The Akita Inu was first "created" in Japan. They get their name from the Akita Prefecture, which is where they are thought to have originated. The Akita has been described as one of the oldest dogs in Japan. The Akita of today is an ancestor of the Matagi. The Matagi's prey was elk, antelope, boar, and the Asian Brown Bear. This swift, agile, tenacious dog held the game at bay while hunters would come and kill it. In 1931, the breed was officially declared a Japanese National Monument. The mayor of Odate organized a breed club - AKIHO(Akita Inu Hozankai) - to preserve and improve the Akita breed. Helen Keller was the one to introduce the first two Akita Inus to America.
WWII hit, pushing the breed to near extinction. Early in the war, these dogs suffered from lack of nutrition, and many were killed in order to provide food for the starving populace, and their pelts were sold as clothing. The Government even ordered all dogs to be killed on-sight to prevent the spread of disease. The only way to save these dogs, was to breed them to the German Shepherd Dogs, turn them loose into the mountainous areas, or try and conceal them from authorities. Thus, it is important to note that three types of dogs were generally included under the name "AKITA." These were the Matagi-type Akita, which was the original hunting dog; the fighting Akita which was a mixture of Matagi with several other breeds, most likely including Tosa, Great Dane and St. Bernard (as evidenced in the Ichinoseki line); and the so-called German Shepherd Akita (now referred to as the Dewa line).
By the end of WWII, less than twenty purebred Akita dogs were in Japan. During the US occupation of Japan following the war, the breed began to thrive again through the efforts of Morie Sawataishi and others. For the first time, Akitas were bred for a standardized appearance. Akita fanciers in Japan began gathering and exhibiting the remaining Akitas and producing litters in order to restore the breed to sustainable numbers and to accentuate the original characteristics of the breed muddied by crosses to other breeds. US servicemen fell in love with the Akita and imported many of them into the US upon and after their return. In the 1960s and 1970s, the goal to restore the breed and preserve it according to its origins was taken upon most fervently by AKIHO. At this time, Japanese breeders were able to improve the Akita in Japan and rid the breed of loose skin, wrinkled foreheads, rounded eyes, dewlap, various coat patterns and colors (such as pinto, black masks, sesame, etc.). Those characteristics were seen as incorrect characteristics of the past -- characteristics that do not conform to an aesthetically correct Japanese Akitas today.
The Split: The Japanese Akita and American Akita began to diverge in type through the middle and later part of the 20th century with the Japanese Akita fanciers focusing on restoring the breed as a work of Japanese art and American Akita fanciers selecting for the larger, heavier-boned dogs that emerged from the post-war times.
Much debate occurs among Akita fanciers of both types whether there are or should be two breeds of Akita. To date, the American Kennel Club and Canadian Kennel Club, guided by their national breed clubs, consider American and Japanese Akitas to be two types of the same breed, allowing free breeding between the two. The FCI and Kennel Clubs of most other nations including Japan consider Japanese and American Akitas as separate breeds.
Fun Fact: In Japan, mothers would actually leave their children in the care of the family Akita while she went to buy groceries for the day. In Japan, if you're ill or in the hospital, you would get a small Akita statue. The Akita represents loyalty and luck.
Hachi was an Akita owned by a man named Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor in the agriculture department at the University of Tokyo. Hachi would see his professor off from the door while he went to work, then meet him at the train station every day. The pair continued this routine every day until May 1925, when the professor died of a stroke while he was at the university that day. While the professor did not return home on that train, Hachi waited.
Hachi was given away after the professor's death, but routinely escaped, showing up again and again at his old home. Eventually, Hachi realized that his owner no longer lived in that home, and looked for him at the train station. Each day, Hachi waited at the train station, and each day, Professor Ueno didn't return.
The permanent fixture at the train station that was Hachikō attracted the attention of other commuters. Many of the people who frequented the Shibuya train station had seen Hachikō and Professor Ueno together each day. They brought Hachikō treats and food to nourish him during his wait.
This continued for ten years, with Hachi appearing only in the evening, when the train was due at the station. Hachiko was found dead on a street in Shibuya. Hachiko's stuffed and mounted remains can be found in the National Science Museum of Japan.
In April 1934, a bronze statue was erected at Shibuya Station, and Hachikō himself was present at its unveiling. The statue was recycled for the war effort during World War II. In 1948, Takeshi Ando, son of the original artist, was commissioned to make a second statue. When the new statue appeared, a dedication ceremony occurred. The new statue, which was erected in August 1948, still stands and is an extremely popular meeting spot. The station entrance near this statue is named "Hachikō-guchi", meaning "The Hachikō Entrance/Exit", and is one of Shibuya Station's five exits.
The exact spot where Hachikō waited in the train station is permanently marked with bronze paw-prints and text in Japanese explaining his loyalty.
acceptable colors: American Akitas are acceptable in any color. Japanese Akitas may be red, white, or brindle. All colors except white must have urajiro (light cream or white markings or shading) on the sides of the muzzle, on the cheeks, the underside of the jaw, neck, chest, body and tail, and on the inside of the legs. Colors should be clear and bright.
Temperament: The Akita is aloof with strangers, but very close and loving with their families. Some may appear to be too serious to strangers. They are protective, but not aggressive unless absolutely necessary. They may develop same-sex dog aggression as they mature, even if properly socialized. They are generally very confident, intelligent, and docile. They are a loyal breed.
Height: American; Females: 24-26 inches, Males: 26-28 inches.
Japanese; Females: Preferred 22 inches and over, Males: Preferred 24 inches and over.
Weight: American; Females: 70-110lbs, Males: 90-130lbs
Japanese; Females: 60-100lbs, Males: 75-120lbs
Health Problems: Autoimmune disorders, Pemphigus, Uveitis, Lupus Erythematosus, PRA, Thrombocytopenia, Hypothyroidism, AIHA, Von Willebrands, Sebaceous Adenitis, Cutaneous Asthenia, Hip Dysplasia. (NOTE: I'm not sure if Americans have all these issues or not, or if they have more, but I'm pretty sure these are seen amongst both "types")
Exercise: A long, brisk walk is acceptable, or shorter walks throughout the day. However, most enjoy more than that. There are Akitas in agility, weight pull, even some sledding. This IS a working breed; it's best to give them a job.
Life Expectancy: Roughly 9-15 years.
Grooming: Akitas don't require a whole bunch of maintenance, but they do need regular brushing, nail trims, and bathing. The blow their coat twice a year(though I believe some, like Lobo, only blow their coats once a year).
What to look for in a breeder: Knowledgeable about Akitas and their health problems, provides adequate exercise, dogs are kept with the family, puppies are EXTREMELY socialized(for an example, the breeder that I'll get my Japanese Akita from sleeps in the same room as the pups and socializes from the very beginning), health testing is done for parents. For Americans, AKC titles are ideal. For Japanese, AKIHO show titles/memberships are ideal.
Ideal living conditions: A cooler climate - not necessarily a snowy place like Alaska, but some place where they won't overheat. A place where they'll be able to run and have a job.
"Ideal" owner: Intelligent, knowledgeable, probably someone who's just as willful(but not cruel), PATIENT, fairly active, but not necessarily hike-for-four-hours-in-eighty-degree-weather, preferably someone who has time to spend with training and socialization, a single-dog home OR a home who has separate genders OR a home who will keep the dogs separate when alone.
Trainability: Um... If you're patient, understanding, and pretty darn stubborn, Akitas are actually very trainable. You'll likely never get them doing handstands, but I know of some who are in Agility and Obedience.
Other traits: FANTASTIC with the family. Intuitive. Primitive. Some are prey-driven, but those same dogs live with other animals in the home. Lobo will kill birds outside, but my dad's bird is almost totally ignored. The two have slept together before. They do go through a "teenage" phase, where they will seem to "forget" all that they've learned. This is where human patience will really come in. Willful. Stubborn. Too smart for their own good. Before we replaced our fence, there was a hole that we covered with bricks. Lobo simply moved the bricks out of the way. Escaping isn't necessarily an Akita trait(Lobo has Husky in him), but they CAN figure it out if they're not mentally and physically stimulated. If you can figure it out, so can they.
The JACA website: http://www.the-jaca.org/index.htm
Dog Breed Info.