Dogs A profile view of a brown pinto Akita dog standing on the lawn, distinctive for its plush tail that curls over his back and for being courageous.

Published on May 5th, 2016 | by Debbie Martin


The Dog Breed Series: Akita

Japan is not a nation that’s famous for its dog-breeding programme, and yet, like just about everywhere else on Earth where human beings have flourished, it’s a place with a rich history of dog breeding – both for practical purposes like hunting and for not-so-practical ones like sport and companionship. The modern Akita is a product of this heritage.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at this big, bold breed, and see how it might fit into your home.

Profile: What is it?

There is some controversy in breeding circles as to whether the Akita can be called a single breed of dog at all. The term ‘Akita’ has come to refer to both the Japanese Akita and the American Akita. As you might imagine, the latter was produced after the breed was exported to the states. The two breeds are distinct from one another, with the American version coming in a much wider range of colours than the Japanese original, which typically comes in a narrow range of browns and whites.

The Akita is often employed as a guard dog, and it’s easy to see why; with its powerful frame, bulky head and small eyes, it’s enough to intimidate even the most determined of intruders onto its master’s property. The breed comes with a double-coat that’s quite similar to those of other ‘spitz’ breeds (long eared, fluffy dogs found in snowier parts of the world) and for much the same reason – more fur helps them to endure the winter on the mountains of Honshu. Like those breeds, the Akita comes with a fluffy tail, which curls up over the top of its back, and can be used to keep its nose warm in especially cold conditions.

History: Where did it come from?

The breed originated on the Northern Japanese Island of Honshu, and draws its name from the Akita prefecture where it was most prevalent. It was employed by the Matagi, a hunting people whose quarry was principally deer and wild boar. Its role was quite different to that of many other hunting dogs (like the terrier, which was bred to work without human direction in order to eliminate vermin). An Akita would track big game and keep it trapped at a given location long enough for its master to arrive and make the kill. This meant that it needed to be physically capable of surviving the environment, but also that it could communicate with its master, and be trusted to travel many miles ahead in search of quarry.

For centuries, this sort of dog was a mainstay of Japanese culture – but this position was mortally imperilled by the outbreak of World War II. The Japanese government decided that all non-military dogs were to be culled, and that their furs were to be used to help the war effort. This prompted breeders to cross-breed the animal with German Shepherds, and to change their dogs names in order to mislead the authorities.

When the war finally ended, many American soldiers were impressed by the nature of the dogs they found in Japan, and elected to bring these dogs home to their families. It was at this time that the schism between Japanese and American Akitas commenced. The introduction of the breed to America is popularly credited to Helen Keller, an American deafblind activist who was gifted two dogs by the Japanese government just prior to the war’s outbreak in the west. The first of these, Kamikaze-go, died of canine distemper, but his older brother, Kenzan-go, would survive to be brought back to the states.

Personality: What’s the Akita like to own?

Akitas are known for their fierce loyalty to their masters, and for their relative aloofness around strangers. Like all hunting dogs, they’re a vocal breed, and will communicate with their masters on a wide variety of topics. Crucially though, this communication rarely comes in the form of a bark, with most Akitas preferring to speak in growls, moans, mumbles and groans.

Given the right exposure to people, an Akita can be taught to overcome its fear of strangers, and its natural wariness can be overcome somewhat. An Akita is rarely the life of the party, however, and those looking for a more sociable, guest-friendly animal should consider another breed. If, on the other hand, you prefer a dog that isn’t going to be overbearing (or worse, an annoyance), the Akita is an ideal candidate.

Akitas are famous for their love of picking everything up using their mouths. In the Honshu wilderness, this would have been a perfectly practical trait. In the modern domestic setting, however, this habit is something that takes getting used to. Akitas might grab you by the wrist in order to direct your attention toward something, like a food bowl if they’re hungry, or a lead if they’d like to go for a walk.

Of course, this is a trait that you might turn into an advantage by training your dog to retrieve things using its mouth. Akitas can be easily persuaded to fetch a morning newspaper or a pair of slippers – and, happily, they’ll do so without destroying the item they’re tasked with couriering.

The Akita has a few habits that can be safely described as feline-esque. Among these are its grooming tendencies. It will lick itself clean, and hunt prey silently by stalking through long grass. But the Akita is far larger than a cat, and requires a strong sense of social order.

Before committing to home an Akita, you’ll need to be sure that you can provide it will the right sense of dominance. If mishandled, the Akita is prone to misinterpreting the ranking of the household – put simply, it might start to believe that it’s in charge unless you demonstrate otherwise. But at the same time, the Akita will respond badly to overly harsh training methods. You’ll need to be able to project the right air of authority if you’re to get the best out of your Akita, but if you can manage to do so, you’ll be rewarded with a pet that’s loyal, affectionate and dependable.

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About the Author

Debbie Martin has worked at Beeston Animal Health for over five years, having previously worked as a nurse in equine and small animal practice. Although generally involved with aspects of marketing these days and putting her psychology degree to good use, she still has a great depth of up to date knowledge in all creatures great and small. Debbie lives at home with her partner and two children and spends much of her spare time looking after her horses, dogs and cats or at the home farm with the cows, sheep and turkeys.

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