The Japanese Akita Inu is one of seven breeds of Japanese dog to be proclaimed as natural monuments. It is believed the Japanese Akita Inu is among the oldest dog breeds known to exist. Like many ancient breeds its evolution is surrounded by some speculation and theory. What is known is that the early antecedents to the modern Akita Inu most likely arrived during the Paleolithic era some 21,000 years ago. A time when Japan was connected to mainland Asia by at least one land bridge. It was during this period that nomadic hunter-gathers crossed into present day Japan bringing dogs with them.
Archaeological evidence in the form of dog prints found in pit houses from the Jomon period (8000 to 300 B.C) suggest that dogs were raised as pets inside homes as early as 3,000 years ago in what is currently modern day Japan. These early paw prints measured 4.3cm to 5.7cm long which would suggest that these early dogs were of medium to large size. Other evidence of a close relationship with humans comes by way of dog skeletal remains that are commonly found in graves of this era. Burial mounds have also yielded earthen dog images, bronze bells, and dog shaped burial mound figures from ancient times are shown with standing ears and curled tails.
The first mention of dogs in Japanese literature appears in books such as the Kojiki (Japan's Ancient Chronicles) around 682 A.D. and Nihon Shoki (First Chronicle of Japan) around 720 A.D. which provides stories about dogs used for hunting. In the Kamakura era (1195-1333) literature of the time begins to describe fighting dogs.
Recent DNA studies conducted also support the ancient roots of the modern day Akita Inu. As published in the Science Journal, volume 304, pp. 1160-1164 dated May 21, 2004 and titled "Genetic Structure of the Purebred Domestic Dog":
"Our results support at least four distinct breed groupings representing separate "adaptive radiations." A subset of breeds with ancient Asian and African origins splits off from the rest of the breeds and shows shared patterns of allele frequencies. At first glance, it is surprising that a single genetic cluster includes breeds from Central Africa (Basenji), the Middle East (Saluki and Afghan), Tibet (Tibetan Terrier and Lhasa Apso), China (Chow Chow, Pekingese, Shar-Pei, and Shi Tzu), Japan (Akita and Shiba Inu), and the Arctic (Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, and Samoyed).
However, several researchers have hypothesized that early pariah dogs originated in Asia and migrated with nomadic human groups both south to Africa and north to the Arctic, with subsequent migrations occurring throughout Asia. This cluster includes Nordic breeds that phenotypically resemble the wolf, such as the Alaskan Malamute and Siberian Husky, and shows the closest genetic relationship to the wolf, which is the direct ancestor of domestic dogs. Thus, dogs from these breeds may be the best living representatives of the ancestral dog gene pool."
In his book 'The Book of Dogs', Dr Toru Uchida states in reference to the ancient origins of the Akita Inu that:
"The Akita is morphologically different from other dogs including native Japanese dogs, Saghalien dogs, Laikas, and Samoyeds. One must assume this dog to be the one bred before recorded history, rather than a product of subsequent human improvement." (Saghalien dogs is a reference to dogs originating from the long narrow island of Saghalien near the east coast of Siberia which was ceded to Russia by Japan in 1875.)
The Akita Inu originated in the northernmost area of mainland Japan in the Tohoku region. This region sits just below the Hokkaido islands and comprises six prefectures; they are: Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Yamagata and of course Akita. The Akita prefecture city of Odate in the Tohoku District is recognized as the ancestral home of the Akita Inu, although it is not known when these dogs transitioned from wild to domesticated. Odate would later evolve into the epicenter of competitive dog fighting in Japan picking up the name "dog town" during the late 1880's.
The antecedents of the modern day Akita Inu were named, from ancient times, according to their region of origin or the role they filled as domesticated animals. The modern Akita Inu (Akita dog) was officially named in September 1931, after its designation as a natural monument. Prior to this, dogs from the Odate and Kazuno regions were simply called the "Odate dog" (Odate-Inu) and the "Kazuno dog." (Kazuno-Inu). It was during the feudal period that these dogs were also called the "Nambu-inu" ("Southern regional dog"), but were more commonly known as the "ji-inu" ("regional dog") and were all more or less alike. Those living in towns used as local fighting dogs were called "kurae-inu" ("punching dog") or by their local term, "kuriya-inu" while those living in more rural areas and used for hunting were called "matagi-inu" ("hunting dog"). The word "matagi" is a local term for "hunter."
In the 1920's Dr Shozaburo Watase a professor in the Department of Science at the Tokyo Imperial University wrote:
"Ancient Japanese dogs may be classified into three categories: the most northern, northern and southern lines. Dogs entering our country from the north were large with a thick long coat, thick short tail that curled on the back and ears with rounded tips. Many of these dogs were white, while others were dark grey and pintos. The Akita dog is in the category of the most northern line of dogs."
Also in the 1920s, Mr. Hirokichi Saito , a noted Japanese dog researcher who later established the Nipponinu Hozonkai ( Japanese Dog Preservation Society ) and who was responsible for the discovery of Hachiko (The loyal Akita that waited 10 years for the return of his deceased owner) writes in his book, Nihon no Inu to Okami ( Dogs and Wolves of Japan ):
"The nearly extinct Akita dogs were produced by crossbreeding medium sized Japanese dogs with large dogs of the northern line and China, which are now almost extinct. However, the nambu-Inu (Nambu dog) from Rikuchu (present day Iwate prefecture), the Koyasu dog (Kouyasu-Inu) from Uzen (present day Yamagata prefecture), the Iiyama dog (Iiyama-Inu) from Shinshu (present day Nagano prefecture) and the Go dog (a large sized dog from China) from the Dazaifu area (in Fukuoka Prefecture) on the island of Kyushu belong to the same series of dogs."
Akitas originating from crossing native Japanese dogs with breeds such as the Go that were brought from Bokkai-koku (a small kingdom of the 7th century that occupied present day Northern Korea and the eastern tip of China) is the most widely accepted theory of Akita evolution .
Expanding upon the early ancestors to the modern Akita Inu, it is known that during the Yayoi Era (300 BC to 400 AD), the early northern people of Japan had begun to establish agriculture in the form of rice cultivation. However, due to environmental conditions and the harsh climate productivity was relatively low and it was not yet at the point that it could replace the dependence on hunting and fishing as the primary means of obtaining food. This early dependence upon hunting for survival led to the development and utilization of hunting dogs (Matagi-Inus) to assist in that purpose.
As agricultural methods improved and the lifestyle of a farmer became more dominant it still never fully replaced hunting as an integral part of the native life. Well into the modern Meiji era (1868-1912) many individuals still lived in Matagi Villages (hunting villages) and made their living by hunting. The Matagi-Inu became known as the Akita Matagi (bear hunting dog) in the Tohoku area and was used to track and hold large game at bay until hunters could arrive to make the kill. The types of game tracked and held included elk, antelope, wild boar and even the eight hundred pound Hokkaido (Yezo) Brown Bear, giving rise to their legendary tenacious character. It was in these hunting villages of Akita, Iwate, and Yamagata that all shared similar hunting methods, manners, and customs, that Matagi-Inus were continually raised through the 20th century. Akita Matagi dogs are believed to be the origin of the Akita-Inu.
It was the beginning of the Edo period that dog fighting became a popular sport in Japan. Prior to elaborating on how dog fighting rose in popularity, it helps to understand a bit about Feudal Japan, the Tokugawa family and the Satake Clan.
The Edo period or Tokugawa period (1603 to 1868), is a division of Japanese history during the feudal period where the country was controlled by powerful regional families (daimyō) and the military rule of warlords (shogun). Although there was an emperor he was mostly in a figurehead ruling position. Actual control of the country was held by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family, as a result of their success in the "Battle of Sekigahara". This victory led to the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate , the ruling political entity of the time, the consolidation of power by the Tokugawa family and the last shogunate to control Japan.
The Satake Japanese Samurai Clan was one of the clans that stood against and was defeated by the Tokugawa family during the Battle of Sekigahara. The Satake Clan had formed alliances with other clans to form the Western Army, while those clans allied with the Tokugawa family were called the Eastern Army. With defeat of the Western Army by the Eastern Army, the Tokugawa family seized control, formed the Tokugawa shogunate, and sought to punish those that had stood against it.
For their disloyalty the Satake Clan was stripped of its land and moved to a smaller territory in northern Dewa Province (present-day Akita prefecture) at the start of the Edo period. The Satake Clan was now considered to be tozama daimyo; a term used to describe those daimyo who submitted to the Tokugawa shogunate only after the Battle of Sekigahara and were potentially rebellious. To ensure their compliance and prevent the Satake Clan from rebelling, the Tokugawa shogunate placed severe sanctions and restrictions upon them in all military areas to include forbidding the construction of castles and the manufacture or possession of weapons.
Around 1630, the Satake clan, unable to officially train Samurai warriors, began to embrace and encourage dog fighting. This made it possible for Satake samurai to retain their aggressive edge in a way that would not offend the shogunate. The practice of promoting and breeding fighting dogs by the Satake Clan continued well into the Meiji era (1868 -1912). In the Odate area the popularity of dog fighting soared and over the next few centuries Odate city became the dog fighting capital of Japan. Dog fighting enthusiasts began to interbreed Matagi Inu / Akita Matagi with dogs indigenous to the area. These dogs, which later turned into the modern Akita-Inu, were called Odate inu at that time.
According to historical documents dog fighting on a smaller scale existed prior to the popularization of it by the Satake clan. Hojo Takatoki(1303 - 1333), the 14th shikken of the Kamakura shogunate was known to be obsessed with dog fighting, to the point that he allowed his samurai to pay taxes with dogs. During this period dog fighting was known as Inu-awase.
In the 1700s excessive taxation and civil unrest was widespread throughout Japan. The year 1783 would become known as the 'Rabbit Year Starvation' due to widespread famine following the eruption of Mount Asama. This famine would continue throughout the Temmei era (1783-1787) in which large numbers of people would starve to death. An uncommon number of crop failures, fires, epidemics, and droughts led to more than 50 peasant revolts a year during the 1780s. These protests were most often directed against wealthy members of the village community. In 1787 large-scale riots threatened Edo, Osaka, and other major cities. The famine, riots and revolts created unstable socio-economic conditions and fear among the people of Japan. Residents began to acquire guard dogs such as the Matagi-inu / Akita-Matagi to protect themselves and their property from looters and thieves during these turbulent times.
The primary attributes of a good hunting dog are courage, intelligence and the physical ability to perform the required hunting tasks. For guard dogs, however, an imposing appearance, aggression, and size are probably more important. The common assumption is that this preference for larger and more substantial dogs influenced the breeding practices of the time, resulting in a gradual increase in the size of the dogs. Thus the foundation blocks were laid for the large sized modern day Japanese Akita.
This period of civil unrest that lasted nearly a century created the tradition of keeping guard dogs in the home. It was in the areas surrounding Odate city that families accustomed to keeping these guard dogs started to use their dogs for fighting. It is not known exactly when this happened, only that that it did.
Families involved in dog fighting generally owned one or two competitive fighting dogs. Those families that continually produced successful fighting dogs selectively bred and culled the litters to achieve dogs of all the same color from generation to generation as a type of family crest. In competition these dogs were known only by their color and the families name. Such as "Black Dog of the Takahashi Family" (Kuro no iro no inu wa Takahashi ke), Brindle dog of the Nakamura Family (Burinoru no iro no inu wa Nakamura ke) and White Dog of the Matsumoto Family (Shiro no iro no inu wa Matsumoto ke).
These competitive dog fights were usually preceded by other public events such as holidays and festivals that could attract large numbers of people. At the conclusion of these larger events, individuals would then go to a different location to either watch, gamble or participate in the dog fights. It was during this period that dog fighting became a profitable business for winners and breeders alike. Champion dogs were called Yokozuna, just as champion wrestlers are in sumo.
Due to several fires in Odate city during the Meiji era (1868 -1912) in which the city was nearly destroyed all written records of these early fights has been lost. The only remaining document to reference the Odate-Inus (Matagi-Inus / Akita-Matagis of Odate City) is a book titled 'Talking about the Dog Scene of the Dog Town Odate' from 1870, written by a teacher at the Odate Junior High School, named Susumo Ono. In this book there is a section that describes the elders remembrances of Odates dog fighting past:
"What the elders, who were born in the Anshei and Bunkyuu (1854-1863) eras, remembered most was a dog called 'Naka-no Tera-no Moku', raised in the Jououji Temple. The story may be a little exaggerated, but according to them, Moku-go's height at the withers was about 35.4" (85cm). He was pinto in color and his coat was quite long. He was so strong that two children or one adult could ride on his back, and even two or three dogs could not over power 'Moku-go'.
His birthplace was Hayaguchi-mura in Kita Akita County. He was born as an only puppy, at the end of the Ansei period (late 1850's), and lived through out the Man'en, Bunkyuu, Genji and Keiou eras (1860's). He was killed in 1871 by the spear of an unknown Samurai. Well-known dogs after 'Moku-go' were all fierce fighting dogs. Those mentioned include 'Saku' of Niisaawa-mura, 'Jiku' of Matou-mura, 'Aka' of Misonai-mura and 'Goma' of Benzousama. The specifics of their conformation are not known. "
The Meiji Restoration in 1868, ended Japans closed door policy and large Western and European dogs began to enter Japan.
In 1897, Tosa fighting dogs were brought to the Akita prefecture to challenge the Odate breed. Initially, the Odate-Inu being the stronger, larger and heavier of the two breeds defeated the Tosa easily and was believed to be superior. However, Tosa breeders began crossing their dogs with other breeds in order to improve upon their size and performance. Thus the Tosa began to gradually and consistently defeat the Odate-Inu during fights. Some of the breeds used in the crossing were native such as the Shikoku Mastiff while others were exotic imported European breeds like the German Pointer, Saint Bernard, and Great Dane among others. The Odate-Inu breeders responded in kind by crossing the Odate with extra large, floppy eared Mastiff type dogs such as the Saint Bernard. The Odate-Inu was even bred with champion Tosa fighting dogs in order to regain their competitive edge. This resulted in the breed losing many of its spitz-like characteristics and marked the end of pointed ears and ring tails for the Odate-Inu.
Fueled by competition the Tosa Fighting Dog Society, an official organization for dog fighting, was established in Odate during 1899. This new organization was called 'En yukai' which when translated literally means 'Garden Party'. An arena was constructed and admission fees of 5 sens (5/100th of a yen) and 3 sens (3/100th of a yen) were charged for adults and children respectively. In the peak of its popularity over 100 dogs would participate in each event and match programs would be distributed to the spectators.
It was during this time that the true Akita began to disappear; the result of excessive breeding to other dogs had nearly wiped it out and replaced it with mixed breed fighting dogs. Some examples of this were the "Kairyo-ken" ("Improved Dog") or "Shin-Akita" ("New Akita"). The primary difference between these breeds and the Tosa was the set of the tail. These new varieties of Odate-Inu were promoted and praised into the late 1920's. It was the mixed European type, "Shin-Akita", that was primarily used in dog fights.
However, the popular and lucrative sport of dog fighting was soon struck with a lethal blow. The popularity of dogfights, bullfights and cockfights had given rise to large amounts of gambling which attracted the attention of the government. Fearing the societal corruption associated with gambling; the government enacted a series of policies that created strict regulatory controls over these sports. In 1909, Masataka Mon, the governor of Akita Prefecture at that time, enacted an ordinance to prohibit dog fighting altogether. The following year the government even introduced a law levying a per dog tax on owners, which served to severely impede the activities of professional fight kennels that maintained large stables of fighting dogs.
Dogfight devotees, having had their purpose for keeping fight dogs stripped from them, began to back out of the business by either releasing or destroying their dogs. Further hurting the Odate-Inu and putting them near the point of extinction was an outbreak of rabies that forced the government to order the extermination of all feral dogs. Of the three breeds to suffer a severe decline, the Akita suffered the most, not just in numbers, but also in purity due to rampant crossbreeding with western dogs and the Tosa-Inu. As a result pure Japanese dogs could no longer to be found in Odate. However, small isolated groups of regional pure bred dogs had managed to survive in secluded villages near Odate as guard dogs and in the remote mountains as hunting dogs, Matagi-inus.
In 1915, Japanese intellectuals and dog fanciers led by Dr.Watase Shozaburo, a Japanese zoologist, began to recognize the cultural significance of these breeds and acknowledge their endangered status. This was due in part to great public concern over the rapid decline and extinction of things that were present since ancient times in Japan. Together they began a movement to have these dogs listed as Japanese cultural assets that should be preserved for future generations. This brought the plight of these endangered cultural assets to the attention of higher government which then enacted the "The Natural Monument Legislation" of 1919.
Unfortunately for the Akita it did not initially make the preservation list as there was no clear standard as to what an Akita should look like and there were some disparities as to its origin. Some individuals purported the view that the Akita was a relatively new breed created during the era of dog fighting; as such it should not be considered an ancient cultural asset. Akita dog fanciers in the Odate area further muddied the waters and added confusion by stating their individual views on the appearance of a true Akita dog, which were often contradictory. All of these factors added difficulty to acquiring the true picture and standards of the real ancient Akita dog.
In 1920, Mr. Yutaka Oura presented his opposing view in a book entitled, Nihonken no Kenkyu ( Studies on Japanese Dogs ):
"Some newspaper and magazine articles suggest that the Akita dog is of recent origin. This erroneous view is due to the confusion created by names such as the "Odate dog," which refers to the Akita dog (a Tohoku dog) which existed in a region of the Tohoku area since ancient times. The name of Odate was associated until only recently with fighting dogs. Although the name "Akita dog" is of recent origin, it is not recent in origin as a Tohoku dog."
Also in 1920, Dr.Watase Shozaburo, the individual responsible for championing the cause for preservation and one of the drafters of the natural monument legislation, made an official trip to Odate to survey the Akita dog. Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned crossbreeding that had taken place there were so many different types of Akita dogs, he was unable to designate any as natural monuments. The true problem for the Akita was that the majority of Akita dog owners from the Odate area had only been interested in dog fighting. The emphasis for breeding had been to create bigger, stronger fighting dogs at the sake of a standardized appearance. Although the purpose of the natural monument was to reverse the current state of decline of the Akita dog and to preserve the breed, its beginnings were hampered by many differences in opinion as to what exactly was a true Akita dog.
These findings on the Akita were discussed in the paper "The Origin of Japanese Dogs" presented at the 1922 Zoological Society Meeting. Around 1926, this subject was again discussed in "The History on Preservation of Japanese Dogs" by Mr. Hiroshi (Hirokichi) Saito.
In May of 1927, The Akita Inu Hozonkai Society (Akiho) was formed to maintain the breed standard by the mayor of Odate. Growing concern for the survival of Japanese dogs by the public also resulted in the creation of the Nipponken Hozonkai (Nippo)- an organization for the preservation of the Akita dog, Hokkaido dog, Shiba dog, Kai dog, Kishu dog and the Shikoku dog in Tokyo in June 1928.
In the spring of 1931 eleven years after the initial survey a group led by Dr. Tokio Kaburagi came to Odate for the second time to survey the Akita. This second survey resulted in the name being changed from Odate dog to the Akita dog and the selection of nine Akita dogs as natural monuments in July of that year. Even after the breeds selection as a natural monument, many Akita dogs of this period still possessed features of the Tosa fighting dog. Restoring the breed to its original state has been a long journey that has required a considerable amount of research and study.
In 1932 while conducting additional research into Akitas following their declaration as natural monuments, Mr. Hirokichi Saito, the aforementioned founder of Nipponinu Hozonkai, heard about one special Akita named Hachiko that waited every day at the Shibuya train station for the return of his deceased master. Hopeful, Saito went to Shibuya to see this dog for himself. He was pleasantly surprised to find out that Hachiko was not only an Akita, but a perfect representative of the breed. His research also revealed that there were only 30 purebred Akitas remaining, including Hachiko.
The Akita dog made its celebrity debut with the publication of an article about Hachiko by Mr. Hirokichi Saito. After meeting Hachiko he became concerned with the routinely harsh treatment that dogs around the station received and began to write sad stories about Hachiko and submit them to the local media. The Tokyo Asahi Shimbun (Tokyo Daily Newspaper) published one of his articles titled " Itoshiya rōken monogatari " ("The Story of a Beloved Old Dog") in that same year. The Japanese public finally learned about the loyal dog Hachi who kept waiting for the return of his master. Capitalizing on the immediate attention his initial article received Saito began to write more articles about Hachiko including one moving story entitled "Old Dog's Seven Year Wait For His Master" with a photograph of the dog that ended up making national headlines and drawing as much attention as other world events. This story touched the hearts of dog lovers nationwide and basked the Akita in the floodlight of popularity.
Hachiko became an overnight celebrity as travelers from all directions now made special trips to Shibuya Station just to be near the famous Akita. It was even believed that touching his fur would imbue an individual with respect. His untiring faithfulness to his master's memory impressed the people of Japan as a spirit of family loyalty that all should strive to achieve. Teachers and parents started using Hachiko's loyalty and love as an example for children to follow. A well-known Japanese artist even rendered a sculpture of the dog, and throughout the country a new awareness of the Akita breed grew. Originally the dog was named "Hachi" the honorific "Ko" was a latter addition to his name following his rise to fame based on his loyalty for his deceased master.
Hellen Keller the famous author, lecturer and humanitarian is credited with having introduced the Akita to the United States. While touring Japan in 1937 she visited the Akita Prefecture were she heard the story of Hachiko the famed Akita dog that had died two years earlier in 1935. Impressed with the story she stated that she would like to have an Akita dog of her own. Mr. Ogasawara, a member of the Akita area police department agreed to give her a two month old puppy named Kamikaze-go as a present. When Kamikaze-go died of canine distemper a month after her return to the United States, his older brother, Kenzan-go, was presented to her as an official gift from the Japanese government in July 1938.
Of her dog Kamikaze-go, Keller wrote in the Akita Journal:
"If ever there was an angel in fur, it was Kamikaze. I know I shall never feel quite the same tenderness for any other pet. The Akita dog has all the qualities that appeal to me - he is gentle, companionable and trusty."
By 1939 a breed standard had been established and dog shows were being held, but such activities stopped after World War II began.
Japans constant involvement in wars during the first half of the century, including the First Sino-Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War, World War I and II meant that there were very few true Akitas. During the first half of the twentieth century three types of dog were generally included under the name Akita. These were the Fighting Akita which was a mixture of Matagi and numerous other breeds including Tosa, Mastiff and Great Dane; the actual Matagi Akita which was the original hunting dog and the German Shepherd Akita which was the result of breeders trying to save their dogs from confiscation by the government. During the war the Japanese government ordered that long haired dogs be rounded up and slaughtered so that their fur could be used as a lining for the uniforms of soldiers. The only breed exempt from this practice was the German Shepherd as they were routinely used as military working dogs.
Many Akita owners tried to save their dogs by breeding them to German Shepherds, sending them to hunting villages in the mountains, or to apple orchards in Aomori to be used as guard dogs. Some even tried to confuse government officials rounding up dogs by giving them typical German Shepherd names such as Shep, Spike and Rodger. It is also believed that a great amount of cross breeding took place during this period that further hurt the purity of Akitas. All of the above, plus the fact that it was very difficult to keep and feed large dogs during these times, set the preservation process back considerably creating an extremely unfortunate period for Akita dogs, their owners and fanciers.
During the occupation years following the war, Akita dog fanciers in Japan became heavily involved in trying to restore the Akita to its original "Natural Monument" state. Confusion as to what was to be considered as a true original Akita-Inu hampered the process however as different breeders began to breed their own interpretations of the real ancient Akita. The Akita-Inu Hozonkai Society (Akiho) stepped in and made the decision for everyone that the breed should be restored to the standards of the only true Akita Japan has ever known-the ancient Matagi-inu, or hunting type. The reasoning for their decision was that the Fighting Akita could not be the true Akita as it was created over the last century through the use of foreign breeds, while the German Shepherd Akita was a product born out of war time necessity to save the breed.
This decision marked the first time in history that Akitas were to be bred for a standardized appearance. Akita fanciers in Japan began to breed the few remaining Akitas in order to produce litters that would restore the breed to sustainable numbers and accentuate the original characteristics of the breed that had been lost by previous crosses with other breeds.
US servicemen stationed in Japan fell in love with the Akita and brought many back to the United States when they completed their tour. As the popularity of the breed grew, more and more Akitas found themselves being imported from Japan to the United States; although most of these dogs were of the German Shepherd or Fighting Akita types.
In the US, breeders and fanciers were drawn to the larger and more substantial Japanese Fighting Akita than to the other types; although some Matagi type (hunting type) Akitas were imported. This is also the primary reason that there are so many differences between the American Akita (Great Japanese Dog) and the Akita-Inu of Japan. The Akita Club of America was created in 1956 and in the early part of 1973 the American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognized the Akita and closed the books on any further imported dogs as the AKC did not recognize the Japanese Kennel Club.
The closing of the studbook in 1973 by the AKC set the stage for the current divergence in the breed between the American Akita (Great Japanese Dog) and the Akita-Inu. As previously stated the vast majority of Akitas imported into America were of the German Shepherd or Fighting Dog type. By closing the books the AKC made these dogs the foundation stock of the American Akita.
In 1992 the A.K.C. re-opened the Akita stud book and several Japanese Akitas have been imported since that time. However the divergence between the two types is of such significance that interbreeding will usually do nothing but produce a hybrid - not one or the other.
Although both types of Akita derive from a common ancestry, 50 years of breeding on different sides of the pacific ocean have produced considerable differences between the two. American Akitas are larger, more substantial dogs, and are acceptable in all colors, while Japanese Akitas are smaller and only permitted to be fawn, red, sesame, white, or brindle.
There is to this day much debate among Akita breeders and fanciers of both types as to whether there are or should be two distinct breeds of Akita. While the American Kennel Club and Canadian Kennel Club, consider American and Japanese Akitas to be two types of the same breed and allow free breeding between the two. The FCI, Nihon Ken Hozonkai ( The Association for the Preservation of the Japanese Dog), and the Kennel Clubs of most other nations consider the Japanese Akita-Inu and American Akitas (Great Japanese Dogs) as separate breeds and prohibit crossbreeding the two types . As of January 1st, 2006 the United Kingdom's Kennel Club recognized the Japanese Akita-Inu as a totally separate breed and as such no cross breeding is permitted.
The Akita-Inu is a large, square, upright dog that is slightly longer than it is tall with well-developed muscles and tendons. The male and female Akita-Inu are clearly distinguishable from each other. Males should be 24 ½” – 27 ½” at the withers with weight of 75-115 lbs while females are slightly smaller at a height of 22 ½” – 25 ¼” at the withers with a weight of 65-100lbs. The skin should be relatively tight and free of wrinkles without the appearance of it being loose or hanging.
The head of the Akita-Inu is more fox-like than that of the American Akita (Great Japanese Dog) and when viewed from above should form a blunt triangular shape. The skull is broad between the ears, free of wrinkles with moderately developed cheeks and tight flews. The top of the skull features a well defined stop with a distinct furrow. The muzzle is straight, tapers gradually to the nose and is of nearly equal length as the skull whereas with the American Akita (Great Japanese Dog) the muzzle is only 2/3rds the length of the skull. The nose should be large with darker colors being preferred. The relatively small, thick ears sit alertly and well spaced atop the skull with a triangular shape that is slightly rounded at the tips. The ears should be pricked and incline forward. The dark brown eyes are smallish, almondAmong experts, the use of Almonds, or Almond derived products in pet food appears to have been met with mixed reviews. While some feel that there is no issue and that the .... shaped and set moderately apart on the skull. The flesh surrounding the eyes (eye rims) should be dark in color and tight. The jaws are powerful with the upper teeth closely overlapping lower teeth and set square to the jaws forming a perfect, regular and complete scissor bite.
The Akita-Inu has a neck of moderate length that is thick and muscular in appearance, without the presence of dewlap. The crest of the neck should be pronounced and blend in well with the base of the skull. The front shoulders are set slightly back, with well developed and powerful muscles. The elbows should ride close to the chest with well boned, straight forelegs leading to cat like feet that are round, arched and tight with thick pads that turn neither in nor out. The length of the dog from point of shoulder to point of buttock should be slightly greater than the height at the withers. The chest is deep, with a well developed forechest and the ribs are moderately sprung from a level straight back. The hindquarters are broad, muscular and moderately angular leading to powerful, well developed thighs. There is moderate turn of the stifle with well let down hocks that do not turn either in or out. The tail sets high atop the rump and is thick, full and of good length. Carriage of the tail should be tightly curled over the back with tails lacking curl being highly undesirable.
The Akita-Inu has a thick double coat that features course outer guard hairs over a dense, softer undercoat. The guard hairs of the outer coat should be straight and stand off from the body without the indication of a ruff or feathering. The coat is slightly longer at the withers and rump, with males have a slightly more pronounced mane. The only acceptable colors for an Akita-Inu are sesame, red-fawn, brindle, and white. All the foregoing colors except white must also have a whitish coat on the cheeks, sides of the muzzle, inside of the legs and also the undersides of the jaw, neck, chest, body and tail (Urajiro).
The overall appearance of an Akita-Inu should be that of a large, well-balanced, hardily built Spitz type dog with balance being very important in the overall picture of the dog. Efforts to restore this breed to its Matagi-Inu origins mean that upon first glance, an oriental look must be evident, as well as an expression of intelligence and an air of aloofness.
The Akita Inu is renowned as a loyal and intelligent breed of dog that is also docile, courageous and fearless. The modern day Akita-Inu is the result of reconstructive efforts to bring it back to the original ancient Matagi-Inu (Hunting dog) standards. Years of research, breeding and effort have worked to put back into the breed those traits that centuries of crossbreeding had removed from it. Over the last half century this same effort has also been expended to remove from the breed some of the more undesirable traits that were introduced to it through crossbreeding as well. The Akita-Inu like it's ancestors the Matagi-Inu is an intelligent hunter.
Because of this intelligence, it is not uncommon for the Akita-Inu to bore easily and resort to destructive behaviors in order to occupy itself in situations were it has nothing else to do. Although they can live happily in apartments, it would require that the owner provide the dog with plenty of exercise and mental stimulation to prevent bouts of boredom induced destruction. As a breed the Akita-Inu is a very loyal and family oriented dog that can become extremely distressed in situations where they find themselves kept apart from the family. Dogs left outside to live in the yard (yard dogs) without quality family interaction tend to develop bizarre behavior patterns and exhibit outward signs of stress and frustration. These dogs will generally regress in socialization, exhibit barrier aggression, and/or resort to wantonly destructive behavior in order to stave off boredom. For such a large and powerful breed, the Akita-Inu is remarkably sensitive and easily affected by stress or changes to their environment. In the Akita stress can be the trigger for autoimmune diseases in a breed that is already pre-disposed to these conditions. Those interested in owning an Akita should not consider this breed if the intent is not to let the dog live in the home.
The Akita-Inu is a natural guardian of the home that does not require any training to turn them into an effective guard dog. This is not a breed known to randomly bark at everything that goes bump in the night. A breed trait is that the Akita-Inu will generally not bark unless there is a very good reason. These dogs are naturally silent hunters who will hunt low to the ground without growls, barking or other noise, similar to large cats. When the Akita-Inu is barking it's time to pay attention as something may very well be amiss. A bold and courageous breed the Akita-Inu will act accordingly if they feel there is a threat to the family. Although the Akita-Inu will generally tolerate guests that enter the home when the owner is present, they will not be welcomed and the Akita may act aggressively when the owner is away. Owning this breed requires that the owner have secure padlocked fencing around the property in order to protect the dog guarding it and any people that may unwittingly wander on to it in their absence. They are inherently territorial and aggressive toward other people and animals and they should not be allowed to run free or roam at will.
This is a hunter and as such it may consider small animals as prey and hunt them. This includes cats, small dogs, rodents, birds, rabbits and other small wildlife. The Akita-Inu if raised from a young age can be taught to accept other animals in the residence; however some difficulty may be encountered when trying to introduce an adult Akita-Inu into a home that already has animals present. The male Akita-Inu is aggressive towards other male dogs. Likewise a female Akita-Inu will generally not tolerate another female dog. Most members of this breed can be taught to live in the home with dogs of the opposite sex, although some prefer to be the only dog. In cases where the owner is integrating an adult Akita it is imperative that the Akita be closely watched until a peaceful co-existence has been established. Ducks, chickens and other birds are a meal for the Akita, do not expect the dog to befriend fowl. Exercising an Akita-Inu can be done off leash in areas where it is unlikely that there will be contact with other animals or people.
The Akita-Inu is extremely food possessive. In homes with other pets ensure that the Akita is given its own food bowl that is well away from any other animals and that no other animal is allowed near the dog until the food is gone. Children as well should not be allowed around the Akita while it is eating. This is a breed that is not tolerant to being teased and may respond by biting. As such it should never be left alone with children even if you are certain you have a dog that adores all children. Akitas that have not been raised with children may not tolerate them at all; seeing them as subordinate pack mates that need to be put into their place. Akitas that have been raised with children may only tolerate the children of the family and may not tolerate neighborhood kids. Due to this breeds size, temperament and strength it is not advised that it be left alone with children under 13 years of age. Some children when left unsupervised may treat animals unkindly, this behavior towards an Akita with its large size and hunting instincts can endanger the child's life.
The Akita-Inu is a take charge, headstrong type of dog that may challenge humans of the household for dominant social status within the pack. This behavior cannot be tolerated and immediate, firm, consistent correction should be the response. Typically a good shaking of the scruff is an effective form of discipline for an Akita, not beating. If treated to harshly, such as being hit or kicked the Akita may respond aggressively in order to defend itself. Abusive behavior in order to correct the dog means you have lost control of yourself and your dog. Akitas consider eye contact to be a challenge and may react aggressively. Going nose to nose with an Akita on their level is a foolish thing to do and may trigger an aggressive response.
This breed should be trained by the actual owner of the dog and not sent off to a school like some other breeds. Training can be done with the assistance of an experienced trainer familiar with the breed but the owner must be present during the process. The completion of a good obedience class with the owner will help to solidify the relationship and social hierarchy between dog and owner while also forming a strong bond between the two. The intelligence of the Akita means that they tend to bore rather easily when subjected to monotonous commands and long training sessions. This breed is highly trainable and many members compete at very high levels in many dog competition sports. They pick up things very quickly so short training sessions that keep the dog interested will yield the best results. This is also a breed known to be very stubborn. If the dog believes it's a waste of time to "sit" or "stay" one more time, he will simply walk away! Obedience training with this breed requires patience!
The best owner for an Akita-Inu will be one that is assertive, loving, dominant and not easily intimated by dogs. Passive individuals or individuals with an aversion to providing strong corrective discipline to a dog should not own this breed. The dog must see that it operates under a single leader with clearly defined limits and boundaries. The only way to live peacefully with an Akita is that all other humans must be higher up in social order than the dog. That is the only way the relationship can be a success. In situations where the dog is allowed to believe he is the leader of the household, he may become very dominant and aggressive as he tries to retain his social status and keep subordinate pack members (humans) in their place.
Akitas, like all dogs, do not have the same short-term memory that humans possess. Do not discipline an Akita for an incident that may have happened hours beforehand; the dog will not connect the punishment to the crime. If you witness your dog getting involved in mischief provide firm and immediate correction in order for it to be effective. Case in point: if you come home to see that your Akita has chewed on the couch, do not discipline the dog when he comes up to greet you. The dog will not associate the current punishment with the couch it may have chewed on hours earlier and will think it is being punished for approaching you. This can create an aloof dog that is mistrustful of its owners.
Many Akitas love to talk, this may come in the form of grunts, groans and mumbles that entertain themselves and you. This is conversational verbalizing and is not growling or aggression and should not be interpreted as an aggressive growl, which sounds quite different. The talking Akita is a trait of the breed that should not frighten you. Time, bonding and experience with your dog will allow you to easily distinguish between talking and growling. Akitas also tend to enjoy carrying things around in their mouth; this may include your wrist! This is not an aggressive act and is generally an endearing trait. The dog may take your wrist to lead you to the cookie jar or to their leash if they anticipate going for a walk. If this mouthing behavior is annoying to you, provide them with an alternative such as a job like bringing in the paper or the mail.
The Akita-Inu is an excellent breed of dog with its own unique and endearing qualities. It just requires the right type of owner to live successfully in the household.
Since the Akita-Inu possesses a thick double coat of fur: a thick, dense, soft undercoat and a coarse longer topcoat, some grooming and ritual brushing is going to be required if you plan on letting them in the house. The undercoat will shed or “blow out” annually and for females this may happen twice a year. For dogs living in warmer climates there is a tendency to shed year-round. Caring for your Akita-Inu will require that you put up with plenty of dog hair on the furniture and carpet, and floating through the air during these shedding sessions that can last three weeks or more. You can reduce the loose hair you find with regular brushing and grooming sessions during these times.
Akitas, when acquired from reputable breeders that utilize genetic testing of parents, are typically a very healthy breed of dog. A survey conducted in the United States and Canada in 2000 listed the most common causes of death as cancer (21%), GDV (bloat/torsion, 21%), musculoskeletal (15.5%), and autoimmune disorders(7%). A later study of the same issue conducted by the UK Kennel Club in 2004 listed the most common causes of death for the Akita as cancer (32%), cardiac issues (14%), and gastrointestinal, including bloat/torsion at (14%) of total Akita deaths.
Further research returns the following list of specific medical conditions known to be associated with this breed. These conditions are: