The American Akita is a unique dog breed that resembles a bear. They have an aloof and willful personality that makes for an excellent watchdog and powerful guard dog. Akitas have been guarding since the 1600s, but American Akitas, in particular, have become the largest of these brave spirits. They were originally referred to as “snow country dogs” before becoming an official breed.
If you’re looking for a protector and loyal best friend all wrapped into one big pup, this might be the breed for you! However, there is a lot to know about this 20th Century fighting dog brought back from Japan. They need a patient owner who is as bold and strong as they are and has an overall understanding of their traits. Stick with us to learn more about the bold Akita.
American Akita Characteristics
This heavy-boned breed is popular for being much larger than the other well-known Akita breed, the Akita Inu. The American Akita is a powerful Spitz breed with a massive build and a sturdy stance. Their skin is pliant (but not loose), and they have solid muscular bodies covered with a double coat that’s short and lush.
An Akita’s underlying hair is dense and fine, while their overlying hair is straight, coarse, and harsh. Their hair becomes slightly longer towards the lower end of their neck, stomach, and hindquarters. They have some long hair, but this only grows on their tail.
This dog has a slightly tapered muzzle with a black nose, strong deep jawline, and black thin black lips. Their necks are thick, medium-length, and muscular. Their erect, triangular ears align with their neck and are relatively small compared to their head. They have small, dark brown, almond-shaped eyes.
Typical breed characteristics also include a wide and deep chest, which gives them a decisive edge. They usually have longer tails that curl over and shoot straight back. Their front legs are firm, and their hind legs are rather muscular, with well-developed upper thighs.
In the past, these great dogs would use their dewclaws as ice picks to help them commute in frozen terrains. Their cat-like feet have hard pads, plenty of fur, and are knuckled up. Their toes also have webbing, which help them walk on the snow by distributing their weight evenly.
Though Akitas are perfectly built for work with their size and physical characteristics, they also make great indoor dogs. They love to cuddle and are fiercely protective of their families and their territory.
American Akita Size
Akitas are one of the biggest registered dog breeds, and there is quite a size difference between males and females. Fully-grown females weigh about 70 to 100 pounds and stand at 24 to 26 inches at the withers. Males range from 100 to 130 pounds and usually reach heights between 26 and 28 inches tall.
American Akita Personality
The Akita may look like a typical outdoor dog, but they are perfectly happy living in houses with their families. American Akitas have courageous, dignified, and profoundly loyal personalities. They are very devoted to their owners, and because of this, they make excellent watchdogs.
Part of this has to do with the fact that Akitas are quite territorial, protective, and fearless. They’re also widely known for being suspicious of strangers. Luckily, they’re not a very talkative dog breed! Because of this, when they warn you of strangers or a sudden change in surroundings, you’ll know their alert is worth checking on. When they become vocal, their bark somewhat resembles a murmur or moan.
Aside from a readiness to bark at intruders, the Akita dog won’t hesitate to confront — and even bite — especially if they feel threatened. This is why some countries consider them to be a dangerous breed. Fortunately, Akitas can be trained to be more well-disciplined around strangers with the proper training.
While most dogs whine, growl, show their teeth, or tuck their tail between their legs to show emotion, Akitas don’t show expression like this. When Akitas strike, they’ll often do so suddenly and without a cue. Because of this, it’s highly recommended that Akita owners accompany their dogs near strangers.
Dealing With an American Akita’s Personality
Since Akitas are less tolerant of strangers, it may be wise to be present when your dog meets guests. Many owners post up dog “warning signs” on their fences or gates for this reason.
Additionally, their excess energy can manifest into them becoming antsy dogs if not properly expelled. An Akita with too much unused energy may take it out on their environment. This is typical of their behavior, as they’re also known for being sensitive to how you treat them. How they’re treated will always reflect in their behavior.
If you adopt an American Akita, keeping them as your only pet might be best. Akitas are often possessive and jealous dogs. Without proper training, they’re often selfish with their food, toys, and may even be with you! Understandably, this personality type can sometimes lead to trouble with other pets.
As a family dog, the Akita thrives on being in the company of its owner. They equally cherish calm and gentle moments and activities. You’ll earn some bonus points if you take them to the snow, as Akitas typically thrive in cold weather environments. If you love the snow and ice, they’ll joyously spend all day adventuring with you!
Akita puppies are courageous, intelligent, and loving. Though they are more hesitant toward strangers, they love their families and will be happy to spend time with you wherever you go! They also love to cuddle, so if you’re a fan of snuggling up with pups, the American Akita puppy is probably for you.
Since American Akita dogs are more territorial, you must socialize your Akita puppy from a very young age. By introducing them to other animals (like cats and other dog breeds), children, and both friends and strangers, you’ll be able to help your pup grow into a more socialized dog.
Puppy age is the perfect age to begin this socialization process. You can begin by introducing your puppy to your friends and their dogs one at a time in controlled environments. Once your dog is more comfortable around friends, you can begin training them to be more accepting of strangers. Daily walks are a great time to do this!
American Akita Exercise
Akitas are not a very active breed, but daily exercise is still recommended, so they don’t become overweight or bored. They do well with long walks in cool weather, hikes, and playtime in the yard.
Ensure there is plenty of space wherever you plan to have your playtime because Akitas need lots of room to run. Since they are larger and heavier dogs, you may want to be wary of their surroundings before playtime — they may knock things over while playing.
We suggest you have your Akita play a game or learn tasks that require them to carry something in their mouth. They enjoy these games, as they stimulate their minds and appeal to their innate hunting nature.
Because they are classified as working dogs, Akitas are accustomed to exercising while on the job. They are great working dogs and are primarily utilized for watching and guarding.
If you are someone who likes to hunt, the Akita makes the perfect fighting and hunting companion. Akitas can also fulfill their daily exercise through this method. If you want to get creative, you can even train them to pull a sleigh, making them a sled dog too!
American Akita Training
As you’d imagine, independent breeds like the Akita are especially difficult to train. Some people enjoy this aspect of the breed and like to think of it as a fun challenge. Akitas are notorious for becoming problematic when not trained properly.
These dogs require a strict, disciplinarian owner because they are intelligent and stubborn. This is what makes them so tricky to train. For this reason, new dog owners may want to think twice before adopting this breed. Obedience classes may also be beneficial for newer owners or those who want the extra training help.
How Can I Make Training Easier?
Fortunately, we have some tips for training your Akita successfully! We highly recommend starting by training your Akita puppy at an early age. This includes socialization to get them used to seeing other people and pets, as they’re naturally more antisocial animals.
Since they would much rather be inside with you, the Akita usually housebreaks fairly quickly. You can start potty training by encouraging them to go potty outside with treats or soft chews.
Akita training guides strongly suggest the strategic use of a dog training collar. These collars can help this breed learn quickly and produce a well-behaved, obedient dog. You will also rest easy knowing you’ve trained them well for the sake of others’ safety.
Above all, this breed needs to be trained with love and respect. Obedience training with patience and persistence is essential. If you react negatively during training or treat them harshly, they may lash out in return. Positive reinforcement goes a long way with Akitas.
Another useful thing to know about the Akita is that you should let them guide you if they want to lead you somewhere. They likely want to show you something, especially if you aren’t paying them proper attention. Remember, any use of force or bullying is unacceptable and will set you up to own an aggressive adult Akita dog!
Are They Aggressive?
The American Akita is a bold, alert, and headstrong dog. Though they’re wary of strangers, they’re very loyal to their families and those close to them. Because of this, they do tend to be more aggressive towards other dogs, especially those of the same sex. Unless you adopt puppies together and socialize them with one another as they grow up, it’s usually recommended that Akitas live in single-dog households.
Can They Be Friendly?
Akitas usually only tolerate other animals — again, they’re likely to be friendlier if you socialize them well from a young age. Since they were originally bred to be hunting dogs, Akitas work hard to maintain status as “top dog” in their household. Generally, though, Akitas are friendly and affectionate toward their family and friends.
Do They Make Good Guard Dogs?
American Akitas do make good guard dogs! Guard dog training can help sharpen the Akita’s skills and improve their overall behavior. In feudal Japan, Japanese Akita dogs guarded royalty and nobility, so it’s no surprise that they make great guards for your home, too.
Can You Leave This Pet Alone?
Yes! You can leave your Akita at home alone, but in moderation. They generally handle alone-time well and will feel excited to see you when you finally return home.
Like socializing with other pets and people, the best way to get your Akita used to being home alone is by training them at a young age. Crate training can be particularly helpful with this when your dog is still a puppy.
American Akita History
The Akita is part of the Spitz breed family. Other breeds that likely played a role in their development include the English Mastiff, Great Dane, Tosa Inu, and St. Bernard. They have a long and interesting past due to breeding, controversial use, and their introduction to North America.
The Japanese Akita Inu was the first, most similar breed to the American Akita. They are from Japan and were used during World War II. During this time, there was also a lot of controversy due to their use in brutal fighting. People also killed them for their beautiful coats.
You can characterize Akita Inus by their fox-like faces and standing ears. Their claim to fame also includes guarding Japanese royalty in the 1600s. Many believe this regality to be echoed in the personality of their descendants.
Though people often confuse the Akita Inu with the American Akita, the American Akita is its own breed. Contrary to popular belief, the American Akita is not a direct descendent of the Akita Inu.
The history of the American Akita began with the famous author, lecturer, and humanitarian, Helen Keller. She first introduced the Akita to the United States in 1937, when she imported hers from Japan.
While touring Japan in 1937, she visited the Akita Prefecture, where she heard of Hachiko, the famed Akita dog. Impressed with the story, she expressed that she wanted an Akita dog of her own. Mr. Ogasawara, a member of the Akita Area Police Department, gave her a two-month-old Akita puppy named Kamikaze-go as a gift.
Kamikaze-go sadly passed away of canine distemper not long after coming to the United States. After this occurred, his brother, Kenzan-go, was sent to Ms. Keller as an official present from the Japanese government in July 1938.
Keller wrote this in her Akita Journal about Kamikaze-go:
“If ever there was an angel in fur, it was Kamikaze. I know I shall never feel quite the same tenderness for any other pet. The Akita dog has all the qualities that appeal to me — he is gentle, companionable, and trusty.”
The Akita’s Role in World War II
During World War II, the American men who served in Japan shared the same feeling about Akitas that Helen Keller did. They fell in love with the Akita and began bringing them back after the war. This was also done in an effort to save the dogs from being killed off during the war.
Many breeders became interested in their popularity and began shipping out more of the larger, Japanese Fighting Akita to America. The ACA (American Canine Association) originally registered all Akitas birthdays. Unfortunately, they closed in February of 1974, along with their Stud Register. Since then, all American-born Akitas have been registered with the AKC (American Kennel Club).
Although both kinds of Akita derive from common ancestry, 50 years of breeding on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean have produced great differences between the two. The FCI General Assembly declared the “American Akita” the new breed’s official name in January of 2006.
American Akita Health Problems
The American Akita lifespan is approximately 12 to 15 years. This is relatively long, especially for larger dogs. Even though the Akita is a healthy breed, they have a small gene pool in the United States. This means they’re more prone to various genetic and other diseases, including the following:
Akitas’ eyes might encounter progressive deterioration of cells over time. In such cases, this slowly destroys the photoreceptor cells in the eyes. Eventually, it can lead to blindness in affected dogs.
This is a relatively common skeletal condition, and we often see it happen with larger dogs. Hip deformities can often occur during growth, and they affect mobility. They are usually hereditary and often cause painful wear and tear later in life.
The glands located in dogs’ necks make a hormone called thyroxine, which controls their metabolism. When the gland doesn’t make enough of that hormone, it can often affect larger dogs. Symptoms include hair loss, flaky skin, and sluggishness, among other things. If caught on time, this condition is inexpensive and treatable. If left untreated, it can become problematic.
Akitas are prone to this condition. It is a genetic form of kidney problem that can start when Akitas are puppies. Early signs may include excessive water drinking, urinating, poor appetite, and weight loss. Once this condition progresses, it may cause loose stool or throwing up.
Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus is a rapidly progressive life-threatening condition for the Akita — this condition is commonly called bloat. Bloating is when a dog’s stomach fills with fluid, gas, or food and expands. This expansion puts pressure on other organs. Once this happens, the blood becomes trapped in the stomach, preventing it from returning to the heart and other areas.
Bloat may send your dog into shock, giving you only a few minutes to get them to a vet. We highly suggest that owners watch a video of bloat occurring so they can know what signs to look for, and how to immediately jump into action if needed.
How to Care For an American Akita
The Akita requires a lot of attention in every way, but they’ll undoubtedly reward your efforts. They are generally very clean dogs who enjoy taking care of themselves. Talk to your vet about what to keep an eye out for when it comes to their health, and be sure to take them in for their check-ups regularly.
Caring for an Akita also means spending a lot of time with them — Akita parents must be patient, loving, and firm. These dogs will follow you from room to room or cuddle up next to you with a good movie because they love being with their human family.
It is still best to stay close to your Akita dog when around strangers or other pets, even after socializing and training. They can be unpredictable when bothered.
Nutrition and Feeding for American Akitas
This dog breed requires a proper diet of high-quality dry foods mixed with fresh foods. Their protein needs are essential to maintain their robust physical structure. The best amount to go off is 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
How much you feed your Akita will vary depending on their physical activity level. Ask for regular weigh-ins at the vet to determine whether you need to give your pup more or less food.
Puppy Nutrition & Feeding
Since Akita puppies grow up to be large dogs, you’ll likely need to adjust your puppy’s feeding regime monthly to match their growth. We recommend starting your puppy with a smaller amount, split into more feedings throughout the day. By feeding your pup up to four times a day, you’ll be able to support their metabolism, energy levels, and development!
Here are some feeding suggestions for your growing puppy:
- Up to 200 grams per day for puppies up to 3 months
- 250 grams per day for puppies aged 4-5 months
- Up to 400 grams per day for 6-month-old puppies
- Up to 300 grams per day for puppies aged 7-8 months
As your puppy ages, you can lower the number of times you feed them from 3-4 to twice daily. We do advise that you continue to feed your pet puppy food until they’re at least one year old, though, so they can continue to reap the benefits of added nutrients in puppy chow.
Regarding choosing food for your Akita puppy, we suggest looking for organic brands that offer lines specifically for puppies. Puppy food is much higher in calories and will better support your pup’s growth. It also offers a wider range of vitamins and supports bone health.
Coat Color and Grooming
The American Akita coat can come in numerous colors. There are 9 colors and 5 markings registered by the American Kennel Club: black, pinto, brindle, white, fawn, and red. These colors can vary in shades, combinations, and markings. Regardless of each dog’s coat appearance, their color will be rich, brilliant, and clear.
Unlike the Japanese Akita, the American Akita often has a black mask. This black mask is likely exactly what you imagine — a face covered with black fur that goes around their eyes and mouth. There will also be well-balanced markings, with or without a mask or blaze. Pinto-colored Akitas have a white background, with large patches covering their heads and more than one-third of their bodies.
For such a big, fluffy dog, Akitas are easy to groom. This dog is similar to cats in that they like to groom and maintain their appearance. You’ll find yourself grooming your house more than your dog because this breed sheds a lot. We suggest you groom your Akita a few times per week to help manage shedding and support proper oil distribution in their fur. You should also bathe them a few times per month and trim their toenails once a month.
Are They Hypoallergenic?
American Akitas are not hypoallergenic. They have a lot of hair and fluff and are very likely to cause a reaction to anyone who is allergic to dogs.
Children and Other Pets
When socialized, the American Akita can easily get along with dogs of the opposite sex, but they often have trouble with dogs of the same sex. You should also keep them away from small pets like cats since they have a strong drive to chase and hunt prey.
If properly trained, these dogs may adapt to share their home with others, but this is not generally recommended. If you would like to get two, the best choice would be to get two opposite sex Akitas.
Since American Akitas are large, hefty dogs, they can accidentally injure small children. Children should be old enough to treat this dog breed properly and always be monitored when they’re interacting as a precaution.
If you are ready to commit, we recommend that you check out a few rescue group options. Any of these organizations can help you bring home your next best friend:
- Namaste American Akita — located in California.
- Big East Akita Rescue — located in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
- TikiHut Akita Rescue Association — located in Northern California.
- Midwest Akita Rescue Society — Serves Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin, and parts of Kansas and Kentucky.
- Rakki-Inu Akita Rescue — Serves North and South Carolina and Virginia.
Many organizations discussed this dog breed together before it received its classification. Eventually, the Japanese Kennel Club classified the American Akita. The JKC is also responsible for submitting the formal proposal to FCI for a breed split between the Japanese and American Akita dog breeds.
Check out these breed organizations, including the Akita Club of America — the only National Akita Breed Club — to learn more about the history of the Akita breeds:
Though the American Akita is recognized as a breed of its own — and has been by the American Kennel Club since 1972 — it’s often confused or mistaken for other breeds. These breeds’ personalities widely differ, but they look very similar to the American Akita.
Here are some fun facts about breeds that are similar to American Akitas:
- Siberian Husky: Like the working Japanese Akita Inu, Siberian Huskies are a working dog breed! The Chukchi people used them as sled dogs in Siberia, where they were crucial to their humans’ survival through freezing temperatures.
- Finnish Spitz: The Finnish Spitz hails from Finland and was originally bred to hunt animals as small as squirrels and fierce as bears. Its appearance is reminiscent of a fox, and it’s known for its barking behavior.
- Shiba Inu: Though both look similar and hail from Japan, the Shiba Inu is smaller than the Akita. These dogs have been around since 7000 B.C., making them one of the oldest breeds of hunting dogs.
- Alaskan Malamute: Did you know that Alaskan Malamutes are descendent of wolves? This Spitz breed likes to run in packs, is very playful, and fares best in homes where they can get a lot of outdoor time.
- Samoyed: Samoyeds are another breed that has been around for hundreds of years. They’re nicknamed “Smiley” dogs — their positive disposition keeps them from drooling and is one of many reasons why they do so well in the cold.
More About This Dog Breed
Today, the American Akita is the 47th most popular purebred breed in the United States of America. This dog breed has had a long history to get where it is today but will certainly make a great friend and companion.
Learn more about how to care for your Akita with us at HolistaPet!