When you think of a loyal animal, you think of a dog. When you think of a loyal dog, you think of an Akita. In Japan, monuments are built to honor an Akita named Hachiko, the loyal dog. But anyone with an Akita can attest that Hachiko was no exception. This breed is loyal, but also courageous and more than a little headstrong. Not a breed for beginning owners, the Akita is powerful and doesn’t mind taking advantage of its strength!
DNA studies show Akitas are one of the most ancient breeds.
The breed belongs to the Spitz family of dogs, which includes dogs of northern origin that have in common double coats with stand-off fur, small pricked ears, and a bushy, usually curled tail. These traits help shield the dog from cold temperatures.
The breed gets its name from the Akita prefecture, the part of Japan in which it was developed.
The original Akitas were used for guarding, big game hunting, and, starting in the 1600s, dog fighting. They were called “Odate Inu,” or Odate dog.
Most Akitas have a fairly short though thick coat, but some have a long coat due to a recessive gene.
Crosses with other breeds were sometimes made in the early 20th century to create a better fighting breed.
During World War II, crosses with German Shepherds were made in an attempt to save them from a decree that all non-military dogs be destroyed. After the war, only about 20 true Akitas were left in Japan.
The Akita was officially declared a Japanese national monument in 1931.
The first Akita in America belonged to Helen Keller. The dog, named Kamikaze, was her constant companion from 1937.
The most famous Akita was Hachiko, who always met his owner at the train station after work. When his owner died at work and never returned, Hachiko waited there every day until he died nine years later. A life-size statue now stands at the Shibuyu train station to commemorate his loyalty.
The Akita entered the AKC Working group in 1972.
The American Akita gradually diverged from the ancestral Japanese Akita so that now, in most of the world except for Canada and the U.S., the Akita Inu is a distinct breed from the American Akita. The traditional Akita Inu is smaller boned and has fewer colors, with no masks or spots permitted.
Akitas have won the Working group at the Westminster Kennel Club three times, but none has yet won Best in Show.
Akitas can be intolerant of other strange dogs, especially those of the same sex.
Pronounced Ah-KEE-ta in the west, in Japan it is AH-ke-ta.
The Akita is the target of breed specific legislation in some areas.
Owners include Helen Keller, Cher, Dan Aykroyd, OJ Simpson, Evander Holyfield, Dave Hollins, Chris Green, John Kruk, Bryon Scott, Elvis Stoijko, Sonny Rollins, Pia Zadora and Amanda Bearse.
Some people confuse the Akita with the Alaskan Malamute or Siberian Husky, but the Akita is more square proportioned, has a more tightly curled tail, never has blue eyes, and is more likely to have a black mask or come in colors other than the wolf-like pattern most often seen in Malamutes and Siberians.
The Akita is the 45th most-popular AKC breed, and has remained fairly steady in popularity over the past decade.
Do you own an Akita? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!
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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.