Tosa Inus – The Last Japanese Fighting Dogs

The Tosa is one of the rarest dog breeds in the world and has only been purposefully bred since the mid-19th century. In Japan, dogs still officially compete in dogfights – a competitive canine sport in which the animals do not harm each other. Like sumo wrestlers, they use their massive bodies in the game. As the owner, you should therefore be able to cope with the giants, which can weigh up to 90 kg.

External Characteristics of the Tosa Inu: Japanese with European Features

The Tosa Inu resembles European Mastiffs and Molossers and is therefore also called the Japanese Mastiff. Japanese Tosas are significantly smaller than their European counterparts, as the animals are still actively used in modern dogfighting in some regions and utility is more important than physical appearance. European bred Tosas can weigh up to 90kg (average 60-78kg) while their Japanese counterparts weigh no more than 60kg. The FCI breed standard specifies a minimum height of 60 centimeters for males and 55 centimeters for females. A height at the withers of up to 85 centimeters is not unusual for the European giants.

Identifying features of the Tosa Inu at a glance


  • The skull is broad and relatively large compared to the body. A slight over or underbite is considered a fault in inbreeding; the strong scissor bite is straight and the snout is square. Visible wrinkles cover the face and neck.
  • There is a relatively large amount of space between the small eyes, but they are not too far apart. Small wrinkles form at the base of the eyebrows, which give the dogs a serious facial expression.
  • Triangular lop ears are set relatively high up and fall close-fitting to the front.
  • The entire body is muscular and bulky. A pronounced dewlap in the form of loose folds is visible on the neck. The fore and hind legs are minimally angled and long.
  • The long tail is very thick at the base and tapers significantly towards the tip.

Coat and colors of the Tosa

Tosa has a short, stiff coat with no undercoat. They are mostly monochromatic, with occasional subtle white markings on the chest and paws.

Permitted colors:

  • Black
  • Red
  • Fallow
  • apricot
  • fawn
  • All colors also occur in brindle.

The History of the Tosas: Japanese Dogs with European Fighting Prowess

Tosa Inus were specifically bred for use in Japanese dogfights in the 19th century. In Japan, a bloodless form of dogfighting is still carried out today, which differs greatly from the western understanding of dogfighting: the Tosa tōken dogs wrestle in a similar way to the classic wrestling sport. Biting, yelping, barking, and flinching are considered disqualifying faults and end the sumo round. If no dog retreats after the round time have elapsed or if an animal gets stressed, the fight is also ended with a draw.

The Breeding of a Champion

The Tosa originally descended from the Shikoku-ken, which is considered the classic sumo dog in Japan. In order to improve the sporting skills in the ring, various European breeds were systematically crossed. So over time, they got bigger and their facial features took on mastiff-like shapes. As the largest dog breed in Japan, Tosas are now widely used as guard dogs and are highly prized in their home country.

Crossbreeding with European breeds

  • Old English Bulldog (in 1872)
  • English Mastiff (in 1874)
  • Saint Bernard (in 1876)
  • European pointers (in 1876)
  • Great Dane (in 1924)
  • Possibly the Bordeaux Mastiff was also crossed, but the exact time is unknown.

Nature and Character of the Tosas: Serenity on Four Paws

The Tosa Inu is classified as dangerous in some states. Although they tend to be dominant due to their history as fighting and guard dogs, they are known for their calm and even-tempered nature. Well-bred Tosas tend not to bark or snap and have a very high threshold. Nothing can upset them, but they also have a mind of their own. If they don’t feel like carrying out a command or going for a walk, they can only be persuaded to obey with sovereign training or attractive rewards.

Typical characteristics of the dog breed at a glance

  • Affectionate and always mindful of their owner.
  • They are patient and don’t get irritated.
  • They are dominant towards other dogs.
  • Very confident and fearless.
  • Proud and sometimes stubborn.

Are you a match for a Tosa Inu?

Despite their active use as fighting dogs, Tosa Inus are also suitable for families and owners with several dogs. It is important that you are not physically defeated by your dog and that you can put him in his place if necessary. The Tosa does not like sudden touches, especially not from strangers. They will put up with almost anything from children in the family. In general, they initially meet visitors with disinterest. However, if they know and like people, they are always greeted in a friendly manner.

Tosa Training and Attitude: The Tosa Needs Sovereign Leadership

In some federal states, there are certain requirements for keeping Tosa Inus. The housing conditions for the dogs on the list vary from region to region: from a muzzle requirement on public transport and in public places to proof of expertise to the (mostly common) character test for young dogs, various measures are obligatory for Tosa owners. Before you decide on a Tosa puppy, find out more about the requirements for keeping a Tosa puppy at the responsible municipal office. As the owner of a lost dog, you must also expect that your dog will quickly frighten passersby, neighbors, and landlords.

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