What is a Raccoon Dog?

What is a Raccoon Dog?

What the heck is a raccoon dog anyway? 

Well, I can start by telling you what they are not... raccoons! While they closely resemble our beloved North American 'trash panda', they are not even part of the same family of animals. While they both sport stunning and mysterious mask markings and have both been sought after for their luxurious furs, they couldn't even accurately be called cousins. While raccoons have those adorable little hands that regularly get them into trouble, raccoon dogs have paws similar to what you would expect to see on a dog. 

Right, so, they are dogs then? Well, not exactly. While they are part of the canid family (the same family as wolves, foxes, coyotes and dogs), they are not dogs any more than a fox is a dog. In fact, the fox is actually the raccoon dog's closest relative.

Can I keep it?

Although I can completely relate to the desire to do so, the raccoon dog should not be kept as a pet. It is a wild animal that requires lots of space and freedom to forage, hunt, explore and adventure. They are typically shy toward people but are extremely curious creatures. When kept as pets, they will often become aggressive and unmanageable. They are also very stinky creatures who use scent to communicate, not a great house-pet feature. Worse yet, when things go sideways keeping these wild animals as pets, people tend to release them back into the wild which causes all sorts of problems. So, no, you can not keep them as pets... go get a dog (or maybe start with a goldfish). 

Raccoon dog behaviour and traits

Raccoon dogs are the only canid species that hibernate; although it is not essential for their physical health so in some warmer regions, they don't start or complete the hibernation cycle. They are excellent climbers and are often found in trees. They range in weight from 5-22 pounds and are about 20-25 cm long from the head to the base of the tail, about the size of a small dog. 

Similar to dogs, raccoon dog puppies begin opening their eyes around day 10 and teeth emerge around day 14. They nurse from their mothers for about three months but they do begin eating solid food as well around 1 month. 

They reach their full size at 4.5 months and sexual maturity between 8-10 months. The lifespan of the raccoon dog is not fully understood. In the wild, there is proof of them living 6-7 years and up to 11 years in captivity. 

One really cool thing about raccoon dogs is their ability to eat poisonous toads without a reaction. Apparently, they have crazy amounts of saliva that dilutes the toxins making them safe to ingest.  

Another reason to love these stinky, drooly creatures is their devotion to their relationships. They are one of the few monogamous animals where the male takes an active role in raising their pups. Don't get too jealous of the female raccoon dog ladies, she has her fair share of plights... this girl goes into heat every 20-24 days EVEN WHILE PREGNANT! 

Like the dog breed Basenji, or the fox, raccoon dogs do not bark, but that does not make them non-vocal. In fact, they have tons of other sounds they make and can be very vocally expressive. 

Raccoon dogs are not known for their speed and have relatively poor vision compared to other canid species, but they have a powerful sense of smell and are rather tenacious in their foraging activities, making them somewhat destructive explorers. They have been known to destroy melon farms, vineyards, hobby gardens and corn fields. Lil'rascals!

What is our history with the raccoon dog?

Raccoon dogs date back millions of years, so, although some of us are just becoming aware of these beautiful little beasts, they have certainly put their time in and been subjected to all sorts of human bullshit over the years. Yep, that's right, humans screwed up again. <sigh>

Raccoon dogs originated in Eastern Asia and have been called  

Common, Chinese or Asian raccoon dogs with a prevalent subspecies called the Japanese raccoon dog or tanuki. They are not common in the USA or Canada.

Between the 1920s and 1960's they were strategically released across Russia (republic of the soviet union) and Europe in an attempt to improve the fur quality in these regions. The population increased very quickly and as a result, the fur sales of its trade names 'Ussuri', 'Murmansk' or 'tanuki' began to skyrocket. As raccoon dog fur sales trended in the USA, it was labelled as 'Asiatic raccoon' to make it more appealing to the masses. I guess the idea of skinning dogs was a little too Cruella de Vil for buyers to get their heads around. 

Eventually, with fur becoming more taboo, there were many widely publicized incidents across the USA where raccoon dog fur was labelled and sold as faux fur!

In 2019, the raccoon dog population became so problematic they were deemed hazardous in the UK and it became illegal to import, transport, keep, breed or sell them. In 2021 they were identified as one of the UK's top 20 invasive species.  

Right, so aside from the fact that these guys are relentlessly hunted, identified as pests and even eaten in some cultures, they have historically been treated very poorly and even skinned alive. Now, these creatures are being widely associated as the origin of the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

Raccoon dog and COVID-19

While originally targeted as the natural hosts for serious coronavirus, Raccoon dogs, were then identified as likely being accidental transient hosts with bats taking most of the blame for COVID-19. With new releases of data from China, German virologist Christian Drosten, has suggested that raccoon dogs were likely the vehicle that originally transmitted covid to humans from the live animal market in Guangdong, China. 

More specifically, there is evidence that traces it to the exact stall at that market, "Stall 29", where raccoon dogs were being kept in cages on top of cages full of chickens. Apparently, this would create the perfect zoonosis recipe. Of course, regardless of data and even proof, these ideas are being poo-pooed by China. 

Raccoon dogs are known to be easily able to catch and spread COVID-19. In this identified market, there were over a thousand raccoon dogs for sale for both fur and meat as well as about 9000 other animals. Let's keep in mind that these animals would all likely be incredibly stressed and terrified. This would be the perfect breeding ground for poor health. 

The raccoon dog in Folklore

Ok, so now that we are all informed of what raccoon dogs ACTUALLY are, let me introduce you to my new good luck charm who, according to Japanese myth, promises to bring me wealth, good fortune and some fun times…. I have named him Rory. 

While his appearance could easily be described as disturbing, Rory is a revered tanuki statue. The tanuki is a full-bellied, well-endowed, mischievous and playful trickster with the ability to shape-shift. According to www.atlasobscura.com, there is even a popular children's rhyme about the raccoon dog that's lyrics translate to "Tan-tan, the Tanuki’s testicles ring/the wind has stopped blowing/but still they swing-swing.” Even more interesting is the importance his testicles play in his ability to magically change form or take cover in the rain. Until I read this article, I was so taken by my new friend Rory's animated yet fixed expression, that I didn't even notice his prominent nether-region .... now, it's all I can see!


Even with his sordid past and unreasonable indecency, I am fairly enamoured with my new ceramic friend, so much so that this afternoon I opted to bring him outside with me to my 'she-shed' (or 'lady-cave' as I call it) and had him sitting on one of the lawn chairs beside me. Unfortunately, my husband decided to open the doggie door and let the dogs outside to pee. When Toots, ran out to say hello, he was startled and terrified by Rory's joyful yet menacing appearance. Here is how I helped Toots work through his fear of Rory the ceramic Japanese raccoon dog.


If you've made it to the end of this bizarre blog post, you now know more about the raccoon dog than most of your friends and family and have some interesting factoids to share at your next social event.

Jessica Eden O'Neill 

Canine Behaviour Expert

JWalker Inventor