The Akita is a strong, proud, and celebrated Japanese breed. In their native land, they are a symbol of good health. So much so that when a child is born, the family will usually receive a small statue of an Akita signifying health, happiness, and long life. 1
If a person is ill, friends will often send a small statue of an Akita to express their wishes for a speedy recovery. 2
Although the Akita is now a symbol of Japan, the original Japanese dogs were all small to medium in size, and no large breeds existed in the country. In 1603 in the mountainous region of Akita, Akita Matagis
lived, originally bred to hunt bear and boar. In the late 1860s, Akita Matagis
were crossed with Tosa Inus and Mastiffs. As a result, the size and power of the breed increased. At that time, the breed was unfortunately used for dogfighting. Thankfully, in 1908, dogfighting was prohibited.
During World War II, it was common to use dogs as a source of fur for military garments. In some regions, the police ordered the capture and confiscation of all dogs other than military-trained German Shepherds. Some fanciers tried to circumvent the order by crossbreeding their Akitas with German Shepherd Dogs to avoid the cull. Even with that effort, after World War II ended, Akitas had been drastically reduced in numbers.
Author and educator Helen Keller is credited with bringing the first Akita into the United States in 1937. 3
Following that initial introduction to North America, the breed's popularity in the United States following World War II may be attributed to American service members who got to know and admired these noble dogs and brought them home to their families. Americans were attracted to the Akita because of the breed's intelligence, loyalty, and adaptability to different situations.
There are two separate breeds of Akita. The Akita discussed in this blog is often referred to as the "American Akita," a member of the Canadian Kennel Club's Working Group. But don't worry, we'll talk about the Japanese Akita in a future blog. CKC member and Akita Breeder Marissa Prokopchuk has been involved with the breed for over 23 years, and I was lucky enough to talk to her about her beautiful Marqway Akitas.
Initially, Marissa was immediately was charmed by Akita's sweet and calm personality. She also loved how incredibly fastidious and quiet they are. Akitas tend only to bark when necessary, and even then, it's merely 2-3 warning barks. Marissa enjoys their quiet nature and how their grooming needs are not as demanding compared to many other coated breeds.
When I asked Marissa to describe Akitas' personality, she said, "They are incredibly loyal, it’s as if they can sense your moods. For instance, when you are in a vulnerable state they seem to be even more drawn to you. They generally want to be near you but are never overwhelming and never need to be constantly on top of you or are needy. They are also strong and independent."
She then explained to me that Akitas are "cat-like" in a few ways. They are immaculate, and they usually pick one spot in their yard where they prefer to go to the washroom. They’re also quiet. Not only at home but in the way they hunt. They silently stalk prey like a cat and are never vocal while on the hunt.
A weekly brush will keep an Akita looking sharp. They do not require baths as often as other breeds. They have a thick double coat that protects them from both the heat and the cold that must never be clipped. It comes in any colour, white, brindle or pinto. Shedding is usually minimal except twice a year when the undercoat will “blow," causing clumps to appear on the dog and fur to drop in the home. A good daily brushing and great vacuum are recommended during these times. Akitas who are active in conformation will require more regular coat care, and all Akita nails must be trimmed every 10-14 days to keep them comfortable.
Akitas are also pretty low-maintenance, considering their size in terms of exercise. While a show dog will require more physical conditioning, a pet Akita will be happy with a daily leashed walk and some playtime. Due to their thick double-coat, they tend to be more active in the winter and love the snow (which means Akita owners might want to invest in great outdoor gear for walking the cold!).
You can find Akitas competing in almost every dog sport. While Agility isn’t always where they shine, Barn Hunt has become incredibly popular among members of the Akita community as an event that tests a dog's nose, speed, and surefootedness. The right Akita and owner match can also make for an excellent therapy or emotional support dog.
I had to ask Marissa if Akitas are hard to keep with other dogs. While researching the Akita, every site and book I looked at warned that they could be troublesome with other dogs - and Marissa supported this, stating that Akitas generally aren't good with other dogs. She explained that “They are extremely dominant, not a breed that should ever go to the dog park or be off-leash in a public environment. They have a strong sense to be innately aggressive to dogs of the same sex and are very prey driven, as their initial purpose was to hunt bear and wild boar in Japan.” Marissa added that she has been fortunate enough to socialize both sexes together well until they hit sexual maturity. Then Marissa’s Akitas are paired off into male/female pairs, which she rotates so that her dogs are always good with different dogs of the opposite sex.
Marissa explained that Akitas can be great with children if the dog is raised with respectful children and has a calm, assertive and consistent adult owner. They are not a breed recommended for first-time dog owners, so an experienced Akita owner is best. No dog of any breed should ever be left unsupervised with a child, but Marissa has seen wonderful bonds form between Akitas and children under the right circumstances.
Akitas are strong and beautiful dogs with a proud demeanour. The right owner for an Akita is ideally someone with previous large, dominant dog breed experience. New owners to the Akita breed should be willing to be incredibly consistent with training, be committed to keeping socialization ongoing throughout the life of the dog and work closely with their breeder for training advice.
In closing, I asked Marissa if there was anything she would like everyone to know about Akitas. She gave this advice:
“Do lots of research before you start to talk to breeders. This is not a breed for just anyone. An Akita must fit your household and lifestyle perfectly. Absolutely ensure you seek out a reputable, experienced breeder who health tests their dogs. Their breeding dogs should generally be conformation champions and come from a great lineage so that they truly meet the breed standard and are a great physical representation of the breed. You can easily tell a well-bred Akita from one which is not. The breeder’s dogs must have great temperaments for the breed. They should be social with people and stable. The breeder should have a thorough application process and take the time to get to know you before deciding to sell you a puppy. A responsible breeder will place the most suitable puppy with you, for you and your family. And most importantly, will support you during the duration of your dog’s life. It should be a lifelong relationship between owner and breeder.”
The Akita might be the breed for you if:
- Can behave as a calm and assertive leader at all times.
- Are dedicated to consistent training and understand the importance of socialization.
- Have experience with large, strong and independent thinking dogs.
- Can handle heavy shedding periods twice a year.
- Have a secure fenced yard.
- Want a profoundly loyal dog.
- Bonus points: enjoy winter outings.
The Akita might not the breed for you if:
- Have little to no experience with large dogs who have dominant personalities.
- Want a dog that you can take to the dog park or let off their leash wherever you please.
- Often times have people coming into your home unannounced.
- Suffer from dog allergies.
- Don’t have the space to safely exercise an Akita.
This blog would not have been possible without help from CKC member and Champion Akita breeder Marissa Prokopchuk of Marqway Akitas. Marissa is an Akita fancier of 23 years with 18 years of breeding experience. Thank you, Marissa.
1 National Purebred Dog Day, https://nationalpurebreddogday.com/a-gift-for-a-newborn-in-japan/
2 Akita Club Org, https://www.akitaclub.org/breed-history/
3Akita Club Org, https://www.akitaclub.org/breed-history/
4 Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gastric_dilatation_volvulus
5 Small Animal Hospital, https://smallanimal.vethospital.ufl.edu/clinical-services/surgery/soft-tissue-surgery/prophylactic-gastropexy/
6 Ibid., Small Animal Hospital