Two types of Akitas exist -- the American Akita and the Japanese Akita or Akita Inu. Relatively few Japanese Akitas survived Japan's devastation during World War II, and today the bloodlines of the two types split along American and Japanese breeding practices. Differences include size and coloration.
The ancestors of this ancient Japanese breed served many roles over the centuries, including hunter, fighter and guard dog. The first Akita Inus originated in the city of Odate, in the time corresponding to 200 years B.C. In the late 1800s, descendants of these dogs were crossed with European breeds such as the mastiff, the Great Dane and the German shepherd. The modern Akita Inu registry was established in 1927.
The Akita is an important dog in Japanese culture. Parents of newborns receive an Akita statuette, a token traditionally thought to bring the baby good health, happiness and longevity, according to the American Kennel Club. The story of faithful Hachi-Ko, an Akita Inu that accompanied his master to the train station each morning and met him each evening, is famous throughout the world: His master died while at work but he continued to wait at the station, running away and returning when well-meaning people tried to remove and care for him.
According to the American Kennel Club, Helen Keller brought the first Akita to the United States shortly before World War II. That dog bore the unfortunate name of Kamikaze-go. In its native Japan, the breed almost died out during World War II when the government ordered dogs confiscated to use as fur for the military. U.S. servicemen brought some dogs back home with them, and the American Akita Club was founded in 1956, according to the AKC.
The Japanese type of Akita, the Akita Inu, is shorter and less muscular than the American Akita. At maturity, the Akita Inu stands between 24 to 26 inches high at the shoulder, weighing between 75 and 120 pounds, with males larger than females. The Japanese consider the Akita Inu as a living work of art. While its coat comes in many shades, the Akita Inu must have white on the muzzle, neck, chest, body and tail. The only exception is the solid white Akita Inu.
The American type of Akita ranges between 24 and 28 inches high at the shoulder, with males larger than females. The American type of Akita's weight ranges are the same as for the Akita Inu. Any coat color is permissible. This double-coated breed possesses a thick undercoat, but the AKC breed standard doesn't allow for any ruffling on the body or feathering on the legs. Akitas require regular grooming; they lose the undercoat twice a year, creating quite the shedding situation. This is a strong, muscular, heavy-boned dog with a large head and small, erect ears. This American Akita may have a black mask on the face, not permitted in the Akita Inu standard.
Because of its Japanese fighting dog heritage, the Akita may not tolerate other canines, especially those of the same sex. It's not especially good with other pets. With his people, though, the Akita is affectionate and protective.
The Akita is not the dog for a timid or inexperienced dog owner. Your Akita must know that you are the leader of his pack. If the dog believes he is in charge, he might bite or display other inappropriate behavior. Investing in obedience training is a good idea with any dog but especially with the dominant breeds such as the Akita.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.