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Akita

If you have seen the movie Hachiko or heard the story of this Japanese dog which became the symbol of loyalty to its owner, then you know what the Akita dog breed is truly like.

These large-sized dogs are loyal and fearless companions and guardians which when properly socialized and trained can be quite affectionate, funny and respectful pets.

With a dog like the Akita, you can be sure that you will have a loyal lifelong friend.

There is quite a bit of a difference between the standards for the Japanese and the American Akita.

Read on to find everything you need to know about the American version of this Japanese Working Dog breed.

Highlights

Temperament: extremely loyal, fearless, dignified

Height at the shoulder: 26-28 inches for males and 24-26 inches for females

Weight: 100-130 lbs. for males and 70-100 lbs. for females

Life expectancy: 10-13 years

Breed Group: Working Group

About the breed

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The Akita is a strong, large and muscular Spitz-type dog originating from Japan, where it is considered a protector of the family and a symbol of loyalty, happiness health, and a good life. Often times, new parent are given small figures of Akita dogs when a new baby is born in Japan.

These powerful dogs were originally used as guard dogs for the noblemen and royalty in feudal Japan, as well as for tracking hunting bear, wild boar, and deer in tough terrains.

They are dogs which are not easy to frighten and will not back up from a fight especially when protecting their families.

These heavy-boned dogs reach from 24 to 28 inches at the shoulder, have massive heads, dense double coats and curled over tails.

They have typical dark shiny eyes and erect ears like most other spitz-type dogs and have an alert expression which has become a typical trait of the breed.

The Akita is a fast dog which is naturally distrustful of strangers, and which is intolerant to other animals which make early socializing an absolute must for the dogs of this breed.

It quickly becomes strongly attached to its owners and thrives on spending time with its human family. In fact, you should be prepared to have your four-legged friend by your side no matter where you go, if you decide to adopt an Akita.

The thick double coat of the Akita Inu is weatherproof, consisting of a dense undercoat and a rough and straight and short topcoat.

The dogs from this Japanese breed have a powerful and brisk gait and can get through even the roughest of terrains which makes them perfect hiking buddies.

Also, you will always feel safe and protected with this fearless and willful animal by your side.

Akitas are not excessive barkers but do make some weird sounds like mumbling, groaning, and moaning.

The dogs from this large breed are also mouthers which will carry just about anything in their mouths, including your wrist. This though is not an act of aggression, but rather the dogs’ way of expressing their love and affection.

You can easily teach the smart Akita to carry your slippers, your newspaper or anything else for you.

Another unique feature of this dog breed is their feline-like grooming and stalking habits. The Akita will spend hours grooming itself like a cat. Also, when it is stalking its prey, it will crouch like a tiger and wait silently before springing into action.

Since these dogs are very large and powerful as well as dominating, they are not recommended for novice dog owners and for people who do not have the confidence to train them properly.

It is crucial to establish yourself as a pack leader in order to let the Akita know its position in the hierarchy from day one.

Hiring a trainer for the Akita is not a good idea, because of the strong bond which is formed between it and the owner.

While it is a fearless and powerful dog, the Akita will not tolerate harsh training methods. It is an intelligent and yet stubborn dog which can be difficult to train, especially by timid owners.

If mistreated, the Akita can become aggressive even towards its owner.

Also, prolonged eye contact with the dogs of this breed can sometimes be perceived as a threat by the animal, and can also lead to aggression.

Although the dogs from this breed are suspicious of strangers and other animals, it is a very social dog, which thrives on being indoors with its family. It should not be left outdoors, or let alone chained outdoors in solitude.

You should meticulously socialize your dog from an early age in order to curb its natural and quite dangerous aggression towards other dogs, particularly ones of the same sex.

A bored or isolated dog from this Japanese breed can become dangerously aggressive and destructive.

So, if you have the time, the experience and the patience to properly train your dog, you will end up with the most loyal companion you have ever had if you open your home to an Akita.

There is quite a bit of a controversy surrounding the breed standards for the Akita dog breed around the world, and namely in between the Japanese and the American breeders.

The native Japanese Akita is much smaller than the American Akita, and weighs about 30 lbs. less.

Also, the Japanese Akita has a more fox-like head, unlike the massive and broad head of the American version.

Plus, the Japanese Akita has eyes shaped like almonds, while the American one has triangular-shaped eyes.

And last but not least, in the US, a black face mask on the Akita is considered an asset, while in Japan, such a mask is not accepted, as the dogs there have white facial markings.

In the USA, the American Kennel Club will accept Akitas in all colors, while in Japan the only acceptable colors are white, red and some brindles.

As you can see, there are quite vast differences between the breed standards in Japan and the US, which is one of the reasons for the controversy, and the split opinions of the fanciers of the breed.

These feline-like and agile hunters are still used for holding large game at bay and for retrieving waterfowl, and more commonly are quite successful in various competitions and dog sports and events.

Although they keep themselves quite clean and odor-free, the Akitas are heavy shedders and do require regular grooming.

Overall, this Japanese dog breed is not recommended for first-time dog owners, and for people who don’t have the time, patience and experience necessary for the proper and sufficient training and socializing their dog.

Personality

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Akitas are smart, bold and willful animals which are extremely loyal to their owners and families but are highly protective and wary of strangers – human and canine.

They can be aggressive to other dogs, especially toward same-sex dogs, which is why they need to be socialized from an early age and are not suitable for homes with more than one pet.

Despite its size and threatening demeanor, the Akita is amazingly playful and affectionate with its family and wants to spend all of its time with its humans – serving them and protecting them.

They do not bark a lot, but are pretty vocal, and are also mouthy, so they will love carrying just about anything around the house.

Being such powerful and intelligent animals, Akitas can easily become domineering, especially with timid owners. They need consistent, loving and firm discipline, but only using positive reinforcement and never harsh treatment.

They do need daily exercise and mental stimulation to stay away from trouble. A bored or lonely Akita can easily resort to destructive and even to aggressive behavior.

Being naturally stubborn, the Akita is definitely not the easiest dog to train, but in the proper hands and with consistent training and socializing, the dogs from this breed will become superb and loyal companions for life.

Nutrition

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The Akita needs high quality commercial or homemade dog food to stay healthy, well and happy. Adult dogs should eat from 3 to 5 cups of food a day, but divided into two meals – one in the morning, and the other in the evening.

They are prone to a life-threatening condition known as bloat, so feeding the dogs from this large breed smaller-sized portions several times a day, as well as avoiding feeding them right after strenuous exercise is essential.

Of course, the amount of food your Akita needs depends on its age, its activity level, its metabolism, its weight, and its health.

The older dogs should eat lighter and less caloric food in order to prevent obesity and kidney disease.

Some Akitas can become overweight and even obese, which can cause serious health problems, and shorten their lifespans drastically which is why you should follow the recommendations of your vet, or a nutritionist to ensure that your pup stays in perfect shape and health for longer.

Avoid feeding your dog with table scraps, fatty foods, or human food which could be toxic to canines. Akitas are known to be sensitive to onions, so avoid feeding your pup onions altogether. Also, check out which foods are safe for dogs and which should be avoided, to stay on the safe side.

Keep in mind that these large dogs can be quite possessive of their food, so always feed them separately from other pets, and keep away from their dog bowls until they are done. Teach your children to never attempt to take the dog’s food away during a meal as well.

The higher the quality and the more digestible the dog food you feed your Akita with – the smaller the portion sizes it will need to stay healthy, active and well.

Grooming

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In the US, the American Kennel Club accepts Akitas in all colors and color combinations. The American Akita can be white, black, chocolate, white and other, or brindle.

It has a thick double coat which is water and weather resistant – with a short and rough upper coat and a dense and soft undercoat.

The Akita is a heavy shedder, so you will need a powerful vacuum cleaner to ensure that your home is hair-free. The shedding becomes very heavy twice or more times a year when the dog is in a shedding season.

Weekly brushing is essential to ensure that the Akita’s coat stays clean and healthy, and so that your entire home isn’t filled with your dog’s hair.

The Akita is like a cat, and will meticulously groom itself. But still, it does need to be bather once in every three months or so.

You will need to trim your pup’s nails on a regular basis, especially if it doesn’t wear them down by itself.

Trimming the nails of such a large and strong dog can be an arduous task, so make sure that you get your Akita accustomed to regular grooming from a very early age.

Also, you should brush the teeth of your dog 2-3 times a week to remove any plaque and bacteria, and to keep its teeth and gums healthy, and its breath nice and fresh.

When you are grooming your pup, always take the time to inspect its ears, nose, eyes, and mouth for any redness or signs of infection.

The insides of the ears of the Akita should be cleaned with a dog ear cleaner and cotton balls every week, but without attempting to stick anything in the ear canals themselves. Inspect the ears for ear wax, a foul odor or redness which could be signs of infection, and speak to your vet about the recommended treatment.

Plus, monitor its hair and skin for any rashes, sores, ticks, or other potential health problems.

The earlier you notice any signs of a health problem, the easier it will be to treat them.

Overall, Akitas are very clean animals with no or very minimal doggy odor.

Then again, even though they do groom themselves, you will need to brush, bathe and groom your dog on a regular basis in order to keep its coat and overall health in pristine condition.

Akitas can drool and are messy drinkers, so make sure you clean their drool to avoid them becoming slobbering and messy.

Exercise

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Although it is not a highly active dog breed, the Akita does require moderate daily exercise as well as mental stimulation.

The dogs from this breed are excellent jogging buddies, and will also appreciate having a backyard with a secure fence where they can spend some time roaming unleashed.

Even though they are large pups, Akitas can actually do well in smaller homes as well. They are natural guardian dogs and will adapt to homes of all sizes.

The dogs from this breed also enjoy playing high energy games with their owners.

Do not leave your Akita outdoor alone isolated or chained, because this can lead to aggression and to destructive behavior.

These dogs want to spend their time with their humans inside.

Also, they can be aggressive to other dogs of the same sex, so be careful where you walk your dog if it has not been properly socialized and trained.

Keeping the yard securely fenced is essential not only for the safety of your dog but for any strangers – human or animals that happen to enter your property by mistake.

Akitas are natural protectors of their families and are wary of strangers, but you shouldn’t have problems inviting guests at home with a dog like this. They tend to become aggressive only when their owners are not home, and somebody enters the premises.

You should be very careful when playing and exercising with your Akita puppy, because being a large breed, the young dogs are prone to bone disorders. Make sure you feed your puppy with lower caloric dog food for large or giant puppies and also do not let it play and jump on hard surfaces to protect its bones from deformities, at least until it is aged 2 years and it’s joint have been fully formed.

Training

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The Akita is a highly intelligent dog breed, but it is also pretty headstrong and independent which makes it quite difficult to train, especially by people with no experience with such dogs.

Because they are so large and strong and are naturally wary and even aggressive towards strange humans and dogs, early socializing and obedience training is of number one priority for Akitas.

Positive reinforcement, alongside firm, consistent and loving training is essential for teaching the dogs to take directions and obey commands.

Harsh treatment can lead to aggressive behavior.

Also, hiring a professional trainer to do your job to train your Akita is not a good idea because these dogs form an incredibly strong bond with their owners, and need to take guidance only from them.

Allowing the dog to become dominating can be dangerous given its size, power, and fearlessness. So, establish the hierarchy at home from day one when you arrive at home with your new Akita pup.

Once you establish yourself as the alpha dog at home, you can start teaching the Akita puppy some basic obedience training commands like sit, stay, come, down, as well as heel when walking on a leash.

Basic obedience training is essential for building a strong foundation for further training of the dog.

You can start potty training the dog along with the basic obedience training, in case it is not housetrained.

You should also teach the Akita to know how to act in public, around other dogs and people from as early on as possible, and as soon as it is safe to take the dog outside after it has had its shots.

By meeting up your puppy with other friendly dogs, many different people, and taking it to see different sights and hear different sounds from an early age, you will be able to ensure that it grows up well rounded and less aggressive.

Akitas become very fond of all family members and are loyal companions for everyone in the household, but given their size and their power as well as their inborn aggression, they can be dangerous to small children if they are mistreated by them.

This is why Akitas are not recommended for people with toddlers and young kids. Also, they are not the best breed to choose if you have other dogs and pets at home.

Always supervise the interaction of your dog with your children as well as with other dogs to ensure that everyone is safe at all times.

Health

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The Akitas are generally strong and healthy animals, but like all other purebred dogs, they are more prone to certain hereditary conditions and illnesses than others.

Here are some of the most common health problems which can affect these large working dogs:

Hip Dysplasia

This is a genetic condition which affects the thigh bone and the hip joint. The two cannot fit properly which can cause discomfort, pain, and lameness.

It can be detected via X-ray screening and can affect one or both rear legs of the dog.

The condition becomes worse as the dog becomes older and develops painful arthritis which can limit its mobility.

Pups with hip dysplasia should never be bred, so always look for a reputable breeder who can offer health clearance for their dogs, and for both of the parents of your puppy.

Gastric Dilatation – Volvulus

This is a life-threatening condition commonly referred to as bloat. It can affect larger dogs and dogs with wider and deeper chests.

It causes an air bubble in the stomach to become stuck and to make the stomach twist or torsion around itself.

Needless to say, this matter should be resolved surgically as soon as possible in order to avoid stopping the circulation of the blood, and death.

The symptoms of bloat include the dog trying to vomit or belch without success, as well as excessive salivation, collapse, a distended abdomen, a rapid heart rate, lethargy, weakness or collapse.

The ways to prevent bloat include – refraining from feeding the dog or giving it a lot of water after strenuous exercise, dividing the daily meals into several smaller portions, and placing a bowl stand to allow for the dog to eat or drink without bending over.

If you suspect that your dog has bloat you should get to the emergency vet or clinic as soon as possible!

Hypothyroidism

This is a disorder of the thyroid gland which is believed to be inherited and can cause various health problems for the dog, including hair loss, a thickening or hyperpigmentation of the skin, obesity, pyoderma, lethargy, epilepsy, skin irritation and others.

The condition can easily be managed with daily medication and with an appropriate diet recommended by your vet.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

This is a name for several eye diseases which cause the deterioration of the retina as the dog ages. In the early stages, the Akita may lose its ability to see at night or when it is dark, but gradually it leads to partial or complete blindness.

Fortunately, dogs have the ability to cope with blindness very well, as long as the furniture and settings in your home are not changed.

Sebaceous Adenitis

This is another genetic condition which can affect Akitas. It is often mistaken for an allergy, hypothyroidism or others, and is quite difficult to diagnose.

With Sebaceous Adenitis, the glands of the skin of the dog become inflated and get destroyed. These are the glands responsible for producing sebum which keeps the skin of the animal moisturized.

The first symptoms of this condition typically appear when the dog is 1-5 years old. Some of the first signs include scaly and dry skin, hair loss on the back, neck and on top of the head. In more severe stages, the symptoms can include a bad odor, thickened skin, and infections of the affected skin.

The condition can be diagnosed via a skin biopsy and can be treated with medication or topical treatments.

You should request health clearance for the parents of your Akita puppy for this condition as well, as it is inherited.

General health recomendations for Akita owners

The National Breed Club recommends that breeders test their dogs for hip and elbow dysplasia, for thyroid issues, and for eye issues.

Also, keep in mind that Akitas are known to develop anemia as a result of eating onions, so never feed your pup with onions!

History

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The name of the breed comes from the province of Akita in Japan, where it is believed to have first originated.

The first dogs from this breed existed back in the 1600s and were used to track and hunt large game, to retrieve fowl and as guard dogs for the rich and noble people in feudal Japan.

It is the largest of the native Japanese breeds and is also one of the most popular ones.

Today’s Japanese Akita is a direct result of the attempt of local breeders from the 19th century to restore 7 extinct Japanese dog breeds. Some of the ancestors of today’s Akita include the Odate dogs.

Over the years, the breeders in Japan selected the many different traits of the ancestors of the Akita, and gradually excluded the black facial masks, the very large size and the pinto patterns of these dogs.

At the same time, these are the exact features which have been accented upon by the American Akita breeders, which is why there is a substantial difference between what we know today as Japanese Akitas and American Akitas.

In 1918, the Akita-Inu Hozankai Society of Japan was established to preserve the original Japanese Akita. In 1931, the breed was recognized as one of the natural monuments of Japan.

The Akita has long been considered a symbol of longevity, health, and happiness, which is why there is an old Japanese tradition to present a figurine of an Akita dog to parents of newborn babies.

The most famous and highly honored Akita of all time is Hachiko. Hachiko accompanied and greeted his owner a university professor to and off from work every day at the Shibuya Train Station in Tokyo.

Unfortunately, one day the pup’s owner suddenly passed away while at his job and never returned to the train station.

The loyal dog continued to wait for his owner for nine more years at the same hour when his master used to come home (at 3 p.m.), without missing a single day at the Shibuya train station until its death in 1938.

Today, in honor of this amazingly loyal dog, there is a famous statue of Hachiko the dog right in the spot where it spent its life waiting for his owner. There is also an annual ceremony which pays homage to Hachiko in Tokyo. Hachiko is in fact still among one of the most and highly cherished symbols of japan.

There have been books written and movies made about Hachiko which have won over the hearts of people all around the world and have further popularized the Akita as a breed.

Another popular Akita was used to nurse and help raise an orphaned Sumatran Tiger cub at the London Zoo. The Akita served its purpose perfectly and was retired when the tiger grew up to become an adult.

In 1937, the first Akita arrived in the USA alongside Helen Keller who brought the dog from Japan. She had been impressed by the story of Hachiko, so she was presented with Kamikaze-go and Akita puppy. Unfortunately, the dog died from distemper at an early age, but when the Japanese heard of its demise, it sent Keller an older brother of the dog named Kenzan-go.

After World War II many servicemen returned to the US with Akita puppies and dogs too.

In 1956, Thomas Boyd started breeding the first Akitas born in the US. Through the years, the American Akitas become quite different from the ones from Japan.

The breed became increasingly popular but was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1972 because of the split between the fanciers of the Japanese and the American Akita breed standards.

Once restricted to the Imperial family and the royalty of Japan, today, Akita dogs are used in Japan as police and other guard dogs, but they are popular companion dogs not only in their native country but in the USA and around the world as well.

They are among the most loyal dogs in the world and display endless devotion to their owners and families.

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