DIGNIFIED, COURAGEOUS, PROFOUNDLY LOYAL
History & Origin
The Japanese Akita, a dog that has been declared a national monument in Japan, belongs to the ‘spitz’ group of dog breeds. It is a reserved yet extremely intelligent and courageous breed, with its origins steeped in legend, and there are a few versions this dog’s story.
One version tells of a Japanese nobleman that was exiled and, due to the problem with bears on the island, created a new dog breed that was capable of fighting them off. He was, apparently, quite successful, and ended up gifting some of them to the emperor. The emperor, according to the story, was so impressed that he summarily issued a decree whereby only his Samurai were able to keep Akitas.
In many parts of Japan, the fact that these dogs were so good with children had parents leaving them at home with the dog as it could be counted on to protect them and prevent them from leaving the home.
Another legend would have us believe a different story whereby the breed originated in the Akita Prefecture on Honshu Island. Named the Odate dog, the name changed to Akita only in 1931. According to this legend, the dog, as it is known today, was bred to develop certain characteristics with regards to appearance, color, temperament and size.
Archeological discoveries would point out that the Akita’s probable ancestor, the Matagi-Inui, however, existed between 8,000 and 200 BC and was thought to have been brought to the area by Mongoloid invaders. The Matagi and Akita match with regards to both their size and body structure.
A third legend states that the Matagi-Inui, which were hunting dogs, were bred to become guard dogs during the 18th century with the onset of industrialization and the crime that accompanied it. They wanted to breed large, aggressive dogs. Trade with the west introduced new breeds, and the Matagi-Inu was cross-bred with breeds that included Mastiffs, Saint Bernards, and a few more. The result, the Shin-Akita, was known as an extremely aggressive fighter.
Pure bloodlines were becoming rare towards the end of the 19th century and it was decided to classify those that were of pure blood as national monuments in an effort to ensure the breed be saved from possible extinction. This was followed, in 1929, by an Akita dog registry with one main rule: no crossbreeding. These purebreds, descendants of the Odate dog, were later named the Akita –Inu (Akita dog).
World War 2 saw this breed once almost face extinction. Due to displacement, people could often no longer afford to look after their dogs, and many let their dogs go. In order to keep the breed alive, the government stepped in, promising those that produced champions enough money to enable them to take care of their dogs. By 1950, there was only about 1000 registered Akitas left, a number which had doubled by 1960.
Although not willing to sell these dogs to breeders in the USA, a few made it there, in an attempt to develop the breed. It is believed many were crossbred with smaller dogs, giving the ‘American’ Akita a smaller frame.
To enable USA breeders to gain recognition from the AKC, they were no longer allowed to import any more of these dogs from Japan. Because of the small gene pool, however, the American dogs bare no notifiable differences to their Japanese counterparts.
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PERSONALITY AND TEMPERAMENT
An affectionate dog, the Akita is fearless, courageous, docile ant intelligent, but needs a firm, consistent hand. Extremely loyal, they thrive when given firm leadership, and although wonderful with the children of their own family, they may not easily accept other children.
These are dogs that need, and love being with, their families and who are quite vocal, but do not take to excessive barking. They do, however, have a dominant streak which makes raising them quite a challenge.
They tend to also be quite reserved with strangers, and their strong instincts for guarding what they perceive as being ‘theirs’ i.e. the home and family, implies that they need to be socialized from an early age and taught not to want to ‘protect’ indiscriminately – this could lead to problems.
Socialization with humans is not the only kind of socialization your Akita puppy will need. If you have other pets in the family, he needs to get to know them as well and to learn that they are not his prey. They also tend to attack any animal that if feels are trespassing on their territory, so please keep this in mind when deciding on this breed.
Akitas should also not be kept with other dogs of their own sex, as this could lead to aggressive behavior. This implies you should not keep two females or two male dogs if one, or both or them, are Akitas. If you are intent on having more than one dog, make sure the one is male and the other female.
Although your Akita puppy is cute and cuddly, this is a breed that does best in a single-dog household with no other pets that vie for their family’s attention.
NUTRITION AND FEEDING
The Akita’s nutritional requirements are a little unique. They do best on a raw food diet, as do most dog breeds. As an adult, however, it is suggested that you allow your Akita to fast once a week in order to allow their bodies to rest. During this period, they should be fed fruit and vegetables.
Fasting should preferably take place on the same day each week. It is also advised that an Akita eats twice a day. They are a greedy breed that tends to gobble their food, and in doing so, ingest air that can lead to bloating (this applies to puppies as well).
If you are going to feed you Akita commercial dog food, please ensure it is of the best quality possible and sees to all his nutritional requirements. This breed is prone to different diseases that are food-specific in nature.
Because these dogs can grow to be quite large, it is advisable not to allow puppies to grow too quickly, as this causes its own complications. As a result, puppy food is only recommended for the first four months because the high protein count in puppy foods can lead to accelerated growth spurts which are unhealthy for this breed.
Portion size depends on the dog’s age and size. It is also advised that dry dog food is mixed with wet food. This serves to prevent bloating. Wet food that could be included in their diet includes rice, boiled egg, or vegetables. Adding yogurt is advised for puppies. This breed thrives on variety, so it is good to keep that in mind.
These dogs also need an iodine supplement as their thyroids only tend to produce a third of the iodine necessary. It is best to do so by means of naturally occurring iodine, such as kelp. They also need a zinc supplement which is necessary for growth, immune functions and protein synthesis, while it also helps keep their coat in good condition.
The older your Akita gets, the more fruit and vegetables needs to be added to their diet, as well as fresh meat/fish, although it should preferably be well-cooked and deboned.
COAT AND GROOMING
Akita males and females typically vary with regards to size and weight. Fully grown males reach a height of 26 – 28 inches (i.e. 66 -71cm), and weigh between 75 – 120 pounds (34 – 54 kg). Females are smaller, at a height of 24 – 26 inches (61 – 66 cm) and weighing in at 75 – 110 pounds (34 – 50kg).
The breed needs to have a wrinkle-free, balanced body when standing at ease, with broad jaws and a blunt, triangular head when viewed from above. Black on white noses is preferred. Ears are small and erect while the eyes have a black rim. These dogs have heavy-boned forelegs and are well-built.
They have a double coat, the outer coat being straight and stiff while the undercoat can be described as being dense, soft, thick and short. The undercoat and outer coat may not necessarily be the same color.
These dogs are not difficult to take care of as far as grooming goes, although their double coat does mean they tend to shed quite a bit. They also tend to lose all their fur twice a year, which could alarm their owners at first. It is, however, perfectly normal.
This is easily taken care of with a once- or twice-weekly brushing session which should be upped to daily while in full shedding mode. As far as bathing goes, once every two or three months is enough, but make sure you get the undercoats wet as well.
The nails of this breed need to be clipped regularly, but not if they are very active as the nails could file down on their own. Ears should be cleaned regularly with a damp cotton wool ball. If you see any discharge or discoloration, please take your Akita to your veterinarian as this is an indicator of a possible ear infection.
Akitas need a firm hand with regards to training, which should begin as a puppy. The main objective when very young is to allow them to understand who the pack leader is, as they have a strong desire to form a bond with, as well as co-operate with, this person. To this end, the Akita needs to know the pecking order and that he is subservient to all the human pack members.
Unlike most dogs, an Akita needs to be trained differently. This is due to the fact that they become bored extremely easily, and do best when offered short drills in intervals. These are independent dogs and if given the hand, will try taking the arm. Consistency is important, as is using the same basic commands during different scenarios.
Training should start as young as after the second month, the 2 – 4 month period being critical with regards to socialization. They need to be taken out and exposed to other dogs and people as much as is possible during this period.
Everyone in the household also needs to take part in feeding the puppy in order to create a bond. They need a loving, gentle and firm touch, and should be handled by everyone; even going so far as to open his mouth and check out his teeth (this will make it easier to clean its teeth at a later stage).
The older your puppy is when his training starts, the more difficult it will be, but patience will always win out eventually. Always remember consistency and encouragement are key. Training sessions need to be short, and your Akita needs to be rewarded for his positive behavior. Sessions can be spaced and repeated two to three times daily.
These dogs need to be consistently challenged; yet do not allow them to be ‘wrong’ too often as they can quickly become discouraged. Rather substitute an activity where he does something ‘right’ so as to gain a reward. You can always return to the activity that he has difficulty completing later.
Besides proper socialization, potty training should begin the moment you bring your new puppy home. Puppies tend to want to defecate approximately fifteen minutes after a meal (they have quick metabolisms). By taking him to his designated toilet area round about this time, your Akita puppy will learn, very quickly, just where he should ‘go’ at such times.
Do not be alarmed if it seems your new puppy wants to sleep all the time – he is a baby and needs his sleep. His sleeping time will lessen as he gets older.
Although Akitas are healthy dogs, they are, however just like other breeds, prone to certain diseases. It is thus essential that you purchase your new puppy from a reputable breeder that can discuss all possible health (and other) issues you may encounter with the breed, while, at the same time, being able to give you a breakdown of your puppy’s parents’ history as well.
A few health issues noted in the breed are as follows:
Bloat (gastric dilatation-volvulus): large, deep-chested dogs are most commonly affected. The stomach fills with gas and twists and is usually as a result of receiving only one meal a day which it gobbles down, usually followed by a lot of water and exercise. If a vet is not reached in time, the dog can die.
Progressive retinal atrophy is an eye disease where the retina deteriorates. Most dogs adapt quite well, providing their surroundings stay consistent.
Hip Dysplasia is a condition commonly found in large dog breeds. Many display no outward signs, so it is always safer to ask for proof of its absence in your puppy’s parents. This is usually by means of x-rays.
A serious skin condition found in Akitas, sebaceous adenitis can affect your dog’s skin by causing large, scaly patches, predominantly on the head, neck, and back. Although not life-threatening, it is uncomfortable, and can be successfully treated.
Hypothyroidism can, once diagnosed in your Akita, be treated by means of diet and medication. It is not a life-threatening condition.
The Akita, as a breed, is known for its steadfast, solid and loyal nature. Although initially bred for hunting, and experimented with as a guard dog, it loves nothing more than being part of a family.
Although they do not take well to ‘outsiders’, to its core family it plays the role of family member, a dearly beloved pet, protector and even babysitter – nobody will come close to your children if the Akita can help it. Although it needs a good amount of exercise, about 30 minutes or so twice daily as an adult, it is easy to look after, requiring regular brushing and the occasional bath.
The Akita may be slow to learn but this is not due to it being stupid, but rather because it gets bored so easily. For those who persevere with training and are willing to invest in the happiness of their dog, the Akita is a friend for life.
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