Although there is no difference in grooming of the Akita or Shiba (or any other original Japanese breed) from the perspective of used techniques, there is a difference in how much time you will spend doing it. This difference logically comes with the different breed sizes :). At first, we need to realize what kind of coat type we are dealing with. As any other dog breed, Japanese spitz dogs evolved for centuries in their country of origin under the local climate conditions.
Coat of the Japanese spitz dogs consists out of multiple layers. While Shiba has 2 layers, Akitas have three of them. Similar coat type is typical also for other breeds, e.g. northern dog breeds such as Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, etc. Not only the coat and its quality adds up to a dog’s overall conformation and appearance, it also has an essential thermoregulation function. Similarly to an insulation layer on a house construction, multiple layers of coat protect the animal from freezing in winter, and from overheating in summer.
Base coat layer - undercoat - this is the fur that is closest to the dog’s skin, it is the thickest and finest fur layer (it has some kind of a wooly feeling). Thanks to the undercoat, a dog can easily handle the rough winter conditions and does pretty well outside even during an ice cold night. The warmth that a dog produced with its muscle activity is kept beneath the thick undercoat and thus keeps the body warmer (note: also dogs with double coats need a shelter to be protected from the unpleasant wind and rain or snow).
Outer coat layer - guard coat - this is the harsh, longest layer of fur that has the biggest impact on a dog’s overall appearance. Its length can vary among individuals and in some breeds (e.g. Shiba or Akita) there are also long coat dogs which have the guard coat significantly longer than standard short coated dogs - mostly in the head, neck and hind legs areas. Whether a dog gets to have a long coat or a short one depends on its genetics and genetics of its ancestors. According to FCI and AKIHO standards, long coated dogs are disqualified from the dog shows and cannot be used for breeding. This topic deserves a specific attention and we will try to bring you a separate article about it later:).
Akitas have one more layer of coat in between the undercoat and the guard coat. This middle layer is longer than the undercoat, but shorter than the outer coat. It is tough, coarse and protects the dog from the water and potential skin injuries.
All original Japanese spitz dogs shed (usually) twice a year, that means they lose their undercoat - typically at the end of the winter and in the summer when the weather conditions are usually warmer. Although shedding period is individual for each dog, we can roughly speak about 4-6 weeks. Shedding time is when the dog coat requires more of our attention and regular brushing to help the dog get rid of a loose hair. Shedding is usually intense, you may be finding white undercoat hair all around the place where your dog moves. Despite you spent half an hour brushing it a day before, it is highly probable you will find the floor covered in white hair the next day, too. This is rather common and Japanese dog owners must be ready for this - mostly mentally :). If the coat does not get groomed properly during the shedding period, coat looks really neglected and is covered with tufts of loose dead hair. Except a bad look, neglecting your dog’s grooming means also that the coat does not work fully effectively and it prevents a dog’s body from cooling down properly.
We will now try to talk about the cooling principle a bit more in detail:
A dog’s body, opposite to the humans, does not have sufficient amount of sweat glands and thus cannot cool down by excreting of the sweat out of the body through the skin. Except the generally known fact that all dogs cool their bodies down by breathing with their tongue out, they also use another way which is resting in the cool places, with they least furry body parts (e.g. their belly, or paws) touching the cold ground. During warm summer days it is required to support these natural cooling mechanisms. But we have to be careful and think about how to do it properly.
In case when a dog’s coat is kept groomed properly i.e. the dead loose hair is brushed out regularly, then the coat is light enough and the air can flow through the harsh outer coat, it can get to the skin and helps cooling the body down from the outside. As we already mentioned, the outer coat (and with Akitas also the middle coat) is not so dense and thick as the undercoat.
If the dog does not get groomed properly, then two unnecessary complications might occur:
First, the air flow does not reach the skin through the dense undercoat and thus does not cool off the dog’s body as it could. The second complication comes with the structure of the undercoat, thanks to which the warmth from the sun rays get stuck and absorbed by the dog’s body as it cannot deflect back to the environment through the dense undercoat. And so, the dog starts to overheat even more.
We will now divert from the main topic for a while, and rather spend some more time on how crucial it is to help dogs cool off naturally and how important it is to do it the right way!
We, humans, use several layers of clothes to protect our (relatively:)) hairless bodies from the cold. During hot days, we usually take off the clothes (which works similarly with the dogs that shed). However, there is a substantial difference because a dog cannot get completely naked as we can. And while many people tend to treat dogs the same way as humans, they often shave the dog and remove all its hair. They think: “Look at that dog, it must be so hot beneath that fur. Let’s shave it to get bring it some relief…”. And this is when they go completely wrong!
Shaving our double-coated dog might bring much bigger problem to the animal than the one we are trying to address. The reason is simple. By losing a hair, dog loses its natural protection from the sun and it is even more exposed to the risk of overheating and sunburn, or even skin cancer. Similarly as humans, dogs have different reactions and tolerance levels for the sun and double-coated dogs are usually more prone to getting sunburnt than e.g. hairless breeds.
So the clear recommendation is to NOT shave any Japanese spitz dog, rather use regularly the proper coat grooming tools (especially during shedding periods) and remove the dead hairs from the dog’s coat. Of course, there might be reasonable situations when the coat must be shaven. It is typically due to medical reasons (e.g. undergoing a surgery or skin diseases, etc.) and then it is crucial to pay special attention and care to the dog’s skin (like having the dog wear a vest or sunscreen while making sure the dog does not lick it off of it).
A lot of videos and pictures of “funny” or “sweet” Akitas or Shibas with shaved pieces of their bodies can be seen on the internet. In regards with the abovementioned, it is not only useless and stupid fun, it is foremost hazarding with the animals’ health. To conclude this, we add a few tips on how to help dogs properly to cool off during hot summer days. As we already said before, dogs instinctively look for cooler places, they dig a hole under the tree and lay inside. They get cooled off by their paws and belly touching the cooler and moist ground. There are plenty of large blood vessels and blood depot organs such as liver or spleen in the dogs’ belly area. Cooled blood keeps circulating through a dog’s body and helps to cool off its temperature. There are also different types of cooling mats that might effectively help, too. Also access to the water that is hidden in the shade will provide perfect option for a dog to get cooled off by just standing or laying down in it. It is advised NOT to pour cold water from the hose over the dog’s back or head!!
But let’s now return back to how to groom the Japanese dogs’ coats properly. Since the Japanese breeds have a specific approach to their cleanliness (which might remind you of cats) it is not needed to bathe them regularly or trim their hair (at all!).
The bath is inevitable in cases of accidents - by accident we mean getting covered in mud or poop (which occurs way too often :D) or some other stinky stuff. We also bathe the dogs before the dog show to help it look shiny and fine, bath also helps to remove loose hair from the undercoat.
It is usually recommended to use shampoos without parabens and of course, to dry the dog properly in order to prevent hot spots. Especially with dogs with multiple layers of the coat we can highly recommend to use a special pet hair dryer that has strong power to blow through all the coat layers. Using it helps to make the hair look finer and fluffier. And it also helps to remove the loose hair very effectively, too! Strong blow ensures effortless removal of the shedded undercoat hair. It is only important to introduce the blower to the dog carefully so that it will get used to the sound and the power. You do not want your dog to get too stressed by it. It is also important to watch out for the right temperature not to burn the dog’s skin that will make it want to avoid it the next time. You should try to create a positive association with the bath and drying procedures to the dog so it is good to provide rewards during the activity if the dog behaves as we wish.
Once the dog is dried, we can leave it be or - if we are preparing for the dog show - we can do the final touch by using a slicker brush (see the pic). For the regular brushing we recommend to use a regular comb or an undercoat rake that are just perfect tools that remove only the dead hair without damaging the healthy coat. We certainly advise to avoid using a Furminator on multiple coated dogs since Furminator is more suitable for the terriers with the wiry hair but in inexperienced hands it can do damage very easily to double-coated dogs as it not only brushes out the bottom layers of the dead hair, but it also cuts the healthy outer hair! Outer hair does not grow back in the same way as in the breeds that require regular trimming (e.g. spaniels, poodles, etc.).
Except for a proper grooming techniques, the coat quality might also be generally enhanced by making sure the dog gets the right nourishment including the important vitamins (e.g. vitamin E, omega 3 and 6 fat acids, biotin, etc.). These vitamins can be found in the high quality dry food (kibble), in particular supplements or in the natural resources:
Vitamin E = plant oils e.g. sunflower oil, olive oil, milk thistle (Sylibum marianum), nuts, spinach, etc.
Omega fat acids (mainly omega-3) = plant oils (primrose oil) or salmon oil, fish, nuts
Forget shaving double-coated dogs, it does more harm than good!
Do not use a Furminator, rather use simple, cheap and effective tools: undercoat rake, comb and slicker brush.
Do not bathe a dog too often. They do not need it! Bath before a dog show or after “an accident” just does it perfectly fine.
After a bath, always dry your dog (with hair dryer or - a better alternative - use a specialized pet dryer) to avoid potential unpleasant hot spots.
Regular grooming, especially during shedding periods, will help your dog’s coat keep its proper thermoregulation functioning.