There's still debate as to whether or not the Akita Inu and the American Akita are actually two different breeds, with all but The Federation Cynologique Internationale identifying the American Akita as simply "the Akita." In Japan, this remains controversial.
The Akita originated in Japan, with the oldest records referring to the "Matagi" hunting dog (also known as the "bear hunting dog," or the "deer hunting dog") as the oldest of the native Japanese dogs. The Akita of today came from Japan's northernmost region, in the Akita Prefecture, on the island of Honshu. This is where the name “Akita” comes from. The original ancestor of the breed, the Matagi, helped their humans kill very large animals, including the Sika deer, Asian black bear, and wild boar. The Matagi didn't actually kill their prey. Instead, they tracked it and held it at bay until humans arrived to do the killing. They were tenacious, agile, and very swift.
Today's modern Akita has been crossed with large breeds from Asia and Europe, including Great Danes , English Mastiffs , and the TosaInu ; the last is a breed that originated in the latter part of the 19th century, and is also indigenous to Japan. The relatively large TosaInu weighs about 45 pounds and bears a close resemblance to the European Spitz. The original development of the Akita in Japan had a specific purpose: to create a fighting dog that could be used in the Akita Prefecture's growing dogfighting industry in Japan’s early 20th century.
During World War II, the Akita was crossbred with the German Shepherd to save them from government orders that called for all nonmilitary dogs to be killed. The American-style Akita was originally a specific variety of the Japanese Akita, but that particular type of dog was not prized in Japan because of the unique markings it bears; these markings make it ineligible for show competition in Japan.
Bringing the Akita to the United States
Three positive events occurred in the early 20th century that brought the Akita to the attention of the United States and the Western world at large:
Hachiko: timelessly devoted to his master
Hachiko was an Akita, perhaps the most revered Akita in history. Born in 1923 and owned by a Professor Hidesaburo-Ueno in Tokyo, Hachiko went to the Shibuya train station in Tokyo with his master every day. He stayed at the station while Ueno went to work, waiting for him to return, at which point dog and master would return home together.
When Hachiko was 18 months old, his master died at work and never came back on the four o'clock train. For the next nine years, Hachiko continued to travel to and from the station every day, hoping for his master to return. Although kind relatives of his original owner took him in, Hachiko never gave up waiting for his master to come home. Ultimately, a bronze statue was erected in his honor shortly before his death in 1934; today, Hachiko's statue is the focus of honor for a solemn ceremony held every year on April 8.
The Akita: Japanese Natural Monument
In 1931, the Akita was officially declared a Japanese Natural Monument. This was done specifically to preserve the original Akita as a Japanese natural treasure through carefully controlled breeding. In 1934, the first Japanese breed standard for the Akita Inu was established after it was declared as a Natural Monument of Japan. The 50th anniversary of the Akita Dog Preservation Society was commemorated in 1967, complete with the establishment of the Akita Dog Museum.
Helen Keller: brought the Akita to the United States
Historical figure Helen Keller famously persevered through life despite being profoundly deaf and blind to become a noted author and speaker. In 1937, she's also credited with bringing the first two Akitas to the US from Japan. She was presented with one puppy, Kamikaze, but he died at five months of age from distemper, shortly after arriving in the United States. Therefore, a second Akita puppy was sent to her, christened Kenzan-go. He lived until the mid-1940s. She called the dog breed "gentle, companionable, and trusty."
Near extinction during World War II
Although a breed standard was established for the Akita in 1939 and some dog shows had been held, they were stopped after World War II started. In fact, the war itself almost caused the Akita's extinction in Japan. The war caused a food shortage in Japan, which already put the Akita at a disadvantage; worse, the dogs themselves were killed to feed starving people, and their coats were used for clothing. The final insult was the government's order for the dogs to be killed on demand, to prevent the spread of disease.
This led owners to turn their beloved pets loose in the mountainous regions of the area, in hopes of saving them. When the domesticated Akita were turned loose, they bred with their ancestor dogs the Matagi. People also deliberately crossbred them with German shepherds to try to conceal their identities and to keep them from being killed by authorities.
The Akita in the US
During the middle and latter parts of the 20th century, Japanese and American Akita began to diverge as two separate breeds. While the Japanese Akita was specifically bred to restore the original breed as a work of Japanese art, the American-style Akita was a heavier, bigger-boned dog. Most authorities consider the "Akita" to be the US Akita, with the exception of The Federation Cynologique Internationale and Japan. The American-style Akita was not well known worldwide until the early 1980s.
The American Akita is truly a massive dog, with a flat skull and broad, powerful jaws; the head is said to be "bearlike." The ears are erect and the neck is thick, short, wide and muscular. The eyes are small and deep set. The tail is erect and curves gracefully over the back. The Akita stands between 24 to 28 inches high at the shoulder and weighs between 75 and 120 pounds. All coat colors can be present in the American-style Akita, including brindle, pinto, black and white mask, solid white, white mask, self-colored mask, and all different colors of undercoat.
The Akita is truly a gentle giant if raised properly. If correctly socialized and trained, the dog exudes courage, dignity, and incredible devotion to those it loves. It can be territorial and reserved with strangers, and it has unique, cat-like mannerisms, including self-grooming. One of its most enchanting behaviors is that it will usually clean its own face after eating. It's very fastidious about its surroundings, and will also groom its mates, if they exist.
It is generally intolerant of other dogs, though, and it is best if it's the only dog in the house. It's also not recommended as a choice of pet for a first-time dog owner, since dogs that are poorly socialized can become dangerous.
The Akita is a very dominant, independent and strong dog. Although gentle and docile if properly trained, it will dominate you (and will therefore be a threat to you) if you don't. If you decide to take this dog on as a pet, make very sure you train it properly to consider you its pack leader. While most dogs are unpleasant to handle if they're not properly socialized, the Akita can actually be threatening and should not be kept as a pet if you can't establish yourself as pack leader right away.
Best environment for living
The Akita is moderately active and can live in an apartment, although it should have plenty of exercise. It should have a daily walk in part to establish and maintain your status as pack leader. It is good around small children and is very protective and attentive, as long as it's been properly socialized; again, proper socialization is extremely important as the Akita can be dangerous for anyone, including small children, if it hasn't been.
The Akita is prone to general large dog health problems like hip dysplasia, and is also particularly susceptible to autoimmune diseases like lupus, and endocrine diseases like Addison's, Cushing's syndrome, and diabetes. It's also prone to von Willebrand disease, a genetic bleeding disorder that sometimes occurs in this breed. Particular to this breed, the dog may be dangerously sensitive to many substances, including insecticides, drugs, tranquilizers, and anesthetics. It may also be prone to pseudo-hyperkalemia, a high concentration of potassium in the blood.
The life expectancy for the Akita is quite good for a pet of this size, about 10 to 12 years
The Akita can have two different kinds of coats, either long- or short-haired. The short hair is the most common; the long hair is actually not a breed standard, and is disqualified from show, although longhaired dogs also seem to be more sweetly-tempered. Short-haired Akita have stiff, bristly coats that need brushing on a regular basis, with bathing needed only when necessary. The Akita's coat is naturally waterproof, and excessive bathing is contraindicated for this reason.
Group Classification: Working Group
Country of Origin: N/A
Date of Origin: N/A
Shedding: Moderate Shed, Heavy Shed
Body Size: N/A
Weight M: 75-120 pounds
Height M: 26-28 inches
Weight F: 75-110 pounds
Height F: 24-26 inches
Litter Size: 3 to 12 puppies with the average litter being 7 or 8
Life Expectancy: 10-12 years
Recognized By: CKC, FCI, AKC, UKC, NKC, NZKC, APRI, ACR
The Japanese Akita has only four different colors and they are brindle, white, sesame (i.e. hair that is red and has black tips), and red fawn.
Akitas are very adaptable dogs and can adjust to different living conditions provided they are given frequent, regular exercise. They do best in a house with a large, fenced yard and shelter from the sun and cold. In very hot climates they should be kept indoor during the heat of the day.