The fluffy, yet dignified, Akita dog has thrived for hundreds of years on the islands of Japan and is a source of national pride. However, because of events during and after World War II, the dog changed in appearance as other breeds influenced the genetic bloodlines. This led to a breed split that is still hotly debated and not recognized by all national dog associations and registries.
Japanese Akita Inu
Dogs are not native to Japan but may have been introduced thousands of years ago by human migration from Europe to Japan. Before the island chain became largely dependent on rice cultivation, hunting and fishing were the main sources of food. Even after farming became more common, using hunting dogs like the Akita was still important. The region of Tohoku in the northern islands is the birthplace of the Japanese Akita Inu. The Japanese government named nine dogs as named natural monuments in Japan in 1931. The Akita was one of the breeds.
During World War II, dogs were taken by the Japanese government for the manufacture of fur-accented military uniforms. In order to save their Akitas, some owners bred their dogs to German Shepherds, which were exempt from the cull because they were considered valuable military dogs. Other Akitas were combined with breeds like the Tosa and Saint Bernard. Few examples of the pure Akita strain survived. The breed became popular after the war as American soldiers living in Japan grew familiar with the dog and brought them home after at the end of their tours. Helen Keller, noted author who was left blind with a fever as a child, was the first person to bring an Akita to the United States in 1937. She called the dog and beloved companion her "angel in fur."
The major differences between the American Akita and Japanese Akita Inu is the size and shape of the head and body. The American Akita tends to have a big, blunt head with a black mask, which shows the German shepherd and Saint Bernard influence. Japanese Akitas tend to have more streamlined bodies and have narrower, refined, faces. They stand 25 1/4 to 27 1/2 inches at the shoulder. American Akitas are slightly taller, standing 26 to 28 inches tall. The English Kennel Club standards call for Japanese Akita Inu coats to be either red-fawn, brindle, white or sesame. American Akitas can be any color, according to the club standards.
The English Kennel Club and the Japanese Kennel Club recognize the two types of Akitas. However, several other national dog breeder registries, including the American Kennel Club, group all Akita types in one category. The Japanese Kennel Club split the dog breed into two groups in 2000. Originally the American Akita was called the Great Japanese Dog. The divergence in the two types became more apparent after the mid-1900s as Japanese breeders worked to restore the original Akita bloodlines that existed prior to World War II.