History of the Akita
Originating in Northern Japan, the Akita-Inu takes it's name from its place of origin, the Odate region in Akita Prefecture on the island of Honshu. Originally called the "Odate Dog" the name was later changed to Akita-Inu when the breed became a natural monument and national treasure in 1931 and so became the National Dog of Japan.
Centuries old, archaeological evidence indicates that dogs similar in size and structure to the Akita of today existed thousands of years ago. Other discoveries from the Akita region dating back to 8,000 B.C. to about 200 B.C. suggest the people were hunters gatherers and fisherman and that the dogs of that era known as the "Matagi-Inu" were in fact (as the name translates) "hunting dogs". Picture scrolls dating back to as early as 700 A.D. depicted hunting dogs with pinto markings not unlike the Akita of today. Other sketches show the Akita dressed in ornate ceremonial robes, standing with their royal masters.
As trade increased in the 1800's, European traders brought numerous European breeds of dogs which the Japanese cross bred with the Matagi-Inu. Also used in crossbreeding was the long-coated Karafuto dog from the southern area of Sakhalin. The long coated Akita of today is believed to be a direct descendant from this breed of dog.
Unfortunately, the Akita was also cross bred with the fearless fighting dog known as the Japanese Tosa to produce a dog with a superior fighting ability.
This combination of cross breeding of the Matagi-Inu with the European breeds, Tosa dog and the Karafuto, resulted with the Akita-Inu.
Thankfully in 1907 the Japanese banned all blood sports including dog fighting. However, this was only the beginning of what was nearly the end for the Akita. Owners of these fighting dogs no longer had use for them so they were either turned loose or died suffering from neglect and abandonment. A rabies outbreak at about the same time also took its toll on the breed and the large stray dog population. The introduction of dog licences only worsened the problem as poor farmers could no longer afford to pay the licence fee and simply turned their Akitas loose. During the next 20 years stray dogs were destroyed in large numbers and with it much of the Akita history was lost.
With the outbreak of World War 2 food shortages were extreme and many Akita breeders could no longer afford to feed their dogs. Dogs & cats became a food source and their fur used for the military. Police departments were ordered to kill all dogs. Only German Shepherd sentry dogs were exempt and many Akita owners/breeders concealed their Akitas in the remote mountain villages. Despite this, the breed almost became extinct.
Restoration of the Akita as we know it today has certainly been a very long and slow process. Before the war Akitas were rarely exported except as gifts to dignitaries. After the war U.S. Servicemen brought Akita's back to the USA where their popularity and demand grew. Consequently, Akita breeding in Japan accelerated and puppy mills churned out Akitas with little regard to quality. Thus, the Akita population increased dramatically.
During this restoration, variations in the breeding and standards between the USA and the Japanese have seen two distinctly different types of Akitas emerge today. The "Japanese" type Akita and the "American" type Akita. So different are these two types now that the Japanese Kennel Club does not recognise the "American" type as a Japanese Akita but will accept that the type has emerged from a Japanese breed of dog. The Japanese do not want the word "Akita" associated with the American type and this debate is still on going today.
The Japanese type Akita is a much lighter boned dog. White masked or self masked permitted but no black mask allowed. Colours are red, tiger brindle, sesame and white. All these colours (except white) must have "Urajiro" (white markings) Urajiro must be seen on sides of muzzle, cheeks, underside of jaw & neck, chest, stomach, inside legs and underside of tail.
The American type Akita is a bigger boned dog with much more substance. Any colour is accepted. White, brindle, pinto, black, reds and fawns. Colours are well defined and striking. Black masked or self masked (with brindles) or no mask with white dogs. Pintos have evenly placed patches covering head and more than one third of the body. Undercoat may be different colour from outercoat.
Here in Australia the American type Akita dominates and the Japanese type is extremely rare. No doubt given time and as popularity increases, we will begin to see more and more of the Japanese type over here.
The Federation Cynologique International (FCI) the ruling body to which most Kennel clubs world wide are affiliated with, has now ruled that the American type Akita be shown and known only as "The Great Japanese Dog" rather than "Akita" or "Japanese Akita". This has created confusion and heartache for many Akita fanciers worldwide. To date, the Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC) and the American Kennel Club (AKC) have not conformed to this and so our beloved American Akita is still known and shown under the "Akita" banner.
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