Akitas are burly, heavy-boned spitz-type dogs of imposing stature. Standing 24 to 28 inches at the shoulder, Akitas have a dense coat that comes in several colors, including white. The head is broad and massive, and is balanced in the rear by a full, curled-over tail. The erect ears and dark, shining eyes contribute to an expression of alertness, a hallmark of the breed. Akitas are quiet, fastidious dogs. Wary of strangers and often intolerant of other animals, Akitas will gladly share their silly, affectionate side with family and friends. They thrive on human companionship. The large, independent-thinking Akita is hardwired for protecting those they love. They must be well socialized from birth with people and other dogs.
Akitas are Japan’s entry in the ancient canine clan of spitz-type dogs bred around the world on the globe’s northern latitudes. The breed as we know it was developed in the early 17th century in the Akita prefecture of northern Japan. It is said that the emperor banished a wayward nobleman to the prefecture, the northernmost province of the island of Honshu, where the nobleman was ordered to live out his days as a provincial ruler. As it happens, this exiled aristocrat was an ardent dog man and encouraged the barons under his sway to compete in the breeding of a large, versatile hunting dog. Generations of selective breeding produced the Akita, a powerful hunter with a strong work ethic and stout heart who worked in packs on such big game as wild boar, deer, and the fearsome Yezo bear. Owning Akitas was once restricted to the imperial family and their court. In more recent times, just plain folks the world over have employed their Akitas as world-class family guardians. Akitas have for centuries been the object of myth and legend and occupy a special place in Japanese culture. When a child is born, the parents will usually receive an Akita figurine signifying happiness and long life, in keeping with an old Japanese tradition. A famously loyal Akita of the 1920s named Hachiko is among Japan’s most cherished symbols. Various times during the Akita’s long history, the breed teetered on the brink of extinction. To ensure the Akita’s survival, a Japanese national breed club was founded in 1927. Helen Keller is credited with bringing the first Akita to the United States, a gift she received while visiting Japan. Akitas caught on in America after WWII, when returning GIs brought them back from the Pacific. The breed entered the AKC Stud Book in 1972.
Large, powerful, alert, with much substance and heavy bone. The broad head, forming a blunt triangle, with deep muzzle, small eyes and erect ears carried forward in line with back of neck, is characteristic of the breed. The large, curled tail, balancing the broad head, is also characteristic of the breed.
The Akita should do well on a high-quality dog food, whether commercially manufactured or home-prepared with your veterinarian’s supervision and approval. Any diet should be appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior).Some breed experts recommend that Akitas aged 7 years and older be fed a “light” or less calorie-dense diet as a defense against possible onset of kidney disease.
Akitas tend to be clean and have little “doggy odor.” They don’t require extensive grooming, but their thick, luxurious double coat should be brushed at least once a week to look its best. Although Akitas shed only minimally most of the time, expect their dense undercoat to “blow” twice a year, where it will shed so profusely that it comes out in clumps all over your house. During this time it helps to brush the dog more frequently to get rid of the dead coat. The nails should also be trimmed regularly, as overly long nails can cause pain and problems for the dog. Remember also to brush the dog’s teeth often to ensure dental health.
The Akita is generally not a highly active breed but does require moderate exercise. A jog or brisk walk around the block at least once a day can meet the needs of most individuals of the breed. Akitas also enjoy playing energetically. Although they are large dogs — males often weigh more than 100 pounds — with sufficient daily exercise Akitas can do well in a relatively small home. They are hardy dogs bred to withstand the harsh outdoor conditions of northern Japan, but they were bred as housedogs and guardians as well as hunters, and adapt very well to life in the home.
Akitas are very intelligent and loyal but also have an independent, headstrong nature. As large and very powerful dogs, it is vital that they are trained consistently, beginning in puppyhood. They are instinctive guardians, so it’s especially important that Akitas have early and extensive socialization when young. They must learn to accept a wide variety of strangers and not perceive them as a threat. Because of their independence and strong prey drive, they should never be off lead in an unsecured area. Akitas tend to be aggressive toward other dogs, particularly of the same sex, and extreme caution should be used in canine interactions.
Like many dogs, Akitas can experience bloat, a sudden, life-threatening condition where the stomach can twist without veterinary intervention. Bloat is a medical emergency, and Akita owners should learn to recognize the signs. Prospective owners should be sure to work with a reputable breeder who tests his or her breeding stock for health concerns such as eye and thyroid disorders, and hip dysplasia, a malformation of the hip joints that can cause pain and arthritis.