Let us begin with the history of the German Shepherd, whose ancestors have been working together closely with their sheepherder-owners for thousands of years. In the late 19th century, the “father of the German Shepherd”, Max von Stephanitz, set out to create the ultimate Sheepherding dog. He focused on strong, sturdy, and yet agile dogs of wolf-like appearance, who could trot for hours, directing and protecting their flock. But soon it became apparent that this new breed could do much more than just herd sheep. And today, Germany’s most popular dog is used in many disciplines: personal protection, canine sports, police service, and, of course, sheepherding.
And whilst the Akita of ancient Japan was also used as guardian, these dogs were predominantly hunters. Their task was to assist Japanese noblemen in the pursuit of large game such as bear and wild boar. Bred for agility and endurance, these courageous dogs tracked down the animals, flushed them out and kept them in check until the hunters’ arrival. Today, Akitas have become popular worldwide for their loyalty and their excellent guarding skills.
DIFFERENCES IN LOOKS
German Shepherds come in a wide variety of different shades and colours: purely black, black-and-tan, black and silver, red and black, as well as grey and sable. Breed standards differentiate between short stock coat and long stock coat.
In body shape, German Shepherds are slightly longer than tall, with the line of their back slightly sloping down from shoulder to hip. In size, their ideal is around 63 cm for males and around 58 cm for females. (That is around 25 ins for males and 23 ins for females.) Deviations of up to 2.5 cm (1 in) either above or below the ideal hight are permissible according to breed standards.
Larger than the average German Shepherd, Akitas are dogs of the Spitz-type who strongly resemble sled dog breeds such as the Husky or the Malamute. Whilst the American Akita is slightly taller and heavier than the original Japanese Akita, both types have beautiful, thick, and plush double-coats. In colour, these luxurious coats can be red, brindle, fawn or white for the Japanese Akita. The American Akitas’ breed standards do not impose restrictions on their coat colours.
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), with the females being a bit smaller and lighter. They have small, erect ears and their curly, brushed tails.
In their overall appearance, both Akitas and German Shepherds are well-proportioned and show the promise of immense strength and agility.
INTELLIGENCE & TRAINABILITY DIFFERENCES
The German Shepherd is known for its incredible intelligence and versatility, which makes it an ideal sports dog, personal protection dog and service dog. German Shepherds are an absolute dream to work with – apart from perhaps the Belgian Malinois, there is not a breed on the planet easer to train and more eager to please their handler. As they are extremely quick leaners and dependable workers, German Shepherds can be a good choice for less experienced handlers.
And whilst the Akita is no less intelligent, this dog will not obey a command simply because it is given. The tendency for making their own decisions can be explained by their past as hunters in ancient Japan: Working in packs, these fearless dogs had to take on large, dangerous game – without any help, or guidance, from their owners. On the contrary, the hunters had to rely on the dogs to find the game for them, and to keep it in check until they had gotten to the scene. That said, training an Akita to decent levels of obedience and manners is possible, it just requires considerably more experience and skill than training a German Shepherd.
Both breeds can make good family dogs when raised in a home environment. And when provided with the leadership of an experienced owner who takes training and socialising very seriously. Otherwise, these large dogs can become aggressive towards strangers. As an added challenge, the Akita is prone to dog aggression.
Akitas are very clean and quiet dogs who groom themselves like cats, and they make remarkably good house dogs. German Shepherds, on the other hand, are less suited for an indoor lifestyle, simply because of their extremely keen working drive: This breed is immensely alert at all times. Neither breed is the best choice for families with small children: German Shepherds can injure small kids due to their boisterous nature and abrupt movements, and Akitas do not appreciate having children suddenly jumping them or hugging them.
When it comes to their protective instincts however, both of these breeds are superb. They are equally effective as natural guardians who do not require training to defend their own. In a worst-case scenario, the German Shepherd – especially when trained – is far easier to control than the Akita: Getting an Akita to let go of person once it has made the decision to bite, is no easy feat.
When it comes to open displays of affection to their owners, the Akita is superior to the German Shepherd: Aloof and cat-like in character as these regal Japanese guardians might be, they do love a good cuddle. EXERCISE AND GROOMING DIFFERENCES
German Shepherds are notorious shedders all year round and should be brushed thoroughly every day – and multiple times a day during shedding season. The long-coated version of the German Shepherd requires even more brushing for their coats to stay clean and tidy.
Akitas, on the other hand, do not shed. Instead, they blow their coats. Which basically means they lose their entire coats in one go. That is why brushing them once or twice a week is quite sufficient. A pin brush, paddle brush as well as a comb with wide-set teeth are the best tools to use for the rich coat of these glorious dogs.
In terms of exercise requirements, both breeds need to run and play a lot. At least one extended run off-leash per day is a must with those canine athletes. Being working breeds, these dogs can spend hours out and about – walking, running, doing obedience work, and playing. One great way to satisfy their need for movement is to teach them trotting next to your bicycle.