We all call dogs as man’s best friends, but we are doubtful if everyone knows the real meaning of the word. It is very easy to say that our dog is loyal to us; unless you have an Akita in your home. No other dog has moved a nation to value family loyalty more than the Akita, as personified by Hachiko’s 9-year, 9-month, and 15-day wait for the return of Hachiko’s owner and friend, Prof. Hidesaburo Ueno. This dog patiently went to the Shibuya train station in Tokyo every single day at exactly the same time that Prof. Ueno’s train would arrive from Bunkyo, not really realizing that its friend is already gone. It’s not surprising why folks love the Akita. But before you adopt or get one, it’s best to learn more about this faithful dog because there’s a lot more to it than just being a loyal dog.
History of the Akita Inu and American Akita
The world considers the Akita Inu and the American Akita as two distinct breeds. However, the US, through its kennel organization the AKC, looks at the two as the same breed. They are differentiated only by their color and the size of their bodies. The Akita Inu is generally considered as the original strain where the word “Inu” essentially translates to ‘dog’. In the US, they don’t call their dogs the American Akita; only Akita. As such, we’ll try to go through the history of these two dogs separately.
The Akita Inu has been proven in both verbal and written Japanese history that it is the direct descendant of the Matagi, a dog that was used in guarding Japanese royalty in the 16th century. It was also a venerable hunter, hunting Sika deer, wild boar, and Asian black bear. The Matagi ancestor of the Akita was a famed baiter. It would track large game and hold it at bay for its human masters to arrive and finish the game off. As such, the Akita Inu is regarded as one of the nation’s (and perhaps the planet’s) oldest dogs native to Japan. The Inu derived its name from the Akita prefecture in Japan’s northernmost island of Honshu.
In the Odate area of the Akita Prefecture, the Akita Inu was crossbred with other dogs like the Great Dane, Tosa Inu, St. Bernard, and English Mastiff in an effort to develop a fighting dog to be used in the growing dog fighting industry of the early parts of the 20th century.
The story of Hachiko, an Akita born in 1923 in Odate, Akita Prefecture, brought the dog to national prominence because of its exceptional and unconditional faithfulness and loyalty is shown to its master, Prof. Ueno. From 1924 to May 1925, the pair always went to the Shibuya train station where the professor would get his train ride to Bunkyo, also in Tokyo. Toward the end of each day, Hachiko would leave home and go to the train station to meet its owner so they can walk back home together.
On May 21, 1925, the professor died in one of his lectures because of a cerebral hemorrhage. His remains were never brought back home. Hachiko waited at the train station. He would return the following day at precisely the same time the train arrived from Bunkyo. It did this for the next 3,570 days, patiently and faithfully waiting for its master to come home. This drew the attention of others in the train station. By October 1932, news of Hachiko’s devotion to its master stirred to the public to show their support for the dog, bringing food and treats for the hound.
One of Prof. Ueno’s students made an effort to learn more about Hachiko and its breed. Hirokichi Saito found in an extensive research that there remained only 30 purebred Akitas in Japan as of the 1930s. One of these purebreds was Hachiko. Hachiko died in March 1935 because it had terminal cancer. It was also found out that its condition was made worse by a filarial infection.
By the Second World War, the Akitas of Honshu were nearing extinction because of the scarcity of food. Many of these dogs were killed to be served as food for the starving populace. The dogs’ pelts were also turned into clothing. The government ordered the killing of these dogs in an effort to stop the spread of disease.
Japanese fanciers of the Akita let them loose in the mountainous regions of Honshu. It was here where the Akitas bred back with the Matagis. Some were bred with German Shepherds. It was Morie Sawataishi who initiated the efforts to save the breed. It is also through Sawataishi’s efforts that the world is forever grateful for saving the planet’s most loyal dog. If not, we would never have this gentle giant in our midst today.
The very first Akitas to reach the US shores were Kamikaze-go and Kenzan-go in 1937. These purebred Akitas were presented as gifts to Helen Keller who was obviously moved by the heart-rending story of Hachiko. Kamikaze-go did not last, however, dying only a month after arriving in the US at a young age of 7.5 months due to distemper. Kenzan-go was shipped by the Japanese government as a replacement for Kamikaze-go. Kenzan-go lived until the mid-1940s. In Keller’s words, Kamikaze-go is an angel in fur; gentle, trusty, and companionable.
The American occupation of Japan after World War II introduced the Akita to the western world as American servicemen grew fond of the larger Akita-German Shepherd cross. They brought many of these dogs back home. Americans sought heavier-boned, larger, and definitely more intimidating Akitas, having a bear-like head rather than the foxlike head of the Akita Inu.
In 1955, the AKC gave its recognition to the American Akita. However, it would take 17 more years before the breed standards were accepted by the organization. Majority of the Akitas bred in the US before 1974 were imported from Japan. The AKC disallowed the registration of Akita imports by 1974 and this spurred the divergence in the two types. In 1992, the Japan Kennel Club was duly recognized by the AKC, ending an almost 20-year ban on Japanese Akita imports. It was then too late to rectify the divergence in the Akita Inu and the American Akita.
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While it is true that there are differences between the Japanese and American strains of Akita, they definitely have the same roots. To give you a better idea of what an Akita looks like, we encourage you to check the following facts.
- Male Akitas are large dogs, reaching as tall as 28 inches while females are smaller by 2 inches with the lower limit at 24 inches.
- The same is true with the weight. A full-grown male Akita can weigh from 85 to 130 pounds. Females, on the other hand, tip-in at 70 to 110 pounds.
- Akita Inus are a little bit smaller and lighter than their American counterparts.
- American Akitas have larger, bear-like heads while their Japanese counterparts have generally smaller, almost foxlike heads.
- American Akitas can have any color of the coat. Akita Inu, meanwhile, should only come in red, pure white, fawn, brindle, or sesame. They also MUST HAVE Urajiro markings which are described as whitish markings on the dog’s cheeks, sides of its muzzles, and the inside of the dog’s legs. It is also imperative that the underside of the Akita Inu’s jaw, neck, body, tail, and chest are white.
- Akitas have short but dense double coat like their cousin, the Siberian Husky as well as other spitz types of dogs.
- Some Akitas can have a long coat, but this is considered a disqualification in the show ring.
- It is a muscular dog, with the American version slightly beefier than its brethren in the other side of the Pacific.
- It can live up to 15 years, some only able to reach 10.
Things You Should Know
We know that the Akita was bred specially to guard the Japanese royalty. We also know that they’ve been used in large game-baiting and dogfighting. They are loyal guardians and fearless protectors of their human families. However, they are also respectful, affectionate, and very amusing dogs. But, there’s a catch: you’ve got to show them how. Learn more about this and a few other things as we explore the different aspects every potential pet parent of the Akita needs to know.
The Akita, whether it’s the Japanese or the American strain, needs a person who has the patience and perseverance to train it. While it is smart, it is very important to understand that this dog will never do something just because its human owner wants it to. Some say it is very stubborn, but we digress. It is not stubborn. It is a very protective dog that feels the need to be sure about who it can trust. The best way to do this is by earning its respect. Just because it is docile doesn’t mean you can boss it around. It is especially sensitive, too. The more you employ harsh methods on it, the more it tends to lose its trust and respect on you.
Clicker training has been shown to be especially useful for the Akita. It responds well to techniques to employ the principles of positive reinforcement. But even this is no guarantee to earning its trust. One needs to show the patience and perseverance in trying out different dog training techniques to find out which will work best with the Akita. If you don’t have such patience, then you can forget about having this breed in your life.
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This is a massive dog. And while the Akita Inu is smaller than its American counterpart, you can still expect to give it lots of high-quality dog food. One thing that you need to avoid is feeding the Akita one large meal a day as this increases its risk of gastric dilatation-volvulus or simply bloat. It is best to feed it at least 3 times a day. This reduces the amount of food that it needs to eat while maintaining its nutrient needs. A 100-lb Akita needs about 2000 to 2200 calories every day. If you’re going to feed it 3 times a day, this means you’ve got to give about 650 to 750 calories per meal.
Feeding the Akita can be tricky as it needs the calories for its massive size and activity level. However, its calories should not be supplied mostly by carbs because this dog is quite prone to diabetes mellitus. Much better diet for the Akita is one that has reduced calories yet very high in protein. It is also for this reason that the proteins should come from animal sources and not from plant sources since the latter are still carbs. Joint health-promoting nutrients are also required as this dog is prone to hip and elbow dysplasia.
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Owing to its muscular nature, the Akita requires plenty of exercises to help prevent its muscles from shrinking in size. This also helps improve muscle tone while increasing its strength. More importantly, exercise helps temper its natural tendency to be very dominant. There really is no way to negate this trait of the Akita. But you can always tire it with a lot of physically demanding activities so that it will no longer have energy left to exert its dominance over others.
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Akitas are very affectionate and loving dogs, as shown by Hachiko, but only to its human master and only if it was socialized early on. Given that Hachiko was one of the last 30 Akita purebreds in Japan, there’s no telling what dog breeds are now present in the modern-day Akita. This could somehow explain why the majority of Akitas are considered to be dangerous especially to other dogs, other animals, other people, and even children. This can somehow be lessened by having an Akita puppy grow together with other pets in the household. But even this cannot save strangers and other animals from the very protective nature of the Akita.
It is important to keep in mind that the Akita answers only to its owner. So if it doesn’t recognize you as its owner, then you can almost as certainly expect it to be as aloof and reserved as any other dominant and protective breed. To put it simply, you’ve got to be the Alpha.
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While they may have the same coat characteristics as Siberian Huskies, Akitas are much easier to groom. Weekly or twice weekly combing or brushing is recommended, nevertheless. And when it comes to shedding which typically occurs twice a year you’ve got to have the vacuum cleaner all prepped and ready to go.
Monthly trimming of its toenails is ideal. The Akita’s ears need to be thoroughly inspected and carefully cleaned every week. Brushing the teeth and meticulous dental care should be done every day. Bathing is optional, although giving it a bath every 3 to 4 months is recommended.
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Aside from the health conditions that we mentioned above like gastric dilatation volvulus, diabetes, and hip dysplasia, Akitas are also prone to systemic lupus erythematosus, autoimmune hemolytic anemia, hypothyroidism, Addison’s disease, progressive retinal atrophy, Cushing’s syndrome, glaucoma, and Von Willebrand’s disease. Hyperkalemia and allergy to drugs, anesthetics, vaccines, tranquilizers, and insecticides are also identified as very specific to the breed.
The Akita is for people who…
- Have all the qualities and desirable traits of a pack leader
- Are patient, persevering, and knowledgeable in the art of dog training and socialization
- Don’t have other animals at home
- Can provide both mental stimulation and plenty of exercise for the dog
This dog is not intended for…
- First-time owners of dogs, especially those who don’t have any clue as to just what kind of dog the Akita really is
- People who don’t have the temperament of a pack leader
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Highly territorial and very protective of its family, the Akita makes for an ideal watchdog and guard dog. It has a very bold nature, powerful, and highly independent. It is especially reserved and aloof with strangers and may be very intolerant of other hounds especially those of the same sex. It is for this reason that the dog has been a subject of breed-specific laws in some countries such as Spain, Ireland, the Bermuda Islands, and Ukraine. Even some municipalities in the United States have banned the ownership of the Akita. When fully-trained, it can somehow temper its quite threatening stance toward strangers.
An Akita will never follow its owner, but it does like to know where he is. It can lay down seemingly not interested at what you’re doing, but it is taking mental notes of your behavior. The Akita, they say, also has some cat-like behaviors. It will try to clean its face right after meals and can be exceptionally fastidious around the house. If it has a kennel mate, it will also spend time preening or grooming it.
The Akita’s loyalty is unquestionable. The only problem is that this loyalty is often only to its master. Regrettably, it doesn’t trust that easily. But once you have earned its respect, you can take on the role of Prof. Ueno in your own Hachiko story.
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- Akita, VetStreet