Tosa breed: protector of the family

Mádi-Krezinger Cintia

2024. May 14 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

The Tosa has a sad past, as it was originally bred for dog fighting in the island nation. However, nowadays it has become popular due to its guarding instincts and intelligence.


Despite its history in dog fighting, the Tosa is a gentle and well-balanced dog towards its family. It is a loyal, protective, and affectionate companion, forming strong bonds with its owners.



The history of dog fighting in Japan dates back to the 14th century. Shikoku Inu was once the absolute champion of Japanese arenas, and with the arrival of Westerners, dogs from overseas began to be imported into the country as well. Tosa emerged as a hybrid of the Shikoku-ken and Western breeds, after European and other Western traders brought mastiff-type fighting dogs into the country.

The Tosa, also known as the Japanese Mastiff, derives its name from its original breeding place. The Shikoku-ken breed was first crossed with Bulldogs, then Mastiffs, German Pointers, and Great Danes. Some accounts suggest that Bernese Mountain Dogs and Bull Terriers were also involved in creating the breed.

In Japan, Tosas are the sumo wrestlers of the dog world, and locals treat them with great respect. Further west, the breed serves as a companion and guard dog.

Breed standard

The Tosa is a large dog with an impressive appearance and strong build. It is characterized by hanging ears, a square-shaped face, and a thick tail at the base. The breed’s height ranges from a minimum of 55-60 centimeters, depending on gender, and its weight ranges from 45-91 kilograms.

Its coat is short, hard, and dense. The fur comes in colors such as red, fawn, yellow, black, and brindle (tiger-striped). White patches on the chest and legs are common.


The Tosa’s calm, quiet nature, and obedience make it a beloved breed. It is tranquil yet highly alert, which makes it an ideal guard dog. While its imposing appearance and strong build preserve its fighting past, its character no longer carries aggressive traits.

Within its family, the Tosa is peaceful and affectionate, forming strong bonds with its owners and exhibiting great loyalty. Upon first encounter, it may be reserved and cautiously approach strangers, yet it instills a sense of security and trust in people.

Tosas are extremely intelligent dogs, willing to do anything to please their owners. However, it’s important to note that due to their size and strength, experienced handling is essential, ensuring proper socialization and obedience training.

Ideal environment

Tosas are not recommended for apartment living – they require a relatively large enclosed yard to feel comfortable. They need at least one hour of exercise and playtime daily, as well as a training routine to keep them mentally and physically alert.

Tosas generally behave well with children when properly trained and socialized, although due to their size, they should not be left unsupervised with younger family members. They typically do not tolerate other household pets well.


An important part of Tosa care is dental and nail care. Ideally, teeth should be brushed daily to prevent tartar buildup, while nails should be trimmed at least once a month. However, spending adequate time outdoors typically naturally wears down the dog’s nails.

It’s also important to note that Tosas may be prone to drooling. While this is entirely natural, it may be bothersome to some people.

Common health problems

Tosas are generally healthy dogs, but they may be prone to certain health issues. These include bloat, hip dysplasia, and eye problems.

If you’re interested in large breed dogs, read our breed description of the Caucasian Shepherd Dog by clicking here.
ancient breed breed breed description breeds dogfighting History mastiff tosa

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