Spartan Dogs - Tosa Inu - Working Type 

Category: Articles, Dogs, Working Dogs, Molossers, Mastiffs, Japan

Tosa Inu - Working Type /
Names Tosa Inu (Working Type), Tosa Ken, Tosa Tôken, Tosa Touken, Japanese Mastiff, Sumo Inu, Sumo Dog, Nihon Inu
Origins Kochi (Tosa), Japan
Tasks Fighting Dog, Guard Dog
Height 61 cm and up / 55 cm and up
Weight n.a.
Lifespan 11-12 years
Registry FCI, AKC (FSS), UKC
Group Molossers, Mastiffs

Tosa Inu of working lines in current Japan

Current use

The Tosa Inu is still primarily known for it's success and use for combat in traditional Japanese dog fighting tournaments. The use for the Tosa has changed very little over the years and Tosas are rarely or seldom kept as pets, guard dogs, or Protection type uses. A Tosa dogman would keep a Tosa as a fighting dog first and foremost and secondary as a family pet/companion. There are rumors of Tosas having been used for big game hunting against wild boars and black bears but have yet to validate whether this has been successful or if it was just a rare occurrence. Certainly the lightweight and middleweight Tosas could have the prey drive, endurance, agility, etc. to perform in such type of activity. Occasionally some people would deploy a Tosa that was not a successful fighter as a junk yard type guard dog to protect heavy equipment at a construction site or something of that nature but again this in not a true protection type of activity but more of a physical deterrence. Japan is one of the safest nations in the world, with some of the lowest crime rates of any first world nation. Protection types of needs are seldom necessary to evolve a breed specific to that function. The Japanese police, military and those that require special protection needs almost exclusively deploy trained imported German breeds such as the German Shepherd Dog (GSD), Rottweiler, Malinois, etc.

The breeding standard from the Japanese Kennel Club (JKC)

From 1997 the Tosa Inu is being classified by the JKC as a watchdog or guard dog or a house pet.

The JKC in Japan have few if any Tosas registered with them. They are not involved with the breed and obviously they have placed the Tosa as a pet or guard dog as they didn't want to put dog fighting as a use because of the way it will be perceived in the West. However, the truth is that the true Tosa is primarily a fighter and not a pet or guard. The information being presented to the West is simply false at best. The interest in the Tosa has not subsided but it is important to note that not everyone can keep or own a Tosa in Japan. Tosas require special attention as they are a large powerful fighting dog that has the potential to kill or maim other animals (like most dogs could) and are also naturally inclined to fight other dogs when they mature. No two animals can typically be kept together (even male-female combinations are not safe), which means special strong enclosures built to the standards of wild animals, are typically required to house and keep the Tosas in Japan, which requires space and resources. Fighting dogs professionally requires membership fees, travel, time, training, etc.. All of which are fairly out of reach from the common dog owner in Japan. Therefore although the Tosa is still popular it takes a certain type of person both physically, mentally, and social economically that can really embrace the fighting Tosa here in Japan. Although the Tosa is popular, it is not a dog that can become vogue with the masses as it simply requires prerequisites for responsible ownership. Most of the Tosas in Japan do not get registered with JKC but instead are registered with the Fukyukai, Kyokai, or other Tosa Fighting Clubs registry. For JKC registration, all Tosas must go through Hirose-san and Tosaken Kyokai registry to get registered with JKC. Typically people would get JKC registration only to send-out Tosas overseas to Europe in order to register with FCI over there.

Japanese standard and use of the Tosa vs those of the Western countries

The Western perception of the Tosa is quite different than what is actually in Japan as it was and as it is now. Although, all white Tosas are very rare there are Tosas with white in them. There is no color standard that would prevent a Tosa from competing. Although reds are the most common, certainly brindle, blacks, tri-colors, etc. are fairly abundant in the Japanese Tosa population today as it was in the past. The standard by which all professional Tosa breeders and dogmen in Japan abide to is first and foremost the fighting ability of the individual dogs they breed. Color and other non-functional physical characteristics are secondary and play minimal roles in the breeding criteria.

It is extremely difficult to preserve the true fighting caliber Tosa in the West due to the current social, political, and judicial environment there. Typically the Japanese dogmen do not have interest sending their best dogs to the West as the majority of the Western Tosa enthusiasts only compete in confirmation type of events and would not try to preserve or enhance the unique fighting spirit of the Tosa which clearly separates the Tosa from most of the molosser type breeds known today that have lost their original fighting spirit, tenaciousness, and overall physical ability for prolonged and sustained combat.

Many Japanese owners of high caliber Tosas are typically well to do as explained earlier and the sport in Japan is considered an honorable sport with a unique history and sportsmanship tied to Bushido. (Japanese Samurai Warrior Code) The sport in Japan is for the serious enthusiast that immerses him or herself into the culture and sport. The Tosa dog fighting sport is not for the quick profit motivated individuals that want to peddle the next popular rare breed to the highest bidder. In Japan these people and their agendas would be quickly banned from the sport and association. The majority of the Tosas sent overseas were not the most desirable top fighting line Tosas as it would clearly be wasted in the hands of the Western confirmation breeders that would undermine the true fighting spirit and abilities of the true fighting Tosa as it exists today in Japan. Furthermore, top proven Tosas have been sold for over $100,000 in Japan to Japanese dogmen so for those that appreciate top quality Tosas the market in Japan is certainly much more robust than what your average Western rare breed enthusiast is willing to spend to bring in the very best from Japan.

The Tosa in Japan has always been a working breed. Meaning it was created for the fighting ring and it continues to excel primarily in this area today. However, in the West can not justify dog fighting as legitimate working criteria and thus could have classified the Tosa as a non working breed for convenience sake. When speaking with the JKC they have never heard of Tosas being shown in JKC confirmation events, so it is safe to assume that the Tosa is only utilized as a fighter in Japan.

The Western Tosa has pretty much fallen victim to the confirmation rare breed crowd who know little of the true fighting aspects of the breed and culture and more importantly do not strive to breed for the traditional fighting spirit that the Tosa is endowed with. The gap between the Western Tosa and Japanese Tosa continues to ever widen. However, there are a few Western Tosa enthusiasts that are dedicated to the performance aspect of the Tosa and continue to strive for breeding traditional Japanese type of Tosas. These few individuals have now made some strides in the West. Unfortunately, these individuals who dedicate themselves to preserve the performance Tosa in the West are a minority compared to the confirmation crowd.

There are several activities that will help ensure a more physically capable Tosa than merely participating in confirmation social clubs. Weight pulling, big game hunting, spring pole, treadmill, and agility events are good legal alternatives that the Tosa could perhaps participate in. A physically sound Tosa should be able to perform in these types of physical events and challenges if given the proper training and motivation. Japanese dog men strongly discourage the use of the Tosa in Protection, Attack training type of work. The Tosa is a very powerful breed and employing them against humans is irresponsible and is contradictory to the Tosa nature which should be naturally stable and friendly to humans but aggressive towards dogs and animals. There are many other breeds more suitable for this type of work. Another parallel with the American Pitbull Terrier (APBT). In the West, the APBT was historically in the hands of the true dog fighting enthusiast for many decades and did not suffer the negative public image as it does now. Part of the reason is the APBTs recent popularity with gangsters and protection types seeking a human aggressive individual and bred APBTs away from the true game dog.

X-raying of the hips and medical issues

The Japanese opinion is that the fighting spirit of the Tosa and its ability in the ring is the first and most important decision criteria in breeding Tosas. Typically form follows function and those with terrible confirmation and bad hips may not excel in the ring. Likewise, just because a Tosa has perfect confirmation and hips but lacks the true fighting spirit and cannot perform will not be bred. X raying hips for consideration certainly has its merits but is not widely practiced in Japan as most of the Tosas that are bred would need strong hips to drive its opponent around in the ring during a bout. Many of the Western Tosas came from a very small gene pool and maybe more prone to congenital diseases. Certainly the conditions in Japan for a fighting Tosa would preclude individuals prone to disease to be fought or bred. Most of the Japanese Tosas are extremely healthy and rarely if ever need veterinary care.

APBT influence in working Tosa

The APBT has been incorporated in the Tosa from the beginning. The APBT as it is known today was once commonly known as a bulldog or bull/terrier, etc. The first dog that was bred to the native Shikoku fighting Spitz was the old type bulldog, which from all historical accounts was very similar to the present day APBT. Furthermore, there are pictures of the APBT in old Tosa books from the early 1900's that were obviously crossed into the Tosa. The caption in those pictures reads "American Fighting Dog" which can only be the APBT. Therefore, the APBT as did the English Mastiff, and other western breeds did influence the early Tosa, indeed from the beginning.

Again, more than 30 yrs ago the APBT was reintroduced to Japan and has created interest with dog men here. Early on, the modern Japanese APBT movement led to great investment by the Japanese to bring in only top of line proven APBT bloodlines from the best in the U.S. game dog world. The Japanese Tosa dog men were soon exposed to the world of fastlane gamebred APBTs. For it's size the APBT showed great tenacity, strength, and gameness even against the larger more powerful Tosas. Eventually, many sought to incorporate proven APBT blood into their Tosa lines. Not all crosses were successful, but some were absolutely amazing. In some smaller Tosa fighting clubs such as the Yukokai and Hasshyu, pure catchweight APBTs compete against lightweight Tosas and certainly mixes of the both are also prevalent in all Tosa fighting associations today. The standard has always been fairly flexible and there has always been more mastiff type, or bulldog type, APBT type, pointer type, etc. Even among APBTs there are certainly quite a variation of types and colors. Remember the fighting clubs in Japan are not confirmation social clubs. You bring Tosas that can win, the color etc. are fairly insignificant. Mixing the APBT with the Tosa is not so common these days as it has been done already and certainly creating a 50% Tosa and 50% APBT is nothing new in Japan and will not ensure more success than breeding Tosa to Tosa, best to best. You can say that the APBT blood infused into the Tosa is nothing new as it has always been there but is simply how much of it is recent APBT. If anything, the recent addition of gamebred APBT bloodline into the Tosa added to the performance that would benefit the entire breed as those with little to no recent APBT blood would either remain competitive to the APBT crosses or be culled. Thus the constant cycle of performance and exploration of pitting against other fighting breeds only develops the Tosa into an ever more competitive breed, through both incorporation and competitive selection to weed out those Tosas that cannot be competitive with the APBT and it's crosses.

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