Akita Dogs - History
There are several breeds of dogs native to Japan; these include the Akita, Hokkaldo, Kishu, Shiba and Shikoku. The Akita is the largest in size and weight. All of these dogs have similar features such as a curled tail and erect ears. It is believed that Japanese dogs have special characteristics associated with the concepts of spirit, loyalty, obedience and courage.
For several hundred years these dogs were used in male-female pairs to restrain animals such as the bear, wild boar and deer at bay until the hunters arrived on the scene. They have also been used to retrieve waterfowl.
Towards of the 19th century, the Japanese crossed this large dog with non-native dogs (such as the Tosa Fighting Dog, German Shepherd Dog, St. Bernard and Mastiff) to develop a dog of increased size and strength for pit fighting. The Akita gradually lost its popularity as a fighting dog because other breeds proved more able fighters (and dog fighting had been outlawed). In 1919, concerned by the Japanese breeds’ potential extinction, the Japanese included the large spitz language-type dog (by then called the Akita after a prefecture on the northern part of Honshu Island) in a list of natural monuments to be preserved. At that time, many of the Akitas resembled the crossbred fighting dog. It was not until 1931, after searching the relatively isolated villages where the Akita was still used for its original hunting purposes, that enough dogs that resembled the current idea of a purebred Akita were found. It was at this point that the Akita became the first of the Japanese native dogs to be declared a natural monument.
During World War II, the breed was nearly extinct because many Akitas, especially those in the cities, were killed for food. After the war, the breed was re-established in Japan from the best of the remaining dogs. Although the first Akita to come to the United States was the puppy given to Helen Keller on her visit to Japan in 1937, breeding stock did not arrive until Akitas were brought here after WWII by servicemen stationed in Japan. They were probably not used as guard dogs by the military as both US and Japan military used German Shepherd Dogs at that time.
Some Akitas are suited as companions, show dogs, some also work as sled, police, guard and hunting dogs. Several have herding titles, and several are trained companions of hearing- and sight-impaired people. Akita's are also involved in obedience trials and tracking, however their high intelligence and dominant nature can present quite a challenge to their trainer. In general they are discerning guardians of their families. Because of their hunting background, Akitas can appear aggressive as they may consider smaller animals to be prey.