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Akita

Akita Inu

Fully grown Akita

Akita History

“Tender in heart and strength” is how the Japanese describe their Ichiban (number One), the AKITA. Of the seven purebred Japanese breeds, the Akita is the largest and the most revered by the people of Japan. It has been designated as a national monument by the Japanese Ministry of Education, and in their native land, they are regarded not only as fine pets and companions but also as symbols of good health.

The breed was developed in the 17th century when a nobleman, exiled to Akita Prefecture, the northernmost province of the island of Honshu, Japan, encouraged the land barons there to compete in the breeding of a dog for hunting. He wanted a large, aggressive dog that would be versatile enough to hunt deer and bear. Generations of selective breeding produced the Akita’s ancestor (smaller than the modern day Akita), a dog of superior size and frame with versatile hunting abilities.

Once, ownership of an Akita was restricted to the Imperial family and the ruling aristocracy. Instructions for the dog’s care and feeding were detailed in elaborate ceremony and special leashes denoted the Akita’s rank and the standing of its owner. Each dog had a caretaker who wore an ornate costume in accordance with the Akita’s standing.

Several times over the next 300 years, this “good luck charm” of the wealthy was nearly driven to extinction. Periodic favor kept the Akita alive through the Meiji and Taisho eras. But, during the 17th and 18th centuries, dog fighting posed a serious threat to the breed’s continuation. Crosses with the Tosa Fighting Dog (a large, mastiff type of dog) from Shikoku Island produced the “Shin-Akita” (New Akita Dog), an animal of imposing size, trigger-like aggression and immense power. With all the interbreeding to produce Shin-Akitas, the original strain was nearly lost.

In 1899, there was a devastating outbreak of rabies in Japan. During the next 30 years, nearly 3,000 cases were reported. Dogs, including many Akitas, were ruthlessly and indiscriminately killed, for fear they might be carriers of this fatal disease.

By the 1900’s, Akitas were nearly extinct. In 1927, the Akita Inu Hozankai Society of Japan was established to preserve the purity of the breed. In 1931, the government of Japan designated the Akita breed as a national monument as one of Japan’s national treasures. The breed was so highly prized because of its rarity that the government would subsidize food for Akitas when their owners couldn’t afford to feed them.

The ancient Japanese word matagi, meaning esteemed hunter, was bestowed on the best hunters in a village. The Akita was known as matagiinu (esteemed hunting dog) by the hunters of the northern Prefecture of Akita, who used pairs of dogs (a male and a female) to hunt deer, bear and wild boar. The animals would hold their prey at bay until the hunters arrived.

Akitas are highly prized because they hunt silently. They also have a “soft mouth” which allows them to retrieve game unharmed. Akitas are even said to have been used to drive fish into waiting nets.

The renowned Helen Keller is accredited with bringing the first Akita to the U.S. Outside of a Tokyo train station there is a statue of Hachiko, faithful pet of Dr. Elisaburo Ueno. The dog waited faithfully each day for his master to debark the train after work. One day the master did not come home, but still Hachiko waited, keeping up his daily vigil for nine years. He was fed by station attendants until his death, and each year a solemn ceremony is held in his honor. Keller was so taken with the story of the dog’s fidelity that the Ministry of Education presented her with an Akita puppy named Kamikaze. Later, when the puppy died, the Ministry sent a second Akita to Miss Keller.

The breed’s popularity in the U.S. really started when returning servicemen brought the dogs home with them. They were attracted to the dogs’ strength and adaptability. The Akita Club was founded in 1956, and the breed was admitted to registration in the American Kennel Club Stud Book in October, 1972, and to regular show classification in 1973.

Akita Description

It is not uncommon for the uninitiated to ask if the Akita is a cross between a dog and a bear. Indeed, its massive head and chest do “bear” a certain resemblance to the larger mammals. One distinctive feature of the Akita is its fine ears: erect, triangular, small ears, set slanting forward and on either side of the head. Another Akita feature you can’t miss is its tail, set high and carried in a curve over its back. Its eyes are deep-set and triangular.

Akita Traits

The Akita is a liberal combination of kindness, courage and alertness. It is extraordinarily affectionate and tolerant. It is also very protective and will defend itself and its charges against others, particularly other dogs. It is intelligent and retains its lessons very well. It can’t be bullied into submissiveness and will resent forceful training methods and nagging.

Akitas will not tolerate physical abuse. They are strong willed dogs with proud egos. They need firm handling, patience and praise. Large breeds like the Akita have a potential for violence and should not be sold to weak-willed or impatient owners. These dogs won’t stand for mistreatment and will resent disciplinary training tactics sometimes used on other large breeds. An Akita may live 10 to 12 years and needs love and gentle guidance to prosper. Because of their strength, Akitas in the wrong environment, or without proper training, can be dangerous.

Akita puppies resemble teddy bears as much as older dogs resemble the full-sized, real ones. The Akita litter is usually about 8 to 10 pups. At 3 months, an Akita pup might weigh more than 30 pounds, and at 10 months, it is filled out to nearly adult stature. Akitas will adjust to any climate and don’t require as much exercise as other large breeds; however, a large, fenced yard should be considered a necessity.

Akitas mature at 3 to 4 years of age and should be given calcium supplements while growing, if a need is indicated.

Akitas are basically sound with few health problems. Conscientious breeders have their stock x-rayed for hip dysplasia. Bloat is a life threatening condition to watch for that requires immediate veterinary attention. It can be prevented by making sure meals are digested before vigorous exercise and that water is not drunk in excess. Otherwise, regular grooming, veterinary checkups and a good diet will keep the Akita in good condition.

An Akita is an intrepid guardian of its family and property. In Japan, it is often left to baby-sit children while mothers go off to work. It will not bark unless thoroughly alarmed, so it can be kept in close proximity to neighbors. It is an ideal car passenger that won’t fuss, drool, or get sick, and it keeps itself fastidiously clean. Akitas shed twice a year, unless kept in a cold climate in which case they shed only once.

They are known for their mild disposition and their ability to “keep their cool” in stressful situations. One bad habit they seem to have is “goosing” people, and being gored from either front or behind by one of these dogs can be embarrassing. The Akita is also inclined to be jealous, so showing affection to other family pets will have to be handled diplomatically.

Akitas are gentle, extremely loyal dogs. They won the heart of their native land with their kind disposition and loving nature, and for a few special owners, they are the only breed to own. In Japan, they are considered good luck and are often given to ill persons or families with newborns to bring good fortune and happiness into their homes. But no matter what country and customs it must adhere to, the Akita is a versatile and revered companion, capable of loving and protecting its family for many years.

Akita Facts

  1. Most Akita puppies chew. A poodle puts a few teeth marks in chair, an Akita will destroy the whole chair. Most grow out of this stage by their first birthday, but some do not stop until they are about two. They have been named “100 pound termites” with good reason.
  2. Akitas do not bark unless there is a good reason. When an Akita is barking, pay attention!
  3. Akitas are inherently aggressive towards other animals and for this reason, they should not be allowed to run free or roam at will.
  4. Akitas consider small animals as prey and hunt them. This includes cats, rodents, birds, small wildlife and small dogs. Akitas can be raised to accept animals in residence. Some adult Akitas can even be trained to fit into a home where other animals are already established. It is imperative, however, that the Akita be closely watched around the other animals until you have established a peaceful co-existence.
  5. Akitas are VERY FOOD POSSESSIVE. If you have other pets, you will want to be certain the Akita is given his own food bowl or treats well away from other animals and that no other animal is allowed near the Akita until the food is gone.
  6. Akitas not raised with children are not always tolerant of small children, and the Akita should never be left alone with a child until you are CERTAIN you have a dog who adores children. Often, Akitas raised with children will tolerate their own children, but may not accept the neighborhood kids.
  7. Akitas do not like to be teased and may respond by biting. Some children are allowed to treat animals unkindly, a behavior that often leads to cruelty to animals. These children should be kept away from an Akita whose large size and hunting instincts can endanger the child’s life.
    For more information about children and dogs, read Dog Saftey Tips for Parents.
  8. Akitas like to take charge — an inherited trait from their wolf ancestry and may, at times, challenge you for the dominant position (especially adolescent males from 1 year to 2 years of age). This behavior cannot be tolerated and a firm, CONSISTENT correction should be your immediate response. Akitas with good temperament accept discipline well — not beating, but intelligent discipline.
  9. Akitas should be obedience trained BY THEIR OWNER and not sent away to school like some little poodle!! A good obedience class will guarantee a firm bond with your dog and well-behaved dog. Remember though, Akitas are extremely intelligent and tend to get bored easily. They learn quickly so short training periods are suggested. This keeps the dog from becoming bored. Akitas are very stubborn, and when the dog thinks it is a waste of time to “sit” or “stay” one more time, he may simply walk away. Obedience training requires patience!
  10. Some Akitas are “talkers”. They may grunt, groan and mumble to entertain themselves and you. This conversational verbalizing is not growling and should not be interpreted as a growl which sounds quite different. Akita “talking” is an endearing trait and should not frighten you. After living with the dog, you will easily distinguish between talking and growling.
  11. Akitas are not considered hyperactive; they are low activity indoor dogs and moderate activity outdoor dogs. They can fit into a sedentary household, but for optimum health for both you and your Akita, regular exercise is important.
  12. Akitas are very people oriented and are not happy when kept apart from the family. If you do not plan on having your dog live with you both inside your home and yard, you should not seriously consider an Akita for a pet.
  13. When keeping another dog with an Akita, it is usually more harmonious to have one of each sex.
  14. If your Akita has a propensity for digging, expect your yard to resemble a lunar landscape; they are great earth moving machines when so motivated.
  15. Some Akitas are escape artists. They will hook their front paws over a low fence and climb over. If they can get their heads under a fence, the rest of the body is sure to follow. Some have been known to go through a wooden fence with the right motivation.
  16. Akitas usually shed twice a year in great quantities. It is called “blowing their coat”. They lose the entire wooly undercoat, which makes little tumbleweeds of hair all over your house. The shed lasts 4 to 8 weeks. It can be hurried along by daily brushing and warm baths.
  17. GROOMING:  If you get a puppy, start cutting toenails, brushing, bathing, ear cleaning, teeth brushing very early.  It is much easier to do this to a 20 lb. puppy and get him used to it than to fight with a 100 lb. adult. Adults can be trained to accept this with patience and a little TLC.
  18. Akitas are big dogs. Therefore, everything is going to be “more”. More expensive vet bills, medications, collars, food, bigger piles of stool to clean up, large food/water bowls, large size crates. It will be expensive to board your Akita, or have it bathed and dipped. This will affect you financially, so consider carefully, and be sure you can afford to have an Akita.
  19. Akitas live from 10-14 years with good care and proper nutrition.
  20. Akitas are loyal, excellent watch dogs, wonderful companions who enjoy affection, but do not crave it. Once you’ve been owned by an Akita, you will never switch to another breed!

Original article by by Edith Van der Lyn Dog Fancy Magazine, November 1984

For more information about the Akita

More handy Akita links to breeders, clubs, rescue groups worldwide.

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  1. December 14, 2009 at 5:39 am

    Thanks for this post.

    We have been fortunate to have had an Akita, Kuro, as part of our family for the past 8 years. Having been around dogs all of my life, I can honestly say that Kuro is the smartest non-human that I have ever known. In fact, he displays significantly more signs of intelligence than most people that I know. He displays understanding of complex relationships, and is the most alert watch dog that I have ever been around. Although rare, when he goes to “battle stations” he commands a significant presence with both his size and commitment.

    While I am not suggesting that Akita’s will be the correct pet for someone. They can be both a companion and friend. The commitment to have an Akita is significant, but so are the rewards.

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