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Japanese Chin: Breed Characteristics, Temperament & More

MJ Shaffer

Last Updated: May 1, 2023 | 8 min read | Leave a Comment

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Although the Japanese Chin is tiny at a mere seven to eleven pounds, his presence carries tremendous weight. Chins rule their families gently and allow themselves to be loved and cherished. They reward their subjects with quiet companionship and a joyful disposition. Once positioned in Imperial Palaces, the Japanese Chin was considered more valuable than gold.

Bred solely as a companion, the Chin requires respectful interaction. Any harshness will shut him down. Chins are reserved with strangers but affectionate with people lucky enough to be considered their own.

The Chin’s imperious bearing has garnered him a reputation as almost feline. The nobleman of Japanese breeds, even his silky coat with its distinctive mane and plumed tail, set him apart from the crowd. Although his looks appear high maintenance, he’s surprisingly easy to keep in good form. He makes a great apartment companion.

Japanese Chin
    • weight iconWeight7-11 pounds
    • height iconHeight8-11 inches
    • lifespan iconLifespan10-12 years
    • color iconColorsblack and white, red and white, or black and white with tan points
  • Child Friendliness
  • Canine Friendliness
  • Training Difficulty
  • Grooming Upkeep
  • Breed Health
  • Exercise Needs
  • Puppy Costs

Breed History

Japanese Chin with imperial hat and coat on
Some breed enthusiasts believe China originally produced the Chin, and others suggest Korean origins.

The Japanese Chin’s history is a matter of speculation and may not reflect a purely Japanese origin. While Japanese nobility made the breed what we know it to be today, there are multiple reasonable theories about what breeds and circumstances produced this breed. Recent studies show that many modern European and American breeds were more influenced by Southeast Asian breeds than previously believed. They descended directly from dogs imported from Asia since the silk trade.

Small dogs accompanied travelers along the Silk Road. The dogs were likely both traveling companions and commodities on the trade route. Some of these Silk Road travelers became pets of Buddhist monks who continued to develop breeds in their monasteries. The monks created such breeds as the Tibetan Spaniel, which some suggest may be in the lineage of the Chin. They gifted these dogs to notable dignitaries, which put the Chin in unique company.

In later centuries, shipping routes changed how traders from the Western world moved goods. When the traders came to a community, they brought gifts to curry favor with local nobility. Western breeds of lapdogs were often given in these transactions. When these new lapdogs were crossed with the existing pai-type dogs of Silk Road roots, specific breed types began to solidify. Further selective breeding reflected the preferences of the households doing the breeding. Pekingese, Tibetan Spaniel, Shih Tzu, and the Japanese Chin were all breeds created this way.

Some believe the Pekingese and the Japanese Chin were the same breeds, and the Chin is more like the original dog. In art from the region from the 17th to the 20th centuries, these long-haired, low-bodied breed types were beginning to develop. Two types stood out particularly and likely became the modern Japanese Chin.

Temperament

Japanese Chin
The Chin is often described as feline in demeanor.

It’s difficult to put the Japanese Chin’s temperament into words, but to say he allows himself to be in your charge because he deems you worthy may be appropriate. Undeniably aristocratic, this bright-spirited pup may carry a look of perpetual surprise from the white corners of his large, dark eyes. Still, he is quiet and generous with his family.

Chins enjoy being up in high places and can be found in unexpected spots, like on the back of a chair. Quickly bored, Chins can be picky eaters. If you have to leave home for extended periods of the day, the Chin may not be a good fit for your lifestyle. They are prone to separation anxiety.

Somewhat aloof with strangers but affectionate with family, the Chin ensures his people know they are lucky to have him. Among the best toy dogs for senior citizens, their gentle temperament and fragile body make them less suitable for children, who may inadvertently hurt them with rough play.

Size & Appearance

Three Japanese Chin sitting on sofa
The Chin’s stylish appearance has made him a favorite of nobility on multiple continents.

Small but well-balanced with a square stance, this solidly built little dog isn’t coarse. His distinctive broad head, wide-set eyes, and short muzzle place his expression in a category similar to other dogs like the Pekingese and the Shih Tzu. The Chin’s gait is expressive and stylish. He tracks true with correct fore and hind legs and is light on his hare-shaped feathered toes.

Coats & Colors

Three colors of Japanese Chin sitting in a basket with red velvet background
The Chin’s coat is as aristocratic as his attitude.

His abundant coat is silky yet has volume to stand out from his body, especially around his neck, shoulders, and chest, forming a thick ruff. His plumed tail is set high and arches over the back. The feathers decorate the backs of his legs, and his hind legs sport “culottes” that extend from the rump. A Chin’s coat takes time to develop fully, and he won’t have the characteristic luxurious adult coat until he is over a year old. Spaying or neutering your pet makes this coat thicker.

Chins may be black and white, red and white, or black and white with tan points, which include red or tan spots over each eye, inside the ear, and on both cheeks. When used to describe the Chin, red consists of all shades of red, orange, and lemon. Sable, any of these reds overlayed with or blended with black, is also included in this broad description of red. A symmetrical white blaze and muzzle are preferable to a solid-colored face and head.

Living Conditions

Japanese Chin sitting outside with a person's hand trying to get the dog to train
Japanese Chins are best kept indoors most of the time. But they are relatively active and enjoy a fenced yard.

When taking a Chin for a walk, watch out for larger dogs who could be aggressive with him. Because they are stubborn, keep your Chin securely leashed on walks to protect them from danger. A walk every day will help keep him in shape and healthy.

Training

Japanese Chin at a dog show with trainer on a table
This breed is an exceptional companion.

Although Chins can be trained for agility, obedience, and other performance events, his original purpose was to be a companion, and he excels at it. Generally agreeable and less noisy than other toy breeds, the Chin can become spoiled if not corrected gently but firmly for inappropriate behavior.

Health

Japanese Chin sick laying on a white fur blanket
Brachycephalic syndrome affects dogs with short noses, including this breed.

Chins have a few disorders prevalent in the breed and have the typical brachycephalic breed heat intolerance and potential breathing issues. Because their noses are shorter than in a typically muzzled dog, their soft palate hangs into their airway. His nostrils may be small, and his windpipe narrow. Restricted breathing causes these dogs to breathe loudly, snore, be intolerant of exercise, and may need surgical correction.

Cataracts

Japanese Chins are prone to cataracts. Cataracts occur in young and older dogs, but the cause is often genetic in young animals. The eye’s lens should be clear to allow light to pass through to the retina. These opacities, or areas of cloudiness, in the eye are caused by proteins that clump and create places where light cannot adequately pass.

Cataracts can lead to pain and vision loss, but they are treatable with surgery. For surgery to have its greatest chance of success, it should be performed before cataracts have matured and potentially caused irreversible damage. The lens degenerates, and secondary conditions can occur that require eye removal. The earlier the surgery is done, the better. Surgical success rates can be up to 80% to 90% if the condition is caught in its earliest stages.

Epilepsy

Idiopathic epilepsy, meaning seizures without an obvious cause, is relatively common in dogs. Epilepsy cannot be cured, but there are ways to lessen the frequency and severity of the attacks. Anti-epileptic drugs accomplish these goals in about 15% to 30% of dogs. Recently, researchers have been investigating the role of diet in mitigating seizures. Changes in what and when a dog eats can change the efficacy of medications, and switching to a diet high in Multi Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) shows promising results in making seizures less frequent and less severe.

Heart Murmurs

As Japanese Chins age, they often develop a heart murmur due to their mitral heart valve becoming weak or thickened. When this occurs, blood leaks back around the valve, and the heart cannot effectively pump blood and becomes strained. Heart failure is the leading cause of death in older Chins. Some medications can prolong life with heart disease; proper dental care and fatty acid supplementation can help your Chin avoid it.

Luxating Patellas

If your dog holds up a hind for a few steps as he runs but then switches back to using it typically, he may be experiencing a dislocated kneecap or patellar luxation. Patellar luxation is usually a genetic condition affecting small breeds. This condition can lead to stiffness and arthritis later in life, and treatment varies with the severity of the disease. While mild cases of patellar luxation may be treated with NSAIDs to alleviate discomfort, severe cases generally require surgical intervention.

Tay-Sachs Disease

Japanese Chins can suffer from a genetic condition analogous to Tay-Sachs disease in people. They suffer from GM2 Gangliosidosis, a fatal liposomal storage disease caused by an enzyme deficiency. Affected dogs may show progressive mental dullness and ataxia. Although they seem normal when young, dogs eventually have enough damage to the complex molecules called gangliosides which help brain cells communicate with each other to show telltale symptoms.

Somewhere near a year or year and a half old, affected dogs may start showing signs of cognitive decline. Eventually, they develop a goose-stepping gait, poor balance, and their head may shake when eating. They grow less aware of their surroundings until your vet may finally recommend euthanasia. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) can test for this gene. Breeders should screen all breeding animals and take care not to breed two animals with the damaged gene. Pups can be screened as early as four weeks after birth.

Nutrition

Japanese Chin trying to get a piece of food in hand on a yellow background
Your dog’s body condition will be the best guide when feeding your Chin.

The average adult will eat a mere one-quarter to one-half cup of high-quality dry kibble per day, broken into two feedings. The amount will depend on his weight, age, and activity level. Consider a kibble explicitly made for toy breeds, which will be manageable for his petite bite.

Choose a high-quality formula that matches your pup’s age. Feed him according to the weight chart on your food brand and monitor his body condition to adjust his intake as needed. Chins can be prone to weight gain, so limit treats as necessary. A high-quality kibble including meat protein, fiber, healthy carbs, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals will meet your Japanese Chin’s nutritional needs without additional supplements to add calories.

Grooming

Japanese Chin standing outside with fur that needs grooming
Although the Chin looks like a high-maintenance breed, his coat is wash-and-wear.

His single coat is silky and luxuriant but easier to comb through than one would think from a glance. Chins do well being brushed out with a pin brush twice per week and bathed once every one or two months with a pet-safe shampoo and a cream rinse.

Breeders & Puppy Costs

Japanese Chin puppy under a blanket
Be sure the breeder you choose stands behind the health of their dogs.

Look for a reputable breeder who screens breeding animals for genetically linked conditions, especially GM2 Gangliosidosis. A pup with one copy of the gene will be healthy, but a pup with two copies will suffer the disease. You may expect to pay from $1,200 to $2,000 for a Japanese Chin from a breeder.

Rescues & Shelters

Japanese Chin rescue with person holding dog's head
Although Japanese Chins are adorable, they’re not a fit for every family.

Chins may be in rescue because their previous families did not understand the breed’s delicacy or could not stay home as much as their Chin required. Be sure to consider adopting a Japanese Chin. A lonely pup could be waiting for his forever home at a shelter near you.

As a bonus, adopting a dog is less expensive than buying from a breeder. As your new best friend adjusts, give him lots of attention. Take him out on a secure leash and allow him to enjoy the outdoors safely, as Chins can be a bit stubborn. Adequate exercise will keep him from becoming bored and anxious. You may begin your search with an organization like The Japanese Chin Rescue.

As Family Pets

In general, this breed is:

  • Intelligent and trainable.
  • Playful but delicate.
  • Suitable for senior citizens.
  • Easier to groom than most long-haired toy dogs.
  • Well suited for apartment living.
  • Prone to snoring and heat exhaustion.
  • Regal and gracious.

Final Thoughts

If you have a quiet, gentle household that needs a tiny, regal imperial, consider the Japanese Chin. Your new companion will rule your home with generosity, grace, and elegance. Beautifully arrayed yet easy to groom, the Chin makes a lovely companion for older adults looking for an indoor pup. They appreciate cuddle time and a place on the back of the couch where they can survey their domain from above, and their small size and peaceful demeanor make them ideal travel companions.

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The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety advice or professional care. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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