Tosa Kens

Often referred to as the canine equivalent of a sumo wrestler, the Tosa Ken is a guardian breed from Japan. Bulldogs, Mastiffs, Great Danes and Japan’s own Shikoku are all said to be in his background. He was originally a fighting dog, taking part in highly ritualized but silent combat. Characterized by a massive head, a wrinkled face, a red, fawn or black coat, and impressive size, he has strong protective instincts and the power to enforce them. In the United States he is generally a family companion and show dog, but in Japan he can still be found in the fighting ring. The Tosa, as he is nicknamed, is a giant breed, weighing 100 to 200 pounds.

The Tosa has many good qualities, but he is not the easiest dog to live with. If you want the calm, confident dog that is the Tosa at his best, be prepared to do a lot of homework to find him and put in plenty of effort training and socializing him once you bring him home. Here is what you need to know if you are interested in acquiring a Tosa.

Is the Tosa Ken the Right Dog for You?

Probably not. The Tosa is not an appropriate choice for an inexperienced dog owner. This dog is large, powerful, fearless and intelligent. He needs a leader who can guide him with firmness and consistency and without using force or cruelty.

The Tosa is quiet, watchful and protective of his family. He is aloof towards strangers but should never be aggressive toward people. That prohibition doesn’t apply to fellow canines. He can be aggressive towards dogs he doesn’t know, especially those of the same sex.

Begin training as soon as you bring your Tosa puppy home, while he is still at a manageable size. That 20-pound puppy will quickly grow much larger. The Tosa is gentle and willing to learn and responds well to positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, play and food rewards. It’s always a good idea to take a Tosa to puppy kindergarten followed by basic obedience class, especially if you are working with a trainer who understands the Tosa mindset.

Early, frequent socialization is essential to prevent a Tosa from becoming overly suspicious or fearful of anything new or different. Purchase a Tosa puppy from a breeder who raises the pups in the home and ensures that they are exposed to many different household sights and sounds, as well as people. Continue socializing your Tosa throughout his life by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, visits to friends and neighbors, and outings to local shops and businesses. This is the only way he can learn to be discriminating, recognizing what is normal and what is truly a threat.

The Tosa is best suited to a home with a large yard surrounded by a solid fence that is at least five or six feet high. This is a territorial breed, and he must learn his boundaries. Do not rely on an underground electronic fence to keep him contained. The shock it provides is nothing to this tough dog, and he won’t let it deter him from leaving the yard if that’s what he wants to do.

Like any dog, Tosa puppies are inveterate chewers and because of their size can do more damage than puppies of other breeds. Don’t give them the run of the house until they’ve reached trustworthy maturity. And keep your Tosa puppy busy with training, play and socialization experiences. A bored Tosa is a destructive Tosa.

While it’s good for the Tosa to have access to a fenced yard, he should live indoors with his family. Chaining a Tosa out in the yard and giving him little or no attention is not only cruel, it can also lead to aggression and destructive behavior.

The Tosa has a short, smooth coat that requires little grooming. Brush or comb him weekly to remove dead hair and keep the skin and coat healthy. Wipe out his facial wrinkles with a damp cloth and dry them thoroughly to prevent skin fold infections. Clean the ears and trim the nails as needed, and brush his teeth to prevent periodontal disease.

5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Tosa Ken Puppy

  1. The Tosa is recognized by the United Kennel Club and the Federation Cynologique Internationale. The UKC has a list of breeders on its web site. But be patient. The Tosa is an uncommon breed, so you may have a wait of six months or even a year or more before a puppy is available.
  2. Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health problems in Tosa aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. Since a Tosa can live to be 10 to 12 years old, even an adult dog will be with your family for a long time.
  3. Puppy or adult, take your Tosa to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
  4. Don’t ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes, or that ships with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you’ll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.
  5. Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Health Issues Common to Tosa Kens

All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.

Like many large and giant breeds, the Tosa can develop hip dysplasia and may be prone to gastric torsion (bloat).

Ask the breeder to show evidence that a puppy’s parents have OFA or PennHIP clearances for hips. Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Hip Dysplasia
Medium $1,500-$6,000
Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (Bloat) Medium $1,500-$7,500
Estimates based on claims paid by Embrace Pet Insurance


Pet Insurance for Tosa Kens

Pet insurance for Tosas costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Tosas are a great deal more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace pet insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Tosas are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Tosa Ken is when he’s a healthy puppy. You can’t predict what will happen in the future and pet insurance is the one thing you can’t get when you need it the most.