The Courageous and Loyal Akita

By Linda Cole

In the Akita’s native country of Japan, the breed is considered a courageous and loyal national treasure. In fact, he is so loved there that an Akita statue is given to the parents of newborn babies to signify health, happiness and long life, and to the sick for a speedy recovery. The Akita is the largest of six national dog breeds of Japan. To preserve the breeds, all six were designated precious natural resources of Japan under the Cultural Properties Act of 1936, which gave the breeds official recognition and protection.

The Akita origins are in the Odate region of the Akita Prefecture, located in the northern rugged mountains on the main island of Honshu. At one time the Akita was called the Odate Dog, but the breed name was changed when the dogs were given protected status. This is an old breed descended from spitz-like dogs with a history that goes back to at least the 1600s, and possibly even farther.

A favorite of the Imperial family and ruling class, the Akita became the “royal dog” of the ruling elites, and they were the only ones who could own this powerful breed. Special leashes for each dog symbolized his rank and the importance of his owner. Elaborate ceremonies were performed for the care and feeding of the Akita. Centuries old sketches depict the breed standing with their royal owners, dressed in lavish ceremonial robes.

Bred as a hunter of big game like wild boar, elk and the huge Yezo bear, the dogs hunted in pairs, usually a male and female. The female nipped at an animal from behind while the male attacked from the front to bait their prey and hold the animal until hunters arrived. The Akita was also used as a guard dog, protecting family members and property. The bravery and size of this dog makes him a force to be reckoned with, and he continues to perform hunting and guard dog duties in his native lands. The dog can also be trained to retrieve waterfowl, and is an able and agile tracker with cat-like movements.

The first Akita to arrive in America was a gift from the Japanese government to Helen Keller in 1937. More dogs were brought back from Japan after WWII by U.S. servicemen who were impressed with the courage and adaptability of the breed. The war years and a rabies outbreak left the breed on the brink of extinction, and to save this beloved breed in Japan, many owners hid their dogs in the mountains.

Hachiko is the most famous Akita, and a legend in his homeland. In 1932, the true story of the dog’s loyalty to his deceased owner touched hearts around the world. Each day Hachiko met his owner, Professor Ueno, at the Tokyo train station. One day while at work, Ueno suffered a stroke and died. Hachiko was just eighteen months old. When the professor didn’t step off the train at his usual time, Hachiko left and returned the next day, hoping his owner would return. For the next nine years, the dog returned to the train station each day at 4 p.m., and each day he left disappointed. A statue was erected at the train station as a tribute to the unwavering loyalty of Hachiko and the Akita breed.

The Akita grooms himself like a cat, and stalks his prey much like tigers and domestic cats do: silently, with their body low to the ground. An Akita will not growl or give any warning before attacking his prey.

Because of a dominant and stubborn attitude, the Akita is not a good breed for the first time dog owner. A well trained and properly socialized dog will be a good family pet, but if you aren’t ready to take the lead role, an Akita can be a handful and can become aggressive. He is often dog aggressive, especially with same sex dogs, and doesn’t do well tied up in the backyard away from those he loves.

The bond an Akita develops with his owner is extremely strong, and to control this powerful dog you need to train him yourself under the guidance of a qualified trainer. He will not respond to harsh treatment. An ample supply of CANIDAE Pure Heaven dog treats helps to get his attention, and positive reinforcement is how you win his trust.

If you’re up for the challenge, an Akita can fit into your lifestyle. His unconditional love and loyalty is unshakable. This is a people-friendly dog for the right owner. Just be sure to do careful research before getting an Akita. You have to earn this dog’s respect if you want him to respect you.

Top photo by lybian
Middle photo by Alden Chadwick
Bottom photo by Pati Regina

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