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Eva Maria Kramer, Animal Photography
The Akita may be the only breed in the world considered a natural monument in his home country. He is a Japanese breed, developed to hunt big game such as bear, elk, and boar. In Japan today he is often found working as a police or guard dog.
The 2009 film “Hachi,” starring Richard Gere, is based on the true story of a Japanese Akita named Hachiko. After his owner’s death, Hachiko waited every day at the train station for the man to return, every day until the end of his own life.
The world’s best-known Akita was a Japanese dog called Hachiko who is revered in Japan for his display of loyalty. After his owner died, Hachiko kept vigil for the rest of his life at the railway station where they always met at the end of the day.
Weighing 65 to 115 pounds (and sometimes more), the Akita is a large verging on giant breed. He has the typical spitz appearance: wedge-shaped head, prick ears, rectangular body with a dense double coat in any color or combination of colors and plumed tail curled over his back.
The Akita needs a 20- or 30-minute walk or run daily, always on leash. He performs well in dog sports such as agility, obedience and rally, but they aren’t his favorite activities. He prefers the more one-on-one experience of being a therapy dog.
A people-loving dog like the Akita needs to live in the house. It’s an unhappy Akita who is relegated to the backyard with little or no human companionship.
The Akita originated on the Japanese island of Honshu in the rugged, cold, mountainous Akita prefecture, from which he takes his name. The dogs helped hunters seek out and bring down big game such as boar, elk and the Yezo bear. A pair of Akitas would work as a team, with the male baiting the beast and the female biting at it from behind. Their job was to keep the animal at bay until the hunters arrived to dispatch it. The Akitas also guarded family members and property. The Japanese government declared the Akita a natural monument in 1931.
Akitas became known in the United States after inspirational speaker and writer Helen Keller visited Japan on a speaking tour in 1937 and was presented with an Akita puppy. That puppy died of distemper, but Keller acquired another one who was her companion for the next decade.
Unfortunately, World War II jeopardized the Akita’s existence. Many were killed for food or for their fur. Enough survived, though, that the breed was revived after the war. It was especially popular with American servicemen, many of whom brought the dogs back after a tour of duty in Japan. Those dogs became the foundation of the breed in the United States.
The American Kennel Club recognized the Akita in 1973. The breed currently ranks 49th in AKC registrations, down a bit from 38th in 2000 but still comfortably popular.
The Akita is a powerful and independent dog with a bold nature. He is devoted to and protective of his family, especially children, but aloof toward strangers and potentially aggressive toward dogs he doesn’t know. He can mistake the high-pitched screams and rough play between children as actual fighting and step in to protect them if he is not supervised. Early and frequent socialization are essential to help him develop the confidence and discrimination he needs to recognize what is a threat and what is normal.
Unlike many spitz breeds, the Akita is not known for barking, which makes him attractive to apartment dwellers, but that does not detract from his abilities as a watchdog. He is highly protective, and when he does bark, you should pay attention.
The Akita is not the type of dog to follow his people around, but he likes knowing where they are and spending time with them. Other people? He’s just not that into them.
This intelligent but independent dog can be a challenge to train. The Akita is not going to do something just because you want him to. You have to earn his respect. He responds well to clicker training and positive reinforcement techniques such as play, praise and food rewards, but he also likes to do things his own way. To be successful, you must be patient and willing to try many different methods to see what works. Find an experienced trainer who has an extensive bag of tricks. Keep training sessions short and fun so the Akita doesn’t get bored. Gradual training works best with this breed. Don’t try to cram too many concepts into his head at once. On the plus side, Akitas are a fastidious breed, making them easy to house train.
Akitas can get along with other animals when they are raised with them, but they do best when other dogs in the home are of the opposite sex. They will go after unknown animals who come onto their property and they won’t back down from a fight if another dog initiates a throwdown.
The ideal Akita doesn’t come ready-made from the breeder. Any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging, countersurfing and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained or unsupervised. And any dog can be a trial to live with during adolescence. In the case of the Akita, the “teen” years can start at nine months and continue until the dog is about two years old.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
The Akita’s most common behavior problems tend to be overprotectiveness and aggression toward other dogs. Both problems can be prevented with early socialization and training.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.
The perfect Akita doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Whatever you want from an Akita, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
In Akitas, the health problems you are most likely to encounter are hip dysplasia; an eye disease called progressive retinal atrophy that causes blindness; an immune disorder called acquired myasthenia gravis; von Willebrand disease, a bleeding disorder; and immune system disorders that affect the skin such as pemphigus foliaceous, uveodermatologic syndrome and sebaceous adenitis, a disease that ends in total hair loss.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The Akita Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center, a health database. Before individual Akitas can be issued a CHIC number, breeders must submit hip evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or PennHIP, an OFA thyroid evaluation; and eye test results from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). Optional certifications that are recommended but not required are OFA patella (knee) and elbow evaluations.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been "vet checked," then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Not every Akita visit to the veterinarian is for a genetic problem. Akitas can suffer cruciate ligament tears and skin problems caused by allergies to fleas, foods or environmental substances.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping an Akita at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
Brush the Akita’s double coat weekly to keep it clean and remove dead hair. During spring and fall shedding seasons, daily brushing will help to keep excess hair under control. In addition, trim his nails as needed, brush his teeth, and keep the ears clean to prevent infections.
Wherever you acquire your Akita, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as is possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than in making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and will come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems.
Start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Akita Club of America, and locate a breeder who has agreed to abide by its code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to obtain health clearances for eyes and hips before breeding any dog. Choose a breeder who is not only willing but insists on being a resource in helping you train and care for your new dog.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical and should be reported to the Akita Club of America and the American Kennel Club. You should also remember that buying a puppy from one of those “instant pet” websites leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected.
Many reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of an Akita puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Akita might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult dog, you know exactly what you’re getting in terms of personality and health. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog instead of a puppy, ask breeders about purchasing a retired show dog, or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home.
Puppy or adult, take your Akita to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for an Akita in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Akitas available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for an Akita. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Akita rescues in your area. Most people who love Akitas love all Akitas. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Akita Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Akita rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring an Akita home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Akita, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter, or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
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