"Excuse me, but what kind of dog is that? He looks just like a big bear!" Chances are, the questioner has just met an Akita; a Natural Treasure of Japan. Akitas are striking and impressive dogs, with an attitude of nobility and an appearance of strength and power. Their most noticeable physical characteristic is a large, bear-like head with erect, triangular ears set at a slight angle following the arch of the neck. They have thick coats, and tight cat-like feet. Their tails curl over the top of the back down the loin, into a curl, or a double curl. Their markings are completely unique; no 2 Akitas look exactly alike. Mature males measure at least 25 inches at the withers and weigh more than 100 pounds. Mature females measure at least 23 inches and weigh 80 pounds or more. Recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1973, the Akita is a rather new breed in the United States. It has grown steadily in popularity, in part because of its extraordinary appearance and in part because of its captivating personality.
History of the Akita:
The Akita's character is the result of centuries of breeding in Japan. Japanese history, both verbal and written, describe the Akita as one of the oldest of the native dogs. Centuries ago the breed was owned only by the Shogun, the imperial leaders of the country. The Akita developed in the Akita prefecture, the northernmost region of the island of Honshu. Bred to hunt, guard, and herd, this swift, agile, and tenacious dog tracked large game and held it at bay until the royal hunters arrived to make the kill. The Akitas hunted elk, antelope, boar, and the 800-pound Yezo bear. As a guard dog, the Akita was unsurpassed in its keen senses of smell, sight, and hearing. By nature a quiet dog that barked only when threatened, the breed needed no training in its guard duties. As a herding dog, it fiercely protected livestock from savage predators in the mountainous terrain of the Akita Prefecture. The story of Hachi-Ko one of the most revered Japanese Akitas of all time. He was born in 1923 and was owned by Professor Eizaburo Ueno of Tokyo. Professor Ueno lived near the Shibuya Train Station in a suburb of the city and commuted to work every day on the train. Hachi-Ko accompanied his master to and from the station each day. On May 25, 1925, when the dog was 18 months old, he waited for his master's arrival on the four o'clock train. But he waited in vain; Professor Ueno had suffered a fatal stroke at work. Hachi-Ko continued to wait for his master's return. He traveled to and from the station each day for the next nine years. He allowed the professor's relatives to care for him, but he never gave up the vigil at the station for his master. His vigil became world renowned, and the Akita's reputation for loyalty was established. Shortly after his death, a bronze statue was erected at the train station in his honor. Then, in 1931, The Akita was officially declared a Japanese Natural Monument.
The Modern American Akita:
The American Akita today is a unique combination of dignity, courage, alertness, and devotion to its family. It is extraordinarily affectionate and loyal with family and friends, territorial about its property, and aloof with strangers. It is feline in its actions; it is not unusual for an Akita to clean its face after eating and to preen its pack mates. Because it is a large, powerful and potentially aggressive dog, the American Akita is certainly not a breed for everyone. Its personality is that of a survivor. Even though centuries have passed since the Shogun warrior owned Akitas, the breed still exhibits keen hunting prowess, extraordinary strength and endurance, and the ability to survive on its own. Akita owners must channel these attributes into early pack leadership understanding so that their dogs become good citizens rather than neighborhood bullies. The Akita learns very quickly and can become bored with training easily. Those who don't understand the breed often describe it as stubborn, when in fact, the dog is responding to improper training techniques. The Akita thrives on the love and respect of its master and, with proper reinforcement, is a very good worker. The Akita was never bred to live or work in groups like many hound and sporting breeds. Instead, they lived and worked singularly or in pairs, a preference strongly reflected today. The individual Akita is happy being an only dog or one of two dogs in a household, but can be aggressive towards animals not part of his family group, particularly stranger dogs. A properly socialized and managed Akita will learn to tolerate other animals and not go looking for trouble, but the owner must never forget the breed's inherent drive to be top dog at almost any cost.
There are many pluses to owning an Akita. They are affectionate to their owners and are excellent watchdogs, although they do not bark unless something is amiss. They require only moderate exercise, adjust well to apartment living as long as they receive daily walks, do not eat large quantities of food, and are long-lived. Negatives to ownership include a twice-a-year shedding of the thick, downy undercoat; the size and strength of the breed, which must be properly managed; and the breed's predisposition to be aggressive to strange dogs, particularly a large dog of the same sex. This characteristic is not absolute, as there are some exceptions to the rule, but generally speaking large dog same sex households do not work well.