the series on Akita Temperament appeared in Akita Dog and Akita
World, I have gotten a lot of favorable feedback from breeders
and Akita owners. I’ve also had calls and emails from people who
have problems with their dogs; so many that I decided I needed to brush
up my training skills. I’ve attended several training seminars,
a couple of seminars on dealing with aggressive dogs, and completely
revamped my training methods.
Most of the people that I talk to about their dogs don't live anywhere
near me, so my ability to work with them has been limited. I can explain
some of the things that motivate the dog and suggest changes in their
interactions with him to improve the situation. If possible, I refer
them to a trainer and recommend books and videos as well as Internet
sites with information.
Unfortunately, a significant number of these calls come far too late.
The dog has passed the point of no return, which is when its potential
for harm poses significant risk to people. Where children and/or innocent
bystanders are likely to be targets for the dog, euthanasia is the only
course open to the owner.
Despite many years of dealing with people and their dogs, I continue
to be amazed at the range of aggressive behaviors on the dog's part
that their owners can justify as being normal, usual, reasonable, and/or
acceptable behavior from a dog. Even more discouraging are those who
report that conversations with the breeder about the dog's actions reassured
them that "Akitas are just like that."
case you have any doubt, then, let me categorically state here that
displays of aggressive or threatening behavior are not only not typical
of the Akita, they are not normal and are just not acceptable. DOGS
SHOULD NEVER GROWL, SNARL, SNAP AT OR BITE MEMBERS OF THEIR FAMILY,
FRIENDS, OR NON-THREATENING STRANGERS. The one exception would be when
the dog responds appropriately to a legitimate threat, which is rarely
Dogs have quite a repertoire of aggressive expressions that stop far
short of biting. Unless you learn to recognize them, you cannot interrupt
the aggressive cycle, which begins with very subtle warnings. These
are messages the dog is sending you, telling you something is very wrong.
If you don't pay attention, it's not the dog's fault. It is yours, but
the dog may likely end up paying for your inattention with his life.
When the subtlest warnings are not effective, to make his point, the
dog is forced to use one that is stronger. You'd think that a bite
would make the point, but many owners do not even recognize a full-fledged
one as a sign of big trouble on the horizon.
can be classified from I to V based on the number and the severity.
- One bite that barely or does not break the skin although bruising
- One bite that breaks the skin, causing damage and bruising. It
may require medical treatment.
- Multiple bites that cause serious damage and bruising. Crushing
injury may cause nerve damage and extensive bruising in addition
to punctures and tearing.
- An attack with multiple bites that cause extensive injuries that
stops short of death.
- An attack that is intended to kill the victim.
Dogs that do bite seem to move through a progression beginning with
a Class I bite. Most are euthanized after delivering a Class III.
Dogs bite for any number of reasons. Sometimes behavior modification
and lifestyle changes can remove these and remedy the problems. Some
dogs have unstable, aggressive temperaments that make them unsuitable
for the vast majority of pet owners.
Once your dog has progressed to the biting stage, even getting help
from professional trainers can be difficult to impossible. Many don't
want to deal with the personal risk or the risk to others because no
one can guarantee success. Even those who will take one on may refuse
a dog that has a Class III history. In reality, the best hope for a
dog that has some aggressive tendencies is to deal with them at the
pre-bite stage; otherwise, the dog is almost always a lost cause.
Regardless of why he bites, a dog that has done so once will be much
more likely to do so again and the force and number of the bites will
increase with each successive incident. Not at all uncommon is a scenario
where the dog, which has spent several years growling and snarling without
ever biting, delivers a Class I bite one day and then several more of
increasing severity within a few months. Once bite inhibition has been
broached, it seems to deteriorate rapidly.
what are aggressive signals aside from biting? Many dogs begin by guarding
some object or their food. They stand with their necks over it, tuck
their heads down protectively, and stiffen slightly when approached.
The dog may alternate between looking at the object and making eye contact.
A dog that resists something like going in or out of a room or crate
may stiffen and make eye contact with you.
Signs that the dog is more than just unhappy are: stiffened or rigid
body standing on tiptoes; slightly raised hackles, direct eye contact
(this isn't a dog looking at you to see what you want but a flat-eyed
stare); lifted lip showing teeth; vocalizations such as barks, grumbles,
growls. A dog expressing aggression may also wag his tail, but this
is a very different message from friendly wagging. It just means he's
happy to think about biting you, not that he's talking and happy to
Now, if you've never taught your dog to give you back something he's
playing with or eating, when he gets hold of a big, juicy bone for the
first time, you shouldn't be shocked if he doesn't want to give it up.
A growl here doesn't mean your dog is a danger to all and sundry. It
does mean you're not as alpha as you might think. You need to teach
your dog that giving up something doesn't mean he'll be deprived. An
accompanying snap might mean he's not so bite inhibited as you'd like
either, which might call for some additional work.
for Akitas are often centered on pack hierarchy and sociability. Assertive
behavior that may tip the balance over into aggression is directed most
often at children, especially those outside the family, and next most
at people outside the dog's immediate family. Most incidents occur
in a venue in which the dog feels at home. This may actually be the
home or may be the car, a motor home, or grooming area at a show.
It's important for you to understand that the victim of the aggression
may not be the cause. A classic example of this is the dog that dislikes
showing who finds himself in the ring weekend after weekend. This dog
may be fine in a family situation or even in most social settings outside
the home, but cannot tolerate the grind of serious showing.
Some warning signs usually appear before the actual bite, although
they are almost never taken seriously. Finally, he bites the judge
or, less commonly, the handler and is disqualified from showing. Putting
the dog in what becomes for him an intolerable situation is the cause
for the aggression; the judge or handler is a convenient target for
the dog's frustration because he is a stranger.
Many Akitas find themselves without adequate leadership. Truly alpha
dogs, as I've said before, are not bullies. For the right people, they
can be a real pleasure to live with, and the right people might be those
who understand he's the leader or those strong enough to be his. Most
dogs aren't alpha, though, and are just not mentally equipped for the
job. When they are propelled into that role, they handle it poorly,
a situation that is not uncommon in Akitas.
Problems with these dogs arise when someone below them on the totem
pole transgresses proper doggy etiquette. They may take food away before
the dog is finished, try to move him from a place he prefers to be,
or interfere with what he considers his duties.
Just as with people, once a dog is entrenched in the alpha role, even
if it makes his life miserable, he's unlikely to accept a demotion willingly.
Not many CEO's leave their companies to become janitors! The trick
with these dogs is to move them back to their proper positions in the
pack without getting into a confrontation from which the dog cannot
back down and before they become so comfortable with their role they
cannot give it up.
remember that all these cases deal with aggression towards people and
not dogs. I think aggression towards people and aggression towards
other dogs are two different kettle of fish, although some overlap may
exist. Our standard does say that Akitas are aggressive towards other
dogs, but I think it is there as a warning to judges and exhibitors.
Certainly no one should breed for dog aggression, and it is probably
the single-most objectionable trait in our dogs. That dog-aggression
can be present to some degree in any Akitas is something of which we
must be aware. Constant socialization and training are among the best
ways to move away from it. You must keep in mind, however, that when
the chips are down, heredity can overwhelm even the best training.