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HISTORICAL DIFFERENCES Named after the Akita province in northern Japan, the Akita is an extremely ancient breed. Back in the 1600s, these middle-sized dogs used to guard Japanese royalty and assist them in hunting fowl and large game, for example bears, elk and wild boar. And whilst it was the hunters themselves who eventually would kill the game, the bulk of the workload was shouldered by their dauntless dogs: Fierce and relentless, the hunting party’s pack of Akitas would track down these large animals, flush them out and keep them in check – long enough for the hunters to get there and kill the game. After the second World War, US soldiers imported a number of these intrepid Japanese hunters into America, and after 1980, the breed’s popularity spread to many other countries. Today, Akitas come in two types: The bigger and bulkier American Akita and the original Akita Inu or Japanese Akita. Contrary to the Akita and despite its extreme versatility, the Malinois has never served as a hunting companion. Instead, the Mali was one of the four sheepherding breeds developed in Belgium during the late 1800s.  In the year 1885, professional Shepherd Adrien Janssens, laid the foundation of what would later become the world-renowned Malinois, who was named after the Belgian city of Malines: His goal was to create a highly effective and agile sheepdog. In the following years, this new breed proved its extraordinary skills in various  working dog trials. Soon, the Mali’s popularity began to soar, and they were the first breed to join the Belgian police. Today, the Malinois is THE service dog of choice for police and military forces throughout the world. DIFFERENCES IN LOOKS The easiest way to tell these beautiful breeds apart is their coat and colouring: Whilst Akitas are Spitz-type dogs with, thick, and plush double-coats, Malis have short and comparatively thin coats. On first glance, they look very similar to working line German Shepherds. But contrary to their German cousins, breed standards only recognise three colours for the Malinois: fawn, black-tipped fawn and mahogany. And whilst pretty much every colour is allowed for the American type of Akita, the Japanese Akita is only permitted the colours brindle, white, red fawn, and sesame. As well, the shape of the Akita’s head is almost fox-like, whilst the Malinois shares the wolf-like facial features and bone structure of other Shepherd Dog breeds.  Both the Akita and the Malinois have erect ears and bushy tails, but the Akitas’ tail is curled and carried above their back. In their overall appearance, Akitas are compact, but without appearing bulky. The Belgian Shepherd, however, has a distinctly elegant appearance, and shows the promise of great speed and agility. Adult male Malinois can be up to 66 cm tall at the withers (that is 26 inches). Females are slightly smaller. Males weigh up to 34 kilos (which is 75 pounds), whilst females are a bit lighter.  Adult male Japanese Akitas stand at up to 70 cm tall (which is around 28 inches) and weigh between up to 50 kg (or, 110 pounds), again, with the females being a bit smaller and lighter. Their American cousins are usually a bit taller and heavier than Japanese Akitas.    INTELLIGENCE & TRAINABILITY DIFFERENCES These incredible working breeds are exceptionally smart. But whilst the Akita is also extremely stubborn and independent, the Malinois’ trainability is impeccable. In terms of trainability, Akitas really are right on the opposite end of the scale form the Belgian sheepdog. And because of their immensely strong independence, they absolutely require an experienced owner: A calm, consistent leader who knows how to train dogs that do not feel the need to please people.  Perhaps, the Akita’s strong-willed nature stems from the breed’s origins as hunting dogs in Japan, where they had to take on large and dangerous animals. During the hunt, they needed to make their own decisions – without guidance from their owners.  The Malinois, on the other hand, is a straight 10 out of 10 in terms of trainability. These smart and athletic dogs can be educated to top levels. And by “top levels”, I do not only mean obedience, but also guarding, and tracking, as well as search & rescue work. These dogs are top-performers and a pure pleasure to work with. They are immensely eager to please their handlers and guaranteed to give their very best in each training session. This high trainability, couple with their immense intelligence, makes them learn extremely quickly.  TEMPERAMENT DIFFERENCES Because of their history as hunting dogs, Akitas are genetically predisposed to working in packs. However, today’s Akitas have the tendency to be quite aggressive towards other canines, especially towards members of the same sex. They can also develop aggressive behaviour towards humans. Which is why calm, consistent leadership is so crucial – and which is also why Akitas are NOT suited for novice owners. Apart from firm, but fair guidance, they need plenty of socialisation. In the hands of a competent canine leader, these breeds can become good family dogs who behave well around children. In the house, they are clean, quiet, and settled. These dogs are very fond of their humans and deeply loyal. They are also known to be superb natural guard dogs.  And whilst Belgian Malinois are world-renowned personal protection, police and military service dogs, they lack the Akita’s natural aggression towards other dogs and people: Malis do not (usually) come with an inborn desire to launch themselves at people and bite them. This behaviour has to be developed by specific guard dog training, using decoys and utilizing the breed’s natural – and extremely high – prey drive. Serious dog-bite injuries are usually only caused by Malis who have been formally trained as guard-dogs - and who either were given the “Attack”-command for good reason, or who attacked because of a person suddenly charging their handler.  Without any such training, these slimline athletes are naturally friendly, joyful and enthusiastic. Usually, they get along quite well with people and other dogs, provided they were socialised properly. In a family environment, they thrive on spending time with their favourite humans. When trained properly in terms of obedience and house-manners, Malinois can make superb family companions.   EXERCISE AND GROOMING DIFFERENCES Whilst usually unproblematic in the house, the beautiful Spitz-like Akita can get destructive when not exercised enough. Because of their origins as hunters, used to run for hours, Akitas need a lot of exercise. Normal walks will not satisfy these large athletes. Apart from regular long walks, they need vigorous runs off-leash and greatly benefit from a large, securely fenced area like a garden or backyard. These breeds have an immense natural prey drive and will not hesitate to give chase to anything that moves.  And pretty much the same can be said for the Malinois - these are extremely high-energy dogs, and they will be happiest when engaged in some kind of activity: You are guaranteed to be rewarded by joyful tail-wags whenever you ask your Mali to join you for playtimes, training sessions, walks or even a dip in the pool. To satisfy their quite intense prey drive, I highly recommend using tools like the spring-pole as well as various ball-toys and retrieval dummies. In terms of grooming, Akitas need less of it than you might think, considering their rich, plush coats: They are an especially clean breed and they groom themselves like cats. Of course, to keep their luxurious coats clean and shiny, and to minimize shedding, regular brushing is recommended. A pin brush, paddle brush as well as a comb with wide-set teeth are the best tools to use for their rich coats. During shedding season, Akitas blow their entire coats all at once, and you want to be equipped with a Furminator and an undercoat rake for this occasion.  Some of the above-mentioned grooming tools are also quite useful for the Malinois, especially the Furminator and the pin brush. Because like the German Shepherd, Belgian Shepherds shed all year round. As an added bonus, they lose even much more hair during shedding season twice a year.   And this pretty much wraps up our discussion of these two stunning large guardian breeds, the Akita and the Belgian Malinois. Both are incredibly capable protectors who come with sky-high levels of intelligence. Personally, I think we can safely say that both the Akita and the Malinois are amongst the smartest dog breeds on the planet.  

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