The breed standard description of the Akita tail is rather detailed and this would lead one to believe that there would be little debate over what it should look like and how it should be set. However, there actually is much debate over this and this is essentially due to some misleading words and terminology.
To begin, let’s go over the description as listed in the standard:
The large, curled tail, balancing the broad head, is also characteristic of the breed, and: Large and full, set high and carried over back or against flank in a three-quarter, full, or double curl, always dipping to or below level of back.
On a three-quarter curl, tip drops well down flank. Root large and strong. The bone reaches the hock when let down. Hair coarse, straight and full, with no appearance of a plume. Disqualification--Sickle or uncurled tail.
To make this a bit more clear, when ‘root’ is referred to, this means the base where it meets the body, as it is not just to be large and full due to only the coat, the base should be thick as well. The term of ‘sickle’ refers to a tail that curls over when the dog is at attention, but it is not always curling… Rather it fluctuates between straight and flipped depending on the mood of the Akita. Therefore, in regard to proper conformation, it should always hold a curl, no matter whether the dog is at rest or on guard.
Newborns have straight tails but this body formation changes rather quickly within the time period of the first two months. By the time that most owners obtain their puppy, it will show a curl (also known as flipping). If a breeder is selling an 8 week old puppy with a straight tail, this is a red flag. While the flip may appear shortly after the eight week mark, it is a gamble to assume that it will.
As the pup grows, the curl will become tighter and it will become
stronger. Mood will affect how tightly it is held as it may uncoil a
bit when the dog is very relaxed or when asleep, however to meet strict
breed guidelines, it should never fully uncurl.
The curl gets tighter and stronger as the dog ages. Meeting correct
conformation, it will never uncurl completely, the top curl can go down
with the dog’s mood but the end should still have a slight curl. If they
are relaxed or sleeping that is when the tail "uncurls" to a slight
This breed has an overall body coat of approximately two inches; this includes the surrounding withers and rump of the dog. The tail however has slightly longer hairs than that which is found on the rest of the body. In fact, it holds the longest of all and it is the area in which the coat fur is longest and most abundant.
An important aspect to make note of is that it should be thick enough that it balances out the head of the dog. The hairs should be coarse, straight and full. Ideally, it will resemble a large bottle brush. This should be the appearance no matter if the dog is in full coat or if he is blowing coat (shedding). If it thins out or is sparsely furred during shedding season signifies a basic faulty coat type or it may point to a health issue. Just as the body has an undercoat, so should the Akita tail and it should be just as thick as well. If the coat is faulty, the tail will not have a thick undercoat, and this is what can make the longer hairs separate or swoop, creating a plumed appearance.
It is noteworthy to point out that in wolf packs, the Alpha (leader) can quickly be identified by how he carries his tail. It is a clear sign of dominance. This carries over when discussing the Akita breed and its set and carriage. As the standard tells us it should be “proudly carried” and “high set”. This is integrated with this breed’s temperament and disposition.
There is much debate among certain breeders and show judges. This is because if an Akita briefly carries low due to disposition, that personality and temperament trait cannot be used as an excuse for disqualification. However, if it is not positioned correctly due to faulty structure, it can then be a disqualification. The dispute is that some believe that incorrect carriage should be an eliminating element, regardless of whether this is due to shyness or to flawed conformation.
The descriptive phrase of: ‘Large and full, set high and carried over the back in a three quarter full or double curl, always dipping to or below the back’ has brought about quite a bit of discussion in the breeding and show world.
Essentially either a tail is fully or double curled OR it must drop well down the flank. Therefore, the only tail which would be acceptable as just touching the back but NOT dipping below the level of the back would be one which is tightly curled and while due to its tightness it does not slide off to one side and extend below the level of the back.
There are some in the breeding world who are not happy with what they interpret to be judges who ignore the breed standard rather than disqualify an Akita. There has been discussion that one method to change this, if it is occurring, is for breeders to fully understand the standard, present only correct dogs and then insist that judges uphold the disqualifications.
To sum this up, there are only three accepted degrees of curl: Three quarter, full and double. Only the full and double curl may dip to or rest on a level with the back. The three quarter curl must drop well down the flank. It cannot just rest on the back.
Japanese standards are remarkably brief and to the point, supplemented with many detailed drawings. The tail is concisely described in both the old Akkikyo standard 1949 and the revised 1954 version as ‘Thick and coiled, powerful, the tip reaching the hocks’. “Coiled” is a fitting word. And ‘powerful’ makes sense when one realizes that the tail is so symbolic of temperament and overall structure of this breed.
There has been some deliberation regarding the requirement that the tail bone reach the hock. This is because, if the hock is longer than desired, a short tail can certainly reach it. Therefore, if an Akita tail reaches the hock, yet this only occurs due to it being short and the hock being too long, this would not meet the defining qualities that one wishes to meet in show.
To have a good idea of reach, the tail should be 2/3 of the height of the dog, regardless of the length of the dog’s hock.
If an Akita suddenly has what appears to be a limp tail, this can often be attributed to some sort of nerve damage. Even with somewhat major damage, the dog may be able to raise it but it will be perceptibly dropped. With this sort of injury, an Akita may have limited or even zero feeling to the area or in other cases, raising it may cause discomfort. Many Akitas with nerve damage to the tail will still wag it when seeing their owner or when displaying happiness.
This sort of issue can be caused from one of a wide variety of events, including even simple movements such as bending over in a particular way. An owner who notices changes such as this should be prompt in bringing their Akita to an experienced and reputable veterinarian. Minor nerve injuries can heal with time. For major cases, surgery may be needed.
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