If you love large dogs, as I do, and would enjoy having a loyal, protective companion who is also affectionate and playful, the Akita could be the right breed for you. This is a dog that has a huge heart and will never back down from a challenge. He’s brave and respectful, and, if well-trained and properly socialized, can be a good family dog.
The Akita is believed to have originated in the northern Japanese province of Akita, sometime during the 17th century. He was used to guard royalty, and also to hunt game. To give you an idea of the sheer strength and tenacity of the Akita, he was even used to hunt bears.
In the United States, the Akita is connected to a person of some renown: Helen Keller. On a visit to the Japanese community of Shibuya, which is part of Tokyo, Keller was shown a statue of an Akita by the name of Hachiko, who was kind of the Japanese version of Greyfriars Bobby, the Skye Terrier who guarded his beloved master’s grave for many years after the man’s death.
Hachiko was owned by a professor who rode the train every day to work and then back home, arriving at 3 p.m. Every day, Hachiko would go to the train station to meet the professor. Although it’s not the usual course of things, sometimes dogs do outlive their humans, and this was the case with Hachiko. The professor died, but Hachiko kept on going to the train station, expecting to see his beloved person. He went every single day until he died – 10 years later.
Helen Keller was so touched by the story, and so intrigued by the breed, that she commented that she would very much like to have an Akita. To her delight, she was given a puppy, Kamikaze-go, who was the first Akita to come to the United States. She loved the dog so much that she referred to him as her “angel in fur.”
Sadly, though, Kamikaze-go became an angel for real far too soon. Back in the 1920s, canine distemper was known, but vaccines weren’t developed until the 1940s. Kamikaze-go died of distemper at a young age.
There’s more to the story, though. When the Japanese government learned of Kamikaze-go’s death, they made Helen Keller a present of his older brother, Kenzan-go.
Following World War II, American soldiers coming home from their posts in Japan brought Akitas with them. As the breed evolved, it became larger and more robust than the Japanese variety. Some, though, preferred the Japanese standard, and this led to a split that caused the AKC to refuse to accept the breed. Ultimately, though, in 1972, the Akita Club of America was accepted by the AKC, and the dogs could be registered. There is still a split even today, though, between fanciers who prefer the Japanese standard and those who favor the American standard.
Akita males will usually stand between 26 and 28 inches at the shoulder and weigh anywhere from 85 to 130 pounds. Females are a bit smaller – usually 24-26 inches at the shoulder and weighing 70-110 pounds.
The Akita is very loyal, courageous and smart. With his humans, he will also be playful and affectionate, but with humans who are “not his”, he can be aloof.
There is a common misconception to the effect that Akitas don’t bark. They most definitely will bark if they feel that something is going on that might require it. Most of the time, though, they’ll groan or grumble. This sometimes leads people to think that the dog is growling, when really all he’s doing is “talking.”
Akitas are very strong-willed, so they’re not generally good for novice owners or for people who aren’t fully comfortable being the Alpha in the human/dog relationship. They also require a good deal of exercise in order to keep them from getting bored and, consequently, destructive. So if you don’t feel that you have the time to provide an Akita with the exercise he needs, you should probably consider a less active breed.
Because of the Akita’s protective nature, he can become aggressive if he’s allowed to have his own way too much, or if he’s not properly socialized. You’ll probably need a bit more patience to teach an Akita good manners than you would with many other breeds, so make sure you’re up to the challenge.
Generally speaking, Akitas are healthy, but they can be prone to some health conditions. As is the case with many large breeds, hip dysplasia can be a concern. This is a condition that occurs when the dog’s thigh bone doesn’t fit properly inside the hip joint. If your dog has hip dysplasia, he might appear to be lame in either, or both, hind legs. Some dogs, though, live long and happy lives without ever displaying symptoms.
Most of the time, hip dysplasia can be treated using medication for pain. In rare cases, surgery may be needed to correct the condition. Don’t buy into what many people will tell you, though: that hip dysplasia means that you should have your dog put to sleep. That’s hardly ever the case. If your dog does have hip dysplasia, though, please don’t consider breeding.
Bloat is another condition that can affect large dogs with deep chests. The stomach ends up filled with air or gas, and then twists. This can cause the blood flow to the heart to be impeded, and if the condition isn’t treated immediately, your dog could die. If your dog appears to have a distended abdomen, is vomiting, or salivating a lot without vomiting, you need to take him to the vet immediately.
Akitas can also be prone to hypothyroidism, which can result in lethargy, obesity and skin problems. It is manageable, though, with proper diet and medication.
PRA (progressive retinal atrophy) is another condition that Akitas can develop. It’s a deterioration of the retina, and there is no treatment. If your dog has this condition, he will probably have trouble seeing at night, and as the condition progresses, may also have trouble with vision during the daylight hours. If this happens to your dog, try to keep his surroundings as stable as possible; in other words, don’t move the furniture around. Keep in mind, though, that even a completely blind dog can still have a very good quality of life, and will use his other senses to compensate for his loss of sight.
Sebaceous adenitis is one of the most difficult conditions to diagnose, and it’s often mistaken for allergies or hypothyroidism, to name just a couple of conditions. It’s an inflammation in the sebaceous glands of the dog’s skin. The sebaceous glands are supposed to produce sebum, which keeps the dog’s skin from getting too dry. It’s not just uncomfortable for the dog; it’s pretty unpleasant for the humans that are around them since it can lead to a nasty odor. Fortunately, though, the condition is very manageable.
Akitas are very much family dogs, and like most dogs, do well when they have a lot of contact with their family. They’re no different, really, from other dogs in that they shouldn’t be relegated to a kennel or a chain outside the home.
As I’ve previously stated, Akitas need a lot of exercise, but I wouldn’t really recommend taking an Akita to the dog park; they’re not good with other animals. Akitas are very territorial, and will quickly decide, “This is my park.” Long walks with his human will be far better for an Akita than any attempt at play with other dogs.
It’s also important to vary an Akita’s routine so that he doesn’t get bored. So when you’re out for a walk, vary the route. At home, play games with your dog to avert the possibility of digging or chewing. And don’t leave your Akita alone for long periods.
A fenced-in, locked yard is a good idea, too. Your Akita will probably not be aggressive if you’re with him, but if you’re not, he could perceive a stranger entering the yard as a threat, and then, quite bluntly, all bets could be off. The last thing you need is to have your Akita chew up a wandering child, a vacuum cleaner salesman or a Jehovah’s Witness.
Well, actually, it’s okay about the Jehovah’s – oh, shut up, Ash, don’t go there!
Now, as to your Akita puppy, he’s going to need some special care, because an Akita is a dog that grows very quickly. This means that bone disorders can be a possibility. Usually, a low-calorie diet is best because it keeps the puppy from growing too rapidly. It’s also best if you don’t let an Akita puppy play on hard surfaces until he’s at least two, at which point his joints will be properly formed.
Generally speaking, your Akita will need anywhere from three cups of quality dog food at the puppy stage, fed over two meals, to five cups at the adult stage, also fed over two meals. Of course, this could vary depending on the size and activity level of your dog. A large dog that is very active is obviously going to need more than a smaller dog with a lower activity level. Most of the time, though, with an Akita, you can expect a high level of activity.
Akitas come in a full range of colors, including black, chocolate, white, brindle, and combinations of white and various colors. The Akita is a double-coated dog, with a short top coat and a dense undercoat.
Grooming isn’t usually all that hard, but Akitas do shed. Your Akita won’t likely be troubled by the shedding, but you’ll probably find hair all over the place. Weekly brushing can help to keep this down and keep your dog’s coat looking good, but it’s not going to completely eliminate all those “dust bunnies” you’ll find throughout your house.
Usually, your Akita will need to be bathed every few months. These are adventurous dogs, and they love investigating mud puddles and other messes. As is the case with most dogs, it’s also a good idea to check your Akita’s ears periodically to make sure that they’re clean and free of infection. You should also clip his nails if they get too long; that “clicketyclicketyclick” on tiles or other hard surfaces is a tip-off that something should be done about your dog’s nails.
It’s also important to start the grooming routine at an early age. The sooner you start, the less likely you are to encounter problems like resistance to grooming. Putting it this way, do you want to start grooming when your Akita is a cute little bundle of fur? Or would you rather try getting him used to it when he’s upwards of a hundred pounds?
When it comes to introducing an Akita into your home, I have three things to say to you. 1) Older kids, yes. 2) Younger kids, no. 3) Other pets, never.
Akitas can be wonderful companions and guardians for older children, but honestly, they’re not always crazy about young kids. They don’t tolerate grabbing and other mishandling all that well, and given the size of the dog, a disrespectful toddler could end up getting hurt, or even killed.
Older children who know how to treat a dog respectfully will typically be fine with an Akita. But even then, you should supervise your kids, of any age,
As to other pets, this is a big NO when it comes to an Akita. He’s going to see a cat as prey, a smaller dog as prey, and another dog of similar size as a potential adversary. If you feel that you absolutely must be a “multi-pet” family, then the only mix you should ever consider is two neutered Akitas of the opposite sex. Males, even if neutered, will often fight to the death, and so will females.
So, nothing other than Akitas in the home. Ideally one. If not one, then two of the opposite sex. Don’t even think of going outside this, because it will lead to nothing but heartbreak.
Akitas are amazing dogs – so strong, so loving and so intelligent! But they’re not for people who don’t know how to handle large, potentially aggressive dogs. If you choose this breed, you’re going to have to be a strong owner. If you are, then you could very well end up with a dog that will love you, protect you, and delight you every day. Just make sure you’re ready, because Akitas are not for everyone.