This is a brief FCI standard describing typical temperament of great Japanese Akita samurai. Let us start with mentioning that along FCI (international cynologic federation) there are few more official organizations that formally are dedicated to protect and preserve this original Japanese breed - Akita inu. FCI is was established in 1911 and is covering many different breeds, japanese breeds being just a small fracture of the whole bunch. In 1927, the oldest organization devoted to protect and preserve Japanese national monument Akita inu was established in the town of Odate, in Akita prefecture. It is called Akitainu Hozonkai (AKIHO) and it is the most recognized and respected organization that is followed by most Akita inu breeders and long term breed enthusiasts. AKIHO describes typical character in a bit more detail:
"Akita has quiet strength, dignity and courage. An Akita is large, with a powerful bone structure as the foundation of the body. The dog's sheer size, combined with its regal bearing, gives it the aura of being "king of all dogs. An Akita's nature is to be intensely loyal to its master. This is especially strong in Akita compared to other breeds. This characteristic parallels the intensely loyal character of the traditional Japanese people. An Akita's outward appearance, reflecting the inner nature, is calm but at the same time very brave. While the Akita does not challenge first, neither does it back down from the challenge of another. The character is not an aspect of the Akita that we can measure with a yardstick. Nevertheless it is a fundamental and most important aspect of the breed. Call it what you will - class, pride, bearing - it must be present for a dog to be a good Akita."(*)
Most of the abovementioned characteristics (courage in the first place) are in certain extent typical also for other Japanese breeds. However, along with historical context and Akita being the largest "samurai" they are creating one impressive extraordinary dog that is very well worth protecting and nourishing.
History of Akita has been quite rough and complicated. Knowing its up-and-downs, Japanese breeders and breed enthusiasts realize the necessity of control over breeding activities putting utmost focus on preservation of typical breed features and attributes (both physical and temperament-wise) while striving for the ideal Akita.
In the last few years we have been witnessing slightly negative trend of fearful Akitas in Europe. Fearfulness can have multiple reasons, e.g. incorrect/ insufficient socialization during early life stages, bringing up in an isolated environment with limited occurrence of different noises, smells or visual stimuli (physical presence/ contact with strange people of different sizes, ages and appearances, noisy machines, travelling in public transport, contact with different animals (e.g. livestock, horses, etc)) or can be also result of improper breeding and thus can have roots in genetics.
Photo: Vita Potomova, female - Zairai Kiseki Ken Amana
Other black mark on Akita's reputation is aggression. Aggression that has been honestly widely linked not only to Japanese breeds, is one of the biggest scarecrows that is behind negative perception of Akita inu by the general public. As per AKIHO standard, Akita does not challenge first, but neither does it back down when challenged by another.
It is right to say that the essence of aggression in Akitas is not different from other dog breeds. Although there have been tendencies to mark Akitas as generally aggressive dogs with reference to their history of being used as powerful fighting dogs, we would like to shed some light on this. There are plenty of potential reasons that might result into aggressive behavior. Even though the most frequent aggression expression is towards other dogs, there are also rare cases of aggression towards people.
As with any other dog, it is necessary for the owner to properly and consistently work with a dog of such unwanted behavior. In the first place, it is important to identify the reasons and remove them. That is often not a straightforward nor simple task and certainly requires attention of experienced cynologist, ideally one understanding the nuances of spitz and primitive breeds. When talking about "primitive breeds" we must say the adjective "primitive" is not at all description of dog's intelligence level, rather it is a term from FCI categorization (V. group - spitz and primitive types). Perhaps we could also use words like original breed to basically describe breeds that even after centuries of evolution and domestication are still very close to the original wolf ancestors of today's Canis lupus familiaris.
As we already noted, one of the reasons for aggression is lack of proper socialization resulting in fear or stress from new situations and stimuli. For proper development, from puppy age dog needs to get direct contact with as many different impulses as possible. Be it small children with high pitched voices or tall big bearded men, or whole lot of dogs of different breeds and age. It is crucial that puppy always gets away from these encounters with positive feelings, thus it is our job as owners to ensure they do not go through negative experiences in these important life stages. Highly unpleasant, traumatizing experiences also tend to create patterns of aggressive behaviors that dog later naturally uses in reaction to similar stressful situations reminding itself of previous bad experience (e.g. violent and painful treatment from human).
Individually thinking dog such as Akita require not only through socialization from early stages, but also patience and loving attention from its family during entire life. While love does not necessarily mean spoiling, Akitas usually thrive best when they can physically be close to their human pack and spend their time together either during plays, on walks or just laying under the sofa while their family is watching telly.
For Akita, it is ideal to have clearly defined rules and boundaries. Rules are deemed clear when they are consistent and not opportunistically broken by people. It is also good when dog knows what it can expect from its human in different situations. That helps to create faithful bond between dog and man. It is assumed that dogs in general do not indulge themselves in surprises, mainly not the pleasant ones from those whom they are supposed to rely on and trust in every situation.
It is an ultimate effort of each responsible breeder to produce and bring pup not only externally typical animals attempting to reach the ideal, but also well balanced and composed puppies with typical temperament. Similarly as shyness or fearfulness, aggressiveness can have its roots in genetics and thus it is another important task for breeders, when attempting to get the best future litter, to mate not only physically appropriate sire and dam, but also consider their temperament. Responsible and honest breeders take breeding as their mission, invest their time in study of pedigrees, try to couple just the best compatible animals to produce healthy, psychically well balanced Akitas, the right representatives of this royal breed coming out of Country of the rising sun. Noble, courageous, loyal, receptive and composed big samurais.
Having already pointed on much important temperament, we must also spend time on exterior features that define the ideal Akita. These are described in AKIHO standard and although it might seem probable there is no perfect dog ( = dog with no flaws or deviations from ideal), responsible breeders put their efforts trying just to get there. Laic public often do not realise that careless or uneducated mating of even purebred Akitas, or breeding without sufficient assessment of relevant aspects, results in the production of random litters that might, in worse cases, degrade not only the exterior, but also health or temperament.
Each potential Akita buyer probably has Hachiko movie in front of their eyes, the story of The Dog that has written history impersonating the meaning of word "loyalty". Hachiko never stopped waiting for his master, his dark eyes never stopped looking for his human that he loved above all. He decided to do that, nobody ever taught him what the clock is, in spite of that he always came to the station at around the same time. Nobody taught him to come to the station and go, or sit and wait there. He always loved his master and reliably waited, because he wanted to. He was stubborn and yet very intelligent. In our circumstances, people often exchange dog's obedience with intelligence. With Hachiko being an outstanding example, it might be easier to understand that dog cannot be taught or "bribed" to become loyal. One can become its master that it needs - loving, consistent and worth following.
Daimon Ken Michiyo, photo/owner: Michaela Tóthová
In spite of that, it is most probable that your Akita will try (and perhaps will try repeatedly :)) to show you that their view on the world is not always aligned with yours. We dare to assume that nobody ever succeeded to build up a natural respect in any dog via fear or pressure - and that is even more true with japanese dogs. These dogs are loyal to their masters once they prove they deserve it. How? Well, that is a question that many ask and is not easy to answer.
If you do not know how to become a solid master for your big samurai, it is the right time to start getting there. Experienced breeders have important insight into these dogs' souls, however it would be daring to claim that it is something that can be simply taught or learnt. Although there is a defined common frame of typical temperament characteristics (which is defined in breed standard similarly as for any other breed), their real combination and intensity always produce a colorful cocktail, very individual for each dog. Each dog is different, independent individual with their own motivations and perception of the environment, with their behavior which is basically based on individual mix of inherited temperament and personal experiences. Therefore it is relevant to approach Akitas individually, with accent on their personality. Only time spent together with their dog will provide perceptive owner with relevant insights on dog's motivations and what stresses them. Choosing the right approach to upbringing taking into account dog's individuality can help build up strong relationship based on trust. Akita is not the dog that thrives when being alone, short daily walks and few months of basic obedience training usually do not entitle owners to expect in return same everlasting loyalty as displayed in legendary true-based story of Hachiko on millions of TV screens all over the world.
In our geography, there is a lot of "Hačikos" with completely different story lines. They usually neither look like The Dog who used to wait for his master until the end of his time, nor they have his character. Work of breeders that honor this breed and its tradition is very complex. Laic public do not know much about it although it deserves to be in the spotlight. It takes a lot of effort, knowledge and experience to produce next generations with the true Akita spirit - Japanese hero on 4 paws. We dare to think there is hardly any other dog breed in the world that would not only be as majestic, powerful and intelligent, but also as loyal at the same time.
Breeders of this lovely breed strive for getting as close to ideal as possible considering the typical exterior attributes. Here are some of the most important ones:
* Urajiro: white coat color around the nose, on chest, front neck, on the bottom of lower jaw, white "socks" on all four legs and usually also tip of the tail. With the exception of white Akitas, all Akitas have to have urajiro, it is a typical feature of other Japanese breeds, too (e.g. Shiba and Shikoku) which is valued and important. Often Akitas born out of irresponsible insufficiently planned breeding miss the typical urajiro.
* Eyes: typical eyes of Akita are dark (the darker the better), resembling of triangular (or almond) shape with slightly shifted outer corner. Thoughtless breeding might result into eyes changing required shape (they sometimes resemble more of a circle or a button) which corrupt the overall typical expression.
* Akitas are sturdy, well-built and balanced dogs - their ideal height with males is 67 cm, while females are ideally 61 cms tall (3 cm deviations both ways are acceptable though).
Difference between male and female must be visible at first glance. Females have gentle, soft expression (called yasashi in Japanese), while males display proud, almost cocky, typical masculine expression accompanied by self-confident body posture. You might already have seen akitas with heads resembling more of German Shepherd Dog or some other spitz … well, head and its properly balanced proportions are very important for Akita. Ideally, when looking from the front, it reminds of oval octagon, has its typical furry cheeks and has no loose skin. Cheeks are filled in and head with strong neck complement the dog's overall majestic, regal appearance. Forehead is wide, flat and has its typical furrow vertically drawn from stop up to the top of the skull. Red Akitas sometimes have red color below and around the eyes, which is desirable.
Akita as a whole is defined by many more exterior characteristics/ features. Every single one of them has its defined ideal and putting them together creates harmony and basically a dog that you remember from the movie. One might say - we don’t need a perfect akita, ideal in all details. Well again, it is exactly the details that make up a whole. Any significant deviation of any "part" (either from temperament of exterior point of view) has negative impact on overall impression from the dog as such.
Work of responsible breeders is indeed complex, they make sure that only suitable individuals produce litters. That means individuals matching or exceeding health standards (defined by local breeding clubs and FCI/ AKIHO organizations) and also exterior and temperament criterion. Akitas are sadly prone to some genetically driven (inherited) diseases. While one of the more common ones is hip dysplasia, also autoimmune diseases are not uncommon e.g. VKH syndrome or Sebaceous Adenitis.
Therefore it is crucial for breeders to know anamnesis and health history of sire and dam and their ancestor lines (ideally at least up to 4-5 generations) to limit the risk of transmission of such insidious illnesses which can often "sleep" and come forward even generations later. Browsing through the breed standard and its explanation, ideally with pictures or graphics displaying of important features, and having read the abovementioned text will most probably bring you to realize how complex activity the breeding of proper Akita is.
Major goal of responsible breeding plan should be production of generation of puppies that are better than the previous ones, while stabilizing essential and desirable features and pushing backward or eliminate ones that are not desirable.
Here are some of the not desirable features that breeders should try to avoid:
* Eyes with incorrect (round) shape, with too light color
* Unrecognizable sex appearance (male looking too feminine, females looking too masculine)
* Too small or too sturdy animals
* Weak chest and weak back
* Atypical head
* Ears with improper angulation, set either too widely or too closely together.
* Legs either too steep or over angulated that would prevent dog from fine movement, or hocks turned inwards (cow legs) or outwards
* Color deviations (missing or incorrect urajiro, black mask - this is eliminating fault, dark marks on dog's tongue, pinto pattern on dog's head and neck = hachiware in Japanese).
* From temperament features - future owners should invest some time to speak with the breeder about sire and dam, their parents, trying to avoid major faults and deviations (mainly aggression or shyness/ fearfulness).
Without paying proper attention we can start coming across more and more dogs looking like Akitas with unmatching character, or dogs with the Akita spirit and body only partly resembling the one of true Akita.
Our non-profit organization was created in order to help general public get to know and understand better this beautiful breed. Our effort is to preserve Akitas being true Akitas, dogs that have been mindfully shaped over decades in their country of origin and to provide for the work, effort and values having been put into them to survive also in the future. We want to help spreading the legacy created by most respectable Japanese breeders and enthusiasts to the next generations.
Without sacrifice, efforts and knowledge that is hardly possible. Please, pick your puppy (and be it whatever breed you eventually fall for) always from responsible breeders. That counts twice as important for Akitas. But before that, come and join us in an effort to uncover the spirit of true Japanese samurai - king among dogs. Getting to really know this breed takes quite some time - some people are negatively "surprised", the other ones fall in love until the end of their lives.
Akita is not a type of dog that lives beside you - it rather wants to live with you. This life might seem to be full of compromises, however, eventually one usually realizes it is not. If you love someone and understand their soul, life with them is easy although others might not quite understand it. We encourage you to pay enough attention to Akita. Getting to know this breed is a lifetime study, but if you are honest with your intentions, Akita's secrets will reveal eventually.
For us it is a dog like no other, will it be for you, too? :)
*resource reference : http://www.northlandakitas.com/hozanalysis.htm - quote from research committee of the Akitainu Standard in Japan, translated from Japanese by Walter Imai, chairman, Akitainu Hozonkai, Los Angeles Branch in USA)
Sempou Go Fuen No Oka, owner/photo: Martina Černayová