'Half-ken' dogs a hit in Japan

CUTE CROSSBREEDS: "Half-ken" or mixed-breed puppies at a Kojima pet store in Tokyo. While such dogs are growing in popularity, some people are concerned about irresponsible breeding.


    Sep 17, 2015

    'Half-ken' dogs a hit in Japan


    FLUFFY puppies that look like stuffed animals are becoming a hit in Japan. Called "half-ken", they are bred from crossing two breeds, such as a maltese and a toy poodle.

    While this new take on cuteness has been popular lately, some people are concerned about irresponsible breeding for commercial purposes.

    At the Kojima pet store chain's outlet in Meguro, Tokyo, some puppies are described as chihuahuas or toy poodles, while others are labelled as half-ken.

    Many are beige and fluffy, and it's hard to determine their breed until you see the written explanation. They are usually priced from 100,000 yen (S$1,160) to 200,000 yen, a bit less than purebred dogs.

    Such dogs have been one of the three most popular types at the shop for the past few years, according to manager Yuichiro Kato. They account for about 20 per cent of all dogs sold at the shop.

    "People seem attracted to their cuteness and uniqueness," the manager said.

    Their parents are mainly popular breeds such as toy poodles and chihuahuas. They began being called half-ken or "mix-ken" about seven or eight years ago to distinguish them from naturally crossbred dogs.

    And their numbers could be growing. According to Anicom Insurance, a leading pet insurance company in Tokyo, 87,407 newborn puppies were newly covered by the company last year before they turned one. Of these, 7,376 were artificially mixed-breed dogs that weighed less than 10kg. This was about twice the 3,286 dogs of similar ilk newly insured in 2008.

    By breed, half-ken dogs ranked third among the dogs insured by the company, following toy poodles and chihuahuas.

    One 51-year-old man in Tokyo, who has been living with a dog created by artificially crossing a chihuahua and a maltese since 2012, said people often ask him about the breed of his dog when he's walking with it. This then leads to enjoyable conversations.

    "When I bought it, it looked like a chihuahua, but it came to look more and more like a maltese as it grew. The colour of its hair has been changing, too," he said. "I enjoy its unexpected shifts."

    As mixed-breed dogs inherit characteristics from their parents, some people in Japan and overseas have also produced new types of guide dogs for visually impaired people that do not shed fur easily.

    "Some visually impaired people are allergic to dog hair," said Yumi Mizutani of the Chubu Guide Dog for the Blind Association in Nagoya. "So the demand for such dogs is increasing."

    The association member said that in Australia, a breed called a labradoodle is created by crossing a standard poodle, which does not easily shed, and a labrador retriever or other breed. The crossbred dogs are reportedly in service already.

    "Advanced analysis of dog genes has helped determine the advisability of crossbreeding and established crossbreeding technologies that help prevent hereditary diseases in crossbred puppies. Specialists in this field across the world have been working hard, as such dogs are needed."

    About 400 dog breeds are said to exist across the world.

    "Creating a new dog breed and maintaining it requires a great deal of time, advanced technologies and expertise," said Shigehisa Tsumagari, director of Nihon University's Animal Medical Center.

    "Breeders have handled this so far. However, breeding half-ken runs counter to the tradition. There is concern over irresponsible breeding, such as people placing more priority on dogs' looks and forcing dogs to give birth to as many puppies as possible."

    There are also unpredictable elements, such as how the appearance and form of half-ken puppies will change as they grow and what diseases they will be prone to.

    "Half-ken is not a breed but a product name, in a way. I hope people understand their characteristics before buying them, and love them and take care of them for life," a publicist for the Japan Kennel Club said.


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