The American Akita is a Spitz dog known for their intelligence, independence, and enduring loyalty to their families. Sometimes called the “Akita Inu,” they originate from Japan and have been around as early as 500 BC when they were first bred as hunting dogs. After World War II, the Akita gained popularity among American servicemen in Japan, who later took the dogs home to their families. Akitas steadily grew in popularity in the U.S. until the American Akita Club was founded in 1956, and the AKC officially recognized the breed in 1971.
“This is a great dog for someone who desires a loyal, dedicated canine partner to enjoy life and explore with,” says Alexis Spalding, an Akita breeder and the owner of Morrow Akitas.
Like all breeds, Akitas also come with their own set of challenges. But if you think you’re up for the task, read on to learn all about the Akita and discover if they’re the right dog for you.
- Origin: Japan
- Weight: 70-130 pounds
- Activity level:
- Barking/howling level:
- Good with dogs: yes
- Good with kids: yes
- Good with cats:
- Grooming level:
- Training level:
Akita Breed Standards & Appearance
According to the Akita Club of America standards, the American Akita is a large and sturdy dog with heavy bones. They have a fluffy double coat designed to endure freezing temperatures in the mountains of Northern Japan, which helps them look like giant, fluffy bears. They also sport a curled tail like the Shiba Inu, another Japanese breed.
The American Akita’s thick coat can come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. In fact, they’re one of the only breeds that can be any color except liver or merle. This massive variety of coat colors and patterns helps set them apart from Japanese Akitas, which can only be red, white, or brindle.
There’s actually a historical reason behind this distinction. Many of the Akita dogs that first came to America featured colors that weren’t acceptable by Japanese breed standards, explains Francee Hamblet, an Akita breeder with 40 years of experience and co-owner of Minda Akitas.
American Akitas are also larger and heavier than Japanese Akitas, which are generally more angular and fox-like.
Akita Breed History
American and Japanese Akitas are both descendants of dogs bred by the Matagi, a group of traditional Japanese hunters. “Matagi-inu” dogs helped hunt deer, boar, and even bears in Northern Japanese mountains.
Unfortunately, Akitas were used in dog fighting during the late 19th and early 20th centuries until the Japanese government outlawed the practice. Some people even cross-bred them with Western dogs to increase their size, like the St. Bernard, Great Dane, and Bull Mastiff. In the late 1920s, groups like the Akita Dog Preservation Society and Japanese Dog Preservation Society sought to restore the Akita by cross-breeding them with other Japanese dogs.
Today, Akitas are one of seven dog breeds dedicated as national treasures in Japan. They’re symbols of loyalty and good health and hold a spiritual significance to many people.
Akita Temperament & Personality
American Akitas are intensely loyal, devoted to their families, and incredibly intelligent dogs who can think for themselves. Hamblet says Akitas also often think outside the box and recognize things other dogs don’t. For that reason, they can make good therapy dogs to provide emotional support.
However, Akitas may be wary of strangers, which makes them natural guard dogs. As a general rule, they aren’t vocal but will bark when they want to alert. They sport a strong prey drive due to their background as hunting dogs and can be intolerant of other dogs of the same sex. In fact, many breeders won’t place an Akita in a household that already has a dog of the same sex.
Akita Training & Socialization
Because of the Akita’s natural uncertainty for other dogs, animals, and strangers, it’s important to start training and socializing this breed early on. “Someone with a firm sense of training is best for an Akita,” says Casey Beauvais, breeder at Meraki Akitas. “This is a breed that will walk all over you if you allow them.” Because of this, Akitas tend to do best with experienced pet parents.
In general, you should expose an Akita puppy to various new sights and sounds so they learn how to remain neutral and non-reactive. “Be around other dogs, people, and children,” Beauvis explains. “But all in a controlled environment that is good for the puppy.”
Akitas usually do well with one-on-one training sessions. But Spalding says attending group classes with your Akita could also help them learn how to manage distractions and other dogs.
However, don’t expect your Akita to master obedience after a few training sessions. They can be stubborn and may not perform commands if they don’t feel like it. Also, Hamblet says pet parents shouldn’t expect their Akita to play fetch with them. After all: Why should they run and get the ball if you’re going to throw it away again?
Ideal Lifestyle for an Akita
As loyal guardians, Akitas thrive as “velcro dogs” and want to be close to you all the time. Because of this, they don’t do well alone in the yard or in a crate for long hours. They generally need a pet parent who has a lot of time to spend with them every day. But, if you want to hang out at places where other dogs run off leash — like the dog park or the beach — the Akita may not make the best companion for you.
A well-bred, well-trained Akita should be non-reactive, but Spalding says they aren’t a good breed for someone who wants their dog to be social around dogs, people, or animals that aren’t in their inner circle. “Akitas are a family-oriented breed in that they form close bonds with their immediate family and those that are in their circle,” she explains.
For example, Akitas can learn to recognize small animals, like cats, as part of the pack if they’re raised together. Just don’t expect that sentiment to extend to your neighbor’s cat.
They can also be good with children, but they may have a low tolerance for acts like tugging, pulling, or yelling. So, it’s a good idea to supervise them with kids under 12. An Akita can also live with dogs of the opposite sex but generally shouldn’t share a house with dogs of the same sex. That said, some Akitas may prefer to be the top dog in your house — and your heart.
Akita Grooming Needs
Most of the time, Hamblet says, Akitas have very low-maintenance coats. They don’t shed throughout the year. But twice per year, they “blow out their coats.” When that happens, get ready to experience a fur-nado unlike any other.
Beauvais says it’s easiest to manage the fur fallout by bathing your dog, blow drying them, then brushing out their coat. However, she adds that Akitas are generally clean dogs and don’t need baths during the non-shedding season.
Even if they aren’t shedding, Beauvais says it’s a good idea to brush them regularly since it can help them get used to the grooming process. Like all dogs, Akitas should also get regular nail trims. Beauvais suggests using a Dremmel tool to get the job done.
The Akita is generally a healthy breed with strong genetics, which means they’re less likely to develop some of the health problems that plague other breeds, says Dr. Sarah Ochoa, a veterinarian and co-founder of How to Pets.
That said, Dr. Ochoa says there are a few health issues that Akitas may be more prone to, such as the following.
- Hip Dysplasia: According to test results on 18,272 Akitas from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), 13.5% of the Akitas involved had hip dysplasia.
- Gastric Dilatation/Bloat: A 2010 study on pedigree dogs in the UK found that Akitas were one of the top 10 breeds with a higher risk of gastric dilatation volvulus, or “bloat,” a potentially life-threatening condition that causes the stomach to enlarge. In the study, 3.5% of Akitas involved experienced bloat.
- Thyroid Issues: Dr. Ochoa says that American Akitas may have a higher prevalence of hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones and can cause weight gain, low energy, or skin problems. The OFA tested 1,223 Akitas and found that 69 (5.6%) experienced thyroid issues.
- Eye problems: Akitas may be prone to cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy, and entropion, a condition where the eyelids fold inward, Dr. Ochoa explains. Of 2,022 Akitas tested by the OFA, 60 (3%) had some form of eye issue.
- Cancer: “American Akitas are also at a higher risk for certain types of cancer, including lymphoma and osteosarcoma,” says Dr. Ochoa.
Every dog may need different treatments to manage these conditions, so it’s tough to predict exactly how much they’ll cost over an Akita’s lifetime. But, in general, it’s best to choose puppies from reputable breeders who screen dogs for health conditions, so you can minimize your dog’s risk of inheriting a potential issue.
Akita Diet & Exercise Requirements
Though Akitas are large dogs, they aren’t very active. In fact, Hamblet says Akitas would be more content to watch soap operas than accompany you on a 10-mile hike. So, most Akitas will be happy with daily walks, training sessions, and playtime. That said, every dog is different, and some Akitas may enjoy more vigorous or mentally stimulating activities, like dog sports.
As far as food goes, Dr. Ochoa says Akitas generally require a diet that’s higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates. Combined with regular exercise, a healthy diet can help an Akita live a long lifespan full of devotion.
Famous or Notable Akitas
The Akita’s loyalty has endured through the ages, but you may have heard of the breed thanks to these remarkable pups.
Hachiko was a Japanese dog who accompanied his pet parent, professor Hidesaburō Ueno, to the Shibuya train station every day. He also waited at the station for Ueno to return home. In 1925, Ueno died at work and never made the return trip. But Hachiko continued to visit the train station daily to wait for Ueno for the next nine years until he also died in 1935. Hachiko later became an icon in Japan for his enduring loyalty. And today, dog lovers across the globe make pilgrimages to see his statue at Shibuya Station.
Helen Keller’s Akitas
Hachiko’s tale caught the attention of Helen Keller, who mentioned that she’d like to have an Akita on a trip to Japan in 1937. A few months later, the Japanese Foreign Minister gave her an Akita named “Kamikaze-go.”
Keller later wrote that “if ever there was an angel in fur, it was Kamikaze.” Unfortunately, he died of canine distemper a short time later. But in 1938, the Japanese government gifted Keller his older brother, “Kenzen-go.” These two dogs were likely the first Akitas to set foot on American soil, making Keller the person who formally introduced the breed to the United States.
Breeds Like Akitas
If you’ve decided that an Akita isn’t quite right for you, another dog breed might be better for your lifestyle. Beauvais says it’s tough to make specific recommendations for different breeds since that depends on why you feel like an Akita isn’t the right fit for you.
But, in general, the following breeds could be a good place to start your search.
- Japanese Akita: According to Spalding, the Japanese Akita has a slightly different temperament from their American counterparts. She says they may be more social around people and other dogs, though they might also be more independent.
- Shiba Inu: Another Japanese hunting breed, Shiba Inus sport an aloof temperament and fox-like good looks. But they’re smaller than Akitas. In fact, “shiba” even means “small” in Japanese.
- Siberian Husky: Huskies feature a similar look to the Akita with their fluffy coat and curled tails. Like Akitas, they can be independent, but they may be more outgoing and active.
Where to Find an Akita Inu
If you think you’re a good candidate to become an Akita pet parent, choosing the right breeder is key. Reputable breeders usually screen prospective dog parents for their health and temperament before breeding them together. This ensures that puppies are healthy and meet the breed standards. “They can also typically assess which puppies may be more suitable for busy homes with children and other animals and which are better in homes without those,” Spalding says.
Look for breeders associated with local Akita clubs or the Akita Club of America and ask to see an AKC registration for both parents. Akitas are frequently surrendered to shelters. So, if you’d prefer to adopt a dog in need, The Akita Club of America has a non-profit rescue service dedicated to re-homing Akitas across the country.
Akitas aren’t for everyone. But if you’re an experienced pet parent who wants a loyal protector and companion, an Akita could become your next best friend for life.