About the Akita Inu
The Akita Inu (秋田犬?) is a breed of large dog originating in Japan, named for the Akita Prefecture, where it is thought to have originated. It is sometimes called the Akita-ken based on the Sino-Japanese reading of the same kanji. The Japanese Akita is considered a separate breed from the American Akita in most countries (with the exception of the American and Canadian Kennel Clubs) as requested by the Japanese Kennel Club. The Japanese Akita Inu is rare in most countries.
Written and oral Japanese history describes the ancestor of the Akita Inu, or the Odate or Matagi Inu, as one of the oldest of the native dogs of Japan. The Akita Inu of today developed primarily from these dogs in the northernmost region of the island of Honshū in the Akita prefecture, thus providing the breed's name. The Matagi's prey was the elk, antelope, boar, and the Yezo or Asian brown bear. This swift, agile, unswervingly tenacious dog tracked large game and held it at bay until the hunters arrived to make the kill.
In 1931, the Akita was officially declared a Japanese National Monument. The Mayor of Odate City in the Akita Prefecture organized the Akita Inu Hozankai (AKIHO) to preserve and improve the original Akita as a national treasure through careful breeding.
The arrival of Helen Keller in Japan in 1937 helped to bring the breed to international attention. She expressed a keen interest in the breed and was presented with the first two Akitas ever to enter the United States.
Just as the breed was stabilizing in its native land, World War II erupted and pushed the Akita to the brink of extinction. Early in the war, the dogs suffered from lack of nutritious food. Many were killed to be eaten by the starving populace, and their pelts were used as clothing. At one point, the government ordered all remaining dogs to be killed on sight to prevent the spread of disease. The only way concerned owners could save their beloved Akitas was to breed them to German Shepherds, turn them loose in the most remote mountain areas or conceal them from authorities.
Thus, it is important to note that three types of dogs were generally included under the name "AKITA." These were the Matagi-type Akita, which was the original hunting dog; the fighting Akita which was a mixture of Matagi with several other breeds, most likely including Tosa, Great Dane and St. Bernard (as evidenced in the Ichinoseki line); and the so-called German Shepherd Akita (now referred to as the Dewa line).
By the end of WW II in 1945, there were fewer than twenty purebred Akita dogs in Japan.
During the US occupation of Japan following the war, the breed began to thrive again through the efforts of Morie Sawataishi and others. For the first time, Akitas were bred for a standardized appearance. Akita fanciers in Japan began gathering and exhibiting the remaining Akitas and producing litters in order to restore the breed to sustainable numbers and to accentuate the original characteristics of the breed muddied by crosses to other breeds. US servicemen fell in love with the Akita and imported many of them into the US upon and after their return.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the goal to restore the breed and preserve it according to its origins was taken upon most fervently by AKIHO. At this time, Japanese breeders were able to improve the Akita in Japan and rid the breed of loose skin, wrinkled foreheads, rounded eyes, dewlap, various coat patterns and colors (such as pinto, black masks, sesame, etc.). Those characteristics were seen as incorrect characteristics of the past -- characteristics that do not conform to an aesthetically correct Japanese Akitas today.
The Akita was officially recognized by the AKC in 1973. Since then, in North America, breeding practices have diverged from the country of origin and the rest of the world. Apart from Canada and the US, the standard recognized by every country follows the country of origin. Hence, the dog world is left with two separate breeds, the Japanese Akita and the American Akita (for more information, see THE SPLIT).
The Story of Hachikō
Hachikō (ハチ公), November 10, 1923–March 8, 1935), known in Japanese as chūken Hachikō (忠犬ハチ公), "faithful dog Hachikō"), was an Akita dog born on a farm near the city of Ōdate, Akita Prefecture, remembered for his loyalty to his owner, even many years after his owner's death.
In 1924, Hachikō was brought to Tokyo by his owner, Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor in the agriculture department at the University of Tokyo. During his owner's life Hachikō saw him off from the front door and greeted him at the end of the day at the nearby Shibuya Station. The pair continued their daily routine until May 1925, when Professor Ueno did not return on the usual train one evening. The professor had suffered a stroke at the university that day. He died and never returned to the train station where his friend was waiting.
Hachikō was given away after his master's death, but he routinely escaped, showing up again and again at his old home. Eventually, Hachikō apparently realized that Professor Ueno no longer lived at the house. So he went to look for his master at the train station where he had accompanied him so many times before. Each day, Hachikō waited for Professor Ueno to return. And each day he did not see his friend among the commuters at the station.
The permanent fixture at the train station that was Hachikō attracted the attention of other commuters. Many of the people who frequented the Shibuya train station had seen Hachikō and Professor Ueno together each day. They brought Hachikō treats and food to nourish him during his wait.
This continued for 10 years, with Hachikō appearing only in the evening time, precisely when the train was due at the station.
Japanese Akitas typically live to be about 10 – 12 years of age, on average, though some may live longer.
Wet? Dry? Raw? Home cooked? Store bought? Although in Japan, some Japanese Akita breeders have espoused a traditional Japanese human diet of miso soup, rice and fish for their dogs, most of us in the western world feed a PREMIUM dog food. Dog food bought in grocery stores, which contain too much grain or processed soy, can result in skin allergies and other health complications. It is up to each individual owner, after conducting research and considering your own dog's personality and taste (yes, they can be finicky), what to feed your dog. Snacks and supplements can be given but food portions must be adjusted so the dog will not put on weight as obese dogs, just like humans, have health problems.
Fresh, clean water should always be made available to your dog. Some people may choose to limit water in-take in their puppies and young dogs after a certain hour at night while potty training.
Since the Japanese Akita is a deep-chested dog, it is a breed prone to bloat or gastric torsion. Therefore, veterinarians make two recommendations: 1) feed a varied diet – for example, wet and dry food or a combo of dry and home cooked - to such dogs twice a day. 2) Never let your dog participate in vigorous activity within one hour of feeding or ingesting water.
The Japanese Akita, though very smart, is not an easy breed to train. Most are not as eager to please as, for instance, a Golden Retriever or Border Collie. While some Japanese Akitas have done well in obedience classes, going on to earn certificates and recognition in Canine Good Citizenship tests and Agility, they tend to get bored easily and can be stubborn. It is important not to mistake your Japanese Akita as being dumb, when, in reality, it may just be uncooperative because it does not see the point in doing what you are asking it to do. In order to train your dog, you would do well to find out what it responds to. Some Japanese Akitas are food-motivated, others are toy-oriented and still others respond well to praise.
A fit dog is a healthy dog. Expect to take your Japanese Akita out for vigorous walks on a daily basis (at least one long walk or two or three shorter ones). Exercise can help in the areas of conditioning, behavior and weight loss. Whether you live in a city, suburb or rural area, in order for your dog to be in the best shape possible, it will need physical and mental stimulation to help alleviate boredom and frustration. Avoid over-exercising a young dog. If your dog exhibits any physical discomfort, consult your veterinarian before exercise.
Japanese Akitas are not difficult to groom if they are used to being groomed from a young age. All that is necessary is regular brushing, nail trimming and bathing. The Japanese Akita is pretty much a wash and wear breed that requires no fancy haircuts, special scissors or shavers. The preferred style for conformation is a natural look. Because the dogs can be washed at home or at a do-it-yourself bath facility, grooming costs are limited. Skin sensitivities to certain shampoos can occur, especially those containing harsh chemicals, so please keep that in mind when selecting a shampoo.
The cost of a Japanese Akitas runs between $500 - $1500 for a pet-quality dog and $1500 - $5,000 for a show-quality dog. If you import your dog from Japan, you will pay more due to the exchange rate, conversion fee and transportation cost.
Over the lifetime of a Japanese Akita, you must factor in the expense of vaccinations, miscellaneous vet visits and procedures, medicines, food, treats, cost of boarding or pet sitting and walking if you go on vacation, bed, bath and grooming products, training classes, etc.
All Akitas are prone to certain illnesses, mostly with diseases having to do with the auto immune system which can present as skin, coat, or eye problems (among other symptoms), allergies, joint ailments, such as arthritis when older, or hip dysplasia, and gastric torsion.
For practical purposes, the Japanese Akita is not for everyone, so for those of us who love them and live with them, we thought we should give you the reality. It is not our purpose to discourage you from owning a Japanese Akita; we sincerely want prospective owners to know what they are getting into, so the dog does not end up at a shelter or at the pound.
Please keep in mind that all dogs have distinct personalities; thus, there are some breed characteristics which may or may not be present in any individual Japanese Akita. The following information is based on general observations and personal experience.
- Japanese Akitas are a large breed. If not properly trained, a 75 lbs. male or 65 lbs. female can do some damage. All it takes is one moment of not having control over your dog and an incident can occur.
- The breed can make excellent house dogs as long as they are exercised regularly, have access to the outdoors and owners are well aware of the amount of shedding. Although they tend to be very clean, they shed. Profusely. Twice a year. And sometimes for several months. Be prepared to brush the dog, vacuum and sweep a lot. Avoid dark-colored clothing if you have a red or white Japanese Akita and light colored-clothing if you have a brindle. Have a hair removal product at the ready for upholstery and clothes.
- Generally speaking, this breed can be lazy and stubborn. However, as with all breeds, an improper amount of exercise can result in boredom, psychological problems and unwanted behaviors such as chewing furniture or other mischief making. Pet Japanese Akitas require a moderate amount of exercise at least once a day. Adult show dogs require more for their musculature to be developed and evident in the ring.
- This is a breed that needs to be socialized as puppies to encourage friendliness. It has been said that Japanese Akitas are a one-family dog and they can be territorial, but with early socialization and training, aggressive behavior can be avoided.
- Akitas are known to be quiet dogs, only barking "when there is something to bark about" and sometimes not at all. On the other hand, some Japanese Akitas bark quite a lot. In fact, they can have a lot to say on a variety of subjects - a warning low growl to a perceived threat or a half-howl/half-yodel greeting when you come home or when their food is being prepared. Incessant barking can be a sign of boredom, neglect or obsessive compulsive behavior. On the rare chance that your Japanese Akita barks non-stop, it would be best to consult an animal behavior expert, trainer or vet to avoid disturbing your neighbors.
- The two most outstanding characteristics of the Akita as a house pet are that they are very clean and that they are very easy to house break. Akitas have been described as fastidious as cats as they are clean and odorless when healthy. This cleanliness may also be one of the reasons why they housebreak so easily.
- You will need a consistent upper hand to live with a Japanese Akita. "No" must always mean "no" and never "okay, this time," or "whatever." It will only confuse the dog if you let him get away with unwanted behavior and he may question his place in the hierarchy of the pack.
- Although they love human companionship, they are quite happy to be outside dogs as well, but should still be taken out for walks to prevent destruction of the yard. Left unattended in the backyard or in a kennel, they tend to develop "personality" problems and become very destructive to the yard, which is due to boredom. They are highly pack oriented, thus, isolating them from the pack (e.g., the owner) causes them great stress.
- It is advisable to never let your Japanese Akita off-leash in a public place. The breed is listed as a dangerous breed in many counties and states.
- Owning a Japanese Akita could adversely affect your homeowners’ insurance.
- The Japanese Akita has a tendency to be a dominant dog who may expect other dogs to be submissive. If they fail to live up to the Akita's expectations, incidents can happen.
- Japanese Akitas have an acute and well-developed prey drive, particularly toward smaller animals, including cats. Akitas properly socialized and raised with other animals usually accept them as members of the family.
- Japanese Akitas tend to not get along with other dogs of the same gender. That means a male Japanese Akita may act aggressively toward another male dog and a female Japanese Akita may act aggressively toward another female dog.
- A Japanese Akita is not likely to shower affection on someone that is not a member of his family or a close friend that he sees frequently. Dogs of this breed can be extremely aloof. If you want an affectionate or needy dog, consider another breed.
Owning a dog is a huge financial, emotional, time and life commitment. Owning a Japanese Akita, perhaps even more so. However, if you are the right kind of owner for a Japanese Akita, you will find your life enriched and blessed by its presence in your home.
We at JACA view our dogs for what they are. Our Japanese Akitas are noble, silly, stubborn, dignified, beautiful, loyal, glamorous, aloof, and, in some rare cases, a potential lawsuit on four legs.
If you are interested in adding a Japanese Akita to your family and home, please contact us for further information or advice.