Raccoon Dog


Speaking of animals that appear in many folktales and fairy tales… the raccoon dog is famous! Japan has had a relationship with raccoon dogs since ancient times through songs and movies, but surprisingly, there are many things we don’t know about their ecology. Why don’t we explore the hidden secrets of raccoon dogs?



~ Basic information. ~

Raccoon dogs belong to the Mammalia class, Carnivora order, Canidae family, and Nyctereutes genus.

The body length of a raccoon dog is 50-80cm and the tail length is 13-25cm. They weigh between 4-6kg.

The main habitats of raccoon dogs are forests near water and thickets of grass. Their bodies are covered with yellowish-brown fur overall, with black fur in some places. They also have the characteristic of having thick fur. The area around their eyes is black and impressive.


Although raccoon dogs are members of the Canidae family, they are good at climbing trees.

Also, when they feel danger to themselves, they may temporarily behave as if they have fainted. This is known as ‘tanuki sleep.’ In some regions, they may be called badgers or mujina, but these are different animals that only resemble raccoon dogs. Compared to other canids, their bodies are stocky and their limbs are short. Females seem to be slightly larger than males.

The mating season is from January to March, and males make calls and mark trees with urine to call females. This also seems to have the meaning of protecting their territory. The gestation period for females is about 60-65 days, and the average number of offspring per litter is 4-6, but some raccoon dogs have given birth to as many as 12. Newborn babies are about 60-90 grams in size. The lifespan is said to be 6-8 years in the wild and about 10 years in captivity. Some raccoon dogs have lived as long as 14 years.

Raccoon dogs are omnivorous and eat a variety of foods. Their main diet consists of mice, frogs, fruits, and fish. When they have trouble finding food, they may eat human leftovers or attack ducks or chickens that are being raised as poultry.

※Poultry refers to birds that are raised for their meat, eggs, and feathers.



Raccoon dog Q&A.

What is the lifestyle and behavior of raccoon dogs like?

Raccoon dogs do not seem to make a specific den in a fixed location, but rather live in places such as the base of trees or holes dug by other animals. They do not form groups, but rather tend to act as couples or families of males and females. Male raccoon dogs have a cooperative side to parenting, staying close to the female during pregnancy and actively searching for food or grooming their offspring when the babies are born. As the children reach about 10 months of age, the parent-child relationship naturally fades and the children leave their parents to form new couples and families.


Raccoon dogs are nocturnal, so they are said to start their activities from when the sky begins to darken until sunrise.

Since their eyesight is not very good, they use their sense of smell to find food.

Also, there is a behavior called “tame feces” where couples or families defecate in specific places. This is said to be for territory recognition, one of the ways to mark their scent, or to let other raccoon dogs know of their existence.

What kind of sound do raccoon dogs make?

Dogs bark “woof woof” and cats meow “meow”, and there are various animal sounds, but have you ever heard the sound of a raccoon dog?

We often say “ponpokopon!” with the sound of hitting our stomachs, but what is the real sound?

In fact, they make high-pitched sounds like “meow” and “quack” like puppies and kittens. Perhaps it is not well known because they hardly make any noise.

By the way, when they threaten, they seem to make a slightly lower sound like “Grrr!”.


What is the origin of the name “raccoon dog”?

When written in hiragana, it is “たぬき”, and it has a cute sound and feel.

If you think about it, why is it called a raccoon dog?

There are several theories about the origin of the name. One is that in the old days, people used to wear “tanuki” (hand or arm protectors) made from raccoon dog skin. Another is that raccoon dogs would feign death while sleeping to outsmart humans.

An interesting theory is that they would steal human souls = soul stealing = tanuki.

There is no clear evidence for any of these theories, but it is surprising that there are multiple origins for the name alone.


Can raccoon dogs be kept as pets?

They are about the size of a medium-sized dog and have a cute, fluffy appearance, so some people may be interested!

You can also see videos of people living with raccoon dogs on video sharing sites, but what is the reality?

In conclusion, it is possible. Rather, it is not impossible, but there are many difficult things.

First of all, in Japan there is a law called the Wildlife Protection Law, so it is prohibited to catch wild raccoon dogs and keep them as pets.

However, if you rescue a raccoon dog that is injured or sick, you can apply for a lifetime breeding permit where you live and it will be possible to keep it.


The breeding environment can be indoors with free-range or cage breeding, but cage breeding is recommended. It is best to prepare a large dog cage.

They are omnivorous and eat a variety of things, but since they are originally members of the dog family, a nutritionally balanced dog food is also fine. In addition, giving fruits as a vitamin supplement or insects such as crickets as a protein supplement as a snack is also good.

And because raccoon dogs are timid and have a strong sense of caution, they hardly ever get used to humans. However, if rescued as a child or for some special reason, they may become attached to their owner.

They have a strong attachment to food and may chew on tatami mats or pillars and cause damage, so if you can understand these things and keep them, it is not impossible to keep them as pets. However, unless there is a very good reason, it seems that raccoon dogs and humans living together in the same house are not suitable.

There is a phrase called “tanuki neiri”, but why is it a raccoon dog?

Do you know the proverb “tanuki neiri”? Many people may have heard it because it is often heard in everyday life.

The meaning is “pretending to be asleep”, but why is the animal raccoon dog used in the first place… don’t you wonder?

As introduced in basic information and other Q&A, raccoon dogs are timid and may suddenly collapse when startled, pretending to be asleep.

Since they are conscious, this behavior has come to be used as a proverb to describe people who pretend to be asleep when it is inconvenient for them even though they are not really asleep.

But in reality, raccoon dogs are not pretending to be asleep, but are actually fainting from surprise. The phrase has become established as a slightly sneaky meaning of “pretending to be asleep for human convenience”… maybe raccoon dogs have complicated feelings too.


Is it true that raccoon dogs tricked people?

Have you ever heard of raccoon dogs transforming into humans or other creatures and surprising them, such as “Bakemono! I was tricked by a tanuki! I was deceived!” in famous movie lines or old tales?

Why did raccoon dogs come to be said to transform or change shape in the first place?

There are various theories, but here is one of them. In a Chinese book, there is a monster called the nine-tailed fox. When this story was introduced to Japan, the characters for fox and raccoon dog were divided into two animals: “kitsune” and “tanuki”.

Originally, the fox in this story was a messenger of the gods, but over time the flow of the story changed to a bad monster that transformed into something and surprised people.


Whether it was due to the influence of that Chinese book or not, when raccoon dogs were introduced into old tales, they often appeared as animals that tricked people, and their image as bakemono became stronger.

And as there is a phrase called “tanuki neiri”, the image of raccoon dogs as sneaky and clever creatures who pretend to be asleep has also become established, making their image even worse. In reality, they are not pretending to be asleep, but in the past people did not investigate this in detail.

By the way, this image of raccoon dogs is also related to the origin of the phrase “tanuki oyaji”, which mocks clever but sneaky men.

Also, foxes are also famous for tricking people. There is a proverb that says “foxes have seven transformations, raccoon dogs have eight (kitsune nanabake, tanuki yabake)”. The meaning is that raccoon dogs are better at transforming than foxes, but it is still not well understood why this came to be said.

  • “Yayu” means to tease in a funny way.

What is the “tanuki” in tanuki udon?

When you think of warm udon or soba noodles topped with lots of tempura bits and green onions… that’s right! It’s tanuki udon (soba).

The same animal name is used in dishes such as “kamo nanban”, which contains duck meat, but tanuki udon does not contain raccoon dog meat. Why is udon with only tempura bits called “tanuki udon”?

In fact, the exact reason is still not well understood.

However, there are several plausible theories. One is that removing the ingredients is called “gu nuki udon” (tane nuki udon) = tanuki udon. This theory is currently considered to be the most likely.

Other theories include that udon without ingredients makes you feel deceived = tricked, so it is called tanuki udon. Before tanuki udon, there was kitsune udon, so it was named tanuki udon to pair with kitsune… and so on.

Also, even when you say “tanuki udon”, there are differences between the Kanto and Kansai regions. In Kanto, tempura bits are called “tanuki soba”, but in Kansai, fried tofu is called “tanuki soba”.


Are raccoon dogs rare animals overseas?

In Japan, they have become familiar animals that appear in old tales, so you may not feel it very much, but in some foreign countries they are known as very rare animals.

For example, when Asahiyama Zoo in Hokkaido and Kurume City Bird Center in Fukuoka Prefecture presented a pair of male and female raccoon dogs to a zoo in Singapore, they were very pleased because they were as valuable as pandas in Japan.

Also, when Ishikawa Zoo wanted to exhibit pygmy hippos and asked a zoo in Singapore for help, they negotiated to exchange them for raccoon dogs.

Pygmy hippos are not very well known in Japan, but they are actually quite valuable animals that are registered as endangered species.

It was surprising to learn that there are countries that consider raccoon dogs to be of very high rarity value.

Recently, their habitat seems to be increasing mainly in Asia, but their popularity as a rare animal seems to continue.




Type of Raccoon dog.

  • Japanese raccoon dog
  • Hokkaido raccoon dog
  • Ussuri raccoon dog
  • Korean raccoon dog
  • Chinese raccoon dog


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