The Nihon Ken Standard

Click here for the full Nihon Ken Standard and Commentary, along with the NIPPO Judging Resolutions.

The standard for the Japanese Dog (Nihon Ken), "...based on the characteristic traits of the Nihon Ken, and guiding the direction of the Nihon Ken that should be produced in the future," was published in 1934 by the Japanese Dog Preservation Society (commonly referred to as NIPPO). It divided the Nihon Ken into three categories: small, medium, and large. It can be said that the Nihon Ken breed standards of all canine registries worldwide, including other preservation societies in Japan, were created based on this standard.

*This standard for the Nihon Ken is written in a style that aims to concisely and precisely summarize complex points, so the expressions used can be difficult to understand. In commentary we will attempt to explain each section, and draw attention to points of importance.

The Nihon Ken Standard & Commentary

1.Essential qualities and their expression

Abounding in Kan-i, exhibiting Ryō-sei and an air of Soboku, senses keen, actions agile, movement light and elastic.

Kan-i, ryōsei, and soboku are extremely important essential traits of the Nihon Ken. Kan-i means spirited, with an air of authority. Ryōsei, loyal and subordinate. Soboku is a word that describes a basic and innate quality of the Nihon Ken: unadorned, modest refinement and dignified disposition.
Additionally, the standard goes on to describe "their expression": the small and medium size breeds are described as having, "...senses keen, actions agile, movement light and elastic." The large type Nihon Ken (Akita Ken) is described as having, "...a bearing of substance."

2.General appearance

Males and females clearly distinguishable, having balanced structure, skeleton tight and dense, with well-developed muscles and tendons. The body's height to length ratio for males is 100:110, with females somewhat longer in length. Body height is 52cm in males and 49cm in females, and a range of 3cm either upwards or downwards is tolerated.

In overall appearance, males appearing masculine, and females feminine, is called sexual dimorphism, and significant importance is placed on this.
The body is well-balanced and skeletal structure is compact. Muscles and tendons are well developed, and the body height to length ratio is 100:110, giving the dog a slightly rectangular body shape. Females appear slightly longer in length than males.
★Body height and measurement method for each type and breed
Body height is measured from the ground at the forelimb to slightly behind the top of the shoulder blade by pressing down on the coat.

1. The standard height of the "small type" Shiba Inu is 39.5cm for males and 36.5cm for females. On average, males are 38cm to 41cm tall, and females are between 35cm to 38cm.

2. The standard height of the "medium type" Kishu Ken, Shikoku Ken, Kai Ken, and Hokkaido Ken is set at 52cm for males, and 49 cm for females. On average, males are between 49cm and 55cm, and females between 46cm and 52cm. Of the "medium type" breeds, Kai Ken and Hokkaido Ken are allowed 2cm shorter than this size.

3. In the "large type", the standard height of the Akita Ken is 67cm for males and 61cm for females. On average, males are between 64cm and 70cm, and females between 58cm and 64cm.


Small and triangular, slightly inclining forward, firmly standing.

Size should be in balance with the head, and the inner line of the ear is straight. The outer line of the ear forms a slightly rounded, scalene triangle shape. Angling slightly forward, the ears stand erect.


Nearly triangular with outer corners elevated, irises exhibiting a deep dark brown color.

Approximately triangular shaped, outer corners of the eye slightly raised, eyes set back in the skull exuding a sense of strength. Black irises, as well as the opposite, light colored irises, are not desirable. A deep dark brown color is ideal.


Nasal bridge straight and muzzle tightly formed, nose firm, lips tight, dentition robust with correct occlusion.

Muzzle tightly formed and originating from full cheeks, the bridge of the nose is straight. The base of the muzzle has roundness, moderate width and thickness, and a moderate stop. The lips are tight and form a straight line without any looseness. The nose is black in non-white dogs. White dogs' noses are blackish brown. All dogs should have 42 well developed teeth, and a normal bite is required. Insufficient numbers of teeth, and spots on the tongue are undesirable.

6.Head and Neck

Forehead broad, cheeks well developed, neck powerful.

The forehead is broad, the cheeks are well-developed, and the neck is moderately thick and long, with supple, powerful muscles.


Shoulder blade moderately sloping and well developed, forearm straight with tightly gripped paws.

The forelimbs, with the elbows drawn tightly to the torso, touch the ground at the same width as the body. The fore pastern has a moderate angle, and the toes form a tight grip.


Stance powerful and firm, hocks resilient, with tightly gripped paws.

Thighs are well developed, hock is at a moderate angle and resiliently strong, hind feet touching the ground at the same width as the hips. Toes form a tight grip. Dew claws on the hind legs, which are commonly seen in the Kishu Ken, are removed when the dog is 2 to 3 days old.


Deep, with moderately sprung rib cage. Forechest well developed.

The forechest is well developed, and the ribs are moderately sprung forming an oval (egg) shape. The depth of the chest should be about half of the body height, but even if shallow it should reach at least 45%.

10.Back and Hips

Straight back and powerful hips.

The back is straight, from the start of the back to the base of the tail at the hips. The hips are sturdy, and motion of the hips up and down or sideways when in movement is undesirable.


Thick and powerful, either sashi-o (sickle tail) or maki-o (curled tail), length extending roughly to the hock.

Moderately thick, and strong, forming a "maki-o" (curl tail) or "sashi-o" (sickle tail), with the tip approximately reaching the hock. Curl tail is exactly as the words suggest, a tail that forms a coil. A sickle tail does not reach a curl, but angles forward, and is commonly seen in the Kishu Ken. All Akita Ken must have a maki-o.


Outer coat stiff and straight, undercoat soft and thick, tail hair is somewhat long, standing up and open. Coat colors shall be sesame, red, black, brindle, or white, and coat qualities and color must show traits characteristic of the Nihon Ken.

Outer coat is hard, straight, having vivid hues, and the undercoat is called down, which is light colored, soft, and dense, together forming a double coat. The hair on the tail is slightly long and stands open. Nihon Ken come in five coat colors: sesame, red, black (black and tan), brindle, and white. The ideal coat colors for the Shiba Inu are red, sesame, or black (black and tan), but red dogs account for more than 80% of the breed. The overwhelming majority of Kishu Ken are white, with a small number that are colors like sesame or red "yushoku" (color) coated dogs. The majority of Shikoku Ken come in sesame, followed by red, with a few black (black and tan) dogs present.