"Ujiyorisodachi" - Breeding counts for more than just birth.
Breeding is more than putting a nice male and female dog together and letting them "do their thing". Especially with a breed like the Japanese Akita Inu, bound by a relatively small genetic pool and issues like SA and VKH occurring. So when people ask us about our breeding philosophy, brace yourself, because this is where we think details matter.
Love, effort, health and knowledge.
That's about it, if you pushed us for a short version. Mind you, we do hope you're willing to read on for the full story.
So where to begin? It will possibly sound a bit corny, but love is where it all starts. Love for the breed and, of course, love for our dogs. We would even dare to say we consider them to be our four-legged kids. And while this might seem exaggerated to some, it still forms the base of our breeding.
As we only have four dogs, our breeding philosophy first and foremost is intimate. And while we can’t say four won’t become more in the future, one thing is for sure: this is something personal. So our dogs don’t stay in kennels, they live with us. In our house. Not separate, but together. And when work calls and we really do need to leave the house for a bit, then the dogs mostly stay in our garden. A place where they can play and relax on the grass, but without worries about rain or a burning hot sun (they can go under the veranda or in our atelier, its door is always open).
Now some people might rightfully wonder “How is your dogs being pampered relevant for my (future) puppy?”, but hopefully it doesn’t take too many guesses to find out to where we raise our puppies. During our Chihiro & Taikou litter, for example, we slept downstairs for the first four weeks (the missus had some inflamed breast tissue and therefore didn’t have a positive association with the puppies suckling with her). So yes, we’re giving it all and the attention that brings, in our opinion, does make a difference.
The Rule of Seven
No, this isn't some secret society from Game of Thrones, nor—even though it is called the "rule" of seven—is it strict religion to us for raising our puppies. Instead, it's a form of inspiration for socializing them and the idea behind it is actually quite interesting. Whereas other socialization theories sometimes tend to flood puppies with long lists of things they need to experience—which might over stress them—the Rule of Seven simply aims for puppies to get in a certain state of mind of becoming accustomed to new situations. And if they are confident with that, then they will likely be fine with other strange stuff in the future as well. Mind you, it isn't magic, so as a future owner, you will still be busy socializing your dog for a more than decent amount of time.
According to the Rule of Seven, by the time a puppy is seven weeks old he / she should have:
- Been on 7 different types of surfaces: carpet, concrete, wood, vinyl, grass, dirt, gravel, wood chips
- Played with 7 different types of objects: big balls, small balls, soft fabric toys, fuzzy toys, squeaky toys, paper of cardboard items, metal items, sticks or hose pieces
- Been in 7 different locations: front yard, back yard, basement, kitchen, car, garage, laundry room, bathroom
- Met and played with 7 new people: include children and older adults, someone walking with a cane or stick, someone in a wheelchair or walker
- Been exposed to 7 challenges: climb on a box, climb off a box, go through a tunnel, climb steps, go down steps, climb over obstacles, playhide and seek, in and out of a doorway with a step up or down, run around a fence
- Eaten from 7 different containers: metal, plastic, cardboard, paper, china, pie plate, frying pan
- Eaten in 7 different locations: crate, yard, kitchen, basement, laundry room, living room, bathroom
Of course, rules are made to be bent, so we normally spice things up a little. For example, we don't think meeting seven people is enough, so instead we have them meet many more. Also, we don't just take the puppies outside—as in "into our garden"—but truly take them OUT. This makes for very valuable experiences, and by using our special doggy cart, the puppies are still protected, even though they haven't been fully vaccinated yet.
The ultimate goal of breeding puppies is of course healthy ones. Over at the Getting A Puppy page you can find some basic pointers on what can influence health in general, but for breeders there's much more to take into account.
In an ideal world, the easiest way to breed a healthy puppy is to start with healthy parents. But this is exactly where the challenge arises, as sometimes we just don't know for sure. The reason for this is because underneath the genetic surface of every living thing—including you and me—somehow small errors are hidden away. And because it's often impossible to see these, clinically healthy parents sometimes end up giving puppies with problems.
To explain, simply try to remember that genes come in pairs and out of every pair, one gene is inherited from mommy and one from daddy. Now when a health issue has a "dominant" inheritance pattern, it only takes one bad gene to express itself. But when a health issue has a "recessive" inheritance pattern, it will need two of the same bad genes to result into a "working" health issue. Now if in that case a dog receives only one problematic gene, then the issue won’t show up. This of course beneficial to the dog itself, but when it ends up being used for breeding, part of its offspring will still inherit this bad gene. And if the other parent also has this bad gene, then this will likely result in some of the puppies becoming sick, even though the parents weren't.
To further complex things, there also issues called "complex genetic disorders". In that case multiple genes are in play and sometimes even an external trigger (stress, bad food, etc.) is needed. And this exactly why certain problems, which for example turned up three or four generations ago, somehow are able to reappear, even though the breeder thought to have solved things by outcrossing with “safe” lines.
By now—if you hadn't already—we hope you’ve realized that breeding is more than just bringing two nice dogs together and letting them to their thing.
Health testing & dog shows
So where does that bring us? Well, as a minimum, our breed club Nippon Inu asks its breeders to screen all “breeding stock” for hip dysplasia, patella and eye disease. Unlike backyard breeders that don’t screen their dogs at all, certified specialists perform standardized tests that give us concrete results, with the goal to exclude dogs that aren't fit for breeding.
Furthermore, next to undergoing these health tests, dogs need to proof themselves during several dog shows. In a superficial way these shows can be seen as mere beauty pageants. But they are also more than that, judging things like character, construction and movement. Now you might think that running real pretty isn't all too necessary for a pet dog, but a dog that doesn't move well almost always has a bigger problem. The root cause will likely be a bad construction, which will lead to issues of wear, bone corrosion and fatigue at an earlier age..
Another value that should definitely not be overseen is that these shows also bring Akita Inu lovers together, enabling us to exchange knowledge and helping us to select future mating partners. Of course, there are those who select a stud based on pedigrees and pictures alone, but if a breeder really wants to do things properly, then he/she should at least see the dog in real life. You guessed it, in that way dog shows are actually quite useful for seeing multiple dogs at once. And while they can be a little weird for some—not everybody likes to get up early to spend their entire Saturday in an expo hall full of dogs—they can be great fun as well.