Akita History

The Akita breed is steeped in history. Early historical accounts include its flesh as a menu item, and its skin was valued for making warm garments. It served as a working dog, a fighter, and a hunter; some have been used in the fishing industry. Details of the Akita's history have been obscured by centuries of isolation on the remote Japanese island of Honshu, and sometimes it has been muddied by language and translation problems. Typical Akita-like dogs, with tightly curled tails and erect ears, were evident as early as 1150 A.D. The Akita was known as Matagiinu, the esteemed hunter, by Japanese royalty, and at one time, ownership of an Akita was limited to the rulers of Japan, who decked them out with special collars to designate the rank of the owner.

During the next several hundred years, Akitas' popularity rose and fell with the Japanese dynasties, depending on the habits and desires of the ruling classes. Then, in the time of Emperor Taisho, around the turn of the twentieth century, keeping dogs became popular, and following the fashion in Great Britain, France, and Spain, dogs became a status symbol among the populace and royalty alike. The European influence revived the interest in Akitas, and once again they gained importance in Japan.

The Akita stud book

Although Akita-type dogs were raised in many Japanese regions, the large northern strains produced in the mountainous Akita Prefecture were undoubtedly the most influential ancestors of today's Akita. In 1927 the Akita Inu Hozankai society was given the task of recording and maintaining a stud book that documented the parents of every litter produced in Japan. It persists today and helps to preserve the purity of the breed.

Odate Dogs

Originally known as Odate dogs, Akitas were recognized in 1931 as a national monument and were officially named as a pure breed. That action was taken by the mayor of Odate, the capitol of the Akita Prefecture, the northernmost province of the Japanese island of Honshu. Japanese dogs are customarily named for the region in which they prevailed, and their original name was Akita Inu (Akita dog). They were the largest of seven Japanese breeds established in 1931. Akitas' pedigree documentation has been carefully maintained at Odate since that time.

World War II and onwards

Akita numbers dwindled in their native Japan during World War II when they were in demand for food and pelts. Others were destroyed to conserve food that might be used for human consumption. Although they neared extinction, representatives of the breed somehow survived, and they began to flourish again in the post-war years of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Akita breeding during that period resulted in the production of two bloodlines, the descendants of which have immigrated to virtually the entire world.

Allied servicemen are probably responsible for the early popularity of Akitas in the West. Many soldiers were so enamoured by the sturdiness, loyalty, and beauty of the breed that they acquired the dogs and brought them home. During the post-war years of 1945 to 1955 a great number of Akitas were imported into the United States, England, and Canada.

Some well-known Akitas

No discussion of Akita history is complete without mention of two animals. Hachi-Ko was an Akita given to a Tokyo professor in 1924. The professor rode a commuter train to and from his suburban home daily, and Hachi-Ko accompanied him to the station in the morning and returned to the station to meet him each evening.

When Professor Ueno died from a stroke, Hachi-Ko continued to make his daily trips to the train station at the exact hours previously established, and after waiting for the train, and his master, he walked home alone.

Although the dog was only about 18 months old when the professor succumbed to the stroke, Hachi-Ko continued walking to the station every evening until his own death, nearly ten years later. A bronze statue of Hachi-Ko stands at Toyko's Shibuya Station today, and a ceremony attracts hundreds of dog fanciers to the station to honour Hachi-Ko each year.

United States humanitarian Helen Keller met and fell in love with Akitas during a Japanese speaking tour in 1937. She was presented with a puppy, Kamikaze-Go, that she brought home to New York, but unfortunately it died before one year of age. In 1939 another Akita, Kanzan-Go, was given to her and it lived as her companion until its death in 1945.

The historical importance of and uses for the Akita

Early development of Akitas blended the stubbornness and strong wills of fighting dogs with the scenting ability of sporting dogs. They were used to trail stags, bears, and other game, yet some of the earliest reports of Akitas relate to their roles in pit fighting.

Although another Japanese breed (the Tosa, or Japanese mastiff) is better known for its fighting ability, the Akita's prowess in a dogfight is awesome. That instinct hasn't been fully erased from their memories, as is evidenced by their contemporary never-quit attitude, their natural dominance over other dogs, and their winning ability in canine conflict. Housing two adult male Akitas together is risky business at best; it is never advisable. A male and female, or two females that were spayed before six months of age, may live together in harmony, but two males or two intact females will inevitably fight. Once a brawl has ensued, it is unlikely that peace and harmony will be found in the future.

Hunting

Akitas have been known to "nose out" game, and although never having made their mark in the West as pointers or setters, in Japan they were used to locate and flush ground birds. History has it that they were accomplished soft-mouthed upland retrievers. They are large enough to bring down prey several times their weight and size, and were used to hunt deer and boar. Hunting bears was a challenge successfully met with a bow and arrow and a brace of aggressive and fearless Akitas that would keep the bear at bay until killed.

Water retrieving

Akitas are reported to fail the test for water retrievers because of the character of their double coats that tend to absorb water. In spite of that limitation, there are reports of Akitas that were trained by fishermen to herd fish into their nets by swimming around them. An enviable feat, when you consider the quality and abundance of their coats.

Herding

Akitas were apparently used as herding dogs in the seventeenth century in the mountainous, northern regions of Honshu. The cold, snowy, northwest Sea of Japan environment no doubt exerted strong influence on the dogs' robust stamina, solid bone structure, and dense coats. Like other northern dogs of today, they retain much of the toughness of the environment of their origin.

Sledding

Akitas have proven themselves in weight-pulling contests on the ice, and those same dogs seem to be in their element when hitched to a sled. On the other hand, it is rare to find Akitas that are used in sled teams together with malamutes and huskies. The reason is probably associated with the Akita’s propensity to dominate all other dogs in its society.

They are frequently photographed carrying back packs, and sometimes are shown harnessed to carts. There are reports of Akitas in police work, but that doesn't seem to be a suitable vocation for them, due to their natural aggressiveness.

Guarding

Akitas are strong-willed animals that seem to have a wired-in protective instinct that isn't likely to be suppressed. All dogs have the ability to read human situations, probably through the detection and evaluation of certain pheromones (a type of scent given off by humans and perceived by the dog), originating from their owners, and perhaps from other dogs. They can sense fear or challenge when confronted by strange humans or dogs, even if no threatening gestures or sounds are made. A dominant Akita isn't apt to back down from anyone or anything.

The solid, tough, determined Akita is therefore an excellent guard dog without any special training whatsoever. Little or no encouragement is needed to whet its instinctive interest in protecting its home and family. Its strength, loyalty, and agility make it a formidable living security system in your home. Though it is a peace-loving pet, it will meet any challenge it perceives.

Warning

To invest in guard training can be a serious mistake, and one that might convert a fine family companion into a monster. Some Akita breeders support this statement to the degree that they won't sell a puppy to anyone who intends to put it to work as a guard dog. Akitas over-train easily, and take their training to heart, which ruins them as companion dogs and family pets. Akitas that have received guard training rarely make satisfactory pets.

Quick Information

Akita Rescue & Welfare Trust (UK)

Registered Charity Number 1112054

 

Telephone 0845 260 2206 - calls charged at local rate.
Applications to adopt or rehome MUST be sent in writing via the forms provided.

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