Akita Inu: Proud and Regal
Native Japanese dogs or for that matter Japanese dog breed are probably some of the rarest dog breed you will find outside of their home country. Even the most popular of the six native Japanese dog breed, the Akita, is rarely found outside of Japan.
There are six native Japanese dog breeds – the Akita Inu, Shiba Inu, Shikoku, Kai, Kishu, and Hokkaido. Except for the Shiba, all the breed got their name from the district where they came from. Shiba means ‘brushwood’ or ‘firewood’ in Japanese and Inu mean ‘dog’. The native Japanese dog breeds are all spitz-types. They all share the same Akita-face, square bodies, wedge-shaped face, small upright ears, short, thick stand-off coat and tail curled upward. The breeds different mainly lies in their size, color, uses and some other minor features. The largest of these native breeds are the Akitas, and the smallest – the Shiba Inu.
The Japanese carefully breed these dogs to prevent crossbreeding to other breeds, that might damage the purity of the breed. The result is that several of these breeds are among the purest and most “primitive” dog breeds in the world.
There is another breed found in Japan, the Tosa but unfortunately they do not consider these dogs as native breed as this type was specifically developed through cross-breeding to produce a fighting dog.
History: The Akita’s story is a primeval one. The breed is the descendant of the ancient dog with erect ears and curled tail whose likeness is found carved in the early tombs of the Japanese. The Akita history started around 660 B.C. when dogs were brought in from China and Japan, these dogs were believed to be the early ancestors of the breed. In the early 17th century a nobleman exiled to Akita Prefecture, a northern province on the island of Honshu from which the breed takes its name, encouraged the local aristocracy to develop a powerful hunting dog that possessed superior intelligence and courage. Early on, breed ownership was restricted to members of the nobility, and much ceremony and ritual were attached to it. Leashes indicating the dog and owner’s social rank were used, and a special Akita language was developed. One emperor even passed an edict whereby the breed was to be addressed in honorific terms.
Like Japan’s historical warrior class, the samurai, the Akita became a fighting dog in the late 1800s and early 1900s. During this period, other breeds were infused to enhance its fighting ability. However, after the Akita was declared a national monument in 1931, a movement began with the goal of restoring the breed to its original, pre-fighting form. On the occasion of it’s designation as a natural monument on July 1931, the “Akita dog” was so named for the first time as a Japanese dog. The name was changed from the Odate dog to the Akita dog and nine superior examples of Akitas were designated.
The Akita dog gained sudden fame on October 4, 1932, when a news article on Hachiko entitled, “A Moving Story of an Old Dog” appeared in the Asahi Shinbun (Asahi Newspaper. In the Asahi newspaper the faithfulness of Hachiko was reported, and the reputation of Akitas became well known all over Japan.
Efforts were made in the late 30’s, especially in Odate, to purify the Akita. Thus other Japanese dogs like the dogs from mountainous areas in Hokkaido (medium sized dogs; Matagi dogs from the Tohoku area, Southern Akita, that were larger than other medium sized Japanese dogs and often red in colour with Urajiro; and the Karafuto Dog (long- and shorthaired dog from southern Sakhalin. They are typical of the spitz-type – stocky, curled tail, and erect ears. Red, brindle, and white are the only accepted colors for this breed.
Japanese Akita is not allowed to have a black mask, loose skin, or too much mass. Akitas are work dogs – they are highly intelligent and easily trained, though they are also stubborn, headstrong and bore easily. They are now commonly used as police and guard dogs, though some Akitas are also used in therapy, sledding, and as helper dogs for the disabled. Like several other of the Japanese breeds, Akitas do not bark excessively, and indeed, are silent hunters.
American Akita vs Japanese Akita?
Helen Keller brought the first Akita breed in the US, having heard of Hachiko’s story she began very interested in the breed and was gifted with an Akita puppy during her visit to Japan. However, during World War II the Akita population was nearly wiped out because their thick coat were being used to line the winter of coats of soldiers going to war. The Akita population would have become extinct if not for a few people (mainly Morie Sawataishi) who saved the Akita by calling them Japanese Shepards and breeding them to German Shepards.
In the years that followed the war, a concentrated effort was made to create a sustainable Akita population. The Akita population in the US grew after the war, when many American servicemen brought Akitas home with them.
Kennel Clubs are still in debate on whether to state that there are two Akita breeds or not. However, due to the efforts of Japanese Associations who wish to return the Akita to its purest form there is now actually two very distinct types of the breed – the Japanese Akita and American Akita.
The Japanese Akita are smaller, and more delicate while the American Akitas are larger and more heavy boned.
An Aristocratic Breed with Regal Appearance
Akitas are the largest of the six original Japanese dog breeds, standing at around 26 to 28 inches, weight is always proportional to height. Solid coat colors are black, white, fawn and brown. As mentioned earlier, the Japanese Akita are not allowed to have masked or patches while their American counterpart are allowed to have pinto and black masks to give the dog more personality.
Rather than being sloppily affectionate as are some other breeds, the Akita is slightly to highly reserved–even with its owner. Yet, it is an extremely loyal and devoted dog. They are more cerebral than most guard dog types wherein they tend to size things first before reacting to the situation.
Other characteristics that recommend the Akita include the fact that it does not bark excessively. (It was developed to be a silent hunter that attacks without warning.) It is not destructive when properly trained and conditioned as a puppy. (Adult dogs can be left alone while owners are at work. However, until they reach maturity, it is wise to crate puppies and adolescents in the owners’ absence.)
Like other primitive breeds, the Akita is exceptionally easy to housetrain and very clean. This is a fiercely independent breed. They are very kind, faithful and affectionate but also needs to be treated with respect and thoughtfulness as they can react in an unexpected manner when challenged or teased.