Interview: Katja Weber Talks About Dog Breeding & Shikokus

Akashima Shikoku Dog Breeding

“The Shikoku is not a large Shiba!” says Katja Weber, owner of Akashima Kennel and breeder of both Shiba Inu and Shikoku dogs.

We are very happy here at Breeding Business to be able to ask dog breeding questions to breeders of rare dog breeds.

These amazing Japanese breeds are not very common in Western countries but definitely deserve being known. These loving dogs are hones and open in their approach to people. Curious, they are tenacious trackers and energetic companions.

Please introduce yourself and your dog breeding activity.

My name is Katja Weber, I started breeding Siberian Huskies in 1980 in Germany under my DCNH/FCI Kennel name “Goosak”. A life change forced me to place all my Siberians and move back into the city.

Katja Weber and her Shikokus (Akashima Kennel)
Family Photo: Katja Weber surrounded by the Shikoku loves of her life!

In 1992 I bought my first Shiba Inu. I started breeding Shiba Inus in 1995 until 2014. I moved to Canada in 1996 and took my foundation stock Shiba’s with me. In the year 2000 I imported my first Shikoku and registered my first Shikoku litter in 2005.

How many people are working with you to run your breeding business?

Breeding the Shikoku takes all my time. My husband helps handle some of the work and I have a casual worker that I have look after the kennel when I am away.

Why have you chosen Shikoku Inu dogs, they are not the easiest to find…

I fell in love with the breed by watching a video at a Shiba breeder friends place in the USA. The video was of a Japanese Dog Show (Nippo). It took me 2 years after seeing the video before I got my first Shikoku.

How did you select your founding stock? What makes a bitch or a stud a great founding dog for a new bloodline?

My first two Shikokus were a gift but they were brother and sister so I could not breed them. I developed contacts with Japanese breeders through a Japanese friend.

My Japanese friend helped me strengthen the relationships with the Japanese breeders and assisted me in importing Shikoku puppies from Japan. The Japanese dog breeders became my mentors and through their knowledge of breeding lines helped me select puppies that fit with my bloodlines.

In essence my breeding program became an extension of the breeding program of the most successful breeding group in Japan. Collectively, this breeder group has over 250 years of Shikoku breeding experience. Their mentorship and intimate knowledge of the Shikoku guides me.

What improvements is your breeding programme focusing on for the breed?

I’m breeding as close to the Nippo standard as possible. My focus is to breed healthy Shikokus. A secondary goal is to develop my breed line so that they are less aggressive towards other dogs while I ensure that they retain their hunting instinct.

What are the differences between Shikoku Ken and Shiba Inu?

Obviously the size and the coat color. Less apparent is the fact that the Shikoku has a very different character. This is a breed that wants to be with people and wants to please its master.

Akashima Kuma Shikoku Ken
Akashima’s Kuma in the snow – a stunner!

They are not as independent and stubborn as a Shiba, they seek guidance from their master and are very easy to train. At the same time, they retain a naive sense and in many ways are primitive. Unlike the Shiba, Shikokus do not “complain” and show little reaction to discomfort or pain.

What things do Japanese Shikoku Ken breeders do better than us?

Comparisons between western breeders and Japanese breeders are difficult. As a society, Japanese have a very different relationship with their pets; something akin to property ownership rather than family member.

The breeders in Japan, in the majority, are hunters. As such, they are conservative in their handling of these dogs regarding exposing them to strangers. The Shikoku breeder holds their dogs in very high regard and does not mistreat them in any way but their Shikoku does not enjoy the interaction with family that my Shikokus do.

One significant difference is that most Japanese breeders do not do health screening of their breeding stock. Contrary to my program which does extensive health screening to prevent health issues (proactive policy), the Japanese breeders cull out health and character challenged dogs based on observation and breeding results (reactive policy.)

Could you give us a few names of dogs or lines of Shikoku that represent the ideal specimen​ in your eyes?

There are two foundation Japanese breeding lines, Hata and Hongawa. Today a very famous breeding line in Japan is “Yanosou”, where I was fortunate to get some high quality puppies from.

What are the most common medical conditions and hereditary diseases touching the Shikoku Ken breed? Are there any DNA tests available to be able to spot them?

The breed is still rare in Europe and North America. There has not been a lot of DNA testing done; they have just started in the USA with some Testing. Responsible breeders do health testing with their breeding stock like hips, patella and eyes; I do that with all my breeding dogs.

So far there have been few health issues, the two most prevalent are that some Shikokus have minor food allergies and most seem prone to motion sickness although this can easily be managed.

How many dogs have you got in your breeding activity and how many litters are you producing per year?

At the moment I have 4 adult females, 2 young females, 2 males and I co-own several females and males. I usually have two to three litters a year.

Shikoku Litter from Akashima Kennels
Beautiful Shikoku puppies taking a little rest before a loooong play session.

What do you look for when planning a mating, could you guide us through your mating partners selection process? From finding the right stud, to studying the pedigree, the traits, etc.

The Shikoku is still a rare breed here in North America. My breeding plan is guided to a large part through the mentorship of my Japanese partners. They assisted me in selecting my breeding stock and I have learned through them what to look for in pedigrees to ensure that the offsprings help me reach the goals I mentioned previously.

The primary challenge here in North America is the limited stock and I try to avoid shipping dogs back and forth over large distances. I am very fortunate that I have developed an understudy who is located near me. Through my mentorship we have jointly begun to develop complimentary breed lines and we share the same general breeding goals.

Do you use contracts of sale whenever someone buys a puppy from you? Do you think they are required nowadays, to protect both the buyer and the seller?

While on the surface a contract appears to reduce the relationship between me, the breeder and the new family to nothing more than a commercial transaction, my contract, in fact, is intended firstly to ensure the wellbeing and health of the puppy and to clearly define the obligations of both parties.

A contract is essential. All too often misunderstandings can develop; a contract avoids this. My contract clearly indicates what each party must do, covering not only the commercial aspects of the adoption but also what each party needs to do during the life of the puppy.

A lot of people support the “adopt, don’t shop” trend, and blame dog breeders for the overpopulation in shelters. What is your take on this?

Responsible breeders are not the problem; it’s the puppy mills that are the problem. These people don’t care about the wellness of a puppy they sell or what the people do with their puppy when they don’t want it anymore. My contract indicates that the puppies have to come back to me if people have problems and cannot care about their dog anymore.

Shikoku Ken Dogs: Puppies & Mother
Akashima’s Retsu with two Shikoku puppies.

What is your strategy to find the new forever homes for your puppies? Through social medias, classified ads, or they contact your on your website?

People that are interested in the breed find me through my website; I don’t need to advertise my puppies and they are all pre-sold before I even breed my females.

How important is it for a breeder to have a website and a social media presence nowadays?

I think it’s very important. People interested in the breed will find all the information they are looking for and if they are still interested in the breed they can contact the breeder for more information.

What do you require from your potential clients before agreeing to a sale?

My puppy people fill out a “Shikoku Questionnaire”, located on my web site. I have to trust them that they are honest. They need to have the time to exercise their dog on a regular basis, if they work 8 hours they need to be able to take their puppy with them to work, to doggy day care or have someone looking after their puppy while they are gone. They should have a fenced yard.

Do you export your dogs all over the world?

I place most of my puppies with people in Canada and the USA, I also have placed puppies in the UK, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, France and Belgium. I also have puppy requests from Mexico, Hawaii and Asia.

What diet do your dogs follow, any particular brand(s) you like to use?

I’m on the ProPlan “Purina” breeder program and my puppies are feed with ProPlan. I feed my adult dogs ProPlan kibbles and mix in canned dog food.

Important for me are the ingredients, chicken, beef or lamb as first ingredients and no animal byproducts. Twice a week the dogs get a salmon oil capsule and they get kelp powder in every meal (keeps the teeth clean).

Same for kennel cleaners, how do you keep everything clean and sanitised throughout the year?

I clean my kennels every day, sometimes twice a day if necessary. I use ordinary bleach and water and it works fine. My dogs have large individual runs and an air conditioned kennel building. The dogs are let out in one of three large exercise runs to give them a chance to run and interact with my other dogs at least twice every day. We go on walks but the dogs take their turns. This is the same as for having time with us in the house.

What has been your most memorable sale?

I don’t have a memorable sale and I know it sounds “cute” but every adoption has been special. I try to remain in contact with my puppy people throughout the puppy’s life.

Shikoku Being Funny
Dog breeding is great, you give birth to these weird creatures!

Some of my adoption families are still in contact with me many years after the puppy joined the family. Through these adoptions I have close relationships with families on all continents and in the more than ten countries to which I have shipped a puppy.

I’m very proud to say that some of my puppy buyers come back for a second puppy or get a new puppy as the older has passed away.

Any advice you would give to newcomers in this industry, who perhaps would like to breed rare breeds in Europe/US?

Work with a mentor, a breeder that already has experience with the breed. Listen to what he recommends; work with him and other breeders. We all can learn from each other. I have breeder friends in the USA and Europe and right now mentor a young breeder here in Canada.

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