maturity. Evaluation of patellas is recommended for Kai, and breeding animals can be OFA certified by a veterinary exam at the age of 1 year. Owners are advised to exercise growing puppies at puppy speed and not overwork them with jumping, landing, or exercise beyond the youngster’s willing capability, especially on hard surfaces. such as pavement, hard floors, concrete and slippery winter ice.

Pacific Rimism (also called Pseudo-hyperkalemia)  All of the breeds native to East Asia can show a very high Potassium (K) reading on electrolyte portion of annual blood tests, to the alarm of veterinarians, who are trained at that sign to look for or treat for Addison’s disease. However, this potassium level is not an indication of disease, but a quirk of the red blood cells of dogs of these breeds- which leak potassium into serum upon coagulation in vitro. Owners of any of the Nihon Ken are advised to inform their veterinarians of our breeds’ propensity for Pacific Rimism and to spin the blood immediately after drawing and not allow it to coagulate and leak K giving this false reading in any blood testing.

PRA4-  Recently many Nihon Ken owners have been having their dog’s DNA evaluated via Optimal Selection/Genoscoper to screen for genetic disease markers, drug sensitivity and physical traits. In this way, we have been able to identify carriers of genes that might be detrimental or off standard and to breed with an eye to avoid compounding recessives. Most Kai are clear of all tested for conditions, but some have shown to carry one or two copies of the gene that may cause Progressive Retinal atrophy. (PRA 4 gene) This gene is recessive and even when two copies are had, has a limited expression. The Kai Society is maintaining awareness of Kai dogs and has not seen genetically “affected” dogs express retinal atrophy so far, so our advice to owners is not to be alarmed, and for breeders to choose matings that avoid breeding carriers to carriers of affecteds, and for affected to be bred to genetically clear dogs.

Cryptorchidism-  Retention of one or both testicles is not unusual in the breed

Seizures-  We have seen three female Kai develop idiopathic seizures, and while they were amply tested by their veterinarians, the diagnosis of the cause is inconclusive. All of the dogs are still alive and living well and happily with limitations once appropriate medicine was on board, and some now require no medication at all to remain seizure free. Diagnostics have been difficult: “immune mediated encephalitis” for two and “idiopathic epilepsy” for the others. No connection to food, vaccines, flea and tick treatment or parasite has been able to be