by Barbara "BJ" Andrews,
former Akita Club Of America Judges Education Committee Chair
and developer of The Judges Guide Book
You Are The Judge but my job is to help you grasp the finer points of type and character in the
Breed Standard. Speaking now only for myself, not as the former chair of the
Judges Education Committee, let's begin by acknowledging that the Akita has come
a long way since the seventies when it was considered a "trash breed."
Rarely is an untrained or dirty Akita brought into the show ring today but
inherent breed temperament can be problematic for novice or misled judges.
Aggressiveness is a concern for all judges and may still be
encountered through a novice exhibitor who can’t control the Akita or a
misguided owner who wants to show off his tough dog. We once asked a man
to leave ringside with the dog held in a death grip as it lunged at passing
dogs. It was not an Akita. He had chosen a breed to match the black
leather spiked collar that matched his biker jacket and studded belt. The
point is, when a judge gets bitten by an Akita, it gets in the press and makes
other judges nervous about applying for the Akita.
So, in order to judge the Akita well
(and comfortably), you must consider several points only alluded to in the
Breed Standard and which are barely mentioned by the
Akita Club Of America
and AKC. His fighting dog background is downplayed but no one has informed
the Akita. He is what he is and if he has just been challenged by another
dog, he will be “testy” when you approach. By the
the term "testy" is a derivative of testosterone. So it pays to pay attention to
your ring, especially in Open Dogs. The Akita is not vocal so the
beginnings of trouble can occur without your knowledge. Indeed, in Japan
the dogs are expected to do the stand off silently, just staring, threatening,
until one breaks eye contact and is in effect, “defeated.”
Obviously, you will never, under any
circumstances, spar Akitas. Many years ago at a Regional Specialty in
Tampa, Hideo Ito assumed our handlers were prepared and the dogs properly
trained and under control. It resulted in a serious brawl. If
however, you note that a mature male is standing in the company of other males
with his tail relaxed, you must question character and lack of proper Akita
is Akita Breed Type The Akita was a hunter of mountain bear
and boar. Big bears. Boars with tusks. The Akita is not a
hound, he was Japan's bigger, more powerful counterpart to the king of terriers,
the Airedale. Like any terrier, the Akita will not back down from a fight.
Some might say, he relishes an opportunity to show his strength but there is one
more word wisely used in the Akita Breed Standard. In a minute, we'll see
how it modifies the scrappy, tenacious terrier temperament.
Do not equate the Akita's concept of
"hunting" with the hound breeds. The Akita is not a pack dog, he doesn't
need or want "backup." The Akita was hunted in pairs, and like the
Airedale, he tolerated the scenting dogs in order to do what he did best -
confront, confound, and combat the bear or boar. Knowing this, you will
then understand why the Akita is...
Towards Other Dogs." That phrase is in the Breed
Standard for good reason. A dog that will confront an angry bear or wild
boar will not back down from any challenge, perceived or actual. The Akita
will, by his heritage and due to a darker side of his history, dominate other
Okay, so let's deal briefly with
something you may know but prefer not to think about. The Matagi-inu or
hunting dog, was crossed with the tosa-inu and other Japanese types used
specifically for dog fighting. Subsequent crossing with mastiff-type breeds
increased size, power, and strength. Thus, the Akita became Japan's
version of the pit bull.
Yes, the Akita was fought for sport
and while we are on this usually-avoided subject, a word about the white Akita
is appropriate. The most distasteful parts of Japanese (dog) history have
been pretty well purged but white Akitas were "valued" for reasons other than
purity. In a particularly gruesome arena sport which tested skills of
bowmen, the white dog stood out from multiple dogs and when "pitted" against a
canine opponent, there was also something intrinsically appealing about the
color. When blood flowed freely it was more spectacular on a white dog...
So, as the hunting Akita emerged from
his remote mountain home, you can see that he changed. As a great warrior, he
became symbolic with courage, fighting ability, and the dignity and aura that
surrounds the Samurai. Also due to the mastiff and influence of other
guard breeds, the Akita protects his family and their possessions. It is
part of his heritage and something no one who loves (or judges) the breed should
attempt to change. Setters and Pointers mark game. Owners don't
expect them to compete with Border Collies in Obedience. You understand.
Most people choose the Akita because
he guards his family and their possessions. Akita owners (and
judges) accept that the Akita is not "a dog for everyone” and are not influenced
by the Animal Rights movement. Breeders and judges must insist on correct
Akita temperament rather than the submissive “loves everybody” personality which
is valued in many other breeds. In one of the first club publications on
the breed, Terri Caudell-Arndt did an excellent editorial entitled “Let’s Not
Candy Coat Our Akitas.” You will expect all Akitas to be well mannered
and under control, but unfortunately that is not always the case. My job
is to teach you how to "read" the breed and control your ring.
the dog stands tail up, with dignity and self-assurance, approach him with
confidence. The dog pictured left was a multi-Group Winner, ranked in the
top 10 Working Dogs, owner handled, before the split. He was all Akita,
tail always “cranked”, muscles tensed, but he accepted the exam like the
gentleman he was. Do not timidly extend your hand, he will sense your fear
and be suspicious of you and trust me, that's not the way you want a guarding
breed to judge YOU. If you fear the breed, don’t judge it until you have
met and examined enough Akitas outside the ring to be comfortable with the
temperament and character. If you "inherited" the Akita, just ask that you
not be assigned the breed when accepting a judging invitation. Like a
physician, “do no harm.” Not to yourself, and not to the breed.
If you are apprehensive about the
Akita, you will consciously select the “nicest” dog rather than the one that
exudes correct character. You will favor the one with the big open mask,
sweet eyes and kindly expression instead of the one with the small triangular
dark eyes and dark face that may appear threatening. They are supposed to
look like that! This is a fighting dog, one who will tackle a bear or a
wild boar, a dog who is expected to “stare down” an opponent. To select
for less is like choosing an Airedale with the expression of a Cavalier King
Experienced Working Dog judges are
comfortable going over the guarding breeds. Being "aggressive towards
other dogs" is problematic only when combined with a male Akita unaccustomed to
being grasped by the cheeks and stared in the eye by a stranger..
Akita: So - just as you would be
consciously gentle when judging a toy breed, be aware and respectful of the
Akita. Don't grab him by the cheeks. Do not make prolonged eye
contact. Don't shove him back and forth to check (whatever??) Do not
pick up his feet to check the pads. He isn't a horse, he's a fighting
breed and his feet are the second most vulnerable part of his anatomy. Do
not push down on the withers, not even on females. That is how one dog
tries to dominate another dog. A nervous or novice Akita may misinterpret
any of these actions. Keep your touch firm but friendly and you and the
Akita will get along just fine.
will be no problem unless she shies away. That could only happen with a
female novice puppy or a bitch in season. Photo #2 shows a typical
Akita bitch; big, strong, proper bone and substance, and confident.
The AKC Akita
Video (and website) does no service to
the Akita, judges, or potential owners by glossing over the Akita’s genetic and
developmental past. That is seriously misleading to the family who buys a
fuzzy, irresistible teddy bear only to discover that undisciplined, it has grown
into a grizzly bear.
The AKC Breed video depicts the Akita
as part of a sled team, as a search and rescue dog, and then as a big ole
snuzzly dog loving on his owner. The Akita is not and never was used in
any way as part of any group of dogs! A couple of gifted and determined
trainers managed to get Akitas in harness but that's about as useful as training
a foxhound to ignore a hot scent! The movie featuring dogs "left behind"
in Antarctica was not based on purebred Akitas. To again clarify, Akitas
were hunted in pairs, not packs and they were never sled dogs.
Nor are Akitas a good choice for
Search and Rescue. They can smell food just fine but their loyalty to
humans other than the family is limited. Are they trainable? Sure,
but they are a challenge for Obedience work. Some would say Akitas are too
smart to walk around and around in circles, going nowhere and being made to stop
and sit every time they are told to "let's go." As an Obedience
instructor, I have a different perspective - Akitas are often smarter than their
As regards the other video clip
mentioned above, of course Akitas love their owners. But that has nothing
to do with evaluating temperament. Assessing breed temperament and
character is not as easy as spotting a limping dog but please do not expect a
waggy, exuberant adult dog in your Akita ring. Akitas are not tail waggers
nor are they particularly demonstrative in expressing love and loyalty.
Respecting the Akita as it has been
since the 1950’s, I characterized the breed as "gentle as a kitten but fierce
as the Samurai" in my Dog World column of the 70's and it became a popular
phrase. But remember, Samurai only kiss in private. It's sort of a
guy thing. An Akita owner knows how devoted his dog is without
being hugged and kissed every two minutes.
to judges who understand correct Akita temperament, we got past a trend towards
smaller, cuter, effeminate males that look up at you and smile at your approach.
Photo #3 is as close as the Akita ever gets to smiling. Mouth open,
relaxed, Sachmo looks up at me with complete devotion and love. He is by
the way, the top sire of all Working Breeds and an exemplary example of the male
Akita. This photo has appeared in dozens of documents illustrating ideal
head type but we'll get to head type later.
A mature male, approached by a
stranger, will not have this expression. Unless it is extremely hot, his mouth
will be closed and he will be the epitome of "dignified and courageous."
Dignified is the modifiers mentioned earlier. When examined, his muscles
will be tense, instinctively prepared for action. Many judges commented on
Sachmo's "hard condition" not realizing it was attitude and resentment at being
touched by a strange man.
Lady judges, relax, the Akita is very
perceptive to human sexuality. Females are treated with respect as are
children, puppies, kittens, etc. Two Japanese authorities, one of them
Hideo Ito, a popular international judge, explained that the male Akita does not
like to be touched by strangers, especially men. I once invited a Japanese
breeder to "go over" the dog he had traveled thousands of miles to see
personally. Sensing my confusion and inability to understand his broken
English, he demonstrated very clearly that it would be like shaking hands,
something the Japanese do for business reasons but which they do not do at home!
Smiling, he looked at Sachmo admiringly and remarked again, "Man does not touch
Temperament is "Alert and responsive, dignified and courageous." Let's look at those adjectives in the
Standard. The Akita is ever-alert to his surroundings. He is however,
responsive only to his owner or to a perceived challenge. He rarely responds to
strangers and as a judge, you are a stranger.
The Akita's dignity controls
and modifies his capacity to be aggressive. Those two factors, combined
with courage, makes him Ak-it-a. In nearly forty years with Akitas,
we had only three bites. While we were helping friends accomplish a mating
with their dog and bitch, a plumber thoughtlessly opened Widow-Maker's gate .
My stud dog saw an unexpected opportunity to get to the strange male and as
Tommy wrestled him back into the run, Widow-Maker delivered a minor bite on the
shoulder; a retaliatory statement for which the other employees teased him all
week. Sachmo once strongly discouraged a break-in to our truck. The
second time he used teeth, it literally saved my life as attested to by the
sheriff's deputy who refused to go into the cornfield after my assailant! There
was no tougher dog than the #1 Sire of all Working Dogs, yet he was a gentle
pillow for his little Japanese Chin buddy.
To those who think the breed should be
changed, I can only invite them, vigorously, to go mess up another breed.
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.
So whether judging or breeding, we can
forgive an Akita for being aggressive towards other dogs as long as it is
controlled. If we select a self-confident, assured, courageous Akita, we
will preserve a dog capable of standing between his family and an intruder.
That dog, because of correct temperament, will capably and with great
tenderness, baby-sit the children. Why would we seek to change that dog?
Return to Part 1:
Judging The Akita: Head To Tail