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The Dark Side of the Akita’s History Most friends of the breed are familiar with the Akita’s past as guard dog and hunting dog for the ruling class of ancient Japan: Agile and fearless, Akitas were used on hunting expeditions by their owners, the Shogun. Their job was to track and apprehend large and dangerous game like bears, elks and wild boars.  However, in Japan of the 1600’s, the cruel blood sport of dog fighting became wildly popular – and the Akita was the breed of choice for those violent matches. To create better fighting dogs, the original middle-sized Akita Inu was crossed with giant breeds like the Japanese Mastiff, also known as the Tosa Inu. And during the second World War, breeders mixed German Shepherds into the Akita to save it from imminent extinction. All this led to a mixed-breed dog who was considerably taller and heavier than the Akita Inu, also known as the Japanese Akita. These heavier dogs became the base breeding stock for the American Akita we have today.  The Akita today – Family Pet or Predator? The Akita is a superb natural guardian and personal protection dog who does not need training to defend its own. This strong protective instinct runs in the American and the Japanese Akita. And quite naturally, this instinct to guard encompasses every human or animal whom the Akita regards as their own. Of course, this does require the dog to be diligently socialised with anyone in the household. Familiarising the dog with all the humans, pets - and, if present, farm animals -, is absolutely vital. If this is not done, serious accidents can happen, such as the dog misinterpreting livestock as prey animals. Or, in the worst case, the dog hurting a small child whom it has rarely ever seen.  After all, Akitas were bred as hunting dogs for centuries, and to this day, they are born with a keen prey drive. Because of their hunting instincts, they tend to see smaller pets, like rodents, birds and sometimes even cats, as something to chase after, capture and kill.  Of course, their past as fighting dogs is not helping today’s Akitas to coexist peacefully with other canines in the same household. Which is why Akitas are said to do best in one-dog households. In their temperament, these Japanese hunters are very cat-like: Aloof, stubborn and strongly independent. And just like cats, they do not appreciate children or other pets suddenly grabbing them or, even worse, trying to jump on their back. Such behaviour can trigger aggressive reactions - unless the dog has been very much used to it from early puppyhood onwards.  Who Should own an Akita? Strong, firm leadership and diligent early socialisation are not optional with this breed. And neither is training in obedience and manners. An expert canine leader who can provide proper guidance to the dog will be able to get the very best out of this exceptional breed. But in the absence of such a person, the Akita will take over the leadership position in the household. And such a strong, powerful dog in the “driver’s seat” is an accident waiting to happen. And many accidents DO happen: Akitas biting strangers or even family members without apparent reason. However, there always is a reason behind such attacks, and quite often it has to do with the dog deciding it is time to protect their owner. Even from their owner’s own wife or child. So, again, to avoid this, the Akita has to be led by an experienced dog handler. With the proper training and socialization, you can make life with an Akita as safe as possible for your children and for other pets in the household. To achieve this, however, you should absolutely get a puppy: You do not know what behaviours and situations will trigger your new adult Akita, and you do not want to gamble with the safety of your children – or your other pets.  And this brings us to the end of our discussion of the Akita’s suitability as family companion.  As we saw, these natural guard dogs are not the best choice for families with young children, other dogs or other small pets. However, with good leadership and socialization, Akitas can become loyal and reliable family guardians who will protect every child and pet in their care. 

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