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American Akita

A Championship Show winning American Akita dog, with all the breed characteristics described by the Kennel Club Breed Standard.
Country of origin Japan

The American Akita, often called simply Akita, is a dog breed from the mountainous northern regions of Japan. The American Akita is considered a separate breed from the Akita Inu (Japanese Akita) in many countries around the world, with the notable exceptions of the United States and Canada. In the US and Canada, both the American Akita and the Akita Inu are considered a single breed with differences in type rather than two separate breeds. Note that in 2005 the FCI-designation Great Japanese Dog was officially changed to American Akita.





As a northern breed, the appearance of the Akita reflects cold weather adaptations essential to their original function. The Akita is a substantial breed for its height with heavy bone. 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 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. All colors are permitted by the AKC Akita Breed Standard, and Pinto markings are also permitted.[1]

Mature males measure typically 26-28 inches (66-71 cm) at the withers and weigh between 100-130 lb (45–59 kg). Mature females typically measure 24-26 inches (61-66 cm) and weigh between 70-100 lb (32–45 kg).[1][2]

Recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1973, the Akita is a rather new breed in the United States. It has grown steadily in popularity, in part because of its extraordinary appearance and in part because of its captivating personality.


Winston, four month old Akita

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.

Because it is a large, powerful dog, the Akita is certainly not a breed for everyone. Their background gives them a strong independent streak that can make Akitas unreliable off-lead and more challenging in obedience activities. The Akita thrives on the love and respect of its master and, with constant reinforcement training and a little creativity, can be a very good worker.

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.[3]


Japanese history, both verbal and written, describe the ancestors of the Akita, the Matagi dog, as one of the oldest of the native dogs. The Akita of today developed primarily from these dogs in the northernmost region of the island of Honshū in the Akita prefecture, thus providing the breed's name. The Matagi's quarry included elk, antelope, boar, and the 120 stone Yezo bear. This swift, agile, unswervingly tenacious precursor dog tracked large game and held it at bay until the hunters arrived to make the kill. Today's Akita is also influenced by crosses with larger breeds from Asia and Europe, including the Tosa Inu, in the desire to develop a fighting dog for the burgeoning dog fighting industry in Odate, Akita Prefecture, Japan in the early 20th century. The ancestors of today's American Akita were originally a variety of the Akita Inu (a form that was not desired and which is still not showable as an Akita Inu), although today it can certainly be debated that the two have diverged enough to be separate breeds.


Three events focused positive attention on the breed in the early 1900s and brought the breed to the attention of the Western world.

First was the story of Hachikō, one of the most revered Akitas of all time. He was born in 1923 and was owned by Professor Eizaburo Ueno of Tokyo. Professor Ueno lived near the Shibuya Train Station in a suburb of the city and commuted to work every day on the train. Hachikō accompanied his master to and from the station each day.

On May 25, 1925, when the dog was 18 months old, he waited for his master's arrival on the four o'clock train. But he waited in vain; Professor Ueno had suffered a fatal stroke at work. Hachikō continued to wait for his master's return. He traveled to and from the station each day for the next nine years. He allowed the professor's relatives to care for him, but he never gave up the vigil at the station for his master. His vigil became world renowned, and shortly after his death, a bronze statue was erected at the train station in his honor.

Second, in 1931, the Akita was officially declared a Japanese National Monument. The Mayor of Odate City in the Akita Prefecture organized the Akita Inu Hozankai to preserve the original Akita as a national treasure through careful breeding.

The third positive event was the arrival of Helen Keller in Japan in 1937. She expressed a keen interest in the breed and was presented with the first two Akitas to enter the US. The first dog died at a young age, but the second became Keller's constant companion.

Just as the breed was stabilizing in its native land, World War II pushed the Akita to the brink of extinction. Early in the war the dogs suffered from lack of nutritious food. Then many were killed to be eaten by the starving populace, and their pelts were used as clothing. Finally, the government ordered all remaining dogs to be killed on sight to prevent the spread of disease. The only way concerned owners could save their beloved Akitas was to turn them loose in the most remote mountain areas or conceal them from authorities. Morie Sawataishi and his efforts to breed the Akita is a major reason we know this breed today.[4]

During the occupation years following the war, the breed began to thrive again through the efforts of Sawataishi and others. For the first time, Akitas were bred for a standardized appearance. Akita fanciers in Japan began gathering and exhibiting the remaining Akitas and producing litters in order to restore the breed to sustainable numbers and to accentuate the original characteristics of the breed muddied by crosses to other breeds. US servicemen fell in love with the Akita and imported many of them into the US upon and after their return.

The Japanese Akita and American Akita began to diverge in type through the middle and later part of the 20th century. Japanese Akita fanciers focused on restoring the breed as a work of Japanese art. American Akita fanciers bred larger, heavier-boned dogs. Both types derive from a common ancestry, but marked differences can be observed between the two. First, while American Akitas are acceptable in all colors, Japanese Akitas are only permitted to be red, fawn, sesame, white, or brindle. Additionally, American Akitas may be pinto and/or have black masks, unlike Japanese Akitas where it is considered a disqualification and not permitted in the breed standards. American Akitas generally are heavier boned and larger, with a more bear-like head, whereas Japanese Akitas tend to be lighter and more finely featured with a fox-like head.[citation needed]

Debate remains among Akita fanciers of both types whether there are or should be two breeds of Akita. To date, The AKC and CKC, guided by their national breed clubs, consider American and Japanese Akitas to be two types of the same breed, allowing free breeding between the two. The FCI and Kennel Clubs of most other nations including Japan consider Japanese and American Akitas as separate breeds.[citation needed]


Responsible breeders will continue to strive for healthy, sound dogs that exhibit the ideals of American Akita type. Breeders will continue to select breeding animals for their distinct appearance, efficient movement, and dignified temperament. Fanciers will continue efforts to reduce orthopedic, eye, and autoimmune disorders through extensive health testing and selective breeding practices. Additionally, advances in veterinary medicine have brought genetic testing to many breeds, and Akita breeders hope that test will be developed for the Akita as well.

In all likelihood, the issue of dividing the Akita breed into the American Akita and Japanese Akita breeds will be revisited in the United States. Whether the Akita Club of America and its members will change this stance at any time in the future remains to be seen. While the Japanese 'variety' may have some trouble in the show ring, as it does not meet the accepted AKC or CKC breed standard, it is not disqualified from being shown. For now, American and Canadian Akita Fanciers can enjoy seeing the two distinct types competing together at home and separately abroad.


  1. ^ a b AKC Akita Standard
  2. ^ Akita - Canada's Guide to Dogs
  3. ^
  4. ^ Sherrill, Martha. Dog Man An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain, Penguin Press, 2008. ISBN 1594201242

External links


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