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The Japanese Bear Dog’s Ancient History
The Akita Inu – also known as the Japanese Akita – originated in the Akita Prefecture of Japan. Owning an Akita was the privilege of the ruling class, the Shogun. For centuries, the medium-sized dogs were used for hunting large game, such as bears, wild boar and elk. Not only did the fearless Akitas track the game and flush it out, but they effectively controlled these animals until the hunters could move in for the kill. In the mountainous and often snow-covered regions of Japan’s northern Tohoku region, this task required strong, agile dogs with lots of stamina. Sadly, these athletic dogs also were used in dog fights. And in an effort to create better fighting dogs, heavier Mastiff breeds such as the Tosa Inu were crossed with the original, Spitz-like Japanese Akitas.
During the second world war, Japanese owners were ordered to hand over their dogs so that military garments could be made out of their furs. The only exception of that rule was the German Shepherd - due to its usefulness as military service dog. For this reason, some Akita breeders crossed their dogs with German Shepherds. By doing so, they not only saved the breed from extinction, but also created another breed: The so-called American Akita, who was largely descended from those heavier dogs bred for dog fighting. American Akitas were recognised by the American Kennel Club in 1972 as an autonomous breed. So, in essence, the American Akita is of mixed origin. And the breed still is frowned upon by many Japanese breeders who claim that only the original Akita Inu with its smaller, lighter structure and more fox-like face is “the true Akita”.
The Akita Today – an incorruptible Guardian
As our brief excursion into the Akita’s history shows, there are really two distinctly different types of the breed present today, and they do have a slightly different temperament. However, when it comes to their natural guarding abilities, both types are right up there with more common large guardian breeds like the German Shepherd and the Rottweiler. Akitas make excellent personal protection dogs, even without any training. In fact, some breeders will refuse to give puppies to people wanting to engage their dog in such training. And with good reason: This breed comes with high levels of natural aggression, and bite work is said to make these dogs even more aggressive.
Be that as it may, the Akita is a superb natural protector – profoundly loyal and equipped with an outstanding ability to sense danger: These dignified guardians are said to have a keen sense for whom they can trust and who could be a threat to their owners. And many incidents of Akitas biting a person can be traced back to the dog not blindly attacking an innocent person, but simply trying to defend its owner.
Of course, this is where strong, calm, and consistent canine leadership comes in: Without it, the Akita will make its own decisions regarding when to actively defend and strike, and when not.
In the field of property guarding, the Japanese Bear Dogs are periphery guardians by nature. Which means they regularly patrol the boundaries of their territory, especially after having been in the house for a few hours. Just to check that everything is as it should be.
Because of their tendencies for aggressive behaviour, both towards humans and dogs, it is extremely important to properly train and socialize them throughout their lives. Certain risks do come with the breed, like dog aggression in particular, especially with dogs of the same sex, and animal aggression in general. After all, Akitas have been bred as hunting and fighting dogs, and their prey drive is quite high.
Akitas as Family Companions
Whilst they can make excellent family companions, caution is advised for everyone planning to have a Japanese Bear Dog as family pet. If raised in the house, an Akita will usually adapt quite well to accepting everyone in the home, children included. Indoors, these dogs are calm and settled. Akitas are known for their almost cat-like personalities. They certainly are unusually aloof, independent, and stubborn for a dog, and just like cats, they value clean surroundings. Which makes them quite easy to housetrain.
Akitas are famous for their deep loyalty and form strong emotional bonds with their favourite humans. However, the Akita Inu is said to be the more affectionate and fun-loving of the two types: These slightly smaller dogs are more likely to enjoy cuddles and play with their owners - whereas the American Akita is more reserved when it comes to open displays of affection.
The Akita’s ideal Owner
Owners and breeders claim that Akitas are exceptionally smart – which might surprise you to hear: Contrary to the Belgian Malinois, the German Shepherd or the Border Collie, the regal Japanese protectors are not known for their intelligence. Perhaps because their brightness is usually masked by a thick layer of stubbornness, which makes the Akita one of the most challenging breeds to train.
However, Akitas are known to think ahead, and to only obey commands when convinced that they have good reason to. This is where high-level canine leadership comes in: If your dog respects and trusts you as its leader, is will follow your guidance. Akitas just are not the kind of dogs you can “bribe” with treats and toys, like the Sheepherding breeds we just mentioned. Also, if you expect them to perform competition level- obedience drills, you may set yourself and your dog up to fail.
These dignified guardians come with a high level of responsibility, as they are far more difficult to control than a German Shepherd: If you have an aggressive German Shepherd on your hands and you know what you are doing, it is possible to control them and avoid accidents. With the Akita, the matter is far more serious. Mainly because Akitas lack the Shepherd breeds’ strong desire to please their owners and their tolerance to harsh corrections. Akitas do not have that tolerance, which is why you need to be infinitely more patient and gentle in your training: A firm but fair approach will work best with the strong-willed Bear Dog.
For all of these reasons, the Akita is not suited for novice owners. But if you have experience with powerful guard dog breeds and you love the challenge that you know the Akita will present – than you might be an ideal leader for the ancient Japanese hunter.