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A Spitz type of dog, the Japanese Akita Inu has its origins in the mountains of northern Japan. The breed has two separate strains - the Japanese Akita Inu and the American Akita - which are identified largely by their colours. The Japanese strain is accepted in only a few colourways, while the American type is accepted in all colours. The strains are now seen as two distinct types in most countries, the exceptions being Australia, Canada and the US, where they recognise both strains as one breed.
The Akita requires a firm, experienced owner and is not suitable for first-time dog owners as he can be aloof and is not always tolerant of other dogs.
Japanese history credits the ancient Matagi as the foundation dog for the Akita breed. This is one of the country's oldest native dogs and was used for hunting bears and deer. These tenacious dogs would track large prey including boar and the aforementioned bears and deer, holding it at bay until the hunters arrived to make the kill.
It is thought that the Akita also contains traits from a number of European and Asian dogs such as the Mastiffs, Great Danes and the Tosa Inu, in order to develop an effective fighting dog. During World War II the Japanese Government ordered a cull of all dogs not suitable for military work to halt the spread of disease. Many dogs had already died due to lack of food or eaten themselves by the starving people, so the Akita began to be crossed with the German Shepherd in order for it to make the grade and guarantee its future.
Three events have confirmed the Akita's place in the hearts of dog lovers all over the world. The story of Hachiko - one of the most respected Akita's of all time - is still honoured today, more than seventy years after his death.
Hachiko was famed for accompanying his master - Professor HidesaburÅ Ueno - to the train station every day and returning to meet his master's train when he came home from work.
When Hachiko was just 18-months old his master suffered a fatal stroke at work and never returned. Hachiko went back to the station every day for the next nine years and despite being cared for by Professor Ueno's relatives, he kept up his lonely vigil. Hachiko passed away in 1935 and a ceremony is conducted every year on March the 8th - the anniversary of his death - as a mark of respect for this remarkable dog. Hachiko has his own statue at Shibuya Train Station and a memorial next to the grave of his owner. Paw prints and an inscription also mark the area where Hachiko would wait for his master. Hachiko is now seen as a potent symbol of loyalty and faithfulness across Japan.
In 1931 the Akita was declared a National monument in Japan and efforts to revive the breed - which was nearing extinction - were reinvigorated. Careful breeding to ensure the purity of the lines meant a breed standard was established in 1934.
The third event that secured the Akita's prominence as a highly respected and well-loved breed was the arrival of Helen Keller in Japan in 1937. Keller, a deafblind author, lecturer and political activist fell in love with the breed, writing widely on her fondness for the Akita in general and in particular her Akita's Kamikaze-go, who died while still a puppy, and his brother Kenzan-go.
Average height to withers: 25.25" - 27.5" (dogs) 22.75" - 25.25" (bitches)
Average weight: 34-54kg (dogs) 34-50kg (bitches)
As a breed that has its origins in Northern climes, the Akita's appearance reflects this, with a thick double coat and a substantial build. Typical traits include a large head, often said to resemble a bear and erect ears.
The eyes are dark and triangular in shape and the Akita has tightly knuckled, cat-like feet. The tail is full and is held high, sweeping over the back and forming a curl over the loins. The American breed standards state that the Akita can display any colourway, including brindle, pinto, solid white, black mask, white mask and guard hairs that differ in colour to the undercoat. The Japanese breed is only permitted in fawn, sesame, red, white and brindle - all with striking 'Urajiro' markings which are common to the Shiba Inu.
A truly unique breed, the Akita inspires great passion from those who handle and own these dignified animals. Combining dignity, courage, alertness and devotion, it can be extremely affectionate and loyal with family members, reserved with strangers and sometimes territorial and even aggressive.
Interestingly the Akita can be quite cat-like in its behaviour and it's not unknown for Akitas to clean their faces and preen. They can also be tidy and clean in the house.
Due to its size the Akita is not a dog for a first-time owner and has even been added to the dangerous breeds list in some countries. Despite their slightly domineering ways Akita's are generally very good with children and some experts have said that the Akita does seem to have an affinity with youngsters.
Because they were never bred to work in packs - rather in pairs or alone, the Akita can be domineering with other dogs - particularly unfamiliar animals and those of the same gender. With his family the Akita is docile, courageous, affectionate and intelligent however he could become wilful and aggressive if not handled firmly when out and about.
The Akita is known to suffer with a number of auto-immune disorders including Autoimmune Haemolytic Anaemia, genetic skin disorder Pemphigus Foliaceus and Lupus. They can also develop Addison's and Cushing's disease, diabetes and hyperthyroidism. These conditions are not particular to the Akita however, but can be seen in any dog with a mixed heritage.
Akita's can also present with hip and elbow dysplasia, gastric dilation, coagulation disorder von Willebrand's disease, Glaucoma and Progressive Retinal Atrophy. Breed-specific issues include a tendency to develop immune sensitivity to some vaccines and other drugs as well as Pseudohyperkalemia, which can cause a perceived increase in potassium levels as it leaks from red blood cells when blood is drawn. This can lead to a false diagnosis of hyperkalemia.
A firm, consistent and experienced hand is essential when dealing with the Akita as they are prone to being wilful and domineering. As they were originally bred to hunt, Akita's certainly benefit from a job of some kind - be that in the show ring, agility or obedience trials. This will keep him fit and keep his mind occupied. It will also get him used to socialising and mixing with other dogs and people.
Regular walks will also keep an Akita happy and any owner should be prepared to give their dog plenty of exercise. Off-lead time should be closely monitored and kept to enclosed areas if possible. Potential owners should also be aware that the Akita, although generally hardy, can develop sensitivity to certain drugs and this may bring hefty vets bills.