The Akita—a large, dignified dog breed—has roots in Japan, where it is considered a national treasure. Originally trained to hunt wild boar and even bears in the mountains, the muscular Akita is brave and determined. While he’s not especially common in the United States, the Akita quickly illustrates to those who choose to adopt him that he makes an excellent guard dog, as well as a loyal family companion when well trained.
Beneath the Akita’s dignified demeanor is a playful and affectionate side reserved for his owners. “When you look at it, it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, how cute, how fluffy, it’s so quiet,’” says Baruch Caballero, DVM, an emergency veterinarian Veterinary Specialty Center in Buffalo Grove, Ill. “But they are so protective and they’re so loyal to their master or family members. If someone gets an Akita, it definitely needs to be a puppy so they can train them and that dog can get used to the family.”
The Akita puppy, with his fuzzy coat, rounded frame, and disproportionately enormous paws, invites plenty of “awws,” but he grows into a formidable adult. “They’re a pretty sturdy breed, that’s for sure,” Caballero says. The height of an American Akita ranges from 24 to 28 inches at the shoulder, and the breed can weigh between 70 and 130 pounds. He has a massive head with a broad muzzle, pointy ears, and small, deep-set brown eyes. His thick double coat, which sheds minimally and needs regular brushing, can be any color, including white, brindle, or pinto, with well-defined markings across his burly body. The Akita’s distinctive tail raises over his back in a fluffy curl.
The Japanese Akita, known as the Akita Inu, looks similar to the American Akita, but tends to be more petite. Another difference between them is that the American Akita can be any color, while the Japanese is usually red, brindle, or white. While the Japanese Akita is sometimes confused with the Shiba Inu in terms of appearance, it’s easy to tell them apart in terms of adult size: the Akita is large, while the Shiba Inu is small.
Large and in charge—that’s the Akita. “It’s a working breed, but it was bred to actually hunt and protect houses back in the day in Japan,” Caballero says. “So that’s in their breed: the protecting, the guarding.”
He adds that the Akita can be an excellent family dog, if trained early and consistently. The Akita can get along well with familiar children, preferring to be around his humans as much as possible. However, he’s also territorial and tends to be aloof toward strangers. Many Akita behave aggressively towards other dogs, so they tend to make good “only” pets, unless they’re introduced to other household companions—including dogs and cats—as puppies, and even then, only under close supervision.
With their thick coats and hardy history, Akitas love spending time outside, and a fenced yard is the ideal diversion so they can do what they were bred to do: protect the home. “If they’re outside in the yard, what you’ll see is they’ll sniff around and then find a spot and lay down and guard,” Caballero says. “They’re not tongue-out, waiting for you to throw the ball.”
Akitas live for cold weather, and when it comes, they’ll zoom around in the snow (they even have slightly webbed toes that help them walk on snowy drifts), eating it and rolling around to their hearts’ content.
Indoors, they’re happy to follow their owner from room to room, or watch them from the floor. The Akita has a strong prey drive and a tendency to tussle with other dogs (particularly those of the same sex), so he should always be on-leash and under watchful eyes when other animals are around. This breed is relatively quiet, and barking usually isn’t an issue unless the dog is alerting its family to a visitor or a potential threat.
The Akita has a reputation for being fairly odorless and easy to housebreak. However, if he’s spending a lot of time outside his coat can get dirty, and it will need to be brushed and groomed frequently. “A clean Akita doesn’t smell. But an Akita that lives outside is going to smell,” Caballero says. “That’s why grooming them is important.” The Akita’s thick coat sheds minimally throughout the year until warm weather hits, and then—look out! The once-a-year shedding is sure to cover the entire house. Regular nail trimming and teeth brushing are also important to an Akita’s health.
This breed requires moderate exercise, and if he’s not getting that from guarding the yard, a daily jog or long walk will suffice. “Just like in humans, a walk outside is mentally calming and relaxes them and exercises them,” Caballero says. “This breed can gain weight pretty quickly if they’re pretty sedentary. If they’re at home not doing much, getting treats, laying around? They’re going to get overweight.”
Training should start early and happen frequently—calmness and consistency is key—because these fluffy puppies grow into large, strong, independent-minded adults that will go to great lengths to protect their owner. “The main thing with this breed is you’re going to have to be super strict in training it as a puppy,” Caballero says. “Because otherwise their instincts will take over.”
The Akita is also prone to gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) or bloat, which is a life-threatening emergency that occurs when the dog’s stomach twists and cuts off blood supply. Caballero recommends Akita puppy owners consider a surgery called gastropexy, where the side of the stomach is tacked to the abdomen wall so it can’t flip. “If I get one of those breeds, that would be the first thing I would do to prevent them from twisting the stomach,” he says. “Because [if your dog experiences GDV] you go to the ER and you either spend $8,000 to $10,000 in surgery, or you have to put your dog to sleep.”
Akita owners should talk to their veterinarians about preventive options for health risks their own dogs may face.
The Akita is named for the Akita prefecture in Japan, where his lineage can be traced back to the 17th century. According to the American Kennel Club, the breed got its start when an exiled nobleman—sent there as punishment by Japan’s emperor—encouraged the people of Akita to breed a sizable dog for hunting. The resulting breed is a strong, hard-working dog unafraid to hunt even threatening animals such as bears, as well as deer and wild boar.
The Akita came to be regarded for its fierce loyalty, but as hunting became less common, the breed transitioned into the role of loveable family companion with its dignified demeanor, protective instincts, and selective affection. The Akita first came to the United States after World War II, when returning American soldiers brought them from overseas.
- In Japan, the Akita is so revered that the family of a newborn child is often presented with a statue of an Akita, which symbolizes health, happiness, and long life.
- In the Akita prefecture of Japan, where the dog originated, visitors can meet Akita dogs at a number of different businesses, including the Akita Dog Museum, the Akita Dog Visitor Center, the Ani Ski Resort, Furusawa Hot Springs, and the Royal Hotel Odate.
- Helen Keller fell in love with this breed after reading the story of famous Akita Hachiko, who faithfully waited nearly 10 years at a train station for his owner’s return, unaware the owner had—in fact—passed away. When Keller traveled in Japan in the 1930s to teach, she mentioned her interest in adopting one of these faithful dogs, and the Japanese government took her request to heart; when Keller returned to the United States, she was accompanied by an Akita.
- Perhaps the most famous Akita in recent years is LEGO Akita Minifigure, which is a part of the NINJAGO series.