Welcome the Akita: Charactistics of the Japanese-Native Breed

Updated December 16, 2021
Closeup of an Akita

Did you know the first Akita was brought to the United States by Helen Keller in 1937? Although this breed is by no means as common as the Labrador Retriever, they have seen a rise in popularity over the last 20 years. If you are considering adding an Akita to your home, learn more about this exceptional breed before you decide if they're right for you.

Origin and History

The Akita is the largest of all the breeds native to Japan. Like their smaller cousin, the Shiba Inu, the Akita belongs to a group of dogs that share a common Spitz-type ancestor. The Akita is named after the province of Akita in northern Japan where they originated. They are known to have been in existence as far back as 1600. They were utilized for hunting bears and were known as Japanese royalty.

After World War II, American military men who were returning home from Japan brought back more Akitas to the United States. Thomas Boyd is known to have owned the first Akita stud to have puppies in the U.S. in 1956.

In 1972, the Akita was accepted by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Breed Characteristics

Portrait of akita

The Akita is a courageous and independent dog who is naturally apprehensive of strangers yet fiercely loyal to their family.

General Appearance

The Akita is a large and powerful dog. The body type is just off-square in outline, with a triangular head and small erect ears. The eyes appear to be well set into the skull, but peer out brightly, and should display keen intelligence.

This breed has two rather distinctive characteristics. The tail is carried curled over the back and the feet are webbed for swimming.

The original Japanese breed colors are white, red, or brindle, but today's AKC breed standard states any color is acceptable. The coat is thick enough to stand on end and sheds about twice each year. Their size differs a bit between the male and female, and is as follows:

Males

  • Height: 26 to 28 inches at the shoulder
  • Weight: 75 to 120 pounds

Females

  • Height: 24 to 26 inches at the shoulder
  • Weight: 75 to 110 pounds

Temperament

A natural guard dog, Akitas will generally designate themselves the family guardian. They are fiercely loyal and affectionate to the people they live with and have a reputation for being good with the family's children. Akitas are wary of strangers and other pets. Therefore, never leave them unsupervised with either one. Individuals do best as single family pets since they tend to be aggressive toward other dogs, especially members of their own sex.

Understand members of this breed generally have very dominant personalities, so ownership is not for the timid. It takes a rather strong character to prevent these dogs from assuming the alpha position in the canine/human relationship. Akitas are perfectly capable of thinking for themselves and deciding on their own course of action. This is exactly what they'll do unless you establish a healthy dominance from the start.

Although these are large dogs, Akitas are relatively calm, and while they benefit from daily activity, they do not require the same amount of exercise as an Irish Setter or German Shorthaired Pointer.

Training

Intelligence is a hallmark of this breed, which makes training an easy job once you've established yourself as leader of the pack. They are also extremely clean animals and take easily to housebreaking. The guardian instincts of this breed make them naturals for protection training, although the average pet owner will likely find that no extra training is necessary.

Exercise Requirements

Japanese Akita inu dog

Although the Akita is not a breed with a lot of energy, it is nevertheless a pretty active and lively dog. They need at least an hour of daily exercise to stay healthy and in good shape. It would be much better if you could engage in physical activity for up to two hours per day.

Health

Akitas are hardy, but the breed is not without their share of physical problems. Health concerns to be aware of include:

Lifespan

The Akita has an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years, but can occasionally live up to 14 years of age.

Grooming

Akitas have a double coat that needs to be brushed at least once a week. They will blow their undercoat twice a year, so be ready to deal with a hair explosion when the weather changes. Give them a bath as needed, but not too frequently, because this can strip natural oils from the skin and coat. Keep your Akita's nails trimmed, clipping them roughly every two to four weeks, or as needed.

Famous Members of the Breed

Hachiko, often known as Hachi, is one of the most famous members of the Akita breed. So famous, in fact, a movie was created in honor of Hachiko featuring Richard Gere as the owner.

A purebred Japanese Akita dog had long been a dream of Eizaburo Ueno, a professor of agriculture science at Tokyo University in Japan. He had spent a long time looking for the ideal Akita puppy until one of his students persuaded him to adopt Hachiko.

Hachi and Professor Ueno became best friends, doing nearly everything together. On May 21, 1925, when Hachi was 2 years old, Hachi was waiting as usual at the train station when his owner never showed up. Unfortunately, Professor Eizaburo had suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage and died suddenly and unexpectedly while he was at work.

Hachi went to the Shibuya Train Station every morning and afternoon for the rest of his 10-year life, precisely when the train was scheduled to arrive. He waited there for hours, patiently waiting for his beloved owner's return, which regrettably never came.

In 1934, a statue of Hachiko was unveiled in front of Shibuya train station in a lavish event attended by Hachiko himself.

Purchasing or Adopting an Akita

A Four Week Old Akita Puppy

If you're looking for an Akita puppy, a good place to start is the Akita Club of America. They have a breeder directory available, as well as helpful tips on how to find responsible breeders with quality dogs. The AKC Marketplace also has a breeder search. Expect to pay around $700 to $1,600, although higher-end show dogs from champion lines can cost as much as $4,000.

Rescue Organizations

If you aren't set on a purebred Akita, or searching for a certain age, you can take a look at the directories on PetFinder and Save-a-Rescue. You can also search breed-specific rescue organizations:

  • Big East Akita Rescue: A non-profit organization rescuing Akitas and mixes of all ages and offering them for adoption in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
  • Midwest Akita Rescue Society: An all-volunteer rescue organization often rescuing homeless and abandoned Akita dogs and offering them for adopting in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin, and parts of Kansas and Kentucky.
  • Tikihit Akita Rescue: A foster-based rescue organization located in Northern California.

Is the Akita Right For You?

So, is this the right dog for you? They are highly intelligent, clean and loyal dogs, but they require very active ownership to find their proper footing in the family unit.

If you can provide firm but loving guidance, and plenty of one-on-one companionship, then an Akita might make a very good companion indeed. On the other hand, if you already have other pets and a busy schedule, this breed would probably not be a good fit for your lifestyle.

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Welcome the Akita: Charactistics of the Japanese-Native Breed