The Akita has an interesting history, the journey that this dog endured was one of hardship, change…And he has definitely earned his spot as one of the most revered breeds in the world. We look to this dog as a symbol of strength, , endurance and power…And rightfully so.
Many say that the Akita originated in Japan. This is not technically true. He was developed there. However, since if you trace bloodlines back far enough, all purebreds originated with the wolf…So for the sake of understanding ancestry, the terms of origin and development are often interchangeable.
Therefore, we can say that the Akita is named after the location in which he originated: Akita Prefecture, which is a particular area on the island of Honshu, which is in the northern part of the country.
It is exceptional terrain…Surrounded on all 4 sides by stony mountains. There are seasonal changes, with cold winters and hot, rainy summers. The area is filled with forests of cedar trees, many vast fields and hills. The Yoneshiro River runs through this area. It is actually a quite beautiful and naturally protected location that few are lucky to visit.
This breed was actually first named the Odate Dog, but this was later changed in 1931.
When we want to trace the ancestors and the history of the Akita, as with many purebreds, this is a difficult task mainly because records simply do not exist in regard to origin. Once people decided to develop certain elements in dogs…size, color, appearance, temperament…And real, serious work was done to design and perfect a breed, it was then that written records were kept to preserve the hard work that had to go into developing a breed.
Some archeological discoveries suggest that the Matagi-Inu was a dog that existed
between 8,000 BC and 200 BC and
is thought to be the Akita’s ancestor. That dog was thought to have
been brought into the area by Mongoloid invaders from Korea who made
contact with seminomadic tribes of the time. Both the Akita and the
Matagi match in body structure and basic size.
To understand this history, one must understand what was happening in Japan. For hundreds of years, the country was ruled by the Shogun. He controlled vast armies of warriors. Those men were fierce and part of their training was to has indifference to suffering. It did not affect them in the slightest to see others suffer and they did not show pain themselves.
These warriors spent idle time killing dogs, it was considered to be a game. They also enjoyed watching dogs fight each other. This sort of activity was widespread during the 12th and 13th centuries. They activities left very few dogs that were kept as loving companions and household pets. Keeping this in mind, let’s go ahead a few hundred years…
In the 19th century, an Industrial Age began there. There was a great demand for silver and gold. Because of this, many mining operations began in the countryside. Thousands of people who used to live in the city, moved out into the rural areas…And because of this there was a huge increase in crime in what were otherwise a quiet and peaceful areas.
The people, wanting protection from crimes, took the Matagi-Inu (previously mentioned above) that was normally a hunting dog…and began to train the breed to be guard dogs. There were many poor people who could not afford to be involved with that process…But those with money controlled this…And their goal was develop large sized dogs with aggressive temperaments.
During this time, other changes were happening as well. Traders from all over Europe began pouring into the country…And many of them brought their dogs with them.
The groups who were trying to develop large aggressive guard dogs, decided to cross the Matagi-Inu with some of the bigger breeds that they were now seeing. Therefore, cross breeding was done with: Mastiffs, Great Danes, Saint Bernards and Bulldogs. Another dog named the Shin-Akita was also mixed into these breedings since he was known for being a very aggressive fighter. As you can imagine, there was quite a mix of crossbreeds for quite a while, as breeders experimented with different crossings…saw the results, experimented a bit more and so on.
At the end of the 19th century, Akita history shows us that the result of all of the breedings produced a large, athletic, courageous and aggressive dogs. However, it was disturbing to many that the dogs of pure bloodlines were becoming rare…they did not like the crossings with dogs of other countries. Those in power decided to make a ruling that those of pure bloodlines would be classified as National Monuments…
This, they thought, would ensure that these purebreds would not become extinct. (And they were correct).
In 1929, the first Akita dog registry was opened with only 30 individual dogs on their list. Rules were established that no cross breeding was to be done.
A few breeders obtained these pure dogs and bred them with no other bloodlines introduced. The resulting litters were dubbed the Odate dog…and then were later changed to the Akita-Inu. It should be noted that “Inu” means dog.
It was in 1937 that enough people came together in agreement over what the standard would be (although it later changed).
There are many who, while official records do not exist, insist that during the chaos of WWII, German Shepards were crossed with Akitas. They point to the fact that some characteristics can be seen such as the distinctive dark saddle marking and the muddy tan with lighter points. They also claimed that the ear shape and size…and the tail set did not naturally fit the body structure and must have had outside influence.
Due to this speculation, the written standards were changed to exclude any elements in appearance that could possibly point to a non-Japanese influence.
During World War II, the Akita came very close to extinction. Many people were displaced…without proper food and shelter. Therefore, many let their dogs go as they could no longer afford to care for them. Alternatively, the people who could afford to keep their Akita’s were accused of being enemies of the state for “wasting food” on their dogs when there were so many people who were starving and living in desperation.
A very small percentage of people were able to keep their Akitas and allow some breedings to take place. The government finally, and just in the nick of time, decided that if an owner was able to produce a champion, that person would be given money to cover the food and care of the dog.
That decision in Akita history, made it possible for the population of this dog to expand. By 1950, there were a little over 1000 registered. By 1960 that number doubled.
The Japanese were not very enthusiastic to sell high quality Akitas to Americans. Very few exceptional examples made it into the States. At this time, they felt a great need to further develop the line to have an appearance that showed no obvious signs of outside influence.
It is suggested by many that they may have crossbred with smaller dog in order to establish a smaller body structure. It is speculated that the Shikoku and the Kai were used and this would account for the calmer temperament that is seen today.
It is thought that the basic reasons for the 2 different types (or breeds, according to where you live) is that:
• Japan worked to develop a smaller dog
• Americans did not know of that plan, so dogs that were imported into the states were larger ones, that unbeknown to Americans, were not fitting into the standard being worked on overseas and therefore, not desirable to them.
In order to achieve AKC recognition, breeders in the States had to agree to give up their right to import dogs. For this reason, only dogs that were already in the country could be used to produce litters. This made the gene pool very small and therefore almost impossible for any noticeable changes in the dog’s appearance to take place.
Japan, on the other hand, had unlimited access to develop the Akita any way that they wished…Therefore, they concentrated on certain colors and the smaller body size.
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