The Tosa Inu (or Tosa Ken) is a large sized, short coated, muscular dog that originated in the Kochi prefecture (then known as the Tosa province), in Japan. Tosa's are also known as Japanese Mastiffs or Japanese fighting dogs, after the Japanese Tosa Touken or Tosa Tôken, which literally means 'Tosa Fighting dog'.
Without doubt, the Tosa Inu is one of the most fascinating but at the same time least well understood dog breeds, much like the culture they originate from. Likewise their character reflects many attributes of the Japanese culture and mentality.
The Tosa Inu History
The Tosa Inu (Tosa Inu, Tosa Ken, Tosa Tôken, Japanese Mastiff, Sumo Dog) breed started from the native Shikoku Inu (or the more general term Nihon Inu) that was originally bred to hunt wild boar and was called after its native home: Shikoku, the smallest of the four Japanese islands. The Tosa Inu breed was named after the area where they were bred, the old Tosa province, now known as the Kochi prefecture, while the 'Inu' or 'Ken' suffix means 'Dog'.
At that time, the Tosa province was one of the two most popular dog fighting areas, the other one being the Odate area, now know as the prefecture Akita, and is located at the Tohoku region in the northernmost area on the island of Honshu. At first, the Akita Inu breed was stronger than the Tosa Inu, but gradually as the Japanese Government repealed the National Isolation Policy in 1854, the situation reversed because of cross-breeding of the Tosa breed with European breeds.
These European breeds included:
- The Bulldog * in 1872, sought for its punitive bite, powerful front-end, and truncated-stop
- The Mastiff in 1874, was introduced because of their exceptional musculature, and the enormity of their cranial structure
- St. Bernard in 1876, for its size
- German Pointer in 1876, because of their concordant temperament, and highly developed olfactory sense; which is fundamental for predation
Great Dane * in 1924, introduced to mitigate its now prodigious size and add dexterity and athleticism
- Bull Terrier breeds *, were further used for their increased tenacity.
* = Note that the Great Dane were not as giant as today's Danes and that the English Bulldog and for example the Bull Terrier looked substantially different from today's exemplars.
The crossbreeding was a result of the Japanese dogs routinely loosing against some European breeds. The aim was to breed the most powerful dog. For the same goal, the Akitas and Tosas were also cross bred, with the resulting offspring labeled as "Shin Akita".
Within a short period of time they succeeded in fixing a type that concentrated the characteristics of the Japanese 'sumo' (see below at the Sumo Wrestling header for more information). Between 1924 and 1933, it was said that there were more than 5,000 Tosa breeders in Japan, and in 1930 an official association was founded for the preservation and diffusion of the breed.
Two times in the twentieth century all the Japanese breeds, including the Tosa, were in imminent danger of extinction. First the food crisis during World War II and the invasion by the allied forces, however, the Tosa began to flourish in Korea and Taiwan where it had been exported, previously. Then a distemper epidemic brought the Tosa to the verge of extinction. The Association for the preservation of the Tosa decided to safekeep 12 Tosa's which by their character and type were the most authentic representatives of the breed and took them to the Aormi prefecture at the north of Japan, an area little involved in the war. From those 12 exemplars descend the majority of the genuine Tosa's today. Some American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) blood was used to further improve the Tosa and produce the dog of today. The pure performance type often shows more APBT influence.
The original performance Japanese Tosa Inu is courageous, prudent, well-tempered and docile. It displays an enormous strength and high pain threshold.
They are probably the only dogs in the world which are still used quite legally to this day for dog fights. However, the Japanese developed a type of fight according to their mentality. As such they differ from the notorious pit dog fights held illegally in other parts of the world.
Tosa Inu Appearance
Body: Tosa Inu's are large and massive dogs with an impressive display. They have a horizontal, level back with high withers and the loins are wide and muscular. At the top the croup is sloping. The tail is thick at the base, and is gradually tapering to the tip. It is set quite high and extends up towards the hock. The chest is deep and the ribs are moderately vaulted. The legs are straight, with moderately angulated hocks and knees. Tosa's have compact feet with closed toes and sturdy pads. The neck is muscled and shows loose skin, but not in an excessive degree.
Head: the head has a broad skull and a pronounced stop. The front muzzle has a square impression and is of medium length. The top of the nose is straight. The relative small and thin ears are set high. They are worb pending against the skull. The eyes are rather small and have a dignified expression. Tosa Inu have a scissorbite.
Height at Withers: the Tosa Inu dog should have a height at the withers of at least 61 centimetres. For bitches the height at the withers is a minimum of 55 centimeters. There is no maximum height so that these sizes are usually exceeded considerably.
Coat: Tosa Inu's have a short coat, which is strong and dense.
Colors: The most desired coat colour is a smooth reddish fawn, but they are also found in yellow, and brindle black and tan. White markings are allowed on the chest, toes, tailtip and in the form of a spot on the forehead. The nose is always black in color, the eyes are dark brown and the preference will is given to dark nails.
Tosa Inu Temperament
Character: Tosa Inu's are very confident, patient, balanced, intelligent and quiet dogs. They are rarely disturbed, unless they feel that their family is threatened or when unwanted visitors present themselves during the absence of their people. They are likewise excellent watchdogs, who are born with an innate instinct to protect their people and territory. They're extremely courageous and hard on themselves. They usually bark little. For his people, this dog is affectionate and likes to get toutched. They do not do well as a kennel dog. Tosa's usually don't drool or only little.
Social Build: in the Tosa Inu mindset the family to which he belongs to is on top of his priorities. They care little about strangers. Typically, they are reluctant or vigilant in relation to strangers, but when the owner says it's good, they accept them. Friends of the family are usually approached friendly. As a rule, they do well with children; as their tolerance is high. In particular, the males can be dominant towards dogs of the same gender. In any case, keep a Tosa far away from combative dogs. Should they be attacked then they do not shy away from confrontation and given their size and strength it will usually end in their favor. With cats and other pets usually you can expect little or no problems, especially if the dog is well socialized.
Tosa Inu Socially
Care: The coat care of this breed is very simple. Brush the coat weekly using a hard bristle brush and keep the nails short if needed. In the shedding period a rubber brush or a rubber massage glove is ideal for easily removing the dead and loose hairs from the coat. The dogs benefit from a soft place to rest on. This way you can prevent the forming of ugly callus places on the presure points (such as the elbows).
Education: dogs of this breed must be brought up in a very balanced, loving and consistent way. They are very sensitive to the intonation of the voice. If you clear and are in power of the dog, punitive or corrections are almost superfluous. Nevertheless, this is not a dog for everyone. The dog needs an owner who has mental power over the dog. Learn the dog to do not pull on its leash when its still at a young age and spend a lot of time in a proper socialization.
Activity: in a well fenced area the Tosa Inu can partly take care of his own physical activity. Every now and then he can be taken to the beach or forest and moor, where he will have different impressions. Normally a Tosa will suffice on an average exercise. The race is not hot for ball games and the like. These dogs are quiet in the house.
Usability: This breed is best at home with people who keep him as a family dog and provide adequate space in and around the house.
Tosa Inu Quotes / Trivia
Silver Fang (Ginga Nagareboshi Gin) a Japanese manga and anime series about dogs features both a Tosa Inu champion and a Tosa Inu mix as well as other Tosa's.
In Japan this breed is also called Sumo Dog. Sumo fighters are Japanese wrestlers who engage in a very unusual style of wrestling that is over 1,500 years old. The objective of sumo wrestling is to stay on one's feet despite one's opponent's attacks and not to allow one's opponent to knock one to the floor or drive him from the ring.
This sumo wrestling is also the basis for the traditional Japanese dog. The Tosa is thus a "wrestling dog", and the fights are carried out according to strict sumo rules, and accompanied by rituals and processions. The winner is the dog that presses its opponent to the ground with its body, knocks it off its feet, and holds it to the ground, the one who dominates for more than 3 min. (or 5 min. if the fight lasted for more than 15 min.) is declared the winner. A whining or growling dog is declared the loser. The same goes for a dog that turns its hind to the opponent or moves back three steps when attacked. The fight ends in any case after 30 minutes in a nil draw if neither of the dogs has proved superior to the other. Despite some rumors that they don't bite during these fights, Tosa fights do involve biting. The dog fights among Tosa's are not set up to be cruel or bloody or to end with the death of one of the participants.
Tosa Inu's who were successful in the sumo fight received a valuable, beautifully decorated cloth apron with the crowning touch of an elaborately braided, thick hemp rope. What was demanded was not the a fast and easy victory, wild fighter or mauler, but the physically strong dog, courage paired with skill, patience and stamina.
In the Japanese style of dogfighting, the Tosa was expected to fight soundlessly, relentlessly, and without cowering. Through selective breeding, the Japanese refined the Tosa into a large, agile and athletic dog, that is disinclined to barking, intelligent and fearless.
Like sumo wrestlers, the dogs are graded into a hierarchy according to the points they have recently earned (see below). The greatest Tosa "wrestlers" receive the title of Yokozuna, like the famous sumo's.
The following ranks comprise the various fight classes in Japan:
- Maegashira - Amateur fighter
- Komusubi - Professional fighter, 4 rounds
- Sekiwake - Fighter rising in the ranks
- Ozeki - Pro fighter: 10 rounds Championship contender
- Yokozuna - Champion
- Yushoken - Individual tournament champion
- Senshuken - National Japanese Grand Champion: This prestigious title may only be given during the lifetime of the dog. The combatant must be ranked higher than Yokuzuna, and chosen by judges.
- Meiken Yokozuna - Warrior Grand Champion: The competitor must have three fights as a Senshuken, with a record of no less than two wins and one draw. This prestigious honor has only been achieved by thirty two dogs from among more than four hundred fifty National Japan Grand Champions.
- Gaifu Taisho - Best Fighting Technique.
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