What I talk about on this page:
-Bloat and Gastric Torsion
-Crates and Kennels
-Athleticism in Giant dogs
-Personal Protection and Guarding
-Changing the breed, softening temperament
-"Performance Bred" dogs
-Spay and Neuter
-Tosa and the Japanese, perceptions
-Are you suitable for a Tosa, how to raise a Tosa
-Rescuing adult Tosas
-Understanding terms breeders use
Who am I? I am a small gal at 5'2" and just under 110lbs. I'm a bit over 40 now, but my love affair with animals goes back to the time I started walking at about 9 months old. Besides dogs, I also love cats, horses, donkeys, birds and fish....big fish.
I grew up around all kinds of animals. At the peak of my menagerie, I had 2 large German Shepherd-x dogs, one small Cocker Spaniel X, two cats, three 20 gallon tanks with all sorts of tropical fish, a green parrot, and a tortoise. I was lucky to have parents who allowed me to keep all these. Although I did an excellent job at taking care of all my pets, they still had to deal with the food and vet bills.
In the 80's, I attended the University of Guelph for 4 years, and graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Science degree. My focus was on a multidisciplinary style of study, and I chose courses that I felt would give me a better understanding of life and the environment. Chemistry (organic, inorganic and bio), microbiology, physics, toxicology, zoology, ecology, botany, genetics, limnology and oceanology, soil science, meteorology and climatology, animal physiology, fish and wildlife management, animal behaviour, statistics and calculus makes up the bulk of the list. I worked for a couple years in an environmental lab, then moved onto a food lab where I greatly expanded on my knowledge of food science and nutrition. A few years later, I was bored, so I went to Devry for a year and got my Computer Studies diploma where I learned programming, networking, database management, and web design. Office life is boring, so I've changed my lifestyle and do a bit of work from home so I can spend as much time as possible with my much adored pets.
On foods and feeding
When I was a teenager and new to Canada, my family didn't have much money. Thankfully, we were at least able to adopt a cat from the Humane Society. Smokey grew into a 15lb, semi-longhair, beautiful cat. He was quite healthy, except for a chronic bowel problem. He always had runny stools, but it never seemed to cause him problems until he was nearing 10 years old. He became incontinent, and he would scream in pain whenever he needed to have a bowel movement. Short of an operation, I tried everything with him. Back then, a $500 vet bill for me was a HUGE deal. He deteriorated to the point where he didn't want to be around anyone, and finally he lost what I can only describe as "the life" from his eyes. It was time. The day we brought him to the vet, I just handed him over, and none of us could even speak. What a horrible moment that is, having to say goodbye to a loved pet. To me, it's no easier than with a human family member. He still lives at the family residence in a little box up on a shelf where he can see everything.
Oh, to know then the things I know now! Smokey was raised on Purrr and 9-Lives, your everyday grocery brand foods. That was likely at the very heart of his problem. Sure, he was given food from the vet eventually, but I'm not so sure those foods are all that much better. One vet that I dealt with for years because I thought he was excellent, fed his dog Hills Canine t/d (tartar diet). Here's the first few ingredients: Brewers Rice, Ground Whole Grain Corn, Chicken By-Product Meal, Powdered Cellulose, Pork Fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid), Soybean Mill Run, Dried Egg Product, Chicken Liver Flavor, Soybean Oil. I believe Brewers Rice is the broken up scraps left over from some fermentation process. Corn and soybeans are major causes of allergies. Chicken By-products are supposed to include stuff that we would never dream of consuming. Lower down in the list, are BHA and BHT, preservatives which are thought to be carcinogens. The mineral supplements are in inorganic forms, not chelated for easier assimilation. Truth is, a lot of vets set this stuff out as treats in their waiting rooms, and all my dogs love the stuff. The vet's dog appears to be quite healthy, but I still would never offer a bowl of this food to my dogs.
Shortly after Kirin arrived, she got a bladder infection, and it was caused by a fairly high concentration of struvite crystals. Struvite is made up of Magnesium Phosphates, and can be dissolved in acid conditions. Kirin's urine was around pH8 which is on the alkaline side, and normal pH should be slightly acid (less than 7). The food she had been on, was Eukanuba Large Breed Puppy, which the breeder had weaned her onto. She had to be on antibiotics for 3 weeks total while I dealt with getting rid of the crystals. One vet said she should be put on Hills Canine s/d (struvite diet) for about 3 months. Here's the breakdown of this food: Water, Corn Starch, Egg Product, Chicken Fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols, and citric acid), Pork Liver, Sucrose, Powdered Cellulose, Iodized Salt, Soybean Oil (This is a canned food). Corn starch and sucrose? I have no idea what those are doing in dog food. The nutritional values on a dry matter basis are as follows: Protein-7.9%, fat-26%, Calcium-0.31%, Phosphorus-0.10%, Magnesium-0.024%. This is a rapidly growing giant breed puppy we're dealing with, and despite the large stature of an adult dog, they can be quite fickle and delicate as pups. Protein should be at least 22%, fat 8%, Calcium 1%, Phosphorus 0.8% and Magnesium 0.04%. It is my feeling that if fed the s/d for 3 months, she would have had developmental problems, most likely skeletal. I spoke with yet another vet, who concurred with my thoughts. Protein is a natural acidifier of urine, and carbohydrates do the opposite. But meats contain an abundance of Phosphorus, which will add to the crystals. In the end, I switched Kirin to the cooked ground beef and potato diet my other two are on. It's fairly high protein, and I also added some "acidifiers". In the morning meal, she got 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar. With lunch, a cranberry capsule. With dinner, a sprinkling of vitamin C powder. In less than 2 weeks, all crystals were gone. I'll have to wait and see if they come back, but she's staying on the home diet, and I'll adjust the formulation if the need arises. I have a feeling she'll be ok for good in that regard.
It has been agreed by most that when feeding large breed puppies, you need reduced (or adult level) protein, lower levels of calcium, and moderate calorie density. Dogs are carnivores, who lucky for us (-$$), can get by with a lot of carbs in the diet. The calcium level is very important, as is the Calcium/Phosphorous ratio. I've read that puppies have difficulty getting rid of excess calcium, and that if there's more Phosphorus than Calcium or not enough Calcium in the diet, the body will start taking Calcium from the bones. Dogs need enough calcium to support their bones among other uses, but in excess, it can upset the balance of other minerals. In the case of puppies, especially giant breeds, I can see how excess calcium could throw the bones into disarray. As for moderate calories, if you feed a little too much of such a food, your puppy will get fat just the same. Practically every premium brand dog food goes beyond the AAFCO minimums, so less quantity of a high calorie food should still provide all the necessary nutrients. The key is (have we heard this before) everything in moderation. Getting a giant breed puppy fat, and messing around with the minerals will cause trouble. I believe in keeping puppies where you can see some ribs, is a good way to moderate calories. Pups should have a distinct hourglass shape when viewed from the top, and when laying on it's side, you should see at least the last couple of ribs. When I can't see ribs, I cut back on the food by a bit for a couple of days. There is some danger in keeping pups too thin, as in when you can see vertebrae and hip bones. If a pup that looks like that gets sick, it has no fat reserves and may waste away. Growth problems do happen, I'm not sure how frequent it is in Tosas. Front paws going east-west is very likely a result of over nutrition or just the wrong kind. These problems may correct on their own, especially if the pup is under 6 months old. However, myself and others are convinced that correction can be accomplished, or at least greatly aided by nutrition. Read up on these issues on the Great Dane Lady site.
I am not convinced about the merits of the BARF diet. Yes, ultimately dogs and cats should probably be consuming raw meat, but not meat that has been sitting around in the butcher for a couple of days or more. If someone could assure me that meat is frozen solid a couple hours after the food animal dies, then I may try BARF again. As soon as an animal dies, decay starts. We've all come a long way in the past 10 years or so, but the general public still lacks nutrition knowledge. I've read about many diets on the internet, and they don't seem balanced to me. That's not to say that it isn't good for the dog however, and we all know how adaptable our canines can be. I don't think you can go that wrong if you provide wholesome fresh foods. The addition of items like Apple cider vinegar to provide "trace elements" is interesting. Apples themselves contain negligible amounts of any nutrient, but are good for soluble fibre. You would have to ingest this stuff by the cupful in order to gather even a trace of a trace element! The vinegar has it's uses, but not for that. I used to belive in giving kelp as an iodine supplement. At one point, I was giving Georgie 1 tablet a day with her home diet. Then I took her into the vet for some thyroid tests. The results weren't good, and I had expected them to be good. It is impossible to get a stable value for iodine especially in something like kelp. The value fluctuates with seaweed species, location, season and age of plant. I've got a bottle of Natural Factors Norwegian kelp, containing 575mg of kelp per tablet. Supposedly each tablet could contain approximately 5mg of iodine. According to AAFCO, Georgie should be taking in about 0.3mg per day. Just for interest, an adult human has a RDI of 0.15mg/day. The average human is probably around 150lbs? Georgie is 45lbs at the most. Different species do have different nutritional needs and tolerances, but are we that different from our canine friends? Too much iodine can cause thyroid problems. The "detox" that pets reportedly go through when switched to BARF is a bit of a puzzlement. I'm not sure what the body is trying to get rid of. It's supposed to be the "toxins" built up from the months or years of feeding kibble. Has anyone ever thought that the body is reacting to the feeding of meat in the early stages (sometimes later stages) of decay? Or the new and unbalanced vitamin and mineral regimen?
Here is a good "halfway" feeding strategy....you can safely replace 25% of kibble (by weight) with lean cooked meats and whatever other fresh foods you'd like. For foods with a higher calcium content (between 1.5% and 2%) you can even add up to 50% of fresh food by weight. Be more conservative with puppies and special needs dogs. Do NOT monkey around too much with a growing large/giant breed pup!! Minimal supplements, take it easy on adding other foods, and preferably stick to a premium quality commercial food for large breeds. Pups can be susceptible to ortho problems caused by improper feeding. I've seen cases where the front paws start to become extremely east-west, and it usually stays for life. If caught early, and the diet adjusted, some pups can have some correction. Dogs with abnormally east west paws (a little is ok) can develop arthritis and pain later in life. Sometimes, bone surgery is needed, or for the dog to wear braces on the legs. I recommend Solid Gold Wolf Cub, Eagle Pack large breed, or Wellness large breed puppy.
When I'm too busy to cook full meals, the following is how I feed my dogs:
-use a high quality kibble as a base, should account for at least half the meal.
-pan fry lean ground beef over a gentle heat and drain it well,
-can cook up to about 3 days worth and keep it in the fridge,
-I've also used lean ground chicken or turkey, or the cheaper chicken parts (legs, thighs) and simmer until the flesh falls off the bones easily, I take the bones out, especially the larger or sharper ones. Can add a little bit of seasoning (salt, rosemary, thyme).
-In an electric mini chopper, I add one medium peeled carrot, one stalk of celery, and whatever else I have on hand, could be blueberries, apples, green beans etc. Georgie gets 1 heaping tablespoon and each of the Tosas get 2 or 3.
-Flax oil or other omega supplement (olive oil etc.), 1 tbsp per day for Tosas, and half that for Georgie. I find they are glossier and shed less.
-can add digestive enzymes, may help a bit if your dog is gassy, but not that important for healthy dogs.
-Puppies and older dogs may benefit from joint support (glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM).
-A bit of Vitamin C (even 100mg/day EsterC) may also benefit most dogs. Dogs can make their own Vit C, but a little extra never hurt anyone. It is thought to be good for their joints, skin and immune systems.
-can add a spoon of regular yogurt, or some sort of probiotic supplement.
Sometimes, I cook full meals for them. Here's a typical menu (for Tosa sized dogs), but my home diet is in an almost constant state of evolution:
-roughly half and half mix of peeled boiled potatoes (skin or no skin, cut out the green parts, sprouts and ugly spots) and meat, the quantity is trial and error, whatever amount it takes to keep your dog trim. Boiling and mashing potatoes is a lot of work, but they are more nutritious than the other carbs. Especially rich in potassium. Brown rice, oatmeal and pearled barley are usually ok too, but I prefer no grains.
-2 chicken backs or 4 chicken necks (preferred) per day, simmered until they're just about falling apart. If your dog likes to swallow such things, maybe skip these, chop them into chunks, or buy a meat grinder to process them. Georgie once swallowed a raw chicken neck whole, but it didn't cause her any trouble.
-200 to 300g of gently pan fried beef liver (other species ok) per week, better spread out between 2 or 3 days.
-couple tablespoons of finely chopped fruits and veggies.
-optional, 2 to 4 eggs per week, I cook them sunny side up with runny yolks (that's how I like them), again, spread out over a couple days.
-optional, 2 cans of sardines in spring water per week, drained.
-this is not optional! need about 2grams of calcium per day to balance. Crushed eggshell (1tsp if you do it yourself), or any calcium tablets will do. Not bone meal in this case, you'll need to add too much. Apparently dogs need a lot more calcium than we do. Calcium/Phosphorous imbalance will cause weakening of bones. They should be at minimum in equal amounts, but ideal if there is a little more Calcium (1.2:1 ratio). Meat has loads of Phosphorus so you need to include some bones or calcium supplements to balance.
-Bone meal can be used if you don't feed any other source of bones like the chicken necks. Will have to add about 5 tsp per day, based on a concentration of 1000mg Ca:500mg P in each teaspoon.
-Vitamin E, approx. 50mg per day (can be 100mg every other day etc.)
-Cod liver oil, enough to provide 300 to 400IU of Vit.D per day.
-good idea to include the same supplements listed earlier.
There is a website that rates commercial foods Dog Food Analysis. My suggestion is to feed puppies food from only 4* and 5* categories. There are a few giant breed puppy dry foods among those. The 6* foods could be too rich, and could cause growth problems. After a year old, you can feed pretty well anything, but I wouldn't sink below a 3* food at the very minimum. Currently, I will feed only from the 5* list and higher (more likely 6*).
I do realize that most dogs can thrive on garbage, and I know of one case where a Husky mix lived a good long healthy life on Alpo. But why should they have to? I know that as nutritious as breakfast cereal is, I couldn't live on that for the rest of my life. It drives me crazy knowing that there are so many people out there who will pay $3 for a cup of coffee, and $7 for a pack of smokes, meanwhile their dog is looking at a bowl full of dried up animal by-products, cornmeal and carcinogenic preservatives. Give your head a shake.
Bloat and Gastric Torsion
Take this seriously! I'm finding it is a huge cause of death with Tosas and other large breeds. Most people would come home to a dead dog, and no autopsy is done. Chances are good that the dog died of bloat and/or gastric torsion, if the dog was otherwise healthy. Some lines may be more susceptible, but I think it is more to do with feeding and exercise habits. It is in your best interest to feed the highest quality food that is available to you.If your dog is gassy, it may be that grain based dog food is not the best. There are many calorie dense foods out there, which will allow you to feed less volume, and therefore less chance of bloat. All dogs are perpetually hungry anyway, one or two fewer cups a day, will make no difference except possibly a life. Bulking up dry food with potato or some veggies, even a handful of cooked meat, would be quite welcome for most dogs (if well tolerated). I give no more than a couple of cups of water before or right after meals. My dogs have had no issues with this amount, but I wouldn't want them to gulp too much water. Elevated feeders are a must for any dog taller than knee high. Serious food gulpers should be fed slowly, not given 2 or more cups of food at once. All large and giant dogs should be given two smaller meals a day. No major exercise, jumping around or running within an hour before or after a meal, but walks are fine. I also feel that higher intensity exercise (not around mealtime), would be beneficial for strengthening all muscle groups, including abdominals.
If you ever have to take your dog into the vet for bloat, DO NOT take it home right after. Bloat reoccurs in at least 90% of cases. I know of one person who did take the dog home after being warned by the vet of the possible concequences. The bloat happened again, but this time, they didn't arrive at the vet in time. The dog died.
Some breeders say very minimal exercise for giant breed puppies. Has anyone ever tried to keep a puppy calm? Play is integral for the mental development, and I feel that it is also important (again, in moderation) for building nice little muscles to help support the joints. Ok, playing with a much bigger dog who keeps crushing the pup is bad, as is slippery flooring, and forced exercise for example dragging your pup along while you jog 5k on the sidewalk. Most of my upstairs is covered with carpet plus underpad. In the basement, I have about half the floor covered with those interlocking 2'x2' foam pads, and also a 9'x12' rug with underpad. While not a giant breed, I know of one Doberman who was crated most of the time until he was about a year old. His back end was hunched under, and he was so weak he could barely run and couldn't even jump up into the back of an SUV. Another point I have, is to do with the importance of strong muscles. Every once in a while, a small or medium breed dog gets hip dysplasia. The procedure for those is often to remove the ball of the hip altogether! The dog moves just fine after a bit of recovery time. The muscles in the affected hip are strong enough to walk and run normally. I don't think they can do that with giant dogs because there's just too much weight.
Crates and kennels
It'll probably be death by stoning for this one. Dogs are not toys that we can keep in the closet until we feel like playing with them! Any kind of enclosure or restraint should be used only if absolutely necessary. One of my biggest pet peeves, is seeing dogs who are segregated from their humans most of the time. I live in the country, and there are 3 dogs in nearby properties who are chained up to a tiny doghouse 24/7. Only one of these dogs is taken indoors when the thermometer dips below -10C. None of these dogs are cold loving like the Husky breeds etc. When these dogs break free, they're gone for a day or two. I'm surprised they come back. A lot of people keep their dogs in crates in the house for various reasons. Some are trying to "crate train" puppies (something I laugh at). Others may be trying to protect their house from the ravages of DOG, keeping pooch from knocking down toddlers, whatever. You got a dog. Your house will never be the same again. There will be fur, drool marks, muddy paw prints on all furniture and rugs. Your hardwood will be scratched, baseboards gnawed, and of course the odd "accident" either #1, #2 or "dinner didn't agree with me". Your kids will be scratched, nipped and knocked over. If you lock up your dog because you think it has behavioural problems, look at yourself. The so called behaviour problems probably stem from something you've done in the past, or are doing currently. For example, if your Jack Russell Terror is acting up, look at how much exercise you're providing. These dogs can be atomic bombs when it comes to energy level, but people will buy these dogs because they're so cute. There are a lot of people out there who aren't good leaders, and most dogs need strong leadership. If your dog chews your new $200 pair of shoes, it's highly likely your fault. Get a dog that's suited to YOU, not just the dog you WANT.
It is my opinion that there is such a thing as TOO BIG for a breed. Most breeds were created to do a job, and excess size can severely hamper their ability to fulfill their role. For a Tosa, I think that much more than 150lbs for a male, and 130lbs for a female is getting a little too heavy. Up to those upper limits, they can have it all....big blocky looks, amazing strength, unbelievable agility and good health (hips, heart, longevity etc.). I do not know of a single extra large Tosa (160lbs or more), who lasted past 8 years old. I hope this link doesn't stop working, but here is a video of an oversized Tosa. Note his hunched back and the stiffness in his rear. If he makes it to 2 years old, I'll be surprised. Not sure what kind of breeder this is, but all dogs on this video show strange looking rears. Taro doesn't get to run off leash much in dog parks anymore, but he sure is a sight to see when he starts flying around. At 18 months old, and around 130lbs, he can still keep up with Labs, Weimaraners, and Boxers. When he really starts to play, he is light and agile like a cat, but when he contacts even a dog close to his size, you can hear the wind leave his unfortunate playmate. We met a lady in the park the other day, who was walking home from work. She stopped to admire Taro, but had to mention that her Cane Corso at 140lbs, was bigger. I told her that she was very astute in her observation, seeing as there was a mere 10 lb difference between the two dogs, and it wasn't as if they were standing side by side. I honestly don't see how having an overgrown (most likely just plain fat) dog is anything to brag about. The standard for the Cane Corso male is from 25.6-26.8 inches, and from 103 to 117 pounds (with very slight tolerances). Personally, I would steer well clear of any breeder (of any breed), who does not strive to produce dogs of a size that is either within breed standards, or that is a reasonable size for the breed.
I personally don't want to see or hear of a Tosa being protection trained. They are too much dog for that, and it is not really in their nature if properly bred. I have heard that sometimes dogs aren't trained properly, and they can become unpredictable. Not all dogs are suitable for protection work. Who wants to hear another of case like the Diane Whipple story, except that a Tosa was involved?. A woman died, and the owners of the dogs served jail time. How this could get out of hand, is if people start breeding Tosas who show human dominance, so they can better serve as protection dogs. If someone wants a "different" type of dog to do personal protection/guard duty, then there are quite a few choices. The South African Boerboel, the Fila Brasileiro, and the Caucasian Ovtcharka are just a few. Of course, the usual personal protection breeds are "usual" for a good reason...they excel at the job. The top dogs are, the Belgian Malinios, the Doberman, the German Shepherd, and the Rottweiler. I have seen a TV show where a Malinois practically flew from the ground, up through a bus window! These dogs may be a bit smaller than the others, but they more than make up for it with EXTREME drive and agility. Malinios video 1. Malinios video 2 These dogs are nuts!
A PP trained/unsocialized/human aggressive Tosa is a huge liability, one that is very likely to come back to haunt you.
The Japanese bred Tosas to be dog aggressive, and not human aggressive for a reason. Any fighting dog must eventually be separated from it's opponent. This is mostly done with break sticks, so people must get very close to the dogs. Any dogs who turn on handlers or show any other human aggression are usually put down or not bred.
Based on what I've seen with my Tosas, and a few others I've met, most Tosas are naturally protective in varying degrees. Some show next to no protectiveness, and there are others I wouldn't want to be in the same room with. With my two, I know I am safe from any animal attacks, especially other dogs. With humans, it would depend on the situation. I've never felt threatened by anyone, and my dogs have been brought up to expect humans are friends. I can let delivery or repair guys in, and never have to worry about their wellbeing. I have had friendly strangers walk into my yard when I'm out with the dogs, and be accepted after a good sniffing out. When my dogs are inside, and they see or hear things outside, they go on the alert. They bark and growl, hair up on their backs, and tails erect. They are especially protective of me at night while I sleep. Nobody could ever surprise me with these guys around! What I do not know, is how they would react if they're home alone and if someone came inside the house. I do feel that if anyone tried to harm me physically, that person would be in a lot of trouble. I do not know of any cases where a Tosa either did or didn't protect their family from a human. Perhaps because nobody in their right mind would dare pull anything with one around?
Changing the breed
This is the Japanese Fighting Tosa, dog dominance is at the heart of the breed. Trying to soften the Tosa temperament means that you no longer have a Tosa. True, there's little room in North American society for the stark raving mad type of aggression, but a properly bred and socialized Tosa should never wind up as a Dog Whisperer case. You want a dog that has similarity to the Tosa, but is likely a little more placid? How about a nice Broholmer. As a note, I have seen many aggressive examples of normally placid breeds. I've known aggressive Labs, Golden Retrievers, Pugs, Cocker Spaniels, Great Danes, Boxers and Newfies to name a few. After watching their owners though, I know where the bad behaviour came from.
"Performance Bred Dogs"?
This is for all the tough dog people out there....newsflash, dogfighting is illegal in all but a handful of countries. Here in North America, why anyone would breed Tosas just for performance (a thin guise for fighting), is beyond me. These are not thinking people, how do you think they test if they're on the right track? They think they are doing the right thing by producing "game" dogs, sell a few as pets to unprepared owners. They will ruin it for the rest of us. Tosas, along with others like pitbulls and Dogos, are banned in a number of countries. It can happen here in Canada. Most breeds have two types; the workers, and the show dogs. That's fine for sporting dogs, flock protectors, protection dogs etc. Their job is legal. "Performance" dogs are just fine, as long as they're actively competing in weight pulls, or agility etc. In the past, I know there were some Tosas who did well at weightpulling, but I haven't heard of any recently. As far as I can tell, most reputable Tosa breeders, will breed only dogs who are healthy, athletic, are close to the breed standard, and who show dog dominance with no signs of shyness. This is all that realistically can be done to preserve the breed attributes. I'm pretty sure the Tosa won't go the way of the English Bulldog (sorry Georgie, but you know what I mean).
"Fixing" the dog
It is my opinion, that with the giant breeds, you should spay or neuter a little later (not at 6 months) because they develop slower. I've seen it one too many times...the end result of an early neuter. Male dogs grow up tall and slender, and their head and chest size is below average. Any lover of the molosser breeds I'm sure will admit to being smitten over a big, beautiful head and nice broad chest. Neutering at about 1 year old should give the hormones time to do their magic, and you MAY be able to tone down the aggression before it sets in. Between 1 and 2 years old, the aggression will most certainly have become learned, and I'm not too sure if neutering will curtail that. One breeder says neuter after 15 months, and that there is also danger of joint and ligament (torn ACL's) problems with early neutering. There is also thoughts that there may be a link between early fixing and osteosarcoma. I'm sure someone knows an early-neutered male molosser who still got the nice head and chest. I think that may be the exception, and wonder what he would look like if he didn't get neutered too early? If all you're interested in is lessening aggression, and don't care about the physical attributes, then maybe you're looking at the wrong breed. For females, spaying later at about a year I'm sure would benefit the development of the dog (girls can have nice heads too!), but then you'd have to go through a heat cycle. If you have no intention of breeding or showing your dog, please do spay or neuter! There are enough homeless dogs in the world, and not every dog should be bred.
I don't know of any breeder who would suggest taking a Tosa to a dog park. The park Taro grew up at, was a small public park, not an official dog park. We knew pretty well everyone there, and once a month or so, someone new would appear. I've learned that the majority of Tosas don't show their dog dominance until after a year or so, some even go till 2 or 3 years old. That time period is a great opportunity to let your Tosa know that most dogs are nice and are to be considered a friend. The time spent socializing with other dogs and people, can help you to learn your dog's ways, and you can lay down the rules about what types of behaviour are acceptable. Taro for instance, has lifted his leg on at least a couple dozen people. I corrected him promptly every time, but it sure took a while for him to get the hint. I hate to say it, but it's better for him to have done it to casually dressed dog people, than to some stuffy, dressed up business person on the street. If your Tosa is going to take a dislike to a particular type of dog, better to have it come out early in the dog park, than in the close quarters of the vet's waiting room. There is no dispute that the Tosa is a powerful dog, they will be strong even as a pup. With great power, comes great responsibility. You do NOT bring the newspaper and coffee, sit at the picnic table, and leave your Tosa to do as it pleases. Nor do you fold your arms and get engrossed in conversation with the other dog parents. Tosas play rough, and you have to be aware of the expression on the face of the owner of your dog's playmate. If that person is wide eyed at the roughing your dog is dishing out, practice the "leave it" or "gentle" command, get your Tosa to stop that behaviour. This may be only slightly easier than getting a pig to fly backwards. Even if the owner isn't concerned, remove your dog if his or her playmate seems distressed. By the same token, you cannot have your young Tosa be pounded on by a much larger dog on a regular basis. Bones and joints are very delicate in the growth phase up until about 14 months. Bring toys to the park, especially if your dog is a toy thief. Your dog should learn to share, and not become aggressive/possessive. If your Tosa gets all stiff and "cold" around another dog, step in immediately! This behaviour will become as obvious as an anvil cloud looming in a sunny sky. If your Tosa gets in a fight, grab around the waist or the back legs and lift and pull for all you're worth. I carry a small can of dog (pepper) spray with me whenever I'm going to be around other dogs. Spray your dog in the face if he or she won't stop fighting after a few seconds. It stings for about 15 minutes, but causes no damage. Good chance you'll get some on you, so be prepared for that. If he or she started the fight, you discipline with an alpha roll and then leave the park. Also make sure the other dog is ok. If another dog is attacking yours, you grab that dog if the owner hasn't done so already. You have to show your dog that you are the "top dog", and you will not allow any such behaviour. If your dog is attacked, it may become defensive aggressive, and will make the association between dogs and fighting much sooner. Whenever squabbles break out between other dogs, restrain your dog, or block him or her from getting near the incident. Avoid park bullies, as you don't want your dog learning any of that bad behaviour. If your dog is the bully, don't ever go back to the park. Dogs will be dogs, and most will be aggressive under specific circumstances. It's up to us, the owners, to prevent them from causing damage.
If you choose to socialize your Tosa in a dog park, rest assured, it is highly difficult and a huge responsibility. In doing all this with Taro, I feel my efforts were worthwhile. I have a Tosa who still likes most dogs at 4 years old, who plays gently with his friends and family, and who I can take almost anywhere. I do not believe it is possible to have a fully mature Tosa (2 years +) running around with strange dogs, no one has ever heard of it, and no one that I know of has done it. This should not be expected of the breed. If your dog has had a fight, I do not recommend stopping all contact with other dogs. Find a smaller play group that you can trust your dog with. Large, gentler breeds such as Labs make excellent playmates and role models, but small happy dogs like Pugs are also suitable.
Society's perception of the Tosa and the Japanese.
In Japan, a Tosa is a giant sumo wrestler of a dog. Usually they are up to two or three times the size of a Pit Bull, but every bit as tough and game. They fight by strict rules for up to 30 minutes, and they fight for the honour of their masters, no betting is allowed. I've been told that in bygone days, there was division in the classes of society, rich and poor. If a poor man were to have a fighting champion, it was his way to climb up the ranks, and become equal in status to a rich man. Nowadays, the Japanese government assists those less fortunate, therefore there is no poverty anymore, only middle class and up. The importance and impact of the fighting dogs has diminished, but the fighting persists mainly as part of tradition I imagine. Pit Bulls are now very popular as well, but rules for those fights are usually different. The Japanese people are an honour bound society, take the Kamikaze bombers and the Samurai for instance. I've been to Japan, and toured a few cities, observing the people. They are hugely different from North Americans, but my strongest impression of them was that they are a very polite and reserved people. No two cultures will ever see eye to eye. I don't like fighting either, but who are we to call them uncivilized because they still practice dog fighting? They created the mighty Tosa and shared them with the rest of the world. This is not a breed for everyone, but a breed that I have come to love much more than I would have ever expected. They have my gratitude.
Is a Tosa a true Tosa if he doesn't compete in the fighting ring? Why not? That is like saying I can't be Canadian if I don't like winter sports. How many German Shepherds are being used for herding these days? I cannot think of a single breed of dog that is never kept as a pet. Dogs are versatile creatures, and that could not be more true of the Tosa as well. With the right leadership, they make wonderful family members, they can compete in weight pulls, tracking, obedience as well as the conformation show ring. While I don't agree with it, they even do well at protection training, something that they aren't supposed to be suitable for given their human friendly nature. If breeders use dogs who are healthy, have the right temperament, and are athletic with good drive, we may be able to keep the Tosa from straying too far from the Japanese model. Breeding dogs should be at least hip x-rayed (plus elbows even better), and given a thorough blood and physical exam. Dogs should not have any chronic health issues, and not be going to a vet more than twice a year including vaccinations and check-ups, but excluding accidental causes. Dogs should be at the very least, polite to strangers, never snappy unless they feel their family is threatened. They should be dog-dominant, perhaps not looking to pick fights, but never backing down from one. These giants should move with ease and power, be able to run and jump like dogs half their size, and be extremely effective at play wrestling. Body types, size and looks vary quite a bit, but if there is really a "correct" conformation, it should be that of the best fighting dogs. I have seen a few photos of the real fighting Tosas, not the ones that pose for tourist brochures. The fighting Tosa is a tallish, sleek dog with a medium-large head. I have yet to see any "bulldoggy" looking fighters, and pretty boys are few and far between. There are too many breeders using dogs that only look nice in the ring. I'm sure many truly great Tosas have been rejected from breeding due to fur being a bit too long, too much white on them, or just the wrong colour.
Society has a right to be suspicious and perhaps a bit discriminating when it comes to dogs like the Tosa, and any other large breed that was created to bite something. Not everyone makes a good leader for these types of dogs and when there is a mismatch, tragic accidents can happen. The little girl next door, sticking her hand through the fence to pat the doggies and the yappy little dog that walks by and thinks it can take on a 150lb molosser....just a couple things to think about before getting a "power" breed of dog. How will your dog cope? Or more importantly, how will you guide your dog to cope? Some people own these dogs thinking the dog will be a guardian over them. That is the wrong notion....it is the human who must be the guardian of the dog. We must guard these dogs against the witch hunters of society by teaching them to be good citizens.
You shouldn't have a Tosa if:
(These thoughts are simply my humble opinions.)
-You've never had a dog.
-You are excited by dog fights.
-Nobody's home for most of the day.
-You have a bad back or some other condition that limits your ability to handle such a large dog.
-You've ever had a pet you couldn't manage.
-You can't attain or maintain the "alpha" position.
-You believe that beating a dog to any degree is an acceptable form of punishment.
-You don't know what "socializing a dog" means, or you do know but don't plan on doing that for them.
-You can't afford premium dog food (meaning Solid Gold, Wellness, Wysong, Eagle Pack etc. NOT Eeww-kanuba etc.), pet insurance, or the vet bills.
-You aren't 110% sure you can quickly break up a dog fight if it ever does happen. Here's some info
-You can't be fair, firm and even tempered when dealing with a dog.
-You are squeamish about seeing drool, and having it get all over the place.
Before you get a Tosa...
-Make sure you have approximately 4 hours a day (pretty well every day) for your dog. Exercise, socialization, training, and just hanging out are essential to these dogs. You could possibly end up with an uncontrollable monster if you don't put the time in.
-You should have a babysitter lined up, and backup. Most concrete kennels will take pretty well any kind of dog, but going from a cushy home environment into that sort of hell, will take it's toll on the sensitive Tosa. I've had to so that in a pinch, and my dogs are absolutely distraught and wild when I come back for them.
-Make sure you have adequate finances to support the dog. Vet bills can be double that of your average dog, just because of their size alone. If your dog damages another dog, you will have to pay for the vet bills. That could run in the hundreds or even thousands. Your home insurance could get cancelled or increased. Ready for the food bills? A 30lb bag of premium dog food will cost you around $50 (US). A 1 year old large male Tosa could eat approximately 10 cups/day. That will be over $100/month in food alone.
-If you think you'd ever have to give up your Tosa, I would hope you'd do the responsible thing and find a capable home, a dedicated mastiff rescue organization, or return to the breeder. I don't feel that your regular pound will be able to cope with and successfully place a Tosa.
My recipe for a good Tosa
-Buy a pup from good parents and a reputable breeder. A reputable breeder will make sure their breeding stock is mentally stable. Unstable parents will produce unstable pups. The end result could be a wildly aggressive dog, and one that may attack their own family.
-Provide for your pup. The best food, toys and chew things to keep it busy, and most importantly your time. Also a happy, comfortable home where the pup feels secure, is ideal.
-Socialize the pup right after their final puppy shots are given. Try very hard to see your pup does not have any bad experiences. You don't have to go to the dogpark every day, twice a week for a half hour will be fine. Take your pup to Petsmart, visiting friends and family, or wherever else they allow dogs. Sending your Tosa pup to daycare (until 6 months old), or hiring a dogwalker are good ideas. Introduce your dog to kids, the postman, construction sites etc. If the pup is attacked by other dogs, it will be a major setback. Do not hang around "tough dogs", it's only a matter of time before he or she will grab your pup. If they happen to be friends with your Tosa, don't let that dog be a role model. Choose peaceful, well balanced, dogs for your Tosa's friends. Their character will influence your dog for the better. High energy dogs are great too, they'll tire your pup out in no time. If pups act fearful of something, just casually walk away from it, don't make a fuss. Try again in a couple weeks.
-Join a dog training club. At a Schutzhund club, I don't condone bite work with Tosas, but you can do obedience and tracking. They can also help you with any behaviour modification. It's not much work for the dog, but it's a mental challenge, and your dog will appreciate the time and attention you're giving it.
-Run your dog. Provide lots of exercise. Outside of Japan, we are asking Tosas to lay down their arms, and be peaceful good citizens. They need something to do. If pups come from sound breeding stock (xray certified), you can start gentle physical training from a few months old. Your pup will let you know when it has had enough. You can start out with jogging, then as the pup's skeletal system matures (about 14 months), you can progress to rollerblading or biking. For heavier activities such as weight pulling, dogs should be xrayed first at 2 years.
-An existing well balanced family dog is a huge asset. Young dogs learn from the older ones quicker than you and I can teach them things.
Rescuing an adult Tosa
Taking in an adult Tosa can be tricky, especially if you have kids and/or other pets. Oftentimes, rescue dogs have issues, which may have been why they were abandoned in the first place. I would not suggest rescuing an adult Tosa unless you have experience with aggression and big dogs, especially if you do not know the background of the dog. If you have existing pets or kids, have them meet the Tosa (preferably with a muzzle on). If the Tosa seems relaxed and friendly at that time, chances are, he or she will have been socialized enough, and that is a very positive beginning. Generally, Tosas will accept kids, but some may show aggression depending on what their previous experience is. It's much more likely that the dog will show aggression to existing dogs or other pets, especially if those pets initiate aggression. It's less common, but some Tosas may not like strange adults, and some may have issues with just men. So you meet the dog, and decide to bring it home. It may take at least a week or two for the dog to feel comfortable. Be aware that even if the dog was fine with your other dogs/pets at first, once confidence is gained, he or she may try to exert some dominance especially if you have a same sex dog. Be very watchful in those first couple of weeks! Unless the dog is inherently unstable, a Tosa can adapt just fine to a new household and new rules. Some individuals may just take more work and patience than others. It would be great if you were able to return the dog after a couple weeks if you see that the arrangement just isn't working out. Also try to find out about the medical condition of the dog. Watch the movement to see if there's any stiffness or poor movement...could spell big dysplasia problems.
After a long time waiting, I've decided my Tosas are good enough to breed.
There are many breeders in Europe who will ship puppies. If you need my opinion on where to get a pup, I will happily give it. They are so incredibly "show happy", they base probably most of their breeding decisions on medals. This says nothing about the health or breeding worthiness of a dog. I have seen Tosas that I would disqualify get show championships. If you show the dog enough, even the most ill conformed will eventually get a championship. Or, just be friends with the judge, even bribery works. Nice x ray certificates can be obtained in exchange for a good bottle of scotch. Some countries are very poor, and people may look at breeding as a way to make some money, therefore they will breed any dog they can get their hands on.
Read this if you're thinking of having a Tosa or other pup shipped from Red Dragon Kennels in Korea. Breeder Warning
If you're looking for a Tosa, don't be afraid to ask lots of questions of a breeder. Perhaps the greatest affliction of giant breed dogs, is hip dysplasia. There are other orthopedic issues too (patellar, elbow dysplasia), but HD is the main one. Bloat and Gastric Torsion are showing up a lot as well. Most breeders do not do x-rays, and of those who do, I have seen breeders who keep breeding dogs who have failed their xrays. In Europe, the FCI has a rule that no dogs with severe HD should be bred. So, dogs with mild to moderate HD are routinely bred. Even worse, dogs with OFA mild hips are bred to dogs of the same or worse hip rating without a second thought. This type of pairing is not ideal, but if the backgrounds of both dogs are well known, it might work out fine. But, most breeders don't know dysplasia history of their dog's ancestors and close relatives. Some breeders figure that because their dog has good movement, their joints must be good. I know of one dog who got a best in show, with bad hips. If a dog ends up having HD, it isn't necessarily ALL due to inheritance from parents. There is evidence you can ruin a dogs hips with outside factors, even if both parents had good hips. Excess weight as puppies, too fast growth, slippery floors, too much or too hard exercise, and inappropriate nutrition can all contribute. It is always best though to get pups from sound parents, as statistically, the risk for HD is much much less. One retired breeder who xrayed his dogs, has never had a dysplastic pup out of the approximately 50 puppies he's produced. As far as I know, the majority of Tosas worldwide, will NOT pass an OFA screening. In North America, according to OFA statistics, of the 77 Tosas tested for HD, 44% had abnormal hips. A hip rating of borderline or mild HD, does not necessarily mean the dog will be eventually crippled, most giant dogs live just fine with this. Dogs with moderate to severe HD ratings, will likely develop crippling arthritis sometime in their mid to later years. Or, at the worst, will need very expensive hip replacement surgery or euthanasia. If you want a dog to be a jogging or biking partner, or want to do weight pulling or agility, I would not advise buying pups from potentially unsound parents. Also, dogs should be xrayed and found to have decent hips and elbows before doing any really heavy work (weight pull or long distance biking). No matter how a dog moves, and how fit it seems, NOBODY can tell if a dog is dysplastic (radiological) just by observation! I've heard about dogs who show no clinical signs, yet xrays show that hips are in the advanced stages of dysplasia. Very good chance this will be passed on to offspring. Especially when they're young and in their prime breeding years, there may be no arthritic changes in the hips...yet. Sometimes you can tell a dog is dysplastic (clinical signs) by the way it moves or even in photos. There is the famous "bunny hop", where dogs move with both back legs together in order to reduce pressure on individual hip joints. Any stiffness or difficulty moving is a bad sign. In photos, you can see dogs with well developed chests and poorly muscled hindquarters. This comes from standing "forward", trying to put most of their weight on their front legs. If they are able to run, they will "pull" with their front end, trying not to push too much with their rear end. They prefer to sit or lie down. In walking, their hips often have a high degree of sway, this indicates laxity and will often cause arthritis eventually. In the US, it costs a whole $300 to get a dog xrayed for hip OFA, so it's not a large expense for such a useful tool in breeding for better hips. Pennhip is a bit more expensive, but I think it's even better at finding dysplasia.
Cancer is very common in a lot of dogs, in Tosas, lymphoma and osteosarcoma are by far the most common. This can even affect dogs from a year old, I have known too many dogs gone before age 5 from cancer.
Most breeders are breeding only for money, will gouge you with crazy prices, while their dogs have no health/xray screening and no titles of any type. Spending more money on a Tosa does not necessarily mean you're getting a better dog. There are a few key words or terms breeders use, and here is my opinion on them.
High Drive- what can be observed when a dog is kept kennelled or chained 24/7, and is finally given the opportunity to have some proper exercise.
Super sized- often (but not always) comes with poor conformation, reduced agility, greater chance of HD, and shorter life span.
Rare colours (Blacks, Brindles)- not so rare anymore, and certainly not worth the huge premium some may charge. Colour is the last thing a Tosa should be judged by, or chosen for.
Yokozuna or Yokozuna lines- most can't prove what they say. Ask for proof...you will likely get silence. Direct offspring of Yokozuna will likely not be the best choice for family environment. How far down the pedigree before lines stop being from Yokozuna stock? Great great great grandfather? There is NO HEALTH SCREENING in Japan, therefore imported dogs may not be all that healthy. The Japanese dogmen breed the sickliest of dogs, so long as he can win fights! Japanese imports, once they get into a new country, are usually not screened either. It is important to introduce new blood, but only if health screening is done. And even if an individual screens well, he or she is likely carrying a large number of bad genes. According to the website for the Tosa center in Kochi, only 1 in 30 dogs will become fighters. I have seen first hand, the mature offspring of a Yokozuna who was bred to a very tough Japanese import female. The aggression levels covered the full spectrum, from extremely mild (probably useless as a fighter) to extremely aggressive (risky to keep in a family setting). I am amused when I see the uninformed commenting on what a "real" Tosa is, and where to get them. Even a Tosa that was Yokozuna sired, has slim chances of following in his sire's footsteps.
Best of Breed- more often than not, if there is a Tosa at a dog show, it is the only one and automatically awarded BOB.
Breeding for Superior Health- how is this accomplished, if no health screening is done?
True Tosa Temperament-This means simply that dogs will readily fight challengers, will fight silently, and will not stop trying to dominate their opponent. Only Tosas who have been in organized fights can truly be judged to have this.
Top Bloodlines-Top of what?? There is no showing, no health screening, no training, so what are we top of?
I've seen and heard of so many mind boggling things with breeders, nothing much surprises me anymore:
-breeding dogs under 1 year old
-using dogs that are known to have badly failed hip xrays
-using dogs that have other major health problems that are likely to be inheritable
-breeding focus on a petty attribute such as colour or wrinkling
-trying to produce Tosas who aren't dog dominant
-doing massage on the joints of breeding dogs so they don't get stiff
-using Tosas that clearly have a lot of Pit bull influence
-using Tosas that are very poor examples of the breed
-selling dogs with no papers (so you know this is usually done so the dog cannot be traced back to the breeder)
-failing to honour health warranties
-mixing Tosas with other breeds, sometimes calling the result "exotic hybrid"
-someone wanting to use a female rescued Tosa with no papers, who doesn't even look purebred, as a "foundation" bitch for their breeding program
-registering dogs with the Continental Kennel Club (CKC), who will accept pretty well any dog, all you have to do is scribble a pedigree on a scrap paper. The real CKC (Canadian Kennel Club) does not recognize Tosas, therefore will not register them.
Dog is God spelled backwards
Who knows exactly when the bond began, but ever since the time of the early hominids, Canis has been our constant companion. They help us hunt for food, protect us, track our criminals, find our lost, guide our blind, assist our disabled, comfort our sick, and the list goes on. I feel incredibly honoured to have this noble creature as a friend. How we treat our friends says a lot about ourselves.
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