ALL DOG BREED PROFILES

Akita

Akita dog
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The Akita is a dog breed native to the highlands of northern Japan. In many countries there are 2 types of Akita dogs, namely the American Akita and the Japanese Akita. However, the differences between them are almost insignificant and not even recognized by all kennel clubs around the world.

The Akita is considered the national dog of Japan and a natural monument as well. In the past, these dogs were prized, even venerated and only the nobility were allowed to own such a majestic dog. They were used as imperial guards, to hunt bears and wild boars. Their role has changed since, but they are appreciated just as much as they used to be.

Not recommended for people who wish for a lapdog, live in a small apartment or don’t have a strong character, the Akita is so intelligent, courageous and agile that it might make its own rules if it is not properly trained by a firm owner.

This amazing dog breed that almost disappeared after World War II is present throughout the world, standing by the side of various persons who are richer by having a loyal friend besides them. Fortunately, the owners of these dogs don’t have to worry about sickness in case of the Akita. This dog is predisposed to certain diseases, but it rarely gets sick if it is properly fed and cared for.

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
TrainabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessLow
Exercise NeedsAbove Average

Dog Breed Group: Working Dogs
Height: Generally 2 feet to 2 feet, 4 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight: Generally 70 to 130 pounds
Life Span: 10 to 12 years

The Akita is a great, brave, strong and vigilant dog. It is a working dog breed that often participates in competitions and is also used for therapy. In Japan, the Akita is considered a symbol of health, prosperity and wealth. However, it is not the type of dog that can be easily dominated or left alone. Having such a dog implies many responsibilities and requires experience with other types of dogs. An owner of the Akita should be dominant and earn the dog’s respect.

Dominance is more a state of mind, but in case of the Akita, one must be prepared to dominate it physically too, if necessary. The Akita will take control and be the leader if there isn’t someone who can tame it.

The Akita is a bright, sensitive and responsive dog with which one can spend time training it, playing with it and just enjoying its company. It is a very loyal dog that knows what devotion means and that will stick by its owner and its family for the rest of its life even if it will only recognize one member of the family as authority.

During samurai days, dogs were a symbol of strength, loyalty, power, wealth and courage. This is why they were raised with respect and great love. All dogs, including the Akita had special shoes on, which were embroidered with their owner’s rank. Although they used the Akita for its numerous skills, they also repaid it by treating it accordingly and by loving it like it were a member of the family.

Recent analyzes of this dog breed’s DNA confirmed that it is one of the most primitive breeds. Among the most famous dogs that belong to this dog breed is Hachiko. In Japan, this particular dog is known for its loyalty to its owner. After he died, Hachiko went to the train station where it had seen him last, every day for the rest of its life. In fact, Hachiko died in front of the train station waiting for its owner. That train station is called Shibuya Station and there’s a life-size statue of Hachiko. There is an entire movie based on these real life events.

Main Highlights
  • Akita is the largest of the Japanese Spitz types of dogs.
  • The ancestors of the current Akita dog were used for guarding purposes or for hunting black bears. They were called Matagi dogs and they were smaller than the Akita dogs known these days.
  • The Akita is a large dog, with a strong constitution, balanced proportions and massive bone structure. The main physical characteristics of this dog breed are relatively wide head, almost shaped like a triangle, solid nose, small eyes and erect ears.
  • The Akita is a dog with a robust allure, vigorous, solid and well-proportioned, but which emanates tenderness and grandeur.
  • The Akita is a dog full of benefits. It inspires strength, nobility, dignity and balance. Some people think it is the perfect combination between a cat and a bear.
  • It was declared a natural monument by the Japanese government. The copies bred in Japan are called Akita Inu. Inu is the Japanese word for dog.
  • This dog breed is separated in 2 other dog breeds, the Japanese Akita and the American Akita, but not recognized everywhere around the globe.
  • The Akita Inu (Japanese) and the Great Japanese Dog (American) developed in parallel in different countries, so the occurrence of 2 different breeds was inevitable.
  • In the US, the UK and in all countries that are not members of the FCI, the 2 breeds, namely Akita Inu and the Great Japanese Dog are not separated, but considered one and the same dog breed.
  • The Akita dogs are used for therapy, security and as faithful companions.
  • Japanese women often leave their children in the care of these dogs. They are extremely loyal and good companions.
  • The Akita needs a wise and experienced owner, who is able to understand what such proud and independent dogs need and how they can be handled. If trained properly, the Akita becomes gentle and loving. If not, it behaves like a tiger.
  • This dog breed’s energy level is medium to high. In addition, these dogs have very strong and unique personalities. Therefore, they need daily walks and intense exercising at least 2 times per week.
  • The Akita is a large dog, but not a giant breed. Therefore, it is a good apartment dog, requiring a moderate level of physical exercise. However, it would be best to be kept in a wide yard.
  • This dog breed is not recommended for those people who have never had dogs before. It is more complicated to raise a well-behaved Akita than other types of dogs.
  • The Akita breed loves to grab things with its mouth, including people’s wrists. This gesture is not at all aggressive. The dog is just trying to ask for something.
  • Akita dogs often make funny and strange sounds. They do bark in case of danger, but they sometimes make various sounds to entertain people or because they have their reasons.
Breed History

The Akita is an ancient Japanese dog breed named after the Akita prefecture. Its history began more than four centuries ago. At first, it was known as the bravest hunter of bears and then it became the dog of shoguns and samurais.

In other words, the nobility owned such dogs and used to spoil them by making collars out of gold and leashes out of silk for them. Because of all these reasons, it has quickly earned an important status, that of the symbol of strength, courage and wealth. Although the Akita went through difficult times, being crossed with other breeds to satisfy the requirements of certain people and used as fighting dog, it has also been through an extensive purification process that helped it return to its initial characteristics.

In the beginning, the Japanese Akita and the American Akita were the same dog breeds. In 1603, in the Akita region, the Matagis Inu breed was used for fighting purposes. A few hundred years later, in 1868, these medium sized dogs were mated with copies from the Tosa and the Mastiff dog breeds.

The result of these crossings was a dog with less Spitz type qualities and with an increased waist. In 1908, when the fights between dogs were banned, breeders started to improve this type of dog, relying more on developing other characteristics that aggressiveness. In 1931, Akita Inu is recognized as a new dog breed in Japan and declared a natural monument.

During the World War II, these dogs’ coats were used to make military garments. Sadly, back then, the only dogs that got away were the German Shepherds. They were useful for the military, so that’s why they were spared. Dog owners were so desperate that they tried to combine their dogs, regardless of breed with German Shepherds in their attempt to save them from death. Therefore, at the end of World War II, the number of Akita dogs was dramatically reduced.

Even so, there were 3 distinct types, namely the Matagi Akita, the Akita dogs used for fights and those mated with German Shepherds.  However, after the war, during the restoration period of the pure breed, Kongo-go from the Dewa line experienced a brief but extraordinary popularity. Many copies of Akita dogs from the Dewa line were endowed with the characteristics of the Mastiff and the German Shepherd and were brought to the United States by members of the US military forces.

These dogs were intelligent and capable of adapting to different environments, fact which was fascinating for the dog breeders in the United States. In 1956 was founded the American Akita Club and the American Kennel Club accepted it as a purebred in October 1972. At that time, the AKC and the Japan Kennel Club didn’t have an agreement regarding the mutual recognition of purebred dogs, fact which prevented the introduction of the new bloodlines in Japan.

Therefore, the Akita dogs from America became slightly different from those in Japan. The American Akita’s features remained unchanged since 1955, but still a little dissimilar compared with the features of the Japanese Akita.

The first Akita, Kamikaze-Go, was brought to the US by the legendary Hellen Keller in 1937, followed by Kenzan-Go, in 1939. Then, immediately after the war, more and more people wanted to have such dogs. Military personnel and American businessmen wanted to leave Japan with at least one Akita dog. This sudden interest determined a few dog breeders to produce puppies of poor quality just to earn some cash. In 1956, 11 enthusiasts who owned 30 copies of purebred Akita founded the American Akita Kennel Club.

After long disputes between Japan and America, they adopted the reciprocity clause. This means that in 1992 people started importing Akita dogs from Japan once again. However, the differences between the American Akita and the Japanese Akita couldn’t go unnoticed.

The American Akita is taller and heavier; it has a shorter and more powerful snout and often a black mask. The dog breed from Japan is more stylized, with a longer snout and strict color standards. It was only in 1999 when the FCI recognized the American version as a new dog breed called the Great Japanese Dog.

Size

The Akita is a large sized dog. Even if there is a weight difference between the American Akita and the Japanese Akita, the following information represents the average weight for both specimens. Male Akita dogs weigh between 70 and 130 pounds, while females can reach about 110 pounds. The Akita dogs measure between 24 and 28 inches tall regardless of gender.

Personality and Character

The Akita was a hunting dog and military dog during the past, so it is courageous and proud. Even it was raised to be a companion dog during the last decades it is still instinctually well prepared to react in dangerous situations. One can deeply understand such dog or not understand it at all. Japanese people describe it as “Ichi-Ban”, which is a phrase used to say “natural pride”. They consider that a dog without this moral quality is not a purebred Akita. Dignity is one of the fundamental elements of this dog breed because dignity, in general, is fundamental in the oriental culture.

Like any dog, the Akita needs to be trusted, a peaceful place to live and a loving family. The owner of an Akita should be authoritative, but also balanced, imposing himself or herself calmly and firmly. This dog loves treats just like other dogs, so it can be easily rewarded in case it deserves one, and why wouldn’t it? Spending time with an Akita is as crucial as feeding it. These dogs don’t like to be left alone. In addition, if they are alone for too long, they become destructive.

Thanks to its courage and devotion to its owner, the Akita is always willing to fight in order to defend its owner. This applies in case of animals or men, but aggressiveness is not a purpose for these dogs. Nevertheless, the Great Japanese Dog and its Japanese version are true fighters that don’t run from danger, but face it with courage. They show their intention to attack seconds before actually doing it. Believe it or not, they have the capacity to distinguish guests from intruders.

The Akita is a great and very intelligent dog. It possesses the ability to judge and has a very independent nature. It learns everything very quickly, but it gets bored easily. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it will start destroying things, but that it is smart enough in order to learn a multitude of commands and tricks. Of course, in order to listen, it needs a firm owner who can dominate its powerful character and tame it.

Health and Potential Problems

The most common cause of death in case of Akita dogs is cancer. In addition, this dog breed is prone to developing hip dysplasia, eye problems, lupus or hypothyroidism. Other problems encountered in Akita dogs are progressive atrophy of the retina, autoimmune diseases or blood problems.

  • The GDV- Also known as gastric dilatation with or without torsion, the GDV is a digestive system problem caused by excess gas found in the stomach. This is a problem that needs to be solved quickly and that requires the intervention of a specialist. Symptoms of this disease include abdominal discomfort or pain, depression, difficulty breathing, drooling or unsuccessful attempts to vomit.
  • Hypothyroidism — This hormonal disease is common for Akita dogs and it can be easily treated. Symptoms include one or more of the following problems: skin and coat problems, outbursts of aggression, irritation, lethargy, musk. A hormonal treatment should fix any dog belonging to this breed.
  • Hip dysplasia — This affection occurs most commonly in case of aging Akita dogs. However, if a dog grows too much in a short period of time, it can also suffer from hip dysplasia. It should be treatable with surgery.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy — PRA is a disease that gradually degrades the retina of Akita dogs and other dogs belonging to different dog breeds. These dogs’ photoreceptors degenerate over a longer period of time.
Care Features

The Akita dog breed is not easy to care for. These types of dogs require attention and a lot of affection. Therefore, only people who have enough time to spend with an Akita dog should actually own one. If not receiving enough attention, the Akita will not only destroy things around the house or the yard, but it will feel sad, unwanted and abandoned. Such dog needs an authoritative owner because it is not the type of dog that listens to any member of the family.

It does not require too much walking or exercising if it can freely move in a wide yard or inside a house. As for life in an apartment, this large sized dog can adapt to it, but it would be much happier in a large yard. Because of energy and behavioral reasons, an Akita should exercise enough in order to get tired and want to take a break.

An Akita’s training program should start from the moment it steps inside one’s home. It is also a type of dog that needs to socialize. Lack of socialization during growth usually leads to dangerous and antisocial behaviors. Therefore, in order to train an Akita dog, one needs firmness, patience and consistency. This dog should never believe that it has the chance to dominate its owner.

One very good way for an Akita owner to show its dominance is to eat before feeding the dog. It should understand that its owner is superior and definitely in charge. The same goes for all the members of the family. Everyone should treat the Akita as the main owner treats it, because otherwise it may become naughty and daring. In addition, it should be taught to socialize in order to diminish the danger of attacking strangers.

Feeding Schedule

An Akita dog should eat between 3 to 5 cups of dry dog food per day, divided in 2 equal meals. Ideally, the food should not contain preservatives, but be rich in meat, fish, rice and sea plants. Other food sources for Akita dogs include cabbage, green beans, fresh pork meat and potatoes. Food based on chicken should be introduced gradually. When feeding an Akita avoid corn, beef and horse meat.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The coat of Akita dogs is characterized by straight and coarse hair. The Kennel Club from Japan considers that an Akita with a black mask is an error, while the American Kennel Club accepts it and, moreover, prefers it over dogs without a black mask. The Japanese Association accepts 3 colors when it comes to this breed’s coat, namely red, white and brindle in these colors.

As for washing an Akita dog, it is a process that should be repeated every 3 months. Unless it gets really dirty, its waterproof coat and its self-cleaning skills should be trusted for a longer period of time. In order to keep its plush coat healthy, it has to be brushed weekly and daily when it sheds. Shedding occurs twice or three times per year.

Nail clipping might not be pleasant, but it is absolutely necessary. Once a month, the Akita should be taken to the vet for nail trimming. Owners may also cut their dogs’ nails, but only after learning how and getting the dog used with the entire process. In addition, Akita dogs have sensitive ears that should be checked weekly and wiped with a cotton ball and a special solution for cleaning ears purchased from pet shops.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

The Akita is aggressive with other animals, so it wouldn’t be a good idea to let it loose without a leash on around other dogs or strangers. Akita males show aggression toward other males, while females do not tolerate other females’ presence. Some Akita dogs can live in peace with a dog of the opposite sex, while others prefer to be alone. As for other smaller animals, the Akita will instinctively chase cats, rodents, birds and wild animals.

The Akita is not very tolerant with young children that may not leave it alone or abuse it by trying to play with it. If it is raised by a family with children, it will become very protective and it will not be a danger to them. However, it may be aggressive towards other children. In general, a kid under the age of 12 should not be left alone with an Akita if they don’t know each other.

In addition, the Akita is very possessive of food. This type of dog should have its own feeding place, not a shared space with other animals. Its food bowl should be placed far away from the other pets’ eating areas. They might become this dog’s lunch or dinner if they try to have a taste out of its food bowl.

American or Japanese, the Akita shares the same past and origins. In terms of personality, these types of dogs are not different from each other. The only features that might not be 100% alike are physical. The American Akita seems to be a little larger than the Japanese Akita. Other than that, these dogs are natural monuments in Japan, so they are characterized by dignity, loyalty and balance. In fact, some people and specialists in this domain don’t even recognize the existence of 2 distinct dog breeds.

Just as many dog breeds that exist for a really long time, the Akita was almost extinct as a dog breed after World War II. Many copies had a lot to suffer when they were killed for their coat, which was needed to make garments for soldiers. Since they survived that awful period, they are now cared for and appreciated even more than they were during the shoguns and samurais years.

Since the Akita needs attention, affection and a dominant owner, it is definitely not a dog easy to manage. However, many people are definitely ideal owners for these dogs. It is said that the character of man is similar with the character of the dog he or she chooses, so perfect compatibility is possible!

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

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