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Japanese chin dog breed

Breed overview

  • Breed group — Toy group (American Kennel Club)
  • Height — 8-11 inches
  • Weight — 7-11 pounds
  • Coat length & texture — Silky single coat that sheds moderately
  • Coat color — White coat with black, tan, lemon, red, or sable markings
  • Exercise needs — Average
  • Intelligence — Average
  • Barking — When necessary
  • Life span — 10-12 years
  • Temperament — Charming, playful, aristocratic
  • Hypoallergenic — No
  • Origin — China

Japanese chin fun facts 

  • They’re actually from China. Westerners discovered the Japanese chin in Japan, but they’re originally from China.
  • They can dance the “chin spin.” Like toy poodles, the Japanese chin likes to hop on two legs and spin around when they’re excited.
  • The Japanese chin is more esteemed than the average dog in Japan. The Japanese considered a “chin” to be a separate animal from the dog, which is translated “inu.”
Japanese chin dog breed close up

Japanese chin temperament and characteristics 

With their silky fur and  large wide-set eyes, the Japanese chin has endeared themselves to people for centuries. Bred to be a small companion dog to Chinese and Japanese emperors, the Japanese chin remembers their royal roots and can put on aristocratic airs. The Japanese chin is extremely affectionate to their family, including other dogs in the household, but can be a little wary of strangers. Many pet parents say that their Japanese chin has a cat-like personality, which may explain why they are also likely to get along with felines.

fun facts

👉 Coming up with a pet name can be fun but tricky. Search no further! According to PetScreening’s 2024 database, the majority of our users name their male Japanese Chins Gizmo; Yoshi is the 2nd most popular male name. Meanwhile, most of our users with female Japanese Chins love Bella, then Lily.

Common Japanese chin health problems 

The Japanese chin is a relatively healthy breed, but may be genetically susceptible to minor problems that are common in smaller breeds, such as cataracts and luxating patellas. Unfortunately, they may also carry Tay-Sachs disease, which is fatal. However, this can be determined with a DNA test that’s recommended before breeding.

  • Tay-Sachs disease. Formally known as GM2 gangliosidosis, Tay-Sachs disease is a fatal neurodegenerative illness that destroys nerve cells when waste collects. Currently, there isn’t a treatment or a cure, but it can be prevented before breeding through a DNA test.
  • Patellar luxation. Toy breeds are prone to experiencing patellar luxation , which is when their kneecap pops out of place. Sometimes surgery is recommended, but it’s not always required for mild cases.
  • Cataracts. Genetics or acquired conditions such as diabetes can cause cataracts . If the dog is still young, a veterinarian may opt to remove the cataract so it doesn’t impair their vision.
  • Epilepsy. Dogs who frequently have seizures with no known cause are said to have epilepsy . Depending on frequency and severity, medications may be helpful to control the seizures. Dogs with epilepsy will often need to stay on medication for life to avoid recurring seizures.

Cost of caring for a Japanese chin

Enrolling your dog in a pet insurance policy can help you pay for any medical expenses that arise down the road. Some health insurance policies restrict coverage, such as not covering congenital or genetic conditions, so it pays to shop around before settling on a company.  If you have a senior pet or a dog with preexisting conditions, it might be a better idea to create a pet savings account instead.

Pet insurance usually works by letting you pay the full vet bill up front on a credit card and receiving a reimbursement after filing a claim. A pet savings account may benefit you more in the long run since it’s impossible to know ahead of time whether you’ll receive enough credit to cover the bill.

History of the Japanese chin 

When Commodore Matthew Perry visited Japan during one of his 19th-century voyages, he couldn’t help but notice a little lap dog that quietly resided in the emperor’s palace. Perry was allowed to take some Japanese chins back to the United States to give to his daughter and President Franklin Pierce. The story spread that he’d found a new dog from Japan, and this toy breed shortly became known as the Japanese spaniel in the West.

They were readily received by the American Kennel Club, who welcomed them in as the Japanese spaniel in 1888. Maybe these little dogs were responsible for opening trade between Japan and the United States. Only history can tell.

Since Perry discovered this little dog in Japan, he assumed that they were Japanese. This wasn’t quite right. The Japanese chin was originally from China, where they were bred to please the Chinese emperor. Some possible ancestors include the Tibetan spaniel, the shih tzu, and the Pekingese.

In 1979, the “Japanese spaniel” was finally recognized as the Japanese chin in the West to honor their heritage.

Japanese chin dog breed tan and white

Caring for your Japanese chin

Once you bring your Japanese chin puppy home, you’ll need to take them on their first trip to the vet and schedule their vaccinations. Your puppy will also need heartworm prevention, and flea and tick control as well unless you live in a cold climate. As a new dog owner, it’s important to puppy-proof your home and prepare for teething. Puppies are curious by nature, so you should also secure them with an ID collar like FidoAlert just in case they wander off.


Despite their aristocratic airs, the Japanese chin does need to get off the couch for daily exercise to stay healthy. Even so, they don’t require as much exercise as high energy breeds. A couple of ten or fifteen minute walks every day should suffice.

Japanese chin dog breed


The Japanese chin has a silky single coat, which is fairly rare in the canine kingdom. This single coat still sheds, so they’re not considered hypoallergenic. However, they should shed less than the average dog with a double coat. Their hair needs special care because it’s easily damaged due to its fine texture. You should brush their coat with a pin brush a few times a week to prevent tangles.

In addition to coat care, the Japanese chin will also need frequent nail trims, ear cleanings, and teeth brushing like most breeds.

Diet and nutrition

Small dogs like the Japanese chin will probably only eat 1 cup or less of dry food each day, depending on what type of food. However, what they eat has a huge impact on their overall health, so it’s important to choose a food that’s AAFCO-certified and well-balanced to meet their nutritional requirements. Your vet is a great source to determine what type of food best suits your dog’s age, lifestyle, breed, and individual health concerns.

Certain high-quality food brands have more breed-specific choices, or smaller kibbles and soft food for small breeds.

Dr. Bruce Armstrong

Training your Japanese chin

Most Japanese chins are eager to please their owners, but believe they are the ruler of the house and may dislike authority at first. Start training them as early as possible in brief sessions with plenty of praise and treats. Once you’ve established a relationship of friendship and trust with your chin, they’ll be more likely to listen.

Japanese chin dog happy

Breeds similar to the Japanese chin

Adopting a dog is a huge decision. If you’re not sure that a Japanese chin is quite right for you, here are some similar breeds you might also want to consider:

  • Shih tzu. The “lion dog” was also a royal favorite in China and Tibet. The shih tzu is much more popular in the US, and thus much easier to find than the relatively rare Japanese chin.
  • Pekingese. Named after Peking, which is modern Beijing, the Pekingese hasn’t forgotten their royal heritage. The Pekingese shares a very similar history and appearance to the shih tzu and the Japanese chin. However, they’re double-coated and a little smaller.
  • Papillon. The papillon knows how to party with their multicolored coat and playful attitude. Their silky ears tend to point upwards, which is how they got their name Papillon or “butterfly” in French.

Frequently asked questions

Is the Japanese chin a good family dog?

Yes. As an affectionate companion dog, the Japanese chin bestows all of their love on the people in their household. Small children will need to be taught not to push their buttons, but they’re an excellent choice for older kids. They also tend to get along well with other dogs and cats, but early socialization is a better predictor than breed.

Is the Japanese chin a rare breed?

Although they share a similar lineage to popular breeds such as the shih tzu, the Japanese chin is a relatively uncommon breed. While you might find a shih tzu at a local shelter, you’ll likely need to go through a reputable breeder or breed-specific rescue to find a Japanese chin.

Does the Japanese chin shed?

Yes, the Japanese chin sheds. However, since they have a single coat, they might not shed as profusely as similar dogs with a double coat, such as the Pekingese.