846 THE SCENTHOUND DIASPORA - The South-East Asian Types

by   David Hancock

Distinct Type

 We know very little about the hounds of China, apart from artefacts and illustrations from ancient books, and these are often of hawking expeditions featuring sighthounds. But the Jindo of Korea and the Balinese Mountain Hound have become known, with some of the former featuring in the Discover Dogs area at Crufts, after their importation in 2002. The Thai Ridgeback is exhibited at World Dog Shows but the Japanese breeds are the ones from this region of the world best known to us. The Jindo, from the island of that name in Korea, the Balinese breed and the Kishu of Japan are remarkably similar in type, all used as hounds and almost entirely in mountainous areas. Also from Korea comes another in this mould, the Cheju or Temla, introduced into Cheju Island off the Korean coast from Cholkang Province in China, and used to hunt boar and deer, as well as indicate pheasant. The Jindos at Crufts attracted a great deal of attention, as many exotic breeds do initially in Britain; related to the rarer Poon-san and the shaggy-haired Sapsal, and all three now protected breeds in South Korea, the Jindo is renowned for its acute hearing and strong scenting powers, being used widely as a service dog.   

The Hounds of Japan                      

Any mention of hounds in the Western world conjures up immediate images of elegant smooth-haired sighthounds, strongly-built tricolour drop-eared scenthounds or rough-haired Griffons out of France. A prick-eared dog with a bushy tail curled over its back doesn’t quite fit the bill, but the hounds of Japan are highly individual and deserve recognition. Two of their hunting dog breeds, the Akita and the Shiba, have become established here but as show dogs not sporting ones and neither classified as hounds or sporting dogs by our Kennel Club. 226 Shibas were registered here in 2011 and over a thousand Akitas, of both types, mainly the ‘American’ type, with only 50 of the Japanese Akita variety featuring, for me, a regrettable differentiation. The heavier more powerful Akitas may have come down from the mixed breed dogs used for fighting and possess a different temperament from the Japanese type. The KC breed standard for the Akita, mentions its role as a hunting dog on black bear, wild boar and deer and for the Shiba, describes its role as a hunting dog, mainly of ground game, but used to track larger game such as boar and deer, then classifies both, with remarkable perversity, not as hounds, but in its Utility Group.

I have long been intrigued by the native breeds of Japan, sparked initially by learning that genetically Japanese dog breeds, with one exception, originated from a common ancestral type, in which both A and B haemoglobin alleles were present, whilst the European breeds originated from a different ancestral group in which the A allele was absent. My interest in one of their breeds, the Akita, was heightened on reading that the late Joe Braddon, arguably the greatest show judge of the late 20th century here, rated a Japanese Akita he judged in Norway, the best dog he ever saw. In a thirty-year career as an international judge, he must have gone over hundreds of thousands of dogs in the ring. By our definition a hound, the Akita is an impressive breed, having a tangible presence, an imposing self-assurance, almost a natural grandeur about it. The Japanese Akita weighs around 70-80lbs but now there is a variation in America that weighs well over 100lbs.

The international kennel club, the FCI, recognises a number of Japanese hunting dogs: the Akita, the Ainu, the Kai, the Kishu and the Shiba, often after the localities where they developed, with the Akita also named the Akita Matagi Inu or dog that hunts bears. The Ainu is also called the Hokkaido Dog, as it was favoured in the mountainous regions of Hokkaido Island. The black brindle Kai Dog was also called the Tiger Dog, because of its coat colour. The usually white Kishu was used as a hunting dog on the large island of Kyushu, with the Shiba Inu (or small dog) developed on Honshu Island, and now very popular in Britain. With over 200 a year being newly registered, the Shiba Inu seems well established but I know of no one using one as a hunting dog here. (There is a similar but slightly taller breed called the Shikoku, used to hunt deer, but not I believe known in Europe.)

The Shiba is an enchanting fox-like little dog with a hard thick coat, sparkling eyes, an alert posture, attentive manner and inquisitive nature, so valuable in a hunting dog. They are used extensively on rabbit in Japan but are great ratters too, being determined, quick and extremely agile. Local varieties were named after the locality that favoured them, rather like our terriers of old. You hear of Mino Shiba, Shinshu Shiba, Sekishu Inu and so on; they were used to hunt small game: hare, racoon dog (tanuki), fox, weasel and birds. I have been very impressed by their soundness when viewing them both at English dog shows and overseas shows. This may be because to judge the breed in its native country you need demanding training and extensive experience. It was good to read a show judge’s critique in 2010 stating : “Always remember the purpose and origin of the Shiba. A small hunting dog, very nimble, agile and able to leap from rock to rock, in its pursuit to hunt small game in the mountains of Japan.” It would be good to hear of their use hunting rabbits here. The ones I see in our show rings seem to have heavier bone and straighter stifles with higher hocks – a feature sometimes criticised through a misunderstanding of the phrase ‘well let down at hock’, originally intended to produce long cannon bones, not low set hocks.

The strong brindle colours of the Kai Ken, its versatility in the hunting field and their sheer charm as a breed have made them immediate favourites outside their home country. There are two bloodlines in the breed that determine their physical characteristics: Dairo and Kaikuro; the first being lighter and used on deer, the other stocky and used in the boar hunt. It has been claimed that three Kai Ken can bring down a full-grown boar. They are very much mountain hunting dogs, agile, sure-footed and very determined. Increasingly popular in the United States and Canada, they are valued as companion dogs more than hunting dogs.

Far better known here is the Akita, although the division in the breed causes much confusion away from the show rings. At a championship show in Germany a few years ago, one of Japan’s leading experts on their native breeds, Kosuke Kawakita, gave this advice on breeding them: do not overdo the white markings, especially on the face. Make use of brindle dogs to lessen the pale colours that occur prevalently in this breed. Conserve the characteristic facial expression of the breed that mainly relies on correct ear placement. Breed for a strong lower jaw, look for a rounded appearance when viewing the jaw from the front. He stated that the original breed standard was based on hunting dogs, not ornamental ones. But some of the show dogs are strikingly imposing; I admire particularly the two-tone, black over silver or fawn undercoat or Kuro-goma type, a really eye-catching variety. I have seen some impressive Akitas in Britain but some have displayed temperamental flaws, probably from being owned by the wrong people – they did become ‘status dogs’ for a while. I was impressed by one: Ch Redwitch Prince Consort at Stecal, of great type, attractive coat colour and the right size. In 2012, from the ringside, I was very taken with Kabu Shine Thru Shyllar, full of breed type and soundness. In Japan, just after World War II, three types of the breed emerged: the Matagi Akita or bearhound, the Fighting Akita or Kong-go dogs with mastiff blood and the Shepherd Akita, used as a flock protector. The first type is the true one, the second one is to be avoided. The Akita was always intended to be a hound. 

The Thai Ridgeback (Mah Thai)

 Another ridged breed, the Thai Ridgeback Dog, is gaining popularity; a light chestnut red, pure black and silver blue (acknowledged mastiff colours), it is 24" at the shoulder, weighing 60-75lbs, very similar to the African dog. Claims have been made that the African dog descends from a ridged dog, the Phu Quoc dog, found in the Gulf of Siam, with some suggesting a westward movement of such dogs. My view is that it is more likely for the African ridged dogs to have been taken to Asia with black slaves, i.e. an eastward movement. The Arabs were trading slaves to Canton and Siam as long ago as 900AD (Jeffreys, 1953). I have been quite impressed by the quality of the dogs of this breed entered for World Dog Show classes, mainly from one American kennel. I do hope that ‘breeding for the ridge’ doesn’t blind show breeders to the soundness required in a breed with a small gene pool outside its native country. The ridge in this breed is less ‘fiddle-shaped’ and more straight raised spinal ridge than the African dog. I see some that are too facially wrinkled for their future well-being and I do hope this tendency is not bred for by those fanciers who view this as a ‘unique breed feature’; it is not, and the exaggerators need curbing, as in any breed. There is a danger too that such a breed can become desired because of its exoticness, rather than its innate qualities. This is an imposing very individual breed, deserving to be perpetuated as a hound. You can see hound-type mongrel dogs on Thailand's streets - indicating a strong local hound type in that country. They mostly scavenge but have disease-resistance and a virility that could one day prove of value.

“Throughout more than 99 per cent of human history, hunting has been an unchallenged tap root of life, as well as a cornerstone of culture. Often, the success of hunters has meant the difference between feast or famine, and their exploits and service to the community have been celebrated in song and story, setting standards as positive role models. In fact, throughout nearly all of human history, hunters have been unchallenged cultural heroes.”
The Sacred Art of Hunting: Myths, Legends and Modern Mythos by James A Swan, Willow Creek Press, Wisconsin, USA, 1999.