The Akita "Tachibana", one of the few Akitas to survive the war, pictured here on a Japanese 1953 issue postage stamp
We had seen the film Hachiko, the story of a faithful Japanese Akita (made even more famous by the film starring Richard Gere of the same name) and shed a tear at the end but then thought no more about it until one day a couple of years ago Bird asked if we knew anything about Akitas as she had been offered one. We suggested she watch the film as a family and that was all it took, along with info from the breeder, for Family Law to welcome Inka as a permanent member. She has been a gem; a very loving dog and brilliant with Josh and Ben, but we still knew nothing about the actual breed and probably never would have taken the time to learn, but as Diesel has now joined the family – time to investigate, breeding is on the horizon and our interest has been peeked.
Hachiko and his statue in Shibuya, Tokyo
The Akita Inu is native to the island of Honshu in the region of Akita in Japan, where it has remained unchanged for centuries. The Akita Inu is considered a national dog of Japan and is one of seven breeds designated as a Natural Monument. The breed has had many uses - police and military work, guard dog (for the government and civilian), fighting dog, hunter of bear and deer and a sled dog. The Akita Inu is a versatile hunting dog able to work in inclement weather and their soft mouth makes it possible to work as a waterfowl retrieval dog. The dog is considered sacred and a good luck charm in Japan. Small statues of the Akita Inu are often given to new parents after babies are born as a gesture of good health and to sick people as a gesture of a speedy recovery.
When Helen Keller visited the Akita Prefecture in Japan in July 1937, she inquired about Hachiko - sadly, the famed dog had died two years earlier in 1935. She told a local that she would like to have an Akita dog; within a month one was given to her called Kamikaze-go. When he died of canine distemper, his older brother, Kenzan-go, was presented to her as an official gift from the Japanese government in July 1938. Keller is credited with having introduced the Akita to the US through these two dogs. By 1939 a breed standard had been established and dog shows had been held, but such activities stopped as World War II began, in fact the war put the breed under serious threat as numbers dropped to around (some say) thirty dogs.
We featured Helen Keller in our Madame Tussaud blog on the 13th of July 2011 on our visit to New York. Keller wrote in the Akita Journal:
American History: The Japanese style Akita and American style Akita began to diverge in type during the Post-World War II era. It was during this time, that US servicemen as part of the occupation force in Japan first came into contact with the breed – it so impressed them that many soldiers chose to bring one back home on completion of their tour. American soldiers were typically more impressed with the larger more bear-like fighting Akita or German Shepherd type than they were with the smaller framed and fox-like Akita-Inu. Japanese style Akita fanciers focused on restoring the breed as a work of Japanese art or to 'Natural Monument' status. American style Akita fanciers chose to breed larger, heavier-boned and more intimidating dogs. Although, both types derive from a common ancestry, there are marked differences between the two. First, while American style Akitas are acceptable in all colours, Japanese style Akitas are only permitted to be red, fawn, sesame, white or brindle. Additionally, American style Akitas may be pinto and/or have black masks, unlike Japanese style Akitas where it is considered a disqualification and not permitted in the breed standards. American style Akitas generally are heavier boned and larger, with a more bear-like head, whereas Japanese style Akitas tend to be lighter and more finely featured with a fox-like head.
Recognised by the American Kennel Club in 1955, it was placed in the Miscellaneous Class. It wasn't until the end of 1972 that the AKC approved the Akita standard and it was moved to the Working dog class, as such, the Akita is a rather new breed in the USA. Foundation stock in America continued to be imported from Japan until 1974 when the AKC cut off registration to any further Japanese imports until 1992 when it recognised the Japanese Kennel Club. Elsewhere in the world, the American style Akita was first introduced to the UK in 1937, he was a Canadian import, owned by a Mrs. Jenson, however the breed was not widely known until the early 1980’s. The breed was introduced in Australia in 1982 with an American Import and to New Zealand in 1986 with an import from the UK.
Appearance: As a northern breed (generically, Spitz), the appearance of the Akita reflects cold weather adaptations essential to their original function. Characteristic physical traits of the breed include a large, bear-like head with erect, triangular ears set at a slight angle following the arch of the neck. Additionally, the eyes of the Akita are small, dark, deeply set and triangular in shape. Akitas have thick double coats, and tight, well knuckled cat-like feet. Their tails are carried over the top of the back in a graceful sweep down the loin, into a gentle curl, or into a double curl.
Mature American type males measure typically 26-28 inches at the withers and weigh between 100-130 lb. Mature females measure 24-26 inches and weigh between 70-100 lb.
Coat Types: There are two coat types in the Akita, the standard coat length and the long coat. The long coat is considered a fault in the show ring; however, they still make good pets. The long coat, also known as 'Moku' is the result of an autosomal recessive gene and may only occur phenotypically if both sire and dam are carriers. They have longer (about 3-4 inches in length) and softer coats and are known to have sweeter temperaments. It is believed that this gene comes from the now extinct Karafuto-Ken.
Temperament: The Akita today is a unique combination of dignity, courage, alertness and devotion to its family. It is extraordinarily affectionate and loyal with family and friends, territorial about its property and can be reserved with strangers. It is feline in its actions; it is not unusual for an Akita to clean its face after eating, to preen its kennel mate and to be fastidious in the house. They are however known to be intolerant of other dogs of the same gender, as stated in the AKC breed standard.
Since it is a large, powerful dog, the Akita is not considered a breed for a first time dog owner. The Akita is a large, strong, independent and dominant dog. A dog with the correct Akita temperament should be accepting of non-threatening strangers, yet protective of their family when faced with a threatening situation. They should be docile, aloof and calm in new situations. As a breed they should be good with children, it is said that the breed has an affinity with children.
The Akita was never bred to live or work in groups like many hound and sporting breeds. Instead, they lived and worked alone or in pairs, a preference reflected today. Akitas tend to take a socially dominant role with other dogs, and thus caution must be used in situations when Akitas are likely to be around other dogs, especially unfamiliar ones. In particular, Akitas tend to be less tolerant of dogs of the same sex. For this reason, Akitas, unless highly socialized, are not generally well-suited for off-leash dog-parks. The Akita is docile, intelligent, courageous and fearless, careful and very affectionate with its family. Sometimes spontaneous, it needs a firm, confident, consistent pack leader, without which the dog will be very willful and may become very aggressive to other dogs and animals.
Bear and I have been accepted as part of the extended Family Law and as such, this means we are welcomed in the same way. Basically you get firmly gripped by the wrist. I have no problem with this, but if you forget and say hello to the boys first, you find your hands disappearing between teeth and taking for a good licking. Inka and Diesel also like to preen us; this includes fast beaver-like painless nipping and feet washing. Inka is gorgeous but the colouring of Diesel catches everyone’s eye as he looks like a teddy bear and being a puppy is a natural comedian.
ALL IN ALL BEAUTIFUL DOGS