The Hokkaido (北海道犬, Hokkaidō-inu or Hokkaidō-ken) is a breed of dog. Other names for the breed include Ainu-ken, Seta, Ainu dog. In Japan, its name is sometimes shortened to Dō-ken. The Hokkaido is native to the prefecture of the same name in Japan.
The breed is medium in size, with small, triangular, upright ears. The small eyes have a rising triangular outline. The Hokkaido has a coat of long, stiff fur, and a second, shorter coat of soft fur. Colors include red, white, black, brindle, sesame, black and tan, and wolf-gray. Males are typically 50 cm (20 in) tall at the withers, females slightly shorter, with body masses in the 20 kg (44 lb) range. Dogs bred on continents outside of their native Japan may be smaller.
The breed is known for fidelity to its owner, bravery, and the ability to withstand the cold, among other traits. It has an innate sense of direction and smell, and can therefore return to its master no matter how great the distance. Temperament will vary depending on the lineage and region of upbringing.
Traditionally in Japan, the dog has been used as a working breed that plays both the role of family pet and hunter. In Japan, they are strongly tied to hunting kennels and work alongside their handlers to manage populations of wild boar and bear. Their vocal nature manifests in varying types of characteristic howls, long and short barks, used as sighting signals on hunts. They have an unusual fighting style against the Hokkaido brown bear, or higuma, and will take risks to protect its master, despite size differences. The way in which the Ainu dog accomplishes this is to attack the bear's back, then bite and hold the dorsal flesh of the bear's neck until the bear retreats. For this purpose, the Hokkaido in Japan are encouraged to have a fierce and unrelenting character that benefits in the field.
Brought up as a family pet, Hokkaido may deviate from the more primal temperament exhibited with dogs in hunting kennels. The Hokkaido is highly intelligent and food motivated, a combination that results in positive responses to training. Hunting dogs are encouraged to be vocal, but a Hokkaido as a family pet may not necessarily exhibit such habits with training. As the Hokkaido has very little distribution throughout countries outside Japan, the Hokkaido's temperament solely as a family pet is still forming. Although the Hokkaido carries an innate prey drive, early socialization shows good behaviors with cats and other small animals considered to be part of its 'pack'.
The Hokkaido's play is different from other breeds, with a more crouch and prowl style of play that is often misunderstood as aggression. For this reason, Hokkaido are often considered to be leash only animals. However, with its roots to hunting, they have excellent owner stickiness and work well with recall techniques.
They are good with children and other animals if they are raised with them from puppyhood and/or properly socialized. The Hokkaido needs moderate but regular exercise to stay in shape. It should be taken for long daily walks.
The Hokkaido is thought to have its roots in the Matagi-ken （Japanese:マタギ犬）（hunting dog, bear hunting dog, deer hunting dog） a breed brought by the Ainu people from the Tohoku region in the Jōmon period. The later Yayoi people brought a different breed to the Tohoku, but the isolation of Hokkaido led to its line of Jōmon dog having the least influence from the Yayoi.
In 1869, the English zoologist Thomas W. Blankiston gave the breed the name Hokkaido.
The breed was useful in the search for survivors of an Army expedition that was caught in heavy snow crossing the Hakkōda Mountains of Aomori Prefecture in 1902.
In 1937, the Ainu dog was designated in Japan as "a rare species protected by law" by the Ministry of Education and it was decided that the official name of the breed would be Hokkaido-Inu. However, the dogs are almost always called Hokkaido-Ken among the Japanese people.
In 2007, Japanese telecom company SoftBank began using a white Hokkaido named Kai-kun (カイくん) in its commercial campaigns for their White Plan where he stars as "Father" (お父さん, Otōsan) or Jiro Shirato (白戸 次郎, Shirato Jirō), the patriarch of the Shirato family, with his wife portrayed by Kanako Higuchi, children portrayed by Aya Ueto and Dante Carver, and mother portrayed by Ayako Wakao; Father's speaking voice is provided by Kin'ya Kitaōji. The commercial series won the 2008 ACC Grand Prix Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Award. The American director, producer, screenwriter, and noted Japanophile, Quentin Tarantino, guest-starred in an installment of this series of commercials.
The Hokkaido dog has a very high rate of Collie eye anomaly (CEA). About 1/3 of Hokkaidos are affected by CEA while 2/3 are carriers.