The Akita was named after his Homeland, the prefecture Akita in the northern part of Japan, surrounding the town Odate, which up until today is still referred to as the „Dog town“. The often, but unnecessarily used affix Inu simply means „dog“.
Every other Race originated in Japan also uses the names of their Homeland – Shiba, Hokkaido, Kishi, Kai, Tosa etc. – and all of them, except the Tosa are from the family of the Spitz-Dog and therefore under FCI Standard belong to the „Dogs of the Prototype“.
The Akita is the largest of the Japanese Spitz.
Odate – Akita-Präfektur
There are many assumptions and opinions about the evolution of the Akita, one of the best known is, that large dogs from the „high North“ came to Japan with Migrants from the Asian Continent and
mixed with the existing middle-sized Japanese dogs. On the other side is the notion that dogs similar to the Akita could already be found in prehistoric Japan and did not at all develop through
However, dogs reflecting the appearance of the Akita have lived in Japan for multiple millenniums, as images on pottery substantiate. This old age is also certified by newest research. Molecular genetics methods have verified that the Akita, together with Shiba, Chow-Chow and Shar-Pei, belongs to the genetically closest relatives of the Wolf and belongs to the oldest dog race. This close relationship explains some of his character traits, like his confident instinct and his distinct pack consciousness.
Zeichnung Akita-Museum Odate
The first ancestors of the Akita were middle-sized dogs, kept in the fishing and hunting influenced Matagi-Villages (Hunting-Villages) in Northern Japan as Matagi-Inu, hunting anything from Antelope to Bear.
The social conditions changed in the middle-age, agriculture extended, farming villages developed, nobility grew stronger and insurrection was a daily occurrence.
The settled population grew the desire to protect their properties by use of watchful and protecting dogs – from the Matagi Inu developed the Akita Inu with an imposing appearance, alert, defending, confident, larger and stronger than the Matagi-Inu, which continued to exist in the more remote Hunting-Villages.
In the 19th Century, the custom to arrange dogfights was adapted from the European Countries. Since the domestic Races were not adequate fighting dogs, foreign races (mainly Molloser and Terrier) were imported and cross-bred with domestic dogs. This resulted in large breeds that had little in common with the Matagi and Akita – floppy ears, hanging tails, loose skin and hanging lips. (chaps)
Zeichnung Akita-Museum Odate
„Shiro mit seinem Herrn bei der Bärenjagd“
In 1909 dogfights were prohibited and there was no longer any use for these dogs. At the same time a movement of awareness and return to the Japanese values and traditions developed, focusing on
the conservation of historic sites, landscapes, flora and fauna.
And so, with the help of the still existing Matagi Inu and Akita Inu the reverse breeding back to the original Japanese Dog of Northern Japan began.
In 1931 the Akita Inu was the first Japanese Spitz to be declared a National Monument.
Matagi Inu Akita-Musem Odate
After World War II, in times of need many dogs could not be properly fed or even had to serve as food, the few survivors were bred in this regard.
Two lines came forth in these breedings. One was the more native Japanese dog type, the Ichinoseki-Line. The other one was the Line of Dewa-Go and his son Kongo-Go, in which the inbreeding of the Molosser and the German Shepherd was still noticeable.
Today the dogs bred systematically from these two different lines offer the representatives for their Akita-Type:
The Japanese Akita – high-legged with a short back, a typical spitzlike head as is preferred in the Motherland Japan and theAmerican Akita – stockier with shorter legs, longer back and a more square shaped head, meeting the American conception.
Akita-Familie vor dem Bahnhof in Odate
The Akita is a beautiful, athletic and dignified dog with a well-balanced physique and without physical exaggeration (overstatement). His character and appearance still let us recognise his prime father Wolf. With his pure white facial mask, his talking dark eyes, the attentive erect ears and a bold smile around the muzzle he is appealing even to those humans which usually do not fancy dogs. His flirt factor is enormous, no walk in which the owner of an Akita is not complimented on the beauty of the dog. The literally thick Akita fur, well greased and therefore dirt-repellant animates even strangers to dig their hands into it – which most of the Akitas don´t appreciate but stoically tolerate. Especially the attractive appearance is misleading in overlooking the next relative to the Wolf beneath the soft, pettable fur. The Akita is not a plush stuffed animal, but a very lively ancient domestic animal and as such still a predator with a very own character.
Like all other domestically bred dogs, the Akita does not have the vitality of his ancestor Wolf. Nonetheless, compared to other races with compatible size he has high life-span expectations, 12, 13 or even 14 year old Akitas are not uncommon. It should still be mentioned though that he, as much as other canines and as well as humans suffers from disease of civilization like a shaky immune system, allergies and skin disease. The older Akita may develop sensitivity for skeletal illness like spondylosis or arthritis. For the breeder this means to pay extra attention on the health of his breeding animals. For the dog-owner to lay a solid foundation for a healthy life by feeding a balanced variety of foods and to ensure the Akita is raised and kept in a appropriate environment.
Statur in Privathaus in Odate
To describe its character you have to look at the picture of the Akita and his original duties. Genetically the Akita is a very close relative to the Wolf, a primal dog, which still shows the natural behavior that dogs of other races have already lost. On one side he, like his ancestor he is a social animal living in a pack, on the other side he is bred into a lonely work dog, which has to fulfill his duties as a bear-hunter or watch-dog independently. This explains the special and distinguished characteristics of the Akita.
He is a quiet, dignified dog with a large individual distance, strongly developed awareness of hierarchy and is highly competent in solving problems, self-confident, independent to willful, brave and intelligent.
Akita-Museum Odate „Jagd auf den Kragenbären“
At home he is an ideal companion. He is quiet and despite his size does not get in your way. The Akita loves „his“ humans above everything but does seldom show it with enthusiasm, rather with Japanese discretion. Strangers will be announced with a few barks and after acceptation from „his“ humans will be welcomed in a friendly manner. Familiar persons are usually greeted enthusiastically. Outside of the home the Akitas behavior ranges from „incurious“ to „friendly“ when meeting people.
As a bear hunter working alone or in pairs the Matagi-Inu did not only need a good nose but also required self-assurance, independence, courage, nimble reaction and intelligence to make quick decisions. The Akita still shows all these characteristics today. Even though he does not hunt bears anymore he still needs activities that are challenging to him physically and most important mentally – the best activities include „nose work“ like seeking, identifying substances, tracking or man trailing.
Most likely he will not win obedience challenges as practicing the same obedience exercises stands in contrast to his independent character, appraising the reasonability of any command prior to following it through in Akita velocity (meaning rather leisurely).
Many Akitas still carry the Matagi´s passion for hunting in them. That does not mean, a hunting enthusiastic Akita has to be led through forests and fields on a leash only, but it does take a sophisticated anti-hunting-training and alternative engagement like „nose work“ to control and satisfy the hunting instinct.
In Stanley Coren´s book „The intelligence of dogs“, the Akita ranks in the lower part of the list. However, the author states, that only the obedience- and „work intelligence“ were tested, the
ability and willingness to execute commands happy, quick and without hesitation.
Most Akita owners will agree – slavish obedience is not an Akita trait. If you are asking for competence in problem solving, ability to make a decision in an unusual situation and finding inventive remedies, you will find the Akita in his element. Or – with a twinkling eye – „the Akita finds surprising remedies for problems you wouldn’t even have without him.“
Associating with others in many different situations the Akita shows behavioral patterns which are not as distinct in other races or have been lost due to selective breeding. As a pack animal he differentiates exactly between members of the pack and foreigners. His pack – his owners, other dogs and domestic animals sharing their home – are everything to him. He is a great buddy to his „dog friends“. Foreign dogs however are seen as competitors and treated accordingly – depending on the situation they are being ignored, chased off or subdued. Females are usually more contained than males and tend to ignore foreign dogs easier. This behavior is supported by other Akita-typical characteristics:
On one side the Akita, only has little desire for dog contact, for instance in dog hikes it stays aloof – contact to humans is more important to him than to his own kind.
On the other side there is the large individual distance of the Akita – he expects an approaching canine to approximate slowly, keep a healthy distance and show signs of appeasement. Any undamped rush – even with the best of intentions – is usually rewarded with indignity.
Finally his awareness of precedence is often a reason to confront a foreign dog in order to clarify „Who’s the boss? “To protect the pack in the width of Siberia this kind of behavior would be
adequate. In densely populated Middle-Europe with permanent dog encounters in small areas the often unpredictable, forage like plow is not only inadequate but also unacceptable. For the owner of
an Akita this means he has to be able to control his dog, on and off leash, act foresighted and if in doubt avoid critical situations. The Akita – especially the male Akita – is rarely a dog for
the dog park.
Next to appearance and health a responsible breeder will also take the character, especially the social competence into consideration when choosing a dog for breeding.
Simply because of its size and strength the Akita needs disciplined training. Akitas will react to harshness with stubbornness and refusal and the owner might find himself deserted by his Akita. Instead you need a clever head that works with expert knowledge, a clear concept, patience, consequence, motivation, humor and imagination – and the ability to avoid discouragement.
gut erzogene Akita
Because of his characteristics the Akita, more than any other dog, needs a self confident and consequent owner who sets clear and explicit rules. The Akita needs to constantly be reminded and made aware that he is the lowest ranking member of the „pack“. In the home that includes his designated resting place, feeding, activity etc. Outside it includes walking, running free, desire to hunt and meeting foreign canines. The human sets the rules and everyone obeys – the human acts, the dog reacts.
The Akita needs early interaction with other dogs to tone down his natural tendency to be a loner. He has to learn, that he needs to adjust his sometimes rough and rude behavior to his playmates. In puppy and youngster classes he can learn to be considerate of others – if corrected and guided accordingly. If not, he can develop rather quickly into a Macho, not bringing much joy to his owner. This is why the Akita puppy needs socially experienced grownup dogs to give him training in „canine etiquette“ and competent, possibly Akita experienced dog trainers.
But – even with the best upbringing and socialization, the Akita is not an easily guided dog, especially in association with other dogs. Whoever is blinded by the beauty of an Akita but otherwise
dreams of a dog he can take to the park everyday and watch it play with others in a happy and relaxed way, needs to look out for another race.
If you are inspired by the nature of this race with its original traits, appreciate their independence and self sufficiency and want to accept the challenge “Akita” – you will have a great housemate and a stalwart companion in (almost) every circumstance – a real dog.
Mo Berlitz, October 2008