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Buying An Akita
By Sherry E Wallis
Act In Haste, Repent At Leisure
Whether you're buying a new television or a new car, you're hardly likely to go to the first dealer you find and take the first one you see. Most people, and you're probably no exception, do some research to see which brands and models they want and then shop to find not only the best buy but the best support.
If you wouldn't by a computer without careful research and shopping, why wouldn't you do the same thing when purchasing a dog? After all, ten years from now, that computer will have been replaced at least once, and your dog will probably still be with you. Somehow, when it comes to buying a pet, many people act on impluse, making a spur-of-the-moment decision. And sometimes, even those with the steeliest resolve to make a considered purchase fall victim to emotions.
After almost forty years of breeding, buying, selling, training, and rescuing dogs, I've learned a lot about this process. So, I'm outlining here the things you should think about before you go looking, the who, what, where, and how of buying dogs. Certainly, you can get a wonderful companion animal without paying a whit of attention to any of this, but you'll be more likely to get what you want if you do. And, if bad things happen, you'll have someone you trust to help you deal with problems.
What Kind of Dog?
If you're reading this, you're probably thinking about adding an Akita to your household. We think they're wonderful dogs, but they're certainly not for everybody. In fact, no breed of dog is. So, how do you decide on a breed?
Remember, you are adding a dog to your household, and you'll need to consider not only what suits you but what suits all your family. Look at your combined lifestyle and personalities and then look at the dog breeds you're considering.
You may love the look or personality of a certain breed, but if it doesn't suit your living conditions or your family circumstances, you're setting yourself up for failure. This can be traumatic for everyone in your family and fatal for the dog.
Because most dogs live as companion animals now, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that until modern times, all breeds of dogs had some kind of job. In fact, that's why dogs have so much genetic variability. People selected for certain physical, mental, and instictive traits that suited the dog's job.
So, once you know the job description, you have some insight into the characteristics that make a good "employee." For instance, duck hunters don't want a dog who loses interest after two or three retrieves. Likewise, a shepherd has no use for a herding dog that has to take a midday nap or who wanders off to catch squirrels.
Dogs in the sporting and herding group, then, are most often high-energy dogs that can be relied on to do the same task repeatedly. Think of them as the telephone operators of dogdom. Hunting dogs, members of the hound and terrier groups, on the other hand, made their living by anticipating and pursuing prey. They can't always do the same thing; they have to be flexible and resourceful.
The ancestors of the modern Akita were used to hunt large game and to act as guardians. As you might expect then, most Akitas have a high prey drive. While they may tolerate your cat or your parrots--after all they are yours and the dog may feel an obligation to e protective--Akitas can easily regard these animals as prey.
So if you raise show rabbits or chickens or go to the bayou every afternoon with your dogs to feed the racoons, you probably should look for a breed that isn't predisposed to kill critters. By the same token, if you need everyone to know you have a protective dog on site, Akitas might not be your best choice. Normally, they're very quiet and seldom advertise their presence in your yard or house to one and all. A more territorial guard would fit your circumstances better.
The Information section of this website has a lot of information about the Akita's temperament, so there's no need to repeat it here. Just remember that this breed is very independent, large, reserved, quiet,and calm and needs owners whose authority it respects. If you've decided that the breed suits you in priniciple, you should try to determine if it does in actuality.
Contact some owners in your area and see if your family can visit and talk to them about Akitas. If you don't know anyone, contact your Akita Club of America regional representative or an ACA office. The American Kennel Club has contact information for all kennel and individual breed clubs. They may also be able to direct you to breeders and owners in your vicinity that help you with your decision.
THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT AKITAS
Size matters--Akita puppies are adorable, but no matter how cute and cuddly they are, they'll grow up, and photographs don't really tell the story. Although there's a range of size in the breed from the smallest females to the largest males, Akitas are big dogs. Females should be at least 23 inches tall at the shoulder (where the neck meets the back); males, 25 inches. Mature females are usually taller, probably averaging about 25-1/2 inches and weighing about 85 lbs. Males are usually around 26-27 inches and weigh somewhere around 100.
How do you go about finding a puppy? Perhaps an older dog would suit you better. Are you interest in exhibition in dog shows, obedience trials or agility? What questions should you ask about dogs offered for sale and about those selling them? To help you in your search, we have enclosed a list of our members all of whom subscribe to the Akita Club of America Code of Ethics as a condition of membership. This code outlines acceptable standards of behavior for responsible breeders and owners of Akitas. Our adherence to it underscores our commitment to the welfare of the breed. Of course, our members are not the only Akita breeders in this area. In fact, we probably represent only a small portion of them. None of us have puppies available all the time, and sometimes none of us have puppies available. We often know of ethical, responsible breeders whom we can recommend. To help you further, we have a questionnaire for you to take with you when you are looking at puppies. We urge you to review at least three litters and use the completed questionnaires to compare and make your selections. Sometimes people want a dog but don't have the time or energy to spend working with a puppy. If you fall into this category, consider obtaining an older puppy or adult dog. Occasionally a promising puppy doesn't quite turn out to be the show quality or adult dogs need a new home. Many of these are beloved family pets who must be placed because of a divorce in the family or relocation to an area where housing that allows large dogs is impossible to find or too expensive. Pets unfortunate enough to have no breeder to accept them back, end up in Akita Rescue or at animal shelters. We often know of dogs awaiting adoption, so if this options appeals to you, we may be able to help. We urge you to review our Rescue section for further information on adopting an Akita. Back to Top Companion vs. Show Puppies Most people who contact our members about Akita puppies tell us they are interested in a "pet" rather than a "show" dog, but what does that really mean? Does it mean that buyers are not interested in dog shows? Does it mean they expect a less expensive puppy? Does it mean that they just want an Akita, and that any Akita will do? Actually, most show dogs spend only a small portion of their lives at dog shows. The rest they spend at home as their owner's pets. This is why show breeders are just as interested in producing quality pets as they are in producing show winners. The same qualities that make a good pet must be evident in the show dog: excellent temperament, intelligence, and good health. Every Akita that is shown is also someone's companion. Like you, they were drawn to the breed because of something in its appearance or personality that is unique to the breed. In fact, each breed has a unique set of characteristics that make it different from other breeds that is described in a "breed standard." This standard, written by the national breed club and adopted by the AKC, describes an ideal specimen of the breed, its general appearance, how it should move, preferred sizes and colors and other aspects of breed character. If a breeder is breeding purebred dogs, the resulting puppies should grow up to be as close to the breed standard as possible. The best way to accomplish this is to start with parents that are good representatives of the breed. A dog that has achieved a championship or is very close to obtaining one has had his quality certified by several different judges who have no vested interest in that dog. Buying from a breeder with show dogs is important to you because it helps ensure that your puppy will look like and act like an Akita. Breeding dogs without regard to how closely they resemble the standard is not "pet" breeding, it is poor breeding. Dogs produced in this manner will probably fall far short of what you expect an Akita to be. If you have fallen in love with the Akita, you want a dog that looks, acts, and sounds like an Akita; otherwise, you'd adopt a mixed breed! Many people tell us they want a "show quality" puppy even though they have no intention of showing. They are afraid that if they don't buy a "show" puppy, they will end up with a dog of inferior quality. Assuming that you find a litter of puppies whose parents look like the standard describes, what quality are the puppies? How do you tell? You should know that only an infinitesimal number of litters have all the puppies finish championships. The fact is that so few dogs finish their championships in comparison with the numbers shown, that no legitimate breeder would squander a puppy with championship potential on a buyer who does not guarantee its being shown. However, in a breeding of quality dogs, the differences between the show quality puppy and the companion puppy are usually quite subtle and probably be of little or no concern to you. For instance, regardless of a male's merit, he must have two descended testicles to compete at a dog show. If neither or only one testicle can be detected in the scrotum, the dog cannot be shown. Of course, you should be informed of this condition because undescended testicles need to be removed for the dog's health and well being, but it has little bearing on his ability to be an excellent companion! The Akita standard calls for a dog with "much substance and heavy bone," has a minimum size requirement (23 inches in females, 25 in males) as well as a preferred range of sizes. It faults severely fine boned or rangy dogs. The dog's legs should provide straight columns of support, and his feet should point forward rather than inward or outward. He should have dark, triangular eyes, a black nose (except in whites); and have brisk, powerful movement. Slight imperfections in any of these areas depending on the degree and number make the difference between a quality pet and a show dog. In litters of poorly bred Akitas, the parents and their offspring may diverge significantly from the breed standard's description of appearance. This might not affect a dog's ability to be a good pet, but it does affect how much it looks like an Akita. Back to Top Show Puppies The breeder of your dog is especially important if you are buying a show puppy. Unless you are experienced in selecting young stock and have more than a passing acquaintance with the breed standard, you will have to rely on his experience and track record. Here, the quality of the parents is doubly important, and you should look for dogs that are or are close to being champions. Also important is the producing record of the dogs. Have puppies from other litters been show? How have they fared? The breeder should have a written contract which clearly states the terms of the sale and any guarantee. Discuss exactly what that breeder means by "show" quality and what remedies are available should the puppy not turn out. Don't be intimidated by a detailed contract. Nothing is worse than trying to make up the rules after a problem occurs. Discuss also the various puppies in the litter and their qualities so that you feel comfortable with your final decision. Back to Top Health Certificates Most Akitas are very healthy dogs whose only visits to the veterinarian are for annual checkups and vaccinations. They are not plagued by lots of niggling little illnesses. Instead, when an individual Akita has a health problem, it is usually a severe one. The breed has some very serious genetic health problems, and unless you use caution, you could by a genetic time bomb. Hips - Most dog breeds have some incidence of hip dysplasia, and Akitas are no exception. This disease results from a malformation of the ball-and-socket joint of the hip. Severely affected dogs may limp at an early age. Others may have difficulty jumping or rising from a prone position, and still others may show no symptoms. Eventually, though, all will develop arthritis in the joint which will affect their mobility and will cause some degree of pain. Evaluation of hip x-rays by a qualified veterinarian is the only way to diagnose the disease. No once can absolutely guarantee that a puppy won't develop hip dysplasia. However, they can minimize the chances of it occurring by breeding only normal parents. If the prospective puppy's parents come from litters where most of the offspring are also normal and, in turn, from parents that meet these criteria, the chance that the puppies will be normal is considerably increased. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or OFA is the certifying body for hip x-rays on dogs. A locally done radiograph is submitted by the owner and it is circulated in turn, to three of the many board certified radiologists who read for OFA. Each gives the x-ray a ranking of Excellent, Good or Fair, and the consensus is sued to determine the ultimate rating. A certificate is issued to clear dogs which contains numbers consisting of a breed initial, x-ray number, sex of the dog, age in the months at the time of x-ray and raking (E, G, F). Results are reported to the AKC and any subsequent papers will have the notation OFA, the age at x-ray and the rating; e.g. OFA29F. OFA certification x-rays cannot be done before the dog is 24 months of age. OFA will look at x-rays before that age and give a preliminary rating. The reliability of this is directly correlated with the age of the dog, so that a preliminary report at 22 months is more reliable than one at 10 months. OFA reports an 89% correlation between the preliminary ratings and those resubmitted after 24 months of age on the same dogs. This means they are usually right but that 11% are not. Another organization is beginning to certify hips based on measure of joint laxity and an increasingly expanding database. International Canine Genetics is in charge of marketing the PennHip procedure. Participating veterinarians must be trained in the procedure and regardless of the results, x-rays and information must be submitted to PennHip; whereas, OFA participation is voluntary. PennHip procedures can be done as early as seven months, although accuracy, they say, increases with age. since the database is still being accumulated, among breeders, the jury is still out on the reliability of this procedure. Still, a high PennHip rating combined with an OFA certification should be a good recommendation for parents of puppies. Eyes - Akitas have a number of inherited eye diseases. Entropion and Ectropion are commonly found in the same families and refer to problems with eye lids. Ectopic dogs have droopy lids which may be torn or damaged more easily than tight eye rims. Care needs to be taken to keep them clean; otherwise, they are just not typical of the Akita. Entropion is more serious. The eyelid turns in so that the lashes scrape against the cornea. Usually, it requires surgical correction even though young puppies occasionally outgrow the condition. Before that happens, however, substantial damage can be done to the eye. dogs with surgical corrections for this condition are ineligible for showing and should not be bred although they will be fine as pets and can participate in any performance event such as obedience or agility. Progressive Retinal Atrophy or PRA is an inherited condition which will eventually result in blindness. It is a simple autosomal recessive, and its presence indicates that both parents are carriers. Unfortunately, the age of onset can vary, so affected dogs may be bred before the condition appears. Microthalmia, on the other hand, is detectable in puppies. Here the bone of the eye socket is too small for the eye itself. As the dog's eye grows, the resulting pressure will eventually cause blindness. Akitas also develop glaucoma. To guard against these problems, responsible breeders periodically have their dog's eyes examined by veterinary opthamalogists. Most have annual checks until the dog is over six, when they might decrease to biannually. The opthamalogist's report can be sent to the Canine Eye Registry Foundation, or CERF. One key difference between the OFA and CERF is that the former interprets the x-ray while the latter issues a number based on the local report. Some breeders obtain CERF's for a few years and then just have the opthamalogist's checkup for reference, since his exam is the determining factor. Like the OFA, the CERF reports are coordinated with AKC registrations. Any papers subsequent to the certification by CERF should carry the CERF notation with the year it was done. Von Willebrand's Disease (VWD) and Thyroid Diseases - Blood tests are available to determine the presence of both VWD and Thyroid problems. VWD is a form of hepatitis, and positive dogs may have clotting problems. Thyroid deficiencies are not uncommon in Akitas and treating them is usually a simple matter of thyroid replacement. Often, severely affected dogs are positive for both VWD and hypothyroidism, leading some researchers to suspect a link between the two. Unfortunately, testing is difficult, moderately expensive and often inconclusive. Still, many breeders have their dog's thyroid function tested periodically, since thyroid disease is degenerative, and young dogs may show no symptoms and many do VWD tests. A variety of thyroid tests are available, but currently, veterinarians regard the TSH test as the most useful for diagnosing problems. if the owner advertises the dogs as normal, ask to see the lab results and note the age at testing. Autoimmune Disease - Actually, thyroid and VWD problems fall in the family of what are called "immune-mediated diseases" because their presence is tied to some form of immune-system failure. In some, the body's immune system becomes sensitized to some part of the animal's own body and begins to attack it. Among these are several forms of lupus, as well as pemphigus, VKH, and polyarthritis. none of these can be cured. Some respond well to medication; others are fatal. Some or all of these problems occur in all lines of Akitas. Right now, no tests are available to determine whether parents are carriers, and symptoms may not develop until much later in life, after a dog has already been bred. Most researchers feel that while the diseases and the forms they take may be induced from some outside source, an underlying genetic problem makes their appearance possible. Therefore, they recommend not breeding any affected animals. Knowledgeable breeders also avoid progeny of affected animals. To do so, they must have a thorough familiarity with Akita pedigrees and an awareness of where problems might occur. Don't make the mistake of thinking that these health issues are only the concern of "show" people. All dogs are really pets first. Watching your pet suffer with an illness will make you just as miserable as the owner of a show dog. Good health and longevity are just as important to you, so do all you can to see that you buy a puppy that will have that. People who take extra care to ensure the health of their producing animals and the health of the dogs behind them are more likely to provide you with a quality animal with excellent health throughout its life. Health Registries: (OFA, CERF, THYROID REGISTRY) - In 1994, the AKC managed to link computers with the Orthopedic foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) so that their certifications are contained on both the certified pedigree and the registration papers of the dogs. CERF exams must be repeated periodically, so they may be dropped from the records after a time. The OFA has just announced it will maintain a thyroid registry. Dogs tested at approved facilities will be certified as thyroid normal. Back to Top Price The difference between pet and show quality may not necessarily have a great deal of impact on the price of the dog. What a breeder charges can be affected by the cost of stud fees; shipping; vet expenses for prenatal and postnatal care, which can include a c-section; vaccinations, worming, and premium dog food. These expenses are the same for each puppy, regardless of its quality. Factored over an expected lifetime of at least ten years, a $550 puppy costs only $50 per year, much less than you will spend on food or veterinary care. When you purchase a puppy from a responsible, ethical breeder, you are also paying for the breeder's time, before and after the sale. A typical pet-store puppy has had little human contact, was taken away from its mother at a young age (typically four to five weeks) and has lain in a cage with very little handling until purchased. Personnel changes and the person who sold you the dog may not be available for help after you buy it. Backyard breeders interested only in the income they can derive from their puppies will put them up for sale early, sometimes as soon as five weeks so they can save money on vaccinations and food. since the brain of a puppy is not fully developed until its seventh week, puppies sold so early miss out on the valuable lessons they learn about life from seven to ten weeks of age. Interaction with litter mates and lessons from their mother give the dog valuable social skills for dealing with other dogs. Responsible breeders also spend a tremendous amount of time handling, socializing and training their puppies from birth until they leave with their new owners. This extra time has a very positive impact on the behavior of the puppy and the ease of adjustment to his new home. Back to Top Registrations Many responsible breeders sell companion puppies on what is called a "limited" registration. They feel that so much goes into breeding that you need the kind of background and education in the breed that only comes with exposure to the larger dog community found at shows and trials before you engage in it. Breeding requires a commitment far beyond that of caring for a companion animal. However, picking puppies is not so cut-and -dried as buying a refrigerator nor do the people who buy them have their interests fixed in concrete. Some puppies sold as pets are of showable and/or breedable quality on maturity. The beauty of the non-breeding registration is that it is not irrevocable. At any time, the breeder may convert a limited registration to a full one, which makes the dog eligible for dog shows and its progeny, should it be bred, eligible for registration also. The only difference between the limited and the full registration is that the dog cannot be shown at a dog show and any progeny from a breeding cannot be registered. Everything else is the same. Your dog can be shown in any other AKC events for which he is eligible, including tracking, obedience and agility. If you know you have not interest in either showing or breeding, we urge you to have your dog sterilized. This not only prevents accidental breedings, but has significant health benefits to our dog. To prevent development of some cancers, sterilization should be done just before the dog reaches sexual maturity. Discuss this with our veterinarian when you take your dog in for his health check. Back to Top Papers, Pedigrees and Titles When you buy a puppy, you should have: 1) a written contract that spells out the terms of your purchase and any guarantees from the breeder, 2) copies of all health certifications on the parents, 3) health and vaccination records on the puppy; 4) AKC registration papers on the dog, which may be a "blue" slip or an individual registration; and 5) a pedigree on the dog. This may be an AKC certified pedigree or one done by the breeder. All pure-bred dogs have pedigrees; registration records provide the ability to trace it. The pedigree should include at least four generations behind your puppy and should include both parents. Pass on breeders who don't have this information. After all, how much could they know about breeding if they don't even know whose behind their dogs? Before going over a dog's pedigree, you should know something about titles and awards used before and after the dog's name. some of these are official AKC awards and will be included in a catalog or on the dog's papers. Others are confirmed by the national club or denote special wins received by the dog. Champion (Ch.) - Championships are obtained at Dog Shows and are awarded by the American Kennel Club to any dog which satisfies the requirements for completion. The initials Ch., which denote it are used in front of the dog's name. The dog must be awarded points by a least three different judges at three different shows and must acquire a total of at least 15. At least two of these wins must be worth three or more points. Points are based on the number of dogs defeated and are differentiated by breed, sex and region. A show can have from one to five available, so a dog can theoretically finish a championship in three shows by winning successive five point shows. Any show worth three or more points is called a major. Common phrases are dogs that are "pointed" or that "need a major(s) to finish" or are "minored out". These refer respectively to a dog that has won championship points, but not usually majors; a dog that needs one or two three point wins to obtain its championship and a dog that has nine points but no majors. Dogs may have championships in countries besides ours and this is usually denoted by Am/Other Ch. in the title. Thus, Am/Can would be an American and Canadian one. Int. means an International championship which can only be obtained at an FCI show. The FCI is an international sanctioning body. Obedience Titles: (CD, CDX, UD, UDX, OTCH) - Obedience titles are obtained at Obedience Trials that may be held alone or in conjunction with a Dog Show. Obedience competition has several levels which must be taken in order. Titles awarded for completion of a level go after the dog's name, except for the OTCH (Obedience Trial Championship), which is put in front since it is a championship. To date, no Akitas have obtained this award although many have CD's and CDX's and a few have earned UD's. Each level has a pre-set series of exercises which the dog must master and each exercise at a trial is worth a pre-allotted number of points that total 200. The dog must obtain over 50% of the available points for each exercise and a total score of 170 to quality. Three qualifying scores or "legs" as they are called, under three different judges are necessary to obtain the award. The UDX recognizes dogs with outstanding performances over time in the Utility class rather than being in a more advanced class. The OTCH is obtained by winning a certain number of points in competition. It is awarded for first and second in CDX and UD classes. Like the conformation ring, the points available at any show are based on the number of dogs competing. Tracking Titles (TD, TDX) - Tracking tests are never held at dog shows or obedience trials but may be before or after them. In order to enter a test, your dog must first be certified as ready to participate. At the test, the handler and the dog follow a pre-laid track. The dog is either passed or failed by the judge. If he passes, he is awarded the title. The Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX) cannot be obtained until the dog is a TD, and involves a much more difficult course. If you are interested in learning more about obedience trials, go to the American Kennel Club's Obedience section. Show Awards: (NAT.SPEC.BOB, BOX, BIS, BISS, AOM, Multi-Group Wnr) - In advertising and on pedigrees, to convey further information about the dog's achievements, people often put special awards in front of the dog's titles and name. These are not official and will not appear in a catalog or on the dog's papers. BIS means the dog has won Best In Show at an all breed show. Since only one dog does this, it is a very prestigious award. However, nothing denotes the size of the show. A BIS at a 700 dog show, may not be as big a win as a Group 1 at a 3800 dog show, where the working group might contain well over 700 dogs. A dog with several Group 1 placements may be referred to as a Multi-Group Winner. BOB means the dog has won Best of Breed, which is the highest award within any breed. The next highest available is the Group first and next is Best In Show (BIS). Although many more dogs win BOB that Group 1 or Best in Show (BIS) all of these are prestigious awards. Specialty shows are open only to one breed, and both the Akita Club of America (ACA) and a few independent specialty clubs hold them. The ACA also holds a national specialty each year. BISS means Best in Specialty Show while the BISS at the national is denoted as the National Specialty BIS, BOB or BOS (Best of Opposite Sex). At the national, dogs of outstanding quality are recognized with an Award of Merit (AOM). Register of Merit - To recognize dogs of outstanding producing ability, the Akita Club of America awards the title Register of Merit (ROM) with the initials following the dog's name. Again, this is not an AKC title and will not appear on the dog's paper or a certified pedigree. The national club newsletter and Akita World magazine often carry the official ROM lists. A dog must produce ten champions to be recognized as a ROM and a bitch, five champions. Although the ACA does not recognize any other title, a few breeders anxious to improve the appeal of their stock use other initials to denote producers who have doubled the amount for the ROM. This is their own invention and is not subject to any outside review or approval. Back to Top History The breed we know today as Akitas derived from ancient hunting or matagi dogs found in the northern area of Honshu Island, which is the main island of Japan. Formerly known as Dewa Province, today, it is Akita Prefecture, the area which gives the breed its name. It is a mountainous, sparsely settled area, and the dogs hunted large game such as boar, elk and fierce Yezo bear. Purportedly, the dogs were used in pairs and pursued their prey quietly. During the 1600's as the cult of busitido gained a foothold in Japanese culture, one of the samurais' favored pastimes was watching dog fights. Their popularity continued into fairly modern times, when they were finally outlawed. Unfortunately, among the dogs used for fighting were those from the Akita Prefecture. To improve their fighting ability, the Japanese crossed this northern hunting dog with several other breeds, changing both their character and appearance. Finally, concerned fanciers became alarmed at the deterioration of the breed and began trying to restore it to its original hunting type. Their interest in the native dogs also corresponded to the rise of the nationalism that marked Japanese history in the early part of this century. To further the native dogs' breeding, the Preservation Society for Japanese dogs, known as Nippo, was formed in the early 30's. This was followed by two societies devoted to the Akita Inu (dog), Akikyo and Akiho. World War II almost eradicated their efforts. The Japanese government passed an edict that al large non-military dogs were to be killed. They took too much food and supervision in a wartime economy. The Akitas that survived were dogs that were hidden by their owners. After the war, so few were left that other Japanese breeds of differing sizes as well as some outside breeds were used to preserve and restore the Akita. The dogs were very popular with American soldiers during the occupation of Japan, and many of them brought Akitas back to the U.S. Interested in establishing the breed here, they began taking steps to have it AKC registered. This finally occurred in 1972, after which, no further registrations from Japan were allowed. Several years ago AKC recognized the Japan Kennel Club and reciprocity of registrations began, so Japanese Akitas can once again be imported and registered in the U.S. Back to Top What are Akitas Like? All of us love Akitas dearly, but we're also the first to tell you that they are not a dog for everyone. You will have to consider and reconsider what you want and expect out of a dog to decide if this is the breed for you. Be sure to look at adult dogs before you make up your mind. Those cute puppies grow very quickly. The club directory lists members who will be happy to show you their dogs; you only need to make an appointment to do so. Of course, we will be happy to talk to you about any aspect of the breed we've not covered here. Size - Akita puppies are so cute and fuzzy, they are almost irresistible. However, a female Akita will probably reach between 24 and 26 inches of height measured at the top of the shoulder (where the neck joins the back) and a male, 26 to 28 inches. A female will weigh between 80 to 100 pounds and a male from 95 to 120 at an optimum working weight. Fat dogs will, of course, weigh much more. The adult dog is physically imposing and very strong. Males are comparable in height to a doberman male and weigh considerably more; females can be as large as a male German Shepherd. Eve if you are large enough to control an unruly adult physically, you will quickly tire of the struggle. You must be committed to early training so that you have mental control over him. If you don't have time for this, then you need to choose another breed. Color and Markings - The markings of an Akita puppy will not change except that the think blazes up the face and a few white hairs in the coat may disappear. However, the coat color of a puppy may remain the same or change drastically before adult hood is reached. For some puppies and youngsters, a best-guess is all that can be given. Coat colors found commonly are black, red, brown, silver, fawn, cream, white (whose nose may be more lightly pigmented), and brindle. Brindles are striped dogs and may have different base colors. The brown strips of black brindles may be almost invisible except in sunlight. Red, brown, and fawn brindles are common. Less so are silver and cream brindles, but they do exist. In the U.S., coat color is identified by the color of the guard hair. However, many Akitas have undercoats of a different color, or the guard hair may be a mixture of colors. The Japanese describe color as a all-over pattern, taking into account multi-colored hair and different colored undercoat as well as color mixtures. Many Akitas are what they call goma or sesame. In the sesame, the tips of some hairs are black, solid black hairs may be mixed with other colors, and the undercoat may be a different color. When the predominate guard hair color is black, the dog is a black sesame. Most often, this is mixed with either silver or brown. Red sesames have the same type of black hairs, but the other color is some shade of red. When you part the hair of some red dogs, you will find the base of the hair is black. This is called a reverse goma. When the dog is shedding, the black underneath gives the coat a muddy or dirty look; otherwise, it is undetectable. You should understand that the breed standard allows any color with a preference for those which are rich and clear. While you may have definite likes and dislikes in color which make a dog seem better to you, objectively, no one color is better than another. One of the strong points of this breed is that it provides a color for everyone. What one person thinks is hideous, another sees as perfect! So, good breeders pay more attention to other aspects of the dog, such as good temperament, sound structure, and excellent health. All Akitas have some white markings, although their extent may vary tremendously. Some are almost a solid color with only a few white hairs on the chest and tail and tiny white markings on the paws. Others may be all white with color only on the head. A solid white Akita has no markings but may have traces of biscuit or cream in its coat. Dogs with regular white markings on the legs, belly, chest, tail and sometimes neck and face, are called "Irish Spotted." Those with more white that extends in jagged lines from the belly into the body or with spots on the sides are called pintos. The standard states that pintos have evenly placed head markings and color on one third of the body. Although they are shown, dogs with less color than this are often referred to by those who think this incorrect as "mismarks." People who like these dogs, on the other hand, call them "hooded." While this marking pattern is an area of controversy among breeders and exhibitors, it largely comes down to a matter of preference. Growth - The appearance of your dog's body will depend on the lines from which he comes. Regardless, as puppies, all Akitas grow very quickly to about 22 inches at the shoulder. Some lines reach the standard's minimum heights (23 for females, 25 for males) within six months. From there on, growth is slower, but many lines continue maturing until the dog is three or four years of age. To support this extremely rapid growth, puppies need non-stressful exercise, plenty of water, a well-balanced food, and plenty of sleep. In fact, the frequency and depth of their sleep is rather unnerving until you realize how quickly they grow. Until you see it, it's hard to believe, but you can leave for work in the morning and come home to a dog that is visibly different. Keep in mind that your puppy's feet, tail and ears reach their adult size long before the rest of him can catch up. Akitas should have small ears, the corner of the ear should just reach the corner of the eye when it is pulled forward, however, a puppy with the proper sized ears will have too small an ear when he is grown. Patterns of growth can be quite unusual. If it hasn't stared before you get your puppy, the first things you will notice are the huge knobs on his front legs and perhaps some bumps on his face. These are the growth plates of the bone, which grows at the outer edges rather than from the center. Bumps here indicate that growth is in process but not yet finished. A very young puppy (3-4 months) with small or no growth plates will be too fine in bone as an adult. Some veterinarians unfamiliar with large or giant breeds may think this abnormal. Likewise, if you see a picture of a dog with rickets, you may worry about your dog at this stage. Rickety dogs have curved bones. Your puppy's legs will be straight with big bumps at his elbow and especially above his feet. This is perfectly normal. In fact, as the bones grow, these knobs recede and your stocky pup may suddenly look like a tube on stilts. Many Akitas grow first in the rear. In fact, your dog may grow so disproportionately that his head looks like it is on the wrong end of his body. When his forequarters catch up, he'll put on weight and even out for a while until he shoots up in the rear again. As his body's metabolism puts its energy into upward growth, he'll get thinner and the cycle will repeat. Just after the first birthday, this process will stop for a while only to resume again at about 18 months, when the puppy will grow again slightly. Height stabilizes around this time, and the dog begins to slowly fill out. Changes thereafter are much more subtle and are most obvious in the head and body. You'll know your dog is finished when everything looks in balance. Also, when you run your hands over the head, the bone will feel smooth without even small bumps and lumps. This means the growth plates of the head have knit together smoothly and growth has ceased. At this point, you may have to watch your Akita's diet since metabolic demands have lessened. If you have problems keeping weight off your dog, switch to a light food. If your dog seems unbearably hungry after a meal, add green beans or spinach to his diet. The provide bulk without extra calories. Temperament - Although the American Kennel Club has put the Akita in the Working Group, historically, the Akita was used as a hound to run large game in the mountainous areas of Japan. anyone who has had hounds will recognize that group's very laid-back, easy going temperament in this breed. In the breed's appearance, you can also see the kinship with the group of dogs call "Spitz", or "Nordic", or "Northern Dogs." This group is characterized by a tail carried over the back, upright ears, and a natural head. Representatives vary from the tiny Pomeranian to the large Alaskan Malamute. In common with the Northern dogs, Akitas have an independent nature. Unlike many of the retrievers and herding dogs, Akitas will not follow you around glued to your leg. They are very loyal and loving and are happy to be in the same room with you but are unlikely to sit for hours with their head on your knee. An Akita will lie down in a favorite spot while you go about your business. Selective breeding for proficient hunters and their independent nature means that an Akita is not going to stare at you with shining eyes eagerly awaiting your command. Dogs that hung prey must be flexible enough to respond to the prey's actions. They must also be able to take action on their own. For the pet owner and obedience exhibitor, this means Akitas are not stars at repetitive behavior like gun dogs and herders. Doing things the same way every time is not a productive technique for a hunting dog. Nonetheless, many Akitas are shown in obedience and attain their titles. The new sport of agility should be something Akitas enjoy. Their keen noses and hunting instincts make them a natural for tracking. Obedience training is an essential for a dog the size of an Akita. We urge you to take your dog to a puppy training class, especially one which uses positive reinforcement instead of harsh corrections. When you work with your dog, you should keep his basic character in mind. Repetitions of the same exercise will bore your Akita. He may be worse on the fourth sit than he was on the first. Varying the exercises so that you do one followed by a different one will be more productive. If you are looking for a "guard" dog that will warn people away from your property, Akitas may not be the dog for you. They are unusually quiet, barking only when alarmed. On the other hand, he may well protect you or your family if he decides someone or something poses a threat. Akitas are totally unsuitable for area guard or police work. Puppies are goofy and flighty, giving no hint of the reserve of which the adults are capable. People with whom they are friends will be remembered warmly throughout the dog's life. On the other hand, if your Akita does not like a person or dog, he will probably never like them. Their sense of loyalty will make them accepting of your household and all the "people" in it. This may include chickens, cats and other dogs. We know of one dog that lived with a rabbit until the rabbit died of old age. Just remember that they are hunters and other animals are fair game. Included in this category may be the neighbor's cats, stray dogs, birds, squirrels and other small animals that happen into your yard. Also remember that Akitas were used as fighting dogs in Japan. Their scrappy nature probably lent them to this rather than the dog aggression being bred into them. As a general rule, you cannot keep same-sex Akitas together. Some people manage to do this, but there is no guarantee that the dogs will not get into a fight someday, and that if they do, it will only last until one dog gives up. It may end only with life threatening damage or death. A male and female will form a fast friendship and keep each other company. Akitas may also get along with the same sex in other breeds, but this is an iffy proposition. If you have another dog, it is best to plan on an Akita for the opposite sex. If this is not possible, much will depend on the character of your existing dog and the personality of your puppy after he reaches puberty. Do not be surprised if a breeder refuses to sell you an Akita of the same sex as a dog you already have; they have to think about the welfare of their puppy and your dog. Taking your Akita to a training class at an early age will expose him to other dogs as well as people and will teach him to be accepting of their presence. You should continue to reinforce these lessons by taking your dog with you to places outside the home where other people and other dogs are present. These contacts will help maintain his sociability and help counteract any innate tendencies to dislike strange dogs or people. You should look for puppies that have been exposed to many different people in their early life to overcome any inborn tendency to be distrustful. You should continue this process. Akitas are very much creatures of habit. They will feel comfortable with what they experience during their puppy hood and youth. During this time, they should have as many pleasurable experiences as possible. Of course, your puppy may react fearfully to new circumstances. Never try to reassure him by petting him or sympathizing with him when he reacts fearfully. You are only reinforcing his fear by rewarding the response. Instead, keep him around the object or person and ignore his fear. Talk normally and wait until he gets used to it. No animal can live in abject terror for long; eventually, his fear response will abate. When your puppy reaches this point, he will gradually become more comfortable with whatever frightened him. Since scolding him will only make him more afraid, ignoring his response is a more effective tactic for discouraging it. Back to Top Dog Clubs Across the country, dog fanciers have organized into groups according to their interests. Each breed has a national breed club recognized by the American Kennel Club. They develop the standard for the breed which is the written description of the breed that provides a blueprint for breeders, exhibitors and judges. Our national club is the Akita Club of America and the LSAC is a member club. Many of our members are also members of the ACA. If you are interested in an ACA membership, please let us know because you will need two sponsors. This area has several all-breed clubs which cover the city and its outlying areas: Houston, Ft. Bend, Cypress-Creek, Conroe, Humble, San Jacinto (Pasadena), NASA, Brazoria, Galveston, Beaumont and Baytown. They all hold shows or are working on being able to do so. Several agility clubs are working now and have training classes and practice areas. Obedience classes are available from private trainers or through obedience clubs. These include West Houston (WHO) and South Texas (STOC). These clubs hold obedience trials twice a year. Occasionally, they sponsor tracking tests as does the San Jacinto Kennel Club. Let one of us know if you want further information about dog events and we will help you get started. You may want to show your dog in some matches. These are held throughout the year and do not need to be entered in advance. Again, we can provide information about what is available. Back to Top Reading Material Breed Information Several books on the breed are available. The best discussion of the breed's character is in Barbara Bouyet's books, Treasure of Japan. This is available by order from the publisher or at show vendors. Joan Lindermann's first book, The Complete Akita, contains an excellent discussion on the breed standard, the development of the national club, and the early history of the breed. Unfortunately, she has not been active in the breed for many years, so her update, The New Complete Akita is not so informative as the older version. The best pictures are in The Book of the Akita by Joan Brearley. She writes books about many breeds but has no great depth of knowledge about most of them. Some of the material in her discussion of the standard is erroneous. The Akita Club of America has a newsletter that is sent to members which has worthy information in it. Many people subscribe to Akita World magazine. It has advertising that lets you see pictures of dogs across the country. Its articles cover many aspects of Akita ownership. Subscriptions are available from Hoflin Publishing Inc., 4001 Zephyr St., Wheat Ridge, CO 80033-3299 for $48.57/year. Or simply click on the Hoflin link to go to their website. Dogs In General The AKC Gazette comes out monthly and is the best general publication on dogs. The $28/year cost is money well spent. It can be ordered from the American Kennel Club subscription section, 51 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10010. Or you may order online by clicking the link. The AKC has several videos; one is on the breed and others cover various aspects of dog sports and canine behavior and structure. Information can also be obtained by following the link to the American Kennel Club resources center. Behavior and Training All dogs are born able to communicate with other dogs. To do this, they use an amazing repertoire of facial and body movements as well as verbalizations. We communicate with our dog by talking and they are capable as adults of understanding a wide range of words. Unfortunately dogs don't know that not all humans speak "dog". They interpret the expressions and body language of their human associates pretty much as they would another dog's. Fortunately for the relationship between man and dog, they are right more often than not, but when misunderstandings and misinterpretations develop whether on the part of the dog or the human, the results can be disastrous. Therefore, if you don't buy any other book about training and animal behavior, we highly recommend that you read Carol Lea Benjamin's book, Mother Knows Best. Her presentation reads so easily and is so full of humor that you'll hardly realize you're covering a college class in animal behavior. How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend by the Monks of New Skete, How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With, by Rutherford and Neil, and any of Ian Dunbar's books are good. His company, Sirius Video, has a number of excellent video tapes, especially those on puppy training. His methods are very effective with young dogs, and he has some excellent suggestions for solving specific problems. Information on these publications is available from James & Kenneth Publishers, 2140 Shattuck Ave., #2406, Berkeley, CA 94704, (415) 658-8588. Vendors at dog shows offer a wide variety of books. Others can be found at bookstores, many of which will order for you. Don't overlook your local library as a resource. Looking over their selection will not only give you a lot of information you need, but will also let you decide from what is offered what you want for a reference at home. Be sure to check the LSAC Links page as well for online book stores. Author: Sherry Wallis © Copyright 2002; The Lone Star Akita Club of Houston All Rights Reserved