"Look mom, a fox, wolf, husky!" - Zooming in on the appearance and character of the Japanese Akita Inu.
First impressions count, and in the case of the Japanese Akita Inu that is probably what started many people's attraction to it. Of course there's much more to tell about the Akita Inu than just the looks, but that's still where we're going to start; zooming in on their majestic appearance.
The world of the Akita Inu is a colorful one. Their coat comes in a variety of colors, being aka/red (and goma/sesame), brindle (aka-tora/red, kuro-tora/black and shimofuri/silver) and shiro/white. In Japan these colors are divided about 60%, 30%, 10%. Next to that it comes with its famous urajiro, the breed’s typical whitish hair at specific parts of the body. The FCI speaks of the sides of the muzzle and on the cheeks (which is actually more like omotejiro instead of urajiro), at the under-side of jaw, neck, chest, body and tail as well as the inside of the legs.
Furthermore, that diversity in color and typical urajiro is brought in a multiple layers. Though commonly defined as a “double coat”, the Akita Inu's coat actually consists out of three types of hair. Firstly, there’s the outer guard coat, which is about 1.5 cm longer in length than regular coat and needs to stand out like needles. Secondly, there’s the regular coat; coarse, tough and shielding the body against injuries and water-repellent. And thirdly there’s their woolly undercoat, thick, fine and immensely soft. This part of the coat is extra thick during winter to provide with extra insulation and looses volume during the warmer months of the year. On a whole it’s worth noting the coat of the Akita Inu nowadays sometimes tends to be too soft and flat, something that causes the body to get completely wet during rain and snow. Instead of being rather open and stiff, giving it full form and function.
So surely all that hair should go somewhere? Of course, but unlike with some breeds, don’t be too afraid of running into dog hair everywhere. While the Akita Inu does loose coat, that's mostly twice a year. Many owners try "manage" this explosion of hair loss by brushing it out, but that will take them many weeks. Instead, the solution can be way quicker. Giving the Akita Inu’s fluffiness just a little more attention (meaning washing and—more importantly—using a blaster to really blow all lose coat out) will almost cut the shedding period down by half. The rest of the year the Akita Inu will still lose hairs, though in our opinion in a far more acceptable low volume and a price more than happily paid.
Abovementioned color and coat of course form only a part of the Akita Inu's attraction. Their total construction, including "bone", muscle, tail, eyes, ears and muzzle form what makes this breed so kirei (beautiful). Most preferably in the right proportions, which becomes clear in the illustration above. This brings us to a relevant question: Is the Akita Inu just a good looking dog or is there more to its appearance?
Whereas this sentence quotes an architect that had nothing to do with the dog world, hopefully it does help you understand the Akita Inu better as a whole. History has shaped this four legger into what it is today and form truly follows function here. Its beauty is the result of its (snowy and mountainous) birthplace and former use (hunting), explaining not only its exterior (its double coat and lack of angulation), but also its character. While the Akita Inu's natural temperament is calm and composed, its origins also called for a dog that was full of spirit, fearless, courageous and bold. In Japan the way they were used for hunting was a rather independent one. A hunter would go into the woods with only one or two dogs that would pinpoint boars and even bears. A different way of hunting (and in different surroundings) compared to its Western counterparts, which explains why they look nothing alike.
Also, Japanese hunting asked for a dog that could make its own decisions and therefore could sometimes be (and still is) "a little" stubborn. As they were often flying solo, it didn't necessarily call for a super social dog. So even though the Akita Inu can be friendly with others, don't expect Golden Retriever like behavior. They will likely not be mr. Popular and instead will be a bit reserved towards strangers (humans & dogs). This Nihon Ken might even get into an occasional fight because of its pride and being misunderstood (due to its strange tail and upward ears). However, it will also thoughtfully share its love and attention with a selected few. Those receiving that will get something truly special.
It is that total package why many owners say "If it's not an Akita, then it's just a dog". Combined with its size and strength however, it is also not necessarily a fit for everybody. Don't get me wrong, having a dog like this can be a dream come true, but when not guided properly it can turn into a pretty bad one. Still, the Japanese Akita Inu is by no means a devil or terrorist, it just needs the right match. Many claim the Akita Inu is not a beginner's breed and in general I would agree to that. There are, for people with the right mentality, always exceptions to the rule though. When needs and expectations of both dog and owner are met, even novice owners can offer a super home. Perhaps even better than somebody who previously owned a Labrador for 14 years.