Information about the Akita Inu
The Akita or Akita Ken is a breed of large dog originating in Japan, named for Akita Prefecture, where it is thought to have originated. “Inu” means “dog” in Japanese, although in practice this animal is nearly always referred as “Akita-ken,” based on the Sino-Japanese reading of the same kanji. (It is also a pun, as the word for “prefecture” is pronounced “ken” in Japanese.)
The breed stands 24 to 28 inches at the withers (60 to 71 cm). Females weigh anywhere from 70-100 pounds (30-45kg). Males are 75-180 pounds (35-80kg). In Japan, Akitas come in only four colours: Red Fawn, Sesame (red fawn hairs with black tips), Brindle, and White. All except white must have whitish hair on the sides of the muzzle, on the cheeks, the neck, chest, body and tail. The Pinto color is not accepted as a Japanese Akita color, but only as an American Akita color. In the U.S., however, some breeders still interbeed the original Japanese type with the heavier American type, which is larger, shorter in fur, and allows more colors. It is felt by many that combining the two types leads to improved appearance and genetic health by increasing genetic diversity. In the United States, there is only a single Akita breed. Akitas from Japan and Akitas from the U.S. and other countries are all registered with the American Kennel Club as “Akitas.” In many other countries the breed has been separated into two breeds: the Akita and the American Akita.
Although the American Kennel Club has put the Akita in the Working Group, several different breeds contributed to the modern Akita, some hunting dogs and some dogs used as competitive fighting dogs. The Akita is very laid back, and has an easy-going temperament.
Akitas are a large breed, not a giant breed. They are excellent house dogs. They require only a moderate amount of exercise. Akitas are known to be very quiet dogs, only barking “when there is something to bark about”. One of the most famous things about Akitas is that they make people feel calm and relaxed so an Akita is an ideal dog if you have stress problems.
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 almost “cat-like,” as they are clean and odorless. This may also be one of the reasons why they housebreak so easily. Most Akitas respond so well to housebreaking that they are trained in a matter of weeks, although it may take longer if other “slower learning” dogs are present.
A white AkitaAs far as the family children are concerned, there are few worries. Akitas are devoted, patient friends and protectors of children. Akitas are typically very gentle with children, and it is said that Japanese mothers often left their children with only the Akitas to watch over and protect them. Remember, however, that young children should never be left unattended with a pet. When raised indoors with children, they can be excellent companions.
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 (i.e., the owner) causes them great stress.
Akitas tend to be stubborn and require a firm but loving education where “no” always means “no” and never “whatever”.
The Akita is 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.
Akitas have a high and well-developed prey drive, particularly to small animals, including cats. An 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, and can be extremely aloof. Akitas properly socialized and raised with other animals usually accept them as members of the family.
The loyalty and devotion displayed by an Akita is phenomenal. The typical pet Akita will follow you from room to room, yet has the uncanny ability not to be underfoot. Your Akita lives his life as if his only purpose is to protect you and spend time with you. This trait is evident in the tale of Hachiko.
Akitas do, however, have a tendency to be very aggressive to other dogs and small animals and are capable of ferocity. It is not uncommon for an Akita to catch and kill small (or even large) animals (including cats, guinea pigs, rabbits and small dogs) if it is allowed to wander and should therefore never be allowed to run off its lead around other animals.
Some of the health conditions known to affect this breed include:
- Canine herpesvirus, a strain of the Herpes virus that happens to affect canines
- Gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV), a condition associated with bloat;
- Pemphigus, which causes the autoimmune system to attack the dog’s skin (leading to pustules)
- Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), an adult-onset condition which gradual degeneration in the eye cells (i.e. rods & cones)
- UveoDermatological Syndrome (UDS), known as Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada (VKH) disease in humans
- Sebaceous adenitis, an autoimmune condition which attacks and destroys the dog’s sebaceous glands
- Canine Hip Dysplasia
The Akita’s ancestors were dogs used by matagi for hunting. These dogs, usually called matagi inu, were not as large as modern Akita dogs. Many of these dogs were used as guard dogs. They were also used in the sport of hunting bears.
In the Edo Period, Dewa Province (present-day Akita prefecture) was ruled by the Satake clan. Since the Satake were tozama daimyo (considered potentially rebellious), they received severe restrictions by the Tokugawa Shogunate in all military areas. The clan decided to encourage dog fighting around 1630 in order to make it possible for the samurai to retain their aggressive edge in a way that would not offend the shogunate. Dog fighting became especially popular in the Odate area. Dog fighting enthusiasts in the area began to interbreed matagi inu with dogs indigenous to the area. These dogs, which later turned into the Akita, were called Odate inu at that time.
After the Meiji Restoration, people began to breed Akita with many dogs from other regions in Japan, such as the Tosa. The Meiji Restoration also ended Japan’s closed door policy, and large, western dogs began to enter Japan. As a result, Akita were also bred with German Shepherds, Great Danes, and Mastiffs. This resulted in the breed losing many of its spitz-like characteristics. Akita were later bred with Hokkaido and Karafuto dogs (also known as the Sakhalin Husky), which were introduced to mainland Japan after the First Sino-Japanese War.
In the Taisho Period, people such as the mayor of Odate Town began a movement to preserve the Akita breed. By this time, the Akita had begun to turn into a mixed breed as a result of excessive breeding with other dogs. Watase Shozaburo, a Japanese zoologist that successfully proposed the Law for Protection of Natural Monuments also worked towards preserving the Akita breed. As a result, the Akitainu Introduction Foundation was created in May 1927 by the mayor of Odate, and nine Akita dogs were designated as natural monuments in 1931. In 1932, the faithful Akita dog Hachiko was featured in an article in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, which contributed to the popularity of the breed. When Helen Keller visited Akita prefecture in 1937, she expressed that she would like to have an Akita dog. An Akita called Kamikaze-go was given to her within a month. When Kamikaze-go later died because of canine distemper, his brother, Kenzan-go, was promptly sent to her. By 1938 a breed standard had been established and dog shows had been held, but such activities stopped after World War II began.
During World War II, the number of Akita dogs greatly diminished because of the lack of food. There were also orders to capture all dogs except German shepherds, in order to use their fur for warm army uniforms. Many people bred Akitas with shepherds to avoid capture. When the war ended in 1945, there were fewer than twenty purebred Akita dogs in Japan.
However, the Akita became quite popular during the postwar period. Many occupation soldiers liked the Akita, because it was by far the largest Japanese dog. The fact that Helen Keller had an Akita also became well-known when she came to Japan in 1948 and thanked people in Akita for the dogs she was given. Most of the Akita dogs at this time had many German Shepherd-like characteristics. These dogs are currently known as Dewa line, or Dewa type Akitas.
Recent DNA analysis confirms that this is one of the most primitive breeds of dog.
Perhaps the most famous Akita is Hachiko, a dog remembered in Japan for his loyalty. When his owner died, Hachiko returned to the train station every day for the rest of his life to wait for him. A life-size statue of Hachiko still stands at Shibuya Station.