Japanese Chin (Japanese Spaniel): Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Japanese Chin

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The Japanese chin, also referred to as a Japanese spaniel, is a relatively rare toy breed with a distinctly noble and ancient heritage. It's known for its large flattened face, wide-set eyes with that look of perpetual astonishment, and long floppy, feathered ears. The breed was actually thought to originate in China before becoming popular in Japan.

Breed Overview


HEIGHT: 8 to 11 inches (to the withers)

WEIGHT: 4 to 9 pounds

COAT: Long, sleek and smooth coat

COAT COLOR: Colors include black and white, lemon and white, sable and white, and black, white and tan.

LIFE SPAN: 10 to 14 years

TEMPERAMENT: Alert, loyal, loving, independent, intelligent


ORIGIN: China (or possibly Korea)

Characteristics of the Japanese Chin

The Japanese chin is known for being even-tempered, loyal, and affectionate. It's often described as a "cat-like" dog, and can be fond of curling up on its owner's lap. While it can be reserved with new people and pets, it is generally an incredibly social and very loyal companion when introductions are done appropriately.

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness Medium
Energy Level Medium
Trainability Medium
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Low
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Japanese Chin

There is no doubting the longevity and aristocratic background of the Japanese chin, but their earliest introductions are still debated amongst historians.

While they are believed to have originated in China (or possibly even Korea), it is widely recognized that it was the Japanese nobility that nurtured the highly-prized companion breed from perhaps as far back as 1000 years ago.

By the middle of the 19th century, when Japan began actively trading with other countries after over two centuries of self-imposed seclusion, the Japanese chin was often offered as a highly prized gift to naval officers or sold to visiting traders and sailors. This led to their gradual introduction in Western countries.

When future King Edward VII of Great Britain married his wife Alexandra in 1863, she received a Japanese chin as a gift, and she became a lifelong lover of the breed, helping them to gain popularity in Great Britain and America.

The breed was first recognized by the AKC in 1888 and is often also referred to as a Japanese spaniel. The Japanese chin is closely related to the Pekingese.

Queen Alexandra with Japanese Chin
1904: Queen Alexandra at Mar Lodge with her Japanese Chin W. & D. Downey/Getty Images

Japanese Chin Care

Caring for this breed can be somewhat low-maintenance. It is not known for being one of the most active breeds but it is still important that your dog receives an appropriate amount of exercise. While the Japanese chin has a long, smooth, soft, and glossy coat, it is not as challenging to maintain as other long-haired breeds.


Just because the Japanese chin may enjoy snuggling on a lap, it doesn't mean it won't also relish a nicely paced walk, too. Walk your dog once or twice a day at a leisurely pace for 15 minutes at a stretch. This dog does not have endurance so it's best to leave your pup home when hiking or jogging.

But because it is classed as a flat-faced/brachycephalic breed, care must be taken to keep the dog comfortable in hot weather, especially when exercising. Because of its short snout, the Japanese chin can be more prone to heat intolerance and heat strokes, which can be exacerbated by breathing difficulties, so extra vigilance is required in warmer temperatures. Using a harness, rather than just a collar and leash, can take the strain away from its delicate neck area.


The Japanese chin's coat does not tend to mat, but it's best to regularly attend to it so it does not tangle. It is recommended that the dog's coat is brushed out at least weekly though and this is especially important when it goes through its seasonal shedding. The dog's coat will not require any clipping or scissoring.

The breed is known for having nails that grow very quickly, so it is important to ensure that your dog's nails are always kept trimmed to an appropriate length.


The chin is an intelligent breed but they can have a reputation for being stubborn, so a little patience and extra perseverance may be required when it comes to training. Many owners of this breed potty train their Japanese chin. You can toilet train this breed at any age though it is best done when the puppy is between eight and 12 weeks old.

Two Japanese Chin Puppies
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Japanese Chin Long, Silky Coat Type
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Japanese Chin walking with little boy
MementoImage / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

The Japanese chin is a relatively healthy breed, but it can be prone to a few congenital conditions, Good breeders health screen potential parents to minimize the risk of inherited issues being passed on. In addition to heat intolerance, especially during exercise, some other conditions that a Japanese chin can be prone to include:

  • Luxating Patella: This condition causes the dog's knee caps to fall out of place.
  • Ophthalmic Problems: The breed may be prone to cataracts, dry eye (also known as Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca), entropion (when the eyelid can fold inwards), and corneal abrasions.
  • Heart Murmurs: An early on-set heart murmur, which is an abnormal sound in the heart, will typically be found during a puppy's wellness checkup.
  • Epilepsy: A potential underlying abnormality, such as a brain tumor, may cause seizures.
  • GM2 Gangliosidosis: This condition is also known as Tay-Sachs disease. It is a neurological condition that can be fatal and has been known to affect the breed. DNA testing will ensure the disease would not be passed on.

Diet and Nutrition

While it can be easy to fall into the habit of free-feeding or spoiling with table scraps, the Japanese chin can be prone to obesity and it must be fed a healthy, high-quality diet that is appropriately portion controlled.

The amount fed will vary depending on the individual dog, their age, and activity levels.

A fresh and plentiful water source should always be available, and this is all the more important because of the breed's heat intolerance issues.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Japanese Chin

If you are buying a Japanese chin puppy, it is incredibly important to do your research and seek out a reputable breeder. The breeder should perform the appropriate genetic health checks on the parents, and the puppies should have the best start, staying with mom in a nurturing home environment. Expect to pay $1,500 to $2,500 for a puppy.

While the breed is not a common one, it is possible to adopt a Japanese chin from a shelter or a breed-specific rescue. Dog adoption can be a hugely rewarding experience.

Below are some useful breed and adoption links:

Japanese Chin Overview

  • Great companion, sociable and loyal

  • Low-maintenance grooming

  • One of the quietest breeds

  • Strong-willed, independent requires patience during training

  • Cannot tolerate heat

  • Prone to obesity

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

It is important to fully research what it's like to own a Japanese chin. Seek out a reputable breeder or consider the rewarding adoption route, and also consider reaching out to other owners of the breed for in-depth insight.

If you are interested in similar breeds to the Japanese chin, you may also wish to consider the following:

There’s a great variety of dog breeds out there with a host of different traits and characteristics—doing your research will help you understand which ones may be best suited to your lifestyle!

  • Why is the Japanese chin referred to as a "cat-like" dog?

    Japanese chins are renowned for their climbing abilities, and this is one of the reasons they are often described as being "cat-like." It is not unusual to find them perched on a high and cozy vantage point within the home—just like a cat. This dog is also a fastidious self-groomer, even when using the litter box.

  • Is the Japanese chin a good dog for an apartment?

    Yes! In addition to its pint-size stature and low-maintenance exercise needs, this breed is super quiet. The Japanese chin will typically only bark out of the blue and when necessary so you never have to worry about annoying your neighbors.

  • Can the Japanese chin turn aggressive?

    Many small dogs tend to have aggressive characteristics. That's probably because they are acting out of fear because of their size. But, the Japanese chin is rarely aggressive, much less so than other toy and teacup breeds, such as the Chihuahua, for example. The Japanese chin may show annoyance if it's being handled roughly, but otherwise, this is a docile dog.