Breed Profile: Akita

Akitas are strong, brave, loyal dogs with a centuries-old history. Brought to America by Helen Keller, the breed is the national dog of Japan.

breed-profile-Akita
The Akita is the national dog of Japan. By: Pati Regina

Breed

Akita

Group

Working

Physical Description

The American Akita and the Akita Inu (Japanese Akita) are considered one breed with slight differences in size in the United States and Canada. Large but balanced, the Akita is a powerful guard dog known to hunt in silence.

The ears are triangular in shape and stand tall and erect on the head. The small eyes are deeply set and also triangular in shape. The eye rims and lips are black, and the tongue is pink.

The double coat is seen in white and includes any other color. The undercoat can be a different color from the outer coat. Brindle and pinto colorations are also seen; the pinto coat consists of a white background with patches of color on the body and head. A trademark of the breed is its large, full tail carried over the back.

Males weigh between 75 to 120 pounds, and females are slightly smaller at 75 to 110 pounds. The average male height falls between 26 to 28 inches while females are 24 to 26 inches tall. The average life expectancy of an Akita is around 12 years, but some dogs have been known to live longer.

Origin

The Akita is a descendent of the Akita Inu of Japan, and the name comes from the prefecture (state) of Akita. The breed is regarded as the national dog of Japan and a National Monument, an honor only given to six other dog breeds. The breed is considered sacred, and statues of the dog are given to people with newborns or others to wish someone good health, luck, happiness or long life.

The breed is also said to have acted as a guardian for children; many mothers would leave the home with their Akitas in charge of guarding the home and children until they returned. We don’t suggest you do this, though, as it would be unsafe and could potentially land you in legal trouble.

The first Akita exported to the United States was brought over in 1937 by Helen Keller. She was on a speaking tour in Japan when she learned about Hachi-ko, the Akita Inu who kept returning to a train station expecting his owner to return from work (the owner died at work and never made the return train home).

Hachi-ko died not far from the same spot he waited every day at the train station for an owner who would never appear. Keller was so astounded by the breed’s loyalty she inquired about finding one for herself. Many books and movies have been made and written about Hachi-ko’s life and loyalty; if you would like to watch a current version, two of the movies were made in the last four years.

This video describes Hachi-ko’s life and shows pictures of the dog and his owner:

Keller’s first Akita was a puppy named Kamikaze-Go she received as a gift in 1937 and brought back to the United States. Sadly the puppy died at seven months of age due to distemper. The same man who had gifted her the puppy sent one of the litter mates to Keller in the United States. Named Kenzan-Go, the dog was an official gift from the Japanese government. Keller reportedly waited at the docks for half a day in anticipation of the second dog’s arrival.

In addition to Helen Keller’s introduction of the Akita to America, the breed’s popularity increase after World War II was attributed to soldiers returning home with the noble dogs. The Akita Club of America was formed in 1956, and the breed was added to the American Kennel Club’s books in 1972. In 1973 the AKC changed the Akita’s classification to the working group.

Purpose

Akitas are courageous and hard-working dogs fulfilling roles as companion pets and many working positions:

Temperament

The dignified and fearless Akitas are alert and protective, but they can also be independent and bore easily. They are protective of their families and homes, and it is very important for Akitas to be socialized; otherwise they will perceive every stranger as a threat. While not a completely silent breed, they are not prone to nuisance barking.

Akitas like to take charge and assert a leadership position, so obedience training is usually necessary. Akitas should be supervised around other animals and young children. Teasing and annoying an Akita is never a good idea, and children must be taught to respect these dogs.

Exercise Needs

Long walks should be provided daily for an Akita. They are active indoors and can do well in an apartment with sufficient outings. A home with a large yard is ideal. Akitas need to be with their families and will not do well as outside-only pets.

When exercising an Akita outdoors, remember their double coat. Precautions should be taken when in high humidity and temperatures to avoid illness or heat stroke.

Grooming Requirements

Daily brushing is highly recommended to keep the coat healthy and free of debris and mats. Heavy shedding can occur two times per year or more depending on the individual dog. The coat is naturally waterproof, so bathing should be done only when necessary to avoid stripping this protection.

Working Akitas should be checked for debris, ticks and injuries after being outdoors. Nail trimming and ear cleaning should be done weekly, and keeping the teeth clean should be done daily if possible (but at least once per week).

Common Health Problems

While there are not many health problems typical for Akitas, there are a few conditions to which they are particularly susceptible to experiencing. This conditions include:

Is the Akita the Right Dog for You?

If you are looking for a dog to live outside or be a lazy lap dog, the Akita will not be a good match. Akitas are active and need to be with their families, so living outside is never a good idea for this breed.

They can be very protective and require socialization and obedience training. They are loyal family dogs but should be supervised around other animals and young children.

Akitas are active indoors and do well in apartments with sufficient daily walks, although the breed would thrive in a home with a large yard. Grooming time is higher with this breed than most others; daily brushing is needed, and the coat can shed heavily two times per year. If these recommendations seem like things you can handle without issue, the Akita would make an excellent choice for your next dog.

Adopt, Don’t Shop

An Akita could be waiting for a home in a shelter or rescue, so check adoption resources first if you are interested in this breed. When purchasing a dog be sure to avoid any seller, broker or store who exhibits signs of operating a puppy mill or will not disclose the dog’s origin, parents or medical history.

Additional Resources

Kristine Lacoste

View posts by Kristine Lacoste
Kristine Lacoste, editor in chief of Petful, is an author, poet and pet lover from Louisiana. She is the author of an award-nominated book, One Unforgettable Journey, and was host of a weekly pet news segment on the National K-9 Academy Radio Show. She was the New Orleans coordinator for Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit that helps military members and their pets, for 3 years. She is also employed as chief operating officer for a large mental health practice in Louisiana. Kristine has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Business Administration degree.

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