Deemed as the canine counterpart of a sumo wrestler, the Tosa is a rare breed initially developed as a fighting dog in Japan. A true guardian, he exudes courage, self-command, and boldness, but inside lies is an affectionate and loyal canine, with a tranquil but watchful demeanor. Once highly admired for his brawn, build and combat skills, today he acts as an incredible companion, using his instincts and power for the protection of his family.
Origins of the Tosa
Japan has a rich dog fighting sports history, tracing back to the 14th century. Prior to the arrival of the Westerners, the Shikoku Inu was the renowned champion in its dogfighting arenas. However, as foreigners came to the country in 1854, many dog enthusiasts and fighters started to cross the local Japanese breeds to the Western ones.
The Tosa takes his name from Tosa Province on Shikoku island, in which he was first bred. He was developed by crossing the Shikoku Inu dogs to different Western dogs in subsequent years, which then improved his size, strength, and refined his fighting abilities. The Western breeds incorporated in its lineage are the Mastiff, Bulldog, Great Dane and the German Pointers. Based on some records, it is also said that the Bull Terrier and Saint Bernard were also used for the Tosa’s development.
During World War II, the breed was almost put into oblivion. Japan already had challenges providing food for its people, what more if they were to include these heavy Tosas. Fortunately, some people were able to hide them in Hokkaido island and spared them from being killed until the time these dogs were no longer seized.
Today, Japan considers the Tosa as a national treasure and treats the breed with honor and ceremony. While dogfighting is now banned, there are still illegal fighting arenas across the world using the Tosa for its relentless fighting skills. However, with such heritage, some countries, such as Australia, Turkey, Hong Kong, Cyprus, Malaysia, Denmark, New Zealand, Singapore, Norway and UK, consider the breed as dangerous, banning anyone from owning them.
In 1998, the United Kennel Club fully recognized the Tosa and classified it as a guardian breed. The American Kennel Club is yet to give the breed its full recognition but accepted it in its Foundation Stock Service program and allows the breed to compete in its companion events.
Characteristics of the Tosa
Height: Not lower than 21.5-23.5 inches
Weight: 100-200 pounds
Life Expectancy: 10-12 years
The Tosa is the largest of dog breeds in Japan, renowned for his massive, hardy build and dignified stature. His head is large, with a sudden stop and a boxy muzzle. Sitting atop his skull are his high drop-set ears, which are relatively small and thin, but closely-lying to the cheeks. Meanwhile, the neck is nicely-muscled and comes with a distinct dewlap.
His eyes are usually dark brown, and relatively small, providing him with his untroubled expression. The coat is short and dense, that may come in an array of colors, such as brindle, fawn, apricot, red, black, yellow, and tan. Overall, the Tosa embodies a genuine dog samurai.
Given his bulky appearance and his fighting history, the Tosa may strike fear into people at their first encounters. However, it will not be long enough for them to appreciate the real peaceful and gentle demeanor of the breed, that unravels when he’s adequately socialized and trained.
Beyond his aesthetics and heritage, the Tosa can be a loving and devoted companion to his family. He builds strong bonds with his beloved humans and is happy to bond with them closely in various activities. But, having a relaxed side, don’t be surprised to see him resting on his bed or lounging on the floor during lazy afternoons.
Being calm doesn’t imply that he lets his guards down. The Tosa is a protective and fearless dog that is always vigilant of strangers and his surroundings. Add his deep bark and huge size, and it is easy for him to drive any intruders out of the property. While aloof to totally unfamiliar people, he is open to accept family guests, as long as they are properly introduced.
That isn’t the same case for other dogs, though, as the Tosa may be aggressive towards them. With that, it is best to keep him away from those that may want to pick a fight. He has a high pain tolerance and can be relentless towards other canines, resulting in their detriment.
Fortunately, he can be taught to avoid such behavior. The catch is he needs someone that can topple him from being the alpha and make him realize his subordinate status in the house. It is when the Tosa receives firm handling when his amiable and docile personality shine.
Caring for the Tosa
The Tosa’s short and dense coat needs minimal upkeep. Occasional brushing is usually enough to remove dead or loose fur and keep his coat in its tip-top condition. If you want to keep him glossy and shiny, using quality dog shampoos during necessary baths and leave-on conditioners will do the job.
Then, his teeth should be brushed weekly using vet-approved toothpaste. Nails must be trimmed every few weeks to avoid painful tears, splitting, cracking. Lastly, ears should be cleaned weekly to free it from any dirt or debris, and prevent any infection.
Like many large dog breeds, the Tosa has powerful muscles and needs ample exercise each day to stay trimmed and healthy. He needs daily walks and occasional runs to flourish, but will also require mental stimulation to avoid him from being bored, which can then result in destructive behavior. Having an enclosed, well-fenced yard where he can explore and run off the leash can be a great help in keeping him both physically and mentally satisfied.
In general, the Tosa is a hardy breed as many breeders continue to follow responsible breeding etiquettes that decrease the likelihood of passing genetic issues. However, he can still be susceptible to hip dysplasia and bloat, which are common to dogs of his size. Due to his flat face, he is also vulnerable to eye and respiratory issues. Always consult a veterinarian to understand the risks, and the prevention and care needed for the dog’s optimal health.