This article is from the Akitas Breed FAQ, by Kevin McIntyre with numerous contributions by others.
The Akita is the largest of the six Japanese spitz-type dogs. For
several hundred years, these dogs were used in male-female pairs to
hold game such as bear, boar, deer at bay until the hunter arrived.
They have also been used to retrieve waterfowl. They have been rumored
to have been kept by the aristocracy or wealthy people but
interestingly, when the Allied forces occupied Japan after WW2,
American G.I.'s saw the Akita, though there were very few left. The
GIs were very attracted to the massive sized dog and the Akita became
one of many "Japanese Souvenirs" brought to the US along with Japanese
swords, helmets, etc. The Japanese saw a business opportunity and
began mass producing Akita dogs to sell to the Americans from pet
stores in Tokyo. Some breeders began advertising the Akita as "a dog
of the Shoguns, a Dog of Royalty." The tall tales of royal dogs, etc.,
stuck with the Akita in the United States and was even incorporated
into the early literature distributed by the AC There was no truth to
the advertisements but the Americans fell for it (may have made them
feel as if they were taking a little piece of the Emperor with them).
At the end of the 19th century, the Japanese crossed this large dog
with non-native dogs (such as the Tosa Fighting Dog, German Shepherd
Dog, St. Bernard, Mastiff) to increase their size and strength for pit
In 1919, concerned by the Japanese breeds' potential extinction, the
Japanese included the large spitz-type dog (by then called the Akita
after the prefecture on the northern part of Honshu Island where it
had become well known as a fighting dog) in a list of natural
monuments to be preserved. At that time, most of the Akitas resembled
the crossbred fighting dog. It was not until 1931 that enough dogs
that resembled the current idea of a purebred Akita were found, and
the Akita became the first of the Japanese native dogs to be declared
a natural monument. The Akita gradually lost its popularity as a
fighting dog because other breeds proved more efficient fighters (and
dog fighting had been outlawed).
During World War II, the breed was nearly lost because many Akitas,
especially those in the cities, were killed for food or for their
pelts. The breed was re-established in Japan from the best of the
remaining dogs. Although the first Akita to come to the United States
was the puppy given to Helen Keller on her visit to Japan in 1937,
breeding stock did not arrive until Akitas were brought here in some
numbers after WWII by servicemen stationed in Japan. They were
probably not used as guard dogs by the military; both US and Japan
military used German Shepherd Dogs then (and Malinois today) [source,
Best suited as a companion now, some Akitas also work as sled, police,
therapy, guard and hunting dogs. Several have herding titles, and
several are trained companions of hearing- and sight-impaired people.
In general they are discerning guardians of their families. Because of
their dog fighting and hunting background, most Akitas are dog
aggressive and can be small animal aggressive.
In 1992 Akitas ranked 33rd in popularity among the 135 breeds
recognized then by the AKC. The Akita stud book in the United States
closed in 1972; no Akitas imported from Japan after that were able to
be registered with the AKC. That led to two main types of Akitas being
developed: American Akitas tend to be larger and stockier, often with
a black mask; while Japanese Akitas are more refined and stylized,
with the only allowed colors being brindle, white, and red with white
markings. Akitas in other countries are of both types. In 1992 the AKC
recognized the Japan Kennel Club, so Akitas from Japan
(JKC-registered) can again be registered with the AKC. Some people
would like to have two separate breeds, the Japanese Akita and the
American Akita; others prefer to have one breed, the Akita.
The breed seems to have stabilized after a dramatic increase in
registrations in the 1980s. Akitas are sold in pet shops; many of
these have been bred in "puppy mills," with little attention paid to
type, health, and temperament. See later sections on how to locate a
responsible breeder or how to get a rescued Akita.