Letter Since 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." 

n 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 the case.

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.

ites can be classified from I to V based on the number and the severity.  They are:

    1. One bite that barely or does not break the skin although bruising may occur
    2. One bite that breaks the skin, causing damage and bruising.  It may require medical treatment.
    3. Multiple bites that cause serious damage and bruising.  Crushing injury may cause nerve damage and extensive bruising in addition to punctures and tearing.
    4. An attack with multiple bites that cause extensive injuries that stops short of death.
    5. 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. 

Letter So 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 see you! 

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.

ssues 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.

Letter Please 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. 

Next Page, Part II

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