The Hokkaido Dog, one of the native Japanese breeds, has lived closely with the indigenous people of Hokkaido, the Ainu, for generations.
Called the Ainu Dog until 1937, the iconic breed was eventually designated as a National Protected Species, and the name was changed to “Hokkaido Dog” by the Ministry of Education.
The exact origins are unknown, but its ancestors are believed to be the Matagi (hunting) dogs, brought from the Tohoku region by the ancient Japanese during the Jomon period, approximately 16,500 – 3,000 years ago.
Many of the native Japanese dogs that existed within the island of Honshu were mixed with non-native breeds during the Yayoi period, but the geographical separation from mainland Japan allowed the Hokkaido Dog to more easily remain near-purebred, similar to the Okinawa breed known as the Ryukyu Dog.
The Hokkaido Dog has played a huge role in the Ainu people’s lives as loyal and hardworking hunting assistants, often serving as the protectors of their owners and families from threats such as Hokkaido wolves. They were called Seta by the Ainu people, and treated as beloved family members who helped each other get through the cold, harsh winter.
Despite using primitive hunting tools like handmade bows and pikes, the Ainu people hunted fierce brown bears and fleet-footed Ezo deer, where the Hokkaid.Dogs endurance and agility were of great benefit.
The Hokkaido Dog is a medium-sized breed—slightly larger than the Shiba Dog—usually weighing around 20kg for males and 15kg for females. Their barrel-chested bodies and solid bones make them perfect for hunting in the rugged mountains, and their thick double coats were ideally suited for the colder Hokkaido climates.
Unlike the white-hued Hokkaido dog featured in the television commercial of a particular Japanese mobile phone carrier, 70% of them have red or brown hair, whereas only 20% have white coats.
Although they seem to have a reputation for being quick-tempered and disobedient, they can be naïve, playful, and submissive.
My family dog is a Hokkaido dog, and can be somewhat moody, but stays healthy. She is protective, gets along well with kids, and has become an important member of the family.
Nowadays, it is very rare for the Hokkaido Dog to be a hunting companion, and they are usually only seen in competitions at dog shows, or as house pets. The number of Hokkaido dogs has decreased drastically, and there are reportedly a mere 2,000 pure bred animals remaining in Japan.
During the spring, the annual dog show is held in Kutchan, hosting approximately 100 Hokkaido Dogs that travel there from all over Japan. A fantastic event for dog lovers to get to meet the gorgeous and increasingly rare Hokkaido native breed and their precious little puppies.
Photography: Alister Buckingham