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Socializing an Akita

Overview

In regard to the socialization of this breed there are 3 elements to consider:

1) The puppy's bond with you

2) The dog's interaction skills with unknowns (people, places and situations)

3) The Akita's skills in being near other dogs and other animals



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The Age to Begin Socialization with an Akita

The breed should receive socialization beginning at the earliest age possible.  The most critical time to begin socializing an Akita is from 3 weeks to 4 months old. It begins at this time and then with that as a solid foundation, it grows and expands as the dog matures.

This window of time is when the dog either bonds with his owner appropriately or does not.   In addition, this young age is when an Akita will learn about his world and his world is only as big as his owners allow it to be.  

It is important to introduce an Akita to a wide variety of places, people and events.  Everything an Akita puppy experiences will have a greater impact on him that at any other time in his life.  The pup takes it all in and makes judgments.  These perceptions are ingrained and when the dog reaches the 1 year mark, any deficiencies may not be able to be corrected.

This young puppy stage is a very formative one.  Habits developed will remain.  Perceptions of his world will remain and influence his behaviors for life.

While older adult Akita dogs can be gradually socialized to a certain extent, reversal of behavior and views are much more difficult to achieve as opposed to instilling them in the first place. 

Young puppies should have all puppy vaccinations before being brought out into public; however socialization can begin at home until that time. 


Socializing a Young Puppy at Home

From when you obtain your Akita puppy until puppy shots are complete, time spent with him will be important. Establish yourself as leader from Day One.  It is not uncommon for owners to gush and gawk at a new canine family member with awe and sit back while the pup seemingly puts on amusing displays of behavior.  However, this teaches the Akita puppy nothing about his place in the family.  

Of course, owners should be loving and caring, always making sure that the Akita has all that is needed and is in a loving, safe environment.  With that said, proper socialization means teaching the Akita that his human is his leader.  If this is not established, trouble is sure to follow. 

This breed WILL assume dominance of the house if his humans do not take clear steps to stop that from happening.  It is a shame how many owners find themselves having to re-home an Akita  or in too many cases, the dog is euthanized due to a lack of socialization that would have averted aggression issues. 

Here are some tips:

1) Introduce the Akita puppy to the house and the property, but never allow him free reign of the house when home alone.  He should always be in a gated area (crates are too confining for this breed which is prone to claustrophobia) 

2) Immediately begin command training.  Akitas can learn basic commands such as Sit, Stay, Come, Down and Heel beginning at the age of 8 weeks old.  With daily sessions, he can be compliant within just a couple of months.  

3) Handling an Akita puppy is an important part of socialization. All members of the family should handle the dog which will set the foundation for being tolerate to grooming elements such as nail trimming, baths and brushing.  This will also help to teach him to behave while at the veterinarian's office.  

This includes such things as picking him up to place him on a table while his humans go over the body, including legs and paws.  He should be used to having his mouth gently opened and his teeth examined.   Have the puppy lie on his side while the other is brushed out and at other times, sit for you while you go over the coat.
 
Any pulling away or nipping should not be tolerated.   Owners must not allow an Akita puppy to escape from being touched.  Any attempt at nipping should be dealt with by holding the muzzle closed with one hand and giving a very firm 'No'. 

4) Teach an Akita puppy that you are indeed able to take away his toys and even food.   Older, adults that have not been socialized in this way can become excessively aggressive with toys and food and this can lead to out of control problems.  At the young age of 2 months and continuing on as the Akita becomes 3, 4 and 5 months old and on, make this a normal part of the day.  You take a toy (not in a teasing way at all - but in a matter-of-fact way), you pause and then you return it.   You take a snack, pause and return it.  When a puppy has this done repeatedly, he learns that the owner is in charge but can be trusted to always return prized possessions.
 
5) While tempting, it is not suggested to allow the puppy to sleep in the owner's bed. This in and of itself may or may not cultivate a problem; however it is best to establish the rule that the leader sleeps in the bed and the dog has his own comfortable area on the floor.  A high quality dog bed or mat will do just fine. 

6) The sit command should be obeyed before any meal or snack is given. 

7) This breed often needs to be taught to play with and enjoy toys.  Use toys as rewards for training (both house and commands). 

8) While owners must be firm never be intimidating.  You want there to be respect, not fear. 




Socialization to the Outside World

You as the owner decide how big your dog's world will be.   You can't expect an adult Akita to handle himself well at a park or outside fair if the entire event is new to him.  He will be on guard and not even able to focus on anything you try to instill.  This type of socialization must begin at a young age.

As soon as 2 weeks have passed after puppy shots are complete, bring your Akita to as many places as possible.  

Here are some tips:

1) Always have your Akita on harness and retractable, sturdy leash.  A harness gives you much better control of the dog. 

2) While walks in the neighborhood are important, do not keep your dog's world limited to this.  Mix up the path, choosing different routes each day.  Bring your Akita to parks, fairs, outdoor malls, flea markets, farmer's markets, lakes, beaches, hiking paths, pet supply stores, a walk through your downtown area on the sideways.   
As long as he is on leash and there are not any 'no dogs allowed' signs, bring him there. 

3) While you are probably well aware that the Akita does not do well with other dogs, he certainly can be taught to walk by them without incident.  While walking him, do not avoid other dogs.  Allow the 'canine exchange' of sniffing while both are safely leashed.  If there signs of intolerance such as growling, do separate the dogs, but if they are simply exchange canine 'hellos' do not interrupt.

4) Learning to handle car rides is important as well.   Make sure your Akita learns to accept and tolerate a canine seat restraint.  Keep a window rolled down enough to provide fresh air.  Start with short drives and increase in increments of 5 or 10 minutes.  If you will be riding for more than 30 or 45 minutes, stopping to take a break and allow your dog to stretch his legs and have a drink of water can help quite a bit.  For dogs that have motion sickness, a dry biscuit 20 minutes before departure can help ease the stomach.   Those that have server  car sickness may need much more frequent breaks or medication to ease symptoms. 

More Tips

1) Give praise quite a bit.   Your goal is to show leadership and be the one to expose him to many outside elements, but leaders also recognize good behavior and can lavish a dog with love.  Being serious is just as important as being able to be silly with your Akita. 

2) Socialization does begin at an early age, but should be reinforced on a continual basis.  A 3 month old puppy that has been regularly socialized for 5 months but then is isolated at home for 5 months will often be an adult that struggles with remembering important lessons that were taught. 

3) All elements such as briefly taking a toy, having the dog sit for grooming and expecting the Akita to obey commands should be never-ending.  These are learned skills that should continue indefinitely.

Becoming Accustomed to Household Elements - Puppies or Acquired Adults

Learning about certain things in the house will be especially true with puppies, however it will also be relevant with older dogs in a new home.

While a dog will explore the house, what you want to socialize a puppy to is elements that may not be everyday occurrences, but are reasons for dogs to bark or be on guard when they do happen.  With the Akita breed, there is zero 'guard training' that needs to be done.  This is one of the most hyper-alert, dominant breeds there is.  Training an Akita to guard the house will only create an aggressive pet.

Think about things that happen - either once a day, once a week, monthly or even seasonally - that are opportunities to show your Akita that it is a normal event that does not justify any change in behavior.  This includes the doorbell ringing, the FedEx guy leaving a package at the door, etc.  Depending on where you live, it may include the loud scraping of snow plows in the winter or neighborhood children being loud in the summer.

You may not know which elements you will need socialize for until they happen. For example, we knew of an owner who had his Akita puppy for just about a month...  With all the business of bringing a pup home, he had little time to hop on his laptop.  When he finally did, the pup that seemed to finally feel at peace in the house jumped and went on guard from the bells of his laptop coming to life.  You'd think an intruder was breaking in!  He did the right thing,  using his hand he motioned and then spoke the command of "Down", followed by a matter-of-fact "It's okay".  The dog looked at him, cocked his head. Wheels were spinning.  With one more, "It's no big deal, buddy" and a hesitated, "... Come", the pup came over, took a pat on the head and never paid attention to the machine again.

With elements that you can control, such as doorbells, do try to socialize your Akita to it.  Every day at random times, you (if you're fast) or better yet a friend, family member or neighbor can ring the bell.  If needed, give the "Down" command with a gesture and a calm, "It's fine' then go about your business.  The more you expose your Akita to any type of event or situation, the better he will do with handling it.  He'll never know what the expected behavior is if it is not taught.  With this breed, unknown elements often cause the dog to default into aggressiveness or at least 'guard mode' if no other alternative has been instilled. 

Socialization for an Older Dog

If you have an older Akita that was not properly socialized, the process should be slow and gradual. The older the dog, the harder to break bad habits, but it can be done for many.   Do not keep him inside… offer him opportunities to learn about the world. After all, if he is not given a chance to learn and prove himself you will never know if he was capable of handling a variety of experiences. 

Keep session short and if all goes well, increase the exposure.  If there is a lot of anxiety or angst, shorten sessions and then proceed in slow increments. 




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