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Judging The Akita

Akita Conformation: HEAD TO TAIL!

 

 

by Barbara "BJ" Andrews,

former Akita Club Of America Judges Education Committee Chair

and developer of The Judges Guide Book

 

Akita Purpose and Proportion: The Akita Breed Standard specifies the Akita has moderate angulation and a level topline.  The elbows are under the point of the shoulder and at all ages, should be at the brisket.  Rear feet are only slightly behind the hip joint.  With weight thus distributed and supported, he (or she) is perfectly "balanced" as a strong, agile hunter or a quiet, capable family protector.

 

Length of back to leg ratio serves a distinct purpose in all breeds.  The Akita is not as high on leg as say, an Airedale Terriers but he should never be low-stationed like a Rottie.  Body proportion is that of the Nordic (spitz) breeds; Keeshond, Elkhound, and yes, even the Pomeranian.  Not a draft dog, not sight nor scent hound, the Akita was developed to confront bear, boar, and other dogs.  And to appear noble!

IDEAL MALE AKITA PROPORTION & BALANCE - CH. SACHMOThe male shown here proved himself as the ideal Akita, both in the ring and as the #1 Sire of all Working breeds with 101 Champions and countless ROMPX progeny.  Ch. Okii Yubi Sachmo Of Makoto remained in the Top Five Breed and Group stats for 5 consecutive years, owner handled, not campaigned but rarely ever defeated, and at a time when an Akita was seldom considered at Group level.  Sachmo was and remains, a legend in the Akita breed.  So what made him so great?  His charisma, dominance, assertiveness; his physical qualities and powerful movement - but most of all, it was the daring and brilliance of judges who recognized and awarded his impeccable TYPE.

 

An Akita must have supreme agility, stability, and balance when the quarry turns to fight.  The Akita was a mighty hunter and sorry, but he was a fighting breed.  Note the level topline, proportion, length of leg to body ratio, the deep strong body, where the brisket is, and the perfect angles of a top-winning, top producing "plain fawn" Sachmo daughter.

 

IDEAL FEMALE AKITA TOPLINE & PROPORTION, CH. NIKKIWhen you see a “high in the rear” Akita let's hope it is a puppy, not an adult.  Straight stifles are no longer as common in the Akita but neither should you award the over-angulated rears that are becoming popular among breeders.  The correct shoulder assembly can not balance an over-angulated rear and the Akita dog becomes unsound for his purpose.  (see discussion on character and temperament)  As regards rear angulation, think of it this way.  If you placed a Doberman's back feet where they belong (a plumb line from point of buttocks would touch the toes), he could not have the incorrect rear angulation and sloping topline so fashionable today.  We must hope that the Akita breed doesn't drift from "moderate" to over-angulated or lose his upstanding structure (and character) but then that is up to you the judge because breeders will bring you what you most often award.

 

The Akita, like many breeds, is in danger of becoming just another generic dog in profile and personality, i.e. Americanized.  Re-designing a breed is not up to the judge. You can and should help improve a breed by guiding novice breeders according to the AKC Breed Standard and the purpose of the breed.  It should never be about fashion or personal preference, particularly if your background is in breeds such as the GSD or Irish Setter.

 

IDEAL AKITA HEAD, A "SYMPHONY OF TRIANGLES"IDEAL AKITA HEAD MUZZLE TO BACKSKULL PROPORTIONThe Akita Head is one of the most distinguishing features and rightfully takes precedence in the Akita Breed Standard containing 3 of the 5 disqualifications.  The skull is "flat between the ears," with powerful jaws capable of exerting enormous pressure.  In profile, the muzzle is shorter than the backskull and the stop is "well defined but not too abrupt" as in the mastiff breeds.  The Akita shown in profile has excellent head proportion and stop.

 

None of these ideal examples are "narrow or snipy."  The Akita needs a large, tight-lipped mouth with tremendous grip as in the Bull or Staffordshire Terrier and for the same reason.

 

IDEAL AKITA HEAD FURROW, CH. BETSY Note the required "shallow furrow" extending from between the eyes well into the backskull. You should not have to feel for it; the furrow should be clearly visible.  Dogs that lack furrow often have “ski-slope” stops, lack jaw development, and the heads tend to be "narrow or snipy" and overall, weak.

 

IDEAL AKITA EYE PLACEMENT AND SIZEThe eyes are "small, deep set" (less likely to be injured in a fight) and "triangular".  They should not be too small!  You don’t need to measure the ears. Ears will be "small in relation to the rest of the head" but to measure long ears against a long backskull, meaning a long way from the base of ear to the eye rim, is a give-away that you read the standard but don’t understand the breed. The drawing  used in the Judges' Guide Book shows the correct eye shape, size, and placement in relation to length of backskull and base of ears.

 

EARS TIP FORWARD IN LINE WITH NECK, MORGAN BITCHThink chow-small ears in relation to the head and carried "slightly forward over eyes in line with back of  neck" as in this lovely white puppy with perfect pigment. Akita ears are thick leathered, rounded on the tip, and wide apart but not low set.  They should be well furred - this is a northern breed.  The strength of the head, depth of muzzle, and mass of the skull, should be awe-inspiring but never "wet" as in the mastiff breeds.

 

AKITA BITCHES HAVE BONE AND SUBSTANCE - AND FULL CURL TAILS!Bone and Substance is demanded in both sexes.  In World Of The Akita, I characterized the female as an “iron hand in a velvet glove,” an oft-quoted term today.  The red female exemplifies that description.  Straight in stifle, she is otherwise impossible to fault.  She excels in powerful body, well developed shoulder and chest, thick muscular neck.  Her strong head with forward-slanting ears in line with her arched neck perfectly balance the required big, fat, "bottle-brush" tail, fully curled, resting on a strong, level back.  She has bone, not legs full of chalk or back-brushed coat.  Actually, she has just discarded her summer coat preparing for a full off-standing winter coat.

 

Neck and Body form a unique and distinctive profile when looking at your lineup. The outline should be almost square in the male Akita, bitches only a PERFECT AKITA PROPORTIONfraction longer.  There has been controversy about length of body but please, study this old drawing which I included in the Judges Guide Book.  The Akita, UNLIKE the Rottie, is measured from the sternum, not the point of the shoulder.  The back is level and the leg-to-body ratio quite different than the Rottie which was a draft dog.  The Akita underline has moderate tuck up but he is not “dumpy”.  He should have plenty of daylight under him.  There should be visible fore-chest indicating proper shoulder placement and ribcage.

 

The thick neck flows into moderately laid back shoulders, continuing on to a level topline, finished off by a generously coated "bottle brush" high-set well curled tail that balances the big head.

 

IDEAL MALE AKITA PROFILE; UPSTANDING, NOBLE CH. JAKEStudy the male Akita on the left.  Ch. Jake finished novice owner-handled in a total of three shows.  He was never campaigned, which is a shame because he was a shining example of a strong, masculine, perfectly proportioned Akita.  Note the massive head with ideal ear set, blending into a crested neck, perfect shoulder and rear quarter – solid muscle and bone right down to his cat-feet.  Put a mental ruler on his proportion.  This is an Akita in perfect balance, perfect height to length body ratio balanced by a huge head and big full-curl tail that rests on top of the back.  “Big Jake” was 28 inches.  A tower of power, a gentle giant, and a classic example of the Akita.

 

"Light bone, rangy body" is the only serious fault in the Akita Standard.  The brisket is deep, body powerful, with a short tight loin because body length is in the rib cage.  The stance is powerful, balanced and capable of instant action propelled by a well-developed stifle, upper thigh, and strongly defined hocks.  Well developed tendons and muscle give the mature dog a powerful, tight body with only moderate tuck-up. The legs should not be extended rearward in order to set the hock perpendicular to the ground.  If the dog is stacked that way, there is too much rear angulation and he is "out of balance" for both his utilitarian and his symbolic purpose.

 

You can feel the power in that thick, muscular neck.  Run your hands over the "well-sprung ribs."  (You noted the chest was wide and deep as you approached the dog).  Do not lean over the dog.  Do not push him around!  (If you haven't read Judging Temperament and Character, do so now so that you don't take liberties that could result in embarrassment for you and the breed.)  You will note that the Akita's skin is pliable, not loose but you probably should not pinch him to determine that!

 

Akita Movement Send ‘em around!  Hopefully there were several that caught your eye on the lineup.  Now you'll see if your first impression holds together.  Akitas will tend towards boredom as you begin individual examination but right now, the males are mentally claiming turf on the go-around.  Hopefully those that initially filled your eye will not disappoint when moving.

 

The head will not be held high, this is a serious dog that intends to get where he’s going and to do it with the least amount of effort (don't forget that chow ancestor.)  A seasoned campaigner may not move with as much purpose as a young dog that is still of the opinion he can take the lead away from the dog in front.  Even so, the Akita dog should move with power, determination, moderate reach and drive, and solid topline.  A dark “saddle” or large marking on the mid-back may make the back appear to roll.  In fact, if it is fat as so many are shown, or it has loose skin, or if it is a gangly puppy, the dog will roll.  It is to be faulted.

 

BIS winner Ch. Rambo demonstrates ideal movement.  Note head carriage, solid topline, big full tail, and moderate stride that still shows plenty of footpad.  He clearly shows that a short-coupled torso does not cause an Akita with proper angulation to interfere or overreach.

 

PERFECT AKITA MOVEMENT, BATES' FEMALEMovement is not the long floating strides of the GSD, nor the long ground covering stride of many sporting or herding breeds.  Indeed, the Akita's gait is "brisk" as in stepping out at a faster pace.  It is never choppy because the topline remains firm and level if the back is short. "Strides of moderate length" emphasizes two things.  !.) it is not a long stride, and 2.) it couldn't be if the Akita is short backed, close coupled and of moderate angulation.  The close-coupled "hooded" bitch is moving with the correct reach and drive, hocks flexed but not over-extending or with too much kick behind.

 

The Akita standard assumes that we know the chest is "wide and deep"  when it states simply that "rear legs move in line with front legs."  So does the Akita single track?  NO!  Only if he lacks the well developed chest with well sprung ribs, i.e. he has a narrow body, with a narrow center of balance which would be pretty unhandy in a breed meant to do close combat.  Again, do not confuse this "hunter" with hounds, pointers or setters.

 

Examining The Akita You may have been a bit disappointed when they went around, possibly you have the class narrowed down already, but let’s be sure that all the parts are as they should be.

 

JUDGING TIP:  Glen and Jean Fancy first assess a dog from the profile stack position, then step to the front and approach calmly, in a friendly, but non-excitable “hello doggy” manner.  They stroke (check) the head, quickly move on to the rest of the body, and then check teeth last after the dog has accepted the non-intrusive "petting" exam over the rear quarters which includes checking testicles while stroking the thigh or buttocks area. There is no need to engage in a wrestling match or cause the dog to move out of a carefully arranged pose by examining the bite first.  This is great technique because even If you ask the exhibitor to show the bite the dog invariably comes unstacked.

 

The bite can be level but scissors is preferred.  Do not check molars.  You don’t count teeth in this breed so neither the handler or dog will be prepared for a full mouth exam.

 

The Akita Tail is so important that it has its own section in the Akita Standard.  It is "large and full."  That means strongly boned and well-coated, it should look like a fat bottle brush.  It must be long enough that it can curl.  But as with measuring ears, bear in mind that two wrongs don't make a right.  A short tail pulled down to to reach a long straight hock, well, it will.  It has to be "set high" in order to be "carried over the back.Now here comes the part about which some judges have been (deliberately) misled by folks that just couldn’t breed a tail to conform to the Akita standard.  That is their problem, it should not become yours!

 

DISQUALIFY SICKLE TAILS IN AKITASThere is only one thing to remember here.  If it is looser than a full circle (curl) it must be long enough to "drop well down the flank."  Now that makes it easy!  Here's why.  If only the tip touches the back it can not be a full curl so it is to be disqualified.  As depicted in the Judges' Book, (illustration) it is an "uncurled" or "sickle tail" and either one is a disqualification.  I have had judges say they attended a seminar in which they were told “as long as it touches the back, it’s okay.”  It is not.  The Akita Breed Standard says the tail must be a "three-quarter, full, or double curl," and here's the key phrase, "always dipping to or below level of back" but keep reading if you think just “touching the back” is okay because the standard further explains: "a three-quarter curl, tip drops well down flank." 

 

DOUBLE CURL AKITA TAIL, CH. BIGSON, #3 Sire All TimeThe standard does not leave it up to interpretation.  A full curl or a double curl dips to or below the level of the back, but a looser three quarter curl must drop well down the dog’s flank as in Jagger, the black dog below.  Only if it is a "full or double curl" can it just reach/touch the back.  There are only three acceptable tails.  #1, A full curl, which is NOT a partial curl or half circle.  A full curl can rest on the back (note is does not say "touch" the back) as in the white dog "Orca" and "Victor" below.  #2 A double curl, may also rest on the back as in BigSon (left), a multi-group winner and All Time top sire .  #3 A three-quarter curl must drop well down the flank as in Jagger and Joker, both multi-BIS Akitas shown below.  Period.  That's it.  The Akita tail is a unique breed feature, that's why there's no in-between.  It is a full curl (circle), a double curl, either of which may rest on the back or on the side, or it can be a 3/4 (looser) curl which, because it isn't coiled up, will be long enough to drop well down the flank.  Not just "touch" the back.  Check this against the standard (exact quotes) and then don't let anyone confuse you.

 

Forequarters and Hindquarters need little explanation.  The Akita must have round, dense bone that does not break easily in a physical confrontation. Fat is not muscle, nor is it substance.  It is a cover up for a dog that lacks both!  The feet are important to a dog that must travel rough terrain without breaking down.  They are thick, cat feet, well knuckled up.

 

MASSIVE AKITA BIS WINNER, CH., JAGGER Akita Coat is easy when you think about the Akita's developmental history.  It gets cold in the mountains of Japan.  And an opponent should get only a mouthful of double coat that stands off from the body.  A thick undercoat is protection from more than the elements and a big game hunter needs something harder for a bear or boar to bite through.  Two inches is approximately the right length, but as long as the texture is right, a longer coat is preferable to a shorter one which would fail to protect the dog.  Note I said texture because a soft coat will freeze up and offer little protection.

 

WHITE AKITA MALE, CH. ORCAColor is simple - Any color.  I mean how simple can it get?  We all have preferences and as a judge, you are entitled to have them too.  Some people love the flashy pintos, "which have large evenly placed patches covering the head and more than one third of body;" some like brindle with or without markings; some like whites, which "have no mask."  Am/Can. Ch  Orca was the first white Akita to be campaigned.  He was #1 male, BB at WKC, and a multi-group winner as well as a top producer.

 

"MISMARKED PINTO", BIS WINNER CH. JOKERMany people love the white bodied dogs we called “hooded” or by those who lack experience in other breeds, “mismarked pinto.”  Judges know that white dogs in many breeds are head marked; Pyrs, Sealys, Bullies, etc etc.  According to the standard, it really doesn’t matter because if it didn’t say any color, then red, black, or cream self- masked dogs would all be wrong!  Ch. Joker was the #1 Akita and a BIS winner but not everyone loved him. Those who claim to be “purists” under the Japanese Standard are revolted by this color, (or any color other than white-faced reds or brindles) but we judge the Akita under the American Standard.

 

TICKED OR "FRECKELED" AKITA, BIS CH. VICTORSome people object to ticking or "freckles" but the Akita at left is an AKC BIS winner and also a "Victor" in England where he vacationed for a while.  Colors are "brilliant and clear" and markings are well balanced.  Some argue that ticked or blotched white markings on Akitas are incorrect but the standard makes no reference to ticking so it is personal opinion and has little to do with the standard.

 

Ideal Size always gets a good conversation going.  Some would say a 28" Akita is “too big” but this "large, powerful" dog with "much substance and heavy bone" can carry more than 28" and move properly if he's built right.  I again refer you to the B/W photo above.  There is no upper limit but there is a disqualification for too small, under 23" in bitches and under 25" in the male.  That clearly says size and strength is very important in the Akita.

 

Undersized Akitas are to be disqualified.  A popular BIS and Westminster winner was measured out and Peggy Adamson disqualified another Best in Show winner from her Group ring.  Get a feel for size in both sexes.  Better to avoid a mistake that will come back to haunt you when a discerning judge measures.  The Akita is a large powerful dog so a reasonable person would understand that too small is no small problem.  Do not be afraid to measure.

 

Here are some tips to keep you and the dogs relaxed:

DO NOT make initial contact from the rear or side of the dog. 

DO NOT grab an Akita by the head, cheeks, or foot.

DO NOT “bounce” the dog’s topline, shoulders, or rear quarters or press down on his shoulders. (Dogs place their heads or paw over another dog’s shoulder to test for dominance.  A mature Akita, male or female, will wonder whether to take you seriously or just excuse your ignorance.)

DO NOT ever force an exam on a shy or panicky Akita.  If it is a puppy, pass him by and come back later when the handler has him together.  If it is an adult, excuse the dog.  If a second attempt fails, he is mentally unsound and in a hundred pound dog, that is a problem.  Use your “judgment” according to the circumstances but do the breed a favor and get him out of the ring.

 

DO look for an almost square dog with the small, distinctive ears tilted forward in line with the crested neck.  The massive head must be balanced by a large full curled tail.

You should see courage and immense dignity and you will recognize that because knowing his power, he will always be a gentleman.  "He should be so confident of his own superiority that he has no need to prove it.”  That quote is accurate.  It is from my book and I think it sums up the character of an ideal Akita.

 

If you come away with nothing else today, I hope you will have gained insight into how to safely judge and accurately evaluate the Akita.

 

Continue to Part 2:Judging Temperament & Character >>>

 

In memory of three of the Top 10 (owner handled) and Top 5 Akita Sires of all time:

Ch. Okii Yubi's Sachmo Of Makoto, Ch. O'BJ BigSon Of Sachmo, and Ch. The Widow-Maker O'BJ

SACHMO, BIGSON, WIDOW-MAKER & AKITAS ACE PUPPY

(photo work by Moretto Film Co . & ACE Akitas, Santiago, Chile, So. America - circa 1985)

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