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An Akita by any name?

Photo by Sally Pointon
Guest speaker Pat Szymanski points out the differences between these two female Akitas - an 'American' Akita (left) and a Japanese Akita (right)

AN AKITA is an Akita is an Akita, right? Well, yes, in this country all types of Akita can and are shown as the same breed, and have been eligible to be registered with the Kennel Club under the existing Akita Standard since they arrived in the UK in the late 1970s.

However, in Japan and the FCI-governed countries two separate breeds are recognised – the ‘American’ Akita and the ‘Japanese’ Akita; and in America only the ‘American’ Akita are shown at AKC events – there is a separate club for the ‘Japanese’ Akita, the Japanese Akita Club of America.

In the UK, there are three recognised Akita clubs and two proposed clubs; one of these proposed clubs, the Japanese Akita Club of Great Britain, which was founded in 1983, supports what it considers is the pure-bred ‘Japanese’ Akita, and has for some years been requesting that it be included on the imported breeds register; discussions are, I believe, ongoing with the Kennel Club at Clarges Street.

This club sponsored the recent seminar to ‘introduce’ interested parties to the Japanese Akita-Inu, the name currently used to describe the ‘Japanese’ Akita in this country. Patron of the club, Pat Szymanski from America, who has been breeding and exhibiting dogs for more than 40 years, was the guest speaker; she recognised the difference in the two types some 17 years ago and has since been breeding and exhibiting the Japanese Akita-Inu with great success. Clearly passionate as well as knowledgeable about the Japanese Akita-Inu, she not only took the audience through the Japanese Standard, she spoke at length about the history of the two types and illustrated the restoration process behind the present-day Japanese Akita-Inu.

The audience contained exhibitors, breeders and judges of the Akita fraternity from across the spectrum (those who consider the two types of Akita as separate breeds, those who consider them to be one breed of different types, and those who are in favour of ‘mixed’ breeding) and there were, as you would expect, some lively discussions throughout the day.

The wording of the Japanese Akita Standard (which is owned by the Japanese Government, not the Japanese Kennel Club) can cause confusion as the dogs being bred and sought after in Japan do not adhere to some aspects of the wording (ie the wording for proportions states: ratio of height at withers to length of body is 10:11, when in fact the Japanese fanciers are breeding and exhibiting a shorter-backed, squarer dog with 10:10 proportions).

Someone in the audience light-heartedly said that it could be said that there are Akitas in the ring over here who are not bred or exhibited ‘to the Standard’, which, of course, could be said about many breeds.

To give a brief account of their background, originally there were no large Spitz-type breeds in Japan; the larger dogs evolved in the 18th century when the medium-sized, bear-hunting Matagi Akita (fighting dogs) were crossed with Mastiffs, St Bernard and reputedly Tosas to produce a larger, fiercer fighting dog. Although dog fighting was prohibited in Japan in 1908, this larger type dog was preserved; however, by the end of the Second World War the Akita had drastically reduced in number, and there were three distinctive types: the Matagi Akita, Fighting Akita and Shepherd Akita.

Kongo-go, a dog of the Dewa line who exhibited Mastiff and GSD characteristics, enjoyed tremendous popularity after the war, but learned fanciers in Japan did not approve of this type of Akita and initiated the ‘restoration’ of the original ‘Japanese’ Akita, eventually producing the large, spitz-type Japanese Akita-Inu of today (their FCI classification is Group 5 - Spitz and Primitive types).

To illustrate the differences between the ‘American’ and ‘Japanese’ Akita, the seminar was rounded off with the presentation of live ‘models’ of same sex pairs of the two types.

Despite the obvious discord among some of the fanciers, this ‘introduction’ to the Japanese Akita-Inu certainly sparked off further open discussion about whether or not the Akita should remain as one breed of different types in this country, or be recognised as two separate breeds. Ultimately the decision will rest with our Kennel Club.

For further information about the Japanese Akita Club of GB (proposed), you can contact the secretary, Keith Cleverly-Gullis, on 01249 651450 or e-mail him at