AKITA TEMPERAMENT, PAGE 5

Letter INDEPENDENCE

Everyone who has Akitas knows that they are independent dogs. This is definitely an inherited component of temperament and very strong in the breed.  I don't think this is something anyone breeds for. In some ways, Akita would be more appealing if they were a little less independent, but it is so intrinsic to the breed, it shapes many aspects of their behavior.  Without it, we'd have a totally different breed without the reserve and dignity so typical the adult.

I've been around a lot of different dog breeds, but Akitas are one of the only ones I'm sure could be depended on to survive without people, barring encounters with cars about which they seem to have no sense. They are unlikely to do anything reckless or daring; rather, they consider what they are doing and use their experiences to evaluate their actions. In short, the Akita is a survivor, due in large part to his capacity for independent action.

Therefore, leaving the dog outside to fend for itself can make him a poor pet. Akitas need to be around the people in the household to bond with them. Left to their own devices, Akitas will make their own world and rules for living in it.

Mutual respect is the key to working with Akitas. You must be the alpha person, but even so, sooner or later, you'll run up against their independent nature. Pick your battles carefully. If it doesn't really matter, let the dog have his way. He'll be easier to deal with later when something needs to be done your way.

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Letter INHIBITED

Akitas are typically inhibited as opposed to excitable, a set of inherited characteristics that mark the dog's response to stress. His inhibited nature is responsible for the laid-back attitude that makes the Akita a pleasure to have in the house.

It is obvious in puppies as they work through the PAT.  They tend to get calmer and less responsive. Sometimes, inhibited puppies get so stressed out, they fall asleep. With excitable breeds, puppies end up running about the room, jumping on the tester, and sometimes, even barking and whining.

When you start a new training exercise with your dog, whether it's heeling in obedience or stacking for conformation, your dog will demonstrate signs of inhibition. He may work slowly, show little animation, and/or seem very tired. He may yawn repeatedly, which is a sign of stress.

In the worst cases, the very inhibited dog demonstrates a sort of waxy catatonia. We had one one a PAT that literally never moved she was so shut down.  She grew up to be a wonderful, calm, non-adventurous companion.

An excellent example of normal inhibited behavior is the puppy at its first match.  You can position him easily and then he stays like a little statue without a lick of training. From one show to the next, it becomes more like the other puppies, moving about and demonstrating a puppy's typical short attention span.

As the dog gains confidence through exposure, it is less stressed, so it is less inhibited. The more puppies are exposed to manageable stress, the less inhibited their response will be. So, don't get discouraged initially by your dog's response to new situations. He will become more active and enthusiastic when he gets used to them. If you make them more stressful by being disapproving of his hesitancy, you will only make worse. Just go on positively, and your dog's performance will improve.

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Letter PROTECTIVE

Many people depend on their Akitas for personal protection. Until very recently, I had both German Shepherds and Akitas, and I have found many differences in how they respond to strangers in the house and outside the yard. First, the Shepherds (and the other guard-type dogs, such as Rottweilers and Dobermans) are much better area guards, especially if the owner is in a situation where he needs or wants outsiders to be aware that dogs are on the premises. Why? The other breeds bark more. Like the old joke, that's the good and the bad news.

I love being able to have dogs without offending my neighbors. All twelve of my dogs bark less than the one dog that lives next door. For eleven years, two joggers came past our house every morning, and for eleven years, my German Shepherd barked at them while the Akitas just watched, a much more sensible response.

However, now that I have only Akitas, our yardmen have no trouble coming in the backyard so long as my children are not outside. The Shepherds wouldn't let anyone inside the fence, no matter how many times a week they showed up. We have back-door garbage pickup, which means the garbage men have to come inside the gates. Some of my Akitas will allow them in and station themselves in front of the door, watching. Of course, the Shepherds wouldn't let them in at all.

Do I think anyone could harm my daughters with an Akita present? Definitely not! They are less concerned with me and even less with my husband, probably because we are the dominant people. Maybe they figure we can look out for ourselves most of the time. I'm fairly confident that their attitude would change if they sensed we were frightened or suspicious ourselves.

Guarding is a primary duty of the European guard dogs commonly seen in Schutzhund work--Rottweilers, Belgians, Shepherds, and Bouviers. The Akita's basic temperament, shaped for different purposes, gives it a different approach to life. Protectiveness is definitely there but takes a backseat to other facets of the dog's personality.

If our Akita's bark in the night, we know they have a good reason. They know people don't skulk around after dark. On the other hand, if Akitas were great protection dogs, they'd be working in police departments everywhere, and some of us would be in Schutzhund trials. I remember an interview with a policeman who trained his Akita for K-9 work. He said the dog was a good worker but not a breed he would select again for that particular job because the Akita was harder to train.

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Letter TOLERANT OF OTHER DOGS

Low on the list, but still there, is tolerance of other dogs. To some extent, all northern dog are scrappy. Akitas have the dubious distinction of being one of the only ones actually used for dog-fighting. Undoubtedly, Japanese breeders selected for the more aggressive dogs throughout the years the breed was used for fighting, but I'm sure their choice to use the Akita in the first place had much to do with their innate desire to scrap with other dogs. This tendency made them a good choice for the sport of dog-fighting. Breeding programs over the year increased this tendency and kept it in the breed.

Historical data tell us that the native dogs of the Dewa area were also crossed with European dogs to increase their size and, therefore, their fighting ability. These were probably Great Danes (also known as Deutsche Dogges) which were brought to the area by German mining engineers.

Was this version of the Akita a ferocious pit dog? They certainly were pitted against similar dogs. However, Tatsuo Kimura tells me that one of the reasons the Akita breeders shifted directions early in this century was because of a fight between an Akita fighting champion and a Tosa Fighting Dog, a breed resulting from crosses of the Japanese native Tosa Inu with various European imports. Looking at them today, I would guess the imports must have included at least the English Mastiff and probably some other Molossan-type dogs. Anyway, the Akita barely escaped with its life. Its fanciers realized that continuing to pit them with dogs like the Tosa might be the end of the breed. With the rising tide of nationalism in Japan, they began to value the Akita Inu as a native Japanese breed, for itself rather than for what it could do in a dog fight.  Instead of crosses aimed at fighting ability, they began to look for hunting-type dogs to restore the breed to its original type.

If you can enhance a trait by selective breeding, of course, you can also minimize it. Certainly, Akitas today seem less dog-aggressive generally than they were twenty years ago. This alteration is due in part to selection for less aggressive dogs and in part to better training techniques such as early socialization of puppies, continued exposure of adult dogs to strange dogs, and obedience training of young dogs.

I know several people who keep same-sex Akitas together and others that have several mixed-sex ones that run together with no trouble. Sometimes, a pack works because a dominant dog keeps everyone in line, but maybe these Akitas are just that much less dog-aggressive. I've never been daring enough to put my older bitches together, although I suspect a few of them would get along. One, though, can run with any male but cannot be put loose with a female without fighting. She's been dog-aggressive since puppyhood, and I'm sure had she been put in a pack situation, she'd have inflicted a lot of damage on other bitches.

Fence Fighting

Putting dogs in a situation where they can fence-fight builds up a lot of unresolved aggression. It starts as a game and then escalates to serious dislike. To minimize this, I have board fencing between my runs. It is covered on both sides with chain-link to keep it from being eaten. The dogs really don't see each other, and rarely ever bark at dogs on the other sides. Given a chance, though, they will fence-fight through the gates or the outside chain-link.

Dogs that fence fight can cause significant damage to each other.  Worse if you have two together, they can become so enraged that the fight with each other when they can;t get to the dog on the other side of the fence.

Aggressive To Other Dogs?

According to the standard, an Akita may be aggressive towards other dogs; however, it doesn't say that they have to be so. In today's litigious society, the consequences of an attack that damages someone else's dog can be severe indeed. Also, many people do not understand
that a dog that is aggressive towards another dog is not necessarily aggressive to people. Looking at a snarling, bristling Akita doesn't inspire a lot of confidence about the breed.

I've heard from people who bought dogs as pets, listened to all that the breeder told them about this less desirable aspect of Akita temperament and failed utterly to understand what it really meant until their darling scooped up the neighbors peekapoo and put it in the hospital with one bite.  Fence fighting with the neighbor's dog can result in an attack should your dog ever get into his yard or his into yours!  Hot wires, extra fencing, or just vigilance on your part will help avoid this kind of disaster.

Mostly, your dog has to be socialized to accept strange dogs at class, in the street, or wherever you might go with him. For some dogs with strong tendencies toward dog aggression, one class at 12 weeks won't be enough; you have to keep it up for most of his life.  These tendencies also may not appear until the dog goes through puberty.  Misbehavior here should be firmly corrected because the hormonal surges your dog is undergoing will make him harder to deal with and can set up bad habits that last a lifetime.  Correctly managed, the dog will settle down when his testosterone does.

If you want to compete with an Akita, regardless of the venue, you must have a dog that can be trusted around other dogs. A dog that can't be trusted to leave other animals alone on neutral ground is a real liability. In obedience and agility, the dog works off-leash, so he has to be reliable. At a dog show, he must negotiate crowded aisles and stand close together in crowded rings.

The demands of such activities have shaped our selection for less dog-aggression in our Akitas, and I think this is perfectly acceptable and somewhat desirable. Nonetheless, you should remember that the most benign Akita can conceive a sudden and violent dislike for another Akita. In that case, you'll have to avoid that dog like the plague because if your's has a chance, he'll get in a fight. That may be only dog that ever inspires such antipathy, but both dogs will remember each other and renew hostilities any time they can. It's part of what makes an Akita an Akita!

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Letter LOYALTY

After I started this series, I realized that I had left loyalty off my list of temperament components. This is a hallmark of Akita character, and the only excuse I can offer for overlooking it is that it so much an intrinsic part of Akita nature that I take it for granted.

I don't think I've ever been around an Akita didn't have it. Is it an inherited trait? Since some breeds to not have a lot of personal loyalty to any one person or group, I suspect it is, and it is vital that we keep it in the breed.

I think their sense of loyalty makes Akitas accepting of all the household inhabitants, including cats, kids, other adults, and livestock. It allows them to form firm friendships with other people--your friends, trainers, handlers, neighbors--and to never forget them. Akitas I raised and sold as puppies have greeted me enthusiastically years later. Dogs that belong to friends I travel with greet me enthusiastically every time I see them, even though months or even years may pass between meetings.  Akitas never forget a friend.

The down side is that they never forget people the don't like either.  Once, my brother Steve had a picnic.  To keep him from being a pest, Scotty and Amy were in their crates.  Rusty, Steve's brother-in-law, set his plate with two hot dogs on top of Scotty's crate and went off to get something to drink.  I guess Scotty thought they were his, because when Rusty picked them up and ate them, Scotty barked at him.  Since then, Scotty has never liked Rusty despite Rusty's overtures to redress the wrong.  Akitas aren't very forgiving either.

To some extent, their sense of loyalty is the fount from which other traits arise. Without it, Akitas would not be protective of their friends. Given their sense of independence, the Akita's working ability probably finds its roots in loyalty. Can you imagine an Akita that is not loyal to its family and friends? I can't; it is such a pervasive part of the breed that we just accept its presence.  Loosing it would make a profoundly different dog.

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Letter CONCLUSION

I hope this series on temperament has made everyone breeding Akitas think about what you want in a dog and how to go about getting it through good breeding choices. Those of you who are just owners or who are considering this breed should take note of the areas where problems commonly occur.

This does not mean that your dog will manifest these behaviors.  It means that if he has problems, they are likely to be in these areas. Please watch for signs that you might be having trouble, because if you catch this at the beginning, you'll probably be able to either change the dog's or your behavior and stop a molehill from becoming a mountain.

I don't mind answering questions when I have time. And I certainly welcome your observations.  You can email me or call me (713/465-9729, this is CST, not between 8-10 pm., please).

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