Thinking about getting a Shikoku Ken? Please read on. There are numerous descriptions of the Shikoku all over the internet that focus on their history. Yes, the Shikoku is a hunting dog developed to hunt large game in the mountainous regions of Japan. Yes, they are prized for their calmness in the home and tenacity when on the hunt. One thing these descriptions of the Shikoku don't tell you is what your life may be like if you are lucky enough to share it with one of these amazing dogs.
Here, we've tried to describe some of the REALITIES of living with a Shikoku. Despite what you may have read about the Shikoku on other websites, they are not the ideal companion dog. In fact, Shikoku aren't companion dogs at all, they are working dogs. In many working breeds, dogs from different lines will be described as either "working lines" or "show/pet lines." For the Shikoku, we prefer to think of this distinction as "working lines" and "conformation lines" as the Shikoku, even if not from working lines, still retains many of the qualities they needed to be effective large game hunters.
As always, dogs are living creatures and there are no absolutes when it comes to temperment and personality traits. The qualities we describe here tend to be prevelant among Shikoku in North America, but aren't guaranteed to describe your Shikoku. So, whether or not you choose to get a Shikoku from a working kennel and train them to hunt wild boar or bear, here are some of the things you can expect out of life with your Shikoku.
Your Shikoku is likely to be:
- an independent thinker, inquisitive, impulsive, and/or rude. Shikoku were bred to hunt in small packs of three to five dogs and to act independently of the hunter. As a result, your Shikoku is likely to be inquisitive and a problem solver. They probably won't look to you for assistance if their toy gets stuck under the couch or they want something on the countertop. They are going to figure out how to get it themselves, no matter how long it takes. Their independent nature and confidence can often make Shikoku impulsive and rude. If your Shikoku wants to lick the face of one of your house guests, they may not take no for an answer. An unsupervised Shikoku can get into a lot of mischeif. If you aren't willing to pay a lot of attention to your Shikoku, or to deal with the mess that she makes when you don't pay attention to her, the Shikoku may not be the dog for you.
- filled with endless energy. The Shikoku's hunting background means that more often than not they have some very impressive stamina. Further, their drive to hunt often times will cause them to continue to play/chase/run long after they are over tired and may result in some "crankiness." Many Shikoku owners find that at least two long (around an hour) leashed walks per day plus plenty of time to run in a safely fenced enclosure is necessary to keep your Shikoku happy. Some owners also find that forcing their Shikoku to take a nap (either by crating or bringing them inside) will be beneficial to their behavior after extended periods of exercise. If you don't have the time or desire to provide the amount of exercise your Shikoku is likely to need, the Shikoku may not be the dog for you.
- interested in chasing anything that moves, including your cat, squirrels, other dogs, leaves, etc. We can't stress this enough: Shikoku are working hunting dogs and they will chase everything. It is extremely common for new Shikoku owners to come on the Shikoku Dog Forum and ask how to get their puppy to stop chasing the family cat or squirrels in the yard. If you can figure out how to do it, we'd like to know! These dogs are the result of hundreds of years of selective breeding to produce powerful hunters with strong instincts to chase and bay prey. No small amount of training is likely to break them of that. If you have cats and don't want them to get chased around the house endlessly, the Shikoku may not be the dog for you.
- unreliable off leash. The same characteristics that make Shikoku prized hunters in Japan, make them poor candidates to be off leash in uncontrolled environments. If you are looking for a velcro dog that will say on trail while hiking or can be let out to potty without a leash or fenced yard, keep looking---the Shikoku is not the dog for you. When worked as hunting dogs, Shikoku are trained from a very early age to "check in" with the hunter regularly. Properly trained they can be quite good at this. But, they likely will not remain within sight for very long and may even run out of earshot. If you aren't comfortable not knowing where your dog is for 15 minutes at a time (or maybe even longer), do not even try to train your Shikoku to work off leash. If you expect your dog to remain on trail during off leash hikes, to run directly from the house to the car for rides, or to stand by your side while you talk to a neighbor, the Shikoku may not be the dog for you.
- somewhat mouthy and vocal. Shikoku tend to have a pretty "soft mouth" (meaning they don't bite very hard) and they use it a lot. Many owners report their dogs giving "mouth hugs" to their arms or nibbling on their earlobes/hair/etc. when they want attention. If you aren't comfortable with a dog being mouthy, a Shikoku may not be the breed for you. Further, Shikoku have a unique style of vocalization that involves a lot of growling. To those unfamiliar with the breed, this may be taken as a sign of "aggression" (we HATE that word) or a warning. While the Shikoku can and does use growls to communicate their desire for people or dogs to give them space, they also growl when excited, happy, or greeting other dogs. Some owners report their dogs will growl while displaying "appeasing" behaviors like licking their faces or the faces of other dogs. If you aren't interested in taking the time to learn what your dog's different vocalizations may mean, the Shikoku may not be the dog for you.
- people friendly but alert to strange people around the home. In general, Shikoku love people. More often than not, Shikoku will greet strangers with some jumping/lunging, wagging tails, and lots of licks and nibbles. It is possible to train Shikoku out of this excited greeting, but requires a lot of patience and commitment from owners and anybody else that interacts with your Shikoku. Like with most dogs, if your Shikoku isn't exposed at an early age to visitors in the home or new people while out and about they may be shy or reserved with strangers. Because Shikoku love people so much, they do not make good guard dogs. Your Shikoku is more likely to shower an intruder with kisses than scare them away. Your Shikoku is likely to be very alert to changes in her environment and will not hesitate to alert you to the presence of an uninvited stranger, the pizza delivery man, or the mailman. Shikoku tend to alert using high pitched barks and/or growling, but the vast majority of Shikoku will back away from a confrontation with a stranger rather than "engage the threat." If you're looking for a breed to guard your family or your home, the Shikoku may not be the dog for you.
- highly dog reactive and predisposed to barrier frustration. It seems most Shikoku have a very strict set of rules governing social interactions with other dogs. When those rules are broken, they aren't afraid to let other dogs know how they feel about it (which is generally not very good). Your Shikoku may approach other dogs courteously, but get offended at extended eye contact or an unfriendly body posture. Their reactions can range from growling to lunging and correcting. Shikoku are NOT AGGRESSIVE dogs, but may appear to not be friendly toward other dogs. Barriers, such as leashes or fences, can frustrate Shikoku. When meeting new dogs on leash or through a fence, Shikoku may put on a display with lots of vocalizing and lunging. It is best to introduce your Shikoku to new dogs off leash in a controlled environment. If you aren't comfortable holding the leash when your 45 pound dog is lunging to correct another dog, the Shikoku may not be the dog for you. The highly reactive nature of the Shikoku is the main reason we don't recommend them for the novice dog owner.
- a highly social creature. Shikoku crave the attention of and playtime with other dogs. They are capable of building lasting friendships with other dogs, but introductions and early play sessions MUST be closely supervised to avoid any reactive behaviors escalating. The Shikoku style of play is often described as "hectic" or "intense" and is characterized by a lot of noise and showing of teethe. To the untrained observer, the noise and bearing of teethe can be a bit unsettling. Early socialization is vitally important to ensure your Shikoku develops manners and learns appropriate play boundaries. Especially as puppies, Shikoku can be relentless in their efforts to play with other dogs. If you already have a senior dog who isn't interested in play with a puppy, you will have to work hard to keep your puppy entertained. If you aren't comfortable reading the subtleties of dog-dog communication and managing your Shikoku's interactions with other dogs, a Shikoku may not be the dog for you.
- handler soft. Despite being a very tough and hardy breed, Shikoku tend not to respond well to punative training methods. Your Shikoku will likely be very in tune to you as a handler. They have a relative eagerness to please their owners, and can get extremely upset or depressed if harsh correction or punishment is used during training. Many american hunting breeds are trained using "stimulation" or "shock collars" to correct unwanted behavior. Those that work Shikoku will tell you punative methods are the fastest way to ruin a Shikoku. They will "shut down" and become unresponsive to everything. If you don't believe in positive reinforcement training methods, then the Shikoku may not be the dog for you. See our links for some pointers to information on positive reinforcement training methods.
- a loyal and loving family member. Shikoku have long been prized by the Japanese for their ability to be loving and loyal family members by night, and tenacious hunters of large game during the day. Whether or not you choose to hunt with your Shikoku, they need to live with their family. Shikoku are likely to be happiest near their people and may become depressed if kenneled outside away from the family. This doesn't mean they are snuggle bugs (most aren't). When not running around outside, the Shikoku will be happy to play with a toy at your feet or sleep on a bed or the couch near you. They like to know where you are, but won't necessarily follow you around. Their devotion to their family is deep and they show it subtly. If you're looking for a dog that will snuggle with you all day on the couch, the Shikoku may not be the dog for you.
If you've read up until this point, then hopefully the realities of living with a high drive working dog haven't scared you away. If you are thinking right now, "I bet I can train my Shikoku not to do those things" stop right now. Shikoku enthusiasts love their dogs because of or in spite of the quirks we just described. If a Shikoku doesn't fit your lifestyle as we just described them, it probably isn't a good idea to try to change it to be a better fit. There are many other breeds of dog that may fit more easily into your family, making life happier for both you and your future dog. If you are unsure whether or not your family is appropriate for a Shikoku, take some time to contact the breeders listed on our website. All of them will be more than happy to help you determine if a Shikoku is right for you. Alternatively, join the Shikoku Dog Forum and talk directly to other Shikoku owners.