The stance of the Japanese Akita Inu must indicate self-assurance and dignity. Whilst color and condition of the coat greatly influences the ‘General Appearance’. However, structure and conformation is very important (size and proportions must be within the standard). Ears must be set at the correct angle, running slightly forward of parallel from a strong neck that needs to express power. Relatively small dark eyes (in comparison to the large head) correctly set and in balance with correct ear placement are vital for the correct dignified expression. The back must be level with a strong loin, a magnificent well curled tail, in balance with the head. Well balanced legs with correct angulation and placement must emphasise the required self-assurance and dignity.
The Japanese Akita-Inu is intelligent, very loyal and loves to be around people. Sometimes, unfairly described as obstinate when it comes to training as they can get bored easily if they cannot see reason in what they are being asked to do. However, the use of reward based training methods and consistency of instruction will bring the required results as many owners are proving by gaining the full range of ‘Good Citizen’ awards.
Due to their athletic build the Japanese Akita Inu is well suited for those with an active outdoor lifestyle, whether that be walking or more demanding activities. This is not a breed for anyone that wants a couch potato! Yes, they love to lay on the rug or sofa, but as with all dogs they need physical and mental exercise, provide this and you will find yourself the most loyal and wonderful canine companion.
From its origins as a hunting dog, through crossbreeding to produce a larger fierce guard dog, almost extinction due to legislation and disease, further crossbreeding to avoid a cull to provide fur for military World War II coats; it’s a wonder that we have the Akita in any form. Of course it is not as simple as that and it is important to understand the history as it gives clarity to the emergence of the two Akita breeds that we have today, the Akita (also known as Akita Inu or Akita Ken) and the American Akita…
Deriving its name from Akita prefecture in Tohoku district, North Japan, the Akita ancestral home is Odate City (long known as a dog town) and the surrounding countryside of Akita prefecture. The Akita is a medium sized dog and the largest of the Japanese breeds (Akita, Kai, Kishu, Shikoku, Hokkaido and Shiba; the Tosa is not a native Japanese Breed).
Remains and artefacts found in Akita, Tohoku district (Northeastern portion of the main island (Honshu) a remote area with a harsh climate), show that hunting and gathering continued to be the lifestyle of the area throughout the Jomon (14,000BC – 300BC) and Yayoi (300BC to 300AD) periods. Although the cultivation of rice began around the third century AD, but the productivity was low due to the climate and environment of the region. This caused a dependence on hunting and fishing as a means of obtaining food. Even after the agricultural lifestyle became more dominant around Odate, hunting still remained an integral part of native life well into the modern era (considered to be the Meiji period (1868-1912)(the Tom Cruise film ‘The Last Samurai’ was set in this era.) Some made their living from hunting and communities and villages of hunters existed, these were called Matagi villages. Matagi-Inus (Japanese dogs used for hunting) were raised in these villages up to the days following the end of World War II.
Between the periods mentioned there were many revolts between the Imperial Court and local landowners trying to prevent the development of the region. Unfortunately, nothing is known regarding the development and structural type of the dogs raised in the area during the environmental and social conditions mentioned. However, some fixation of type must have taken place as archaeological digs found dog skeletons from two areas in the Tohoku district measuring around 57cms (23.75”). Previously skeletons found in various other places in Japan measured from 37cm to 50cm (15.4” to 20.8”).
Revolts and famines between 1783-1788 brought unstable social conditions and caused much anxiety amongst the residents of the area, forcing them to prepare for self defense. The first step to take was acquire a guard dog; this meant using Matagi-Inus for a different purpose than previously. This brought about a need to increase the size of the Matagi-Inu’s to produce larger more fierce dogs. Although their conformation changed somewhat all had been bred within the region.
Starting in the 1890’s (middle of the Meiji era) mixed breeding rapidly became wide spread. The primary reason for this was that the barbaric act of dog fighting was made into public events as opposed to being the hobby of a few devotees. The quest for large, fierce fighting dogs led to the emergence of new type of dogs, which lacked the proper prick ear and/or curled tails, both typical of the Japanese Breeds. Many different dogs were used for crossbreeding. This included an extra large dog with hanging ears thought to be a Mastiff. This dog was brought to the area by a German mining engineer. Another was a very large dog thought to be a St.Bernard of mixed breeding. He was purchased from overseas in 1904 and lived in Kakumagawamachi in Southern Akita, most likely in response to Odate being visited by a troupe of the Tosa Fighting Dog Society.
Dog fighting grew very popular in many areas of Japan, the amount of money being bet on these and other events such as Bullfights and Cockfights was so enormous that strict government controls were enacted everywhere. In 1909 the governor of Akita Prefecture, enacted an ordinance to prohibit dog fighting altogether. Dogfight enthusiasts lost the purpose to keep their dogs. To make matters worse , the following year a law for the taxation of dogs was enacted. This combined with a movement to exterminate feral dogs, which was triggered by an outbreak of rabies, resulted in a terrible setback for the Odate dogs (Odate-Inu) and they were on the verge of extinction. It was said that no dogs were to be found in Odate.
By 1915 the enforcement of the dogfighting ban in Odate became less strict and matches with the Tosa Fighting Dogs were once again organised. It was after this time that the two factions started to cross breed the two breeds. The new variety of dog was referred to as ‘Shin- Akita’ (‘New Akita’). The ideal tail for the ‘Improved Dog’ was a tail curled over the back. These new varieties were promoted and praised until the late 1920’s. Although it may seem as though there were no Pure Japanese dogs to be found around Odate, the truth of the matter is that regional dogs were kept in villages near Odate, as guard dogs as well as in the mountains as Matagi-Inu for hunting. So there were two types, one type had prick ears and tail curled over the back, preserving the conformation and style of the Japanese Dogs. The other type, which was also intentionally bred, often had a wrinkled forehead and semi-erect or drop ears.
Following a drafting of legislation in 1912 by Dr. Shozaburo Watase (Professor of Science at University of Tokyo) the Akita was listed as being in need of preservation. Being a period of decline for the Akita, he found no dogs of sufficient excellence in Odate to designate as Natural Monument. For more than 10 years the designation of the Akita as a Natural Monument was uncertain. However, his survey contributed much towards the restoration of the Japanese Dog in general and Akitas in particular.
With dog fighting still popular in the mid to late 1920’s only a few individuals were paying attention to the preservation of the Pure Japanese Dogs. However, in 1927 AKIHO ( AkitaInu Hozonkai) was established as the preservation society for the Akita. Four years later in July 1931 the Akita was designated as a Natural Monument.
With the onset of World War II everything was under military control and strict rationing was in effect. Food shortages were very severe and with Akitas being so big were drastically reduced in number, as fewer fanciers could afford to feed them. In addition as the war expanded into the cold northern areas of China dogs and cats were used as a source of fur for military coats. Due to their large size Akitas were in great demand and were intently hunted, the only dogs to escape the hunt were German Shepherds as they were used for military purposes. Some fanciers tried to escape the order by taking their dogs to Matagi’s in the mountains, others started to crossbreed with German Shepherds and inadvertently bringing about a further strain of the Akita.
Following the end of World War II American service personnel took home Akitas, these were the larger guarding/fighting type Akita breed. Pedigrees and bloodlines of Akitas were controversial to say the least. Literally every sire and dam had some degree of fighting dog blood in its lineage. The extent may have varied, but was present none the less. That said, there were still Matagi-Inus with pure or almost pure Japanese blood; these were used for crossbreeding.
By carefully use of bloodlines, preservation enthusiasts were able, by as early as 1950, to produce dogs resembling those
of pure Japanese blood and by the mid 1960’s type was clearly visible
and well established by the mid 1970’s.
Although, it is fair to say that ascetics and preference also played a part in the look of the restored breed, the Japanese Akita Inu, as we know it, was more of the slighter athletic Akita that would have been used by the Matagi for hunting. Steadily the breed established and became the only type of Akita produced in Japan. However, the larger, fiercer type dogs (this only describes the type and makes no inference on the temperament of the dogs) taken back to America were nurtured and developed by American breeders into their own breed – The American Akita.
written by my dear friend and breeder Keith Gullis
and published in Our dogs magazine, UK.