Japanese Akita vs American Akita - Which Akita Dog Breed Would You Pick?
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Japanese Akita vs American Akita – Which Dog Breed Would You Pick (Fox or Bear?)

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On the surface, Japanese Akita vs American Akita are VERY different – almost as if they were completely different breeds!

Japanese Akitas are smaller in size and less imposing than their American kin. A finer bone structure, much smaller ears… Not to even mention the colors!

The breed coat standard for the Japanese Akita is three coat colors while the American breed has a whole spectrum – from black to many shades of grey, with gingery-reddish-brownish-whitish.

But the differences don’t just boil down to colors! This in-depth guide will examine ALL you’ve ever wanted to know about the two breeds, from the physique to their nature, habits, trainability, grooming.

So the first question is…

Do you want a gruff bear-like doggie pal or a foxy knowing furry friend?

Read to find out if there is any REAL difference between these two breeds.

Japanese AkitaAmerican Akita
Japanese AkitaAmerican Akita
Size and weightMedium size dog of up to 25 inches in height.Medium size dog reaching 26 inches in height.
AppearanceJapanese Akita has a fox-like head and triangular ears that sit slightly more forward, less muscular with a curled tail that loops over into their back, almond-shaped eyes akin to a Husky, double coat and have a limited spectrum of coat hue.American Akita has a bear head, with triangular ears that sit more erect. It is more muscular and has a looser skin than the Japanese Akita, small deep set eyes and a double coat which comes in any color white with a mask on the face.
TemperamentHas evolved into a companion dog and good protectors of homes. They tend to be independent and are stereotyped as stubborn. They exhibit aloofness and are distant around strangers. Proper socialization and training from a young age can seek out these issues.Their inherent nature is to protect property and serve as a guard dog. American Akitas are smart dogs and like the Japanese Akita, they are usually wary around strangers. They have a high prey drive given their hunting background. Both breeds should never be left alone with small children or small pets. Akitas are known to be intolerant of other dogs of same sex. Due to its prey drive, avoid taking them to public areas.
GroomingHas moderate grooming needs.Has moderate grooming needs.
TrainabilityHas an independent character which makes it challenging to train even when still young.Owner needs to be seen as a pack leader by the Akita so that it can submit right from a young age to avoid behavioral challenges in future.
Japanese Akita vs American Akita Comparison Table

Related post: Siberian Husky vs Golden Retriever: In-Depth Comparison [Read Before Buying a Pup!]

Japanese Akita – History & Fun Facts

Japanese Akita dog

The Akita is a Japanese hunting dog whose bloodline goes back centuries. It was first introduced to the United States after World War 2 and set foot in the United Kingdom in the early eighties.

This breed of dogs has grown in popularity worldwide over the past 100 years. It is listed as the 47th most popular dog breed in the United States. There are two different varieties of Akita namely, the Japanese Akita or Akita Inu and the American Akita or Akita. But it was only after World War 2 that there was a notable divergence between the Japanese Akita and the American Akita.

The Japanese Akita was originally bred to hunt large game such as wild boar, deer, and the Yoze bear.

They would go on to become dogs of choice among Japan’s high society.

Japanese Akita has a huge symbolic meaning. In Japan, newborns are usually presented with an Akita figurine to symbolize a happy and healthy life.

In the early 19th century, their numbers were drastically reduced due to the arrival of a new dog breed, from the Western world such as the German Shepherds.

A concerted effort to preserve and rebuild their numbers was made, however, World War 2 hurt their numbers almost wiping them out.

American Akita – History & Fun Facts

American Akita

Everybody’s heard of the famous American female author Hellen Keller.

But hardly anybody knows that SHE brought the first Akitas to the United States of America in 1937 after she was gifted two members of the breed by the Japanese Government.

The first died of distemper but the second one survived and remained Keller’s companion for a long time.

The American Kennel Club established a breed standard for these large dogs two years later.
During the Second World War, lots of US soldiers based in occupied Japan came to know about the Akita breed from local stories and requests from their family and friends to go back home to bring one back home.

Impressed by their physique, they obliged their loved ones and brought these dogs back to the United States.

American soldiers were more impressed with the larger, more bear-like fighting Akita which was a mix of the German Shepherd and the local Akita Inu or Japanese Akita.

They found the smaller framed and fox-like Japanese Akina or Akina Inu a bit too delicate.

This explains the extensive presence of the larger, muscular frame of the American Akita in the United States. In 1972, the American Kennel Club accepted the Akita breed and classified it a working dog in 1973.

Japanese Akita vs American Akita: What To Expect Of Each Breed

Types of Akita

Left: Japanese Akita. Right: American Akita

Akita Inu (A.K.A. Japanese Akita)

This is the Akita that used to lord over the picturesque Japanese mountainous region of Akita and Odate.

It has a more compact body and lithe looking physique. Noble families used it for hunting and protection.

(Maybe they also used it for cuddles, but cuddles are NOT dignified, so we’ll never know.)

This Akita’s looks and features are so peculiar that you just know it when you see it! It is regal and dignified with smaller facial features and a tight coat.

The American Akita

The most noticeable feature of the American Akita is the black mask that covers its face.

That mask combined with its larger facial features gives it an uncanny and undeniable resemblance to a bear.

Roar!

Most of the Akitas in the United States are the American variety. They are used in police work, but also kept as pets.

1. Japanese Akita vs American Akita – Physical Appearance

These are big dogs though the American Akita is slightly more muscular than the Japanese Akita.
Below is a breakdown of the size and weight of each variety.

Height and weight of Japanese Akita vs American Akita dog breeds

This comparison shows that the American Akita is taller, heavier, and more muscular compared to their Japanese cousin.

The size of the Japanese Akita makes it a medium to large size dog. But the American Akita definitely classifies as a LARGE dog.

Eyes

The Japanese Akita has almond-shaped eyes, whereas the American Akita has small irregular deep set eyes with black, crayon-like rims.

The Japanese Akita eyes appear slightly larger due to the shape of the head and resulting facial composition. They are NOT larger than those of an American Akita, but look like that because of the way they are positioned on the face.

This Akita’s eye shape is more angular (similar to the rest of the facial features) and appears more squinty or almond-shaped, as they do not sit far back in the head.

The angle of the eye shape gives them the fox-like eye shape reinforcing the spitz-like features associated with this northern breed.

The American Akita, on the other hand, has eyes that sit further back into its larger framed head, making the eyes appear smaller than those of the Japanese Akita.

The head shape of the American Akita is rounder and its facial features appear more sunken-in and less defined.

American Akitas have smaller eyes and their dark coloring tend to resemble those of a teddy bear.

According to the American Kennel Club, the American Akita breed standard allows only dark brown eyes.

Coat

Coat of Akita dog breeds

Both Japanese and American Akita breeds have coarse heavy double coats that shed twice a year and require much brushing to avoid matting.

Japanese Akitas, however, come only in limited colors, namely red, orange, or bridle, and do not have specific face mask colors.

The American and Japanese Akitas differ in their coats and masks. American Akita can be found in all colors as per the breed standard. The American Akita may have a black mask.

Ears

A trained eye will notice a considerable difference between the ears of an American Akita and a Japanese Akita. (To an untrained eye, it won’t matter anyway!) Both breeds have plushy little triangular ears, but with different positioning.

The tip of the ears of Japanese Akita points (or flops) at a forward-facing angle. Some breeders believe this has to do with the Akita-Inu’s temperament which is more relaxed. After all, the Japanese Akita was bred to be more of a companion.

The American Akita ears point straight up which makes the dog look alert and in tune with its environment. As we said above, this majestic pooch is a natural guard dog.

It is almost as if you can tell the level of alertness in the two breeds by looking at the ears!

Musculature

Even those unfamiliar with the two Akitas will easily pick out the physical difference. It is very obvious, especially on the general bone structure and muscle tone of the two dogs.

The Japanese Akita has a fine bone structure that is very fox-like. The muscle tone is compact but not as dense as their American cousin.

Woman and American Akita sitting outdoors

The density of the American Akita’s bones shows through the muscle structure. The muscles are well-toned, giving the dog a stockier look but no less lean. Because of the dense muscle and bone, this Akita may look hefty which a lot of people misconstrue to mean it is slow.

Quite the contrary: The American Akita is like a well-oiled machine on four legs. Its motions are fluid and effortless, and it has powerful limbs to take prey or danger down.

The American Akita has always maintained a working dog physique because it was bred for protection, hunting, and guarding.

The Japanese Akita, on the other hand, was always pampered at the side of the nobles. So, it doesn’t have overdeveloped muscles. However, it is equally resilient and protective of its loved ones.

2. Grooming

Grooming an Akita dog

Both Japanese and American Akitas have the same type of coat. They are both self-cleaning dogs that only need to be bathed when necessary. Their double coats are waterproof and naturally repels dirt. So avoid bathing your Akita unless you can’t help it.

These coats are difficult to dry after baths because they are double coated and dog shampoo may be difficult to completely rinse out.

Brushing

Akitas, both Japanese and American, have similar coats as earlier mentioned. They shed a lot a couple of times each year. That’s why brushing their coats will be helpful in managing the heavy shedding.

The most suitable tools for this job are slicker brushes, a firm bristle brush, a pin brush, and an undercoat rake.

During the brushing session, expect a LOT of hair flying around, especially during the heavy shedding time of the year.

That’s why it is always best to brush the Akita outdoors. Spritz the fluffy coat with water to keep down the amount of hair flying around as you brush.

A deshedding tool is designed to gently remove the dead hair from Akitas fur. This brush is self-cleaning and with a push of a button, the accumulated hair is released from the brush into a bag.

Furminator is another essential tool to help manage Akita shedding. For easier clean-up after brushing, use the Furminator deshedding tool outdoors to help manage Akitas shedding during the dreaded shedding season.

Ears

Keep your dog’s ears clean by using ear wipes to clean the ears. Special ear wipes for dogs will make your life easier. (And your pooch’s ears less pungent.)

If you intend to use ear-cleaning solution, our comparison guide on the Akita versus the Rottweiler shed light on how to do that safely.

Nails

Most dogs dread the nail clipper for a reason.

They’ve either had a terrifying experience with it, or they just aren’t used to the process.

Start clipping the dog’s nails early, while still a puppy, to make it comfortable with the process.

To trim Akita’s nails, use a nail grinder or clippers with a nail guard. Older Akitas might take long to get used to the procedure and be problematic during this section of grooming.

Regular trimming of nails is healthy and will help keep the Akita comfortable.

Long nails are known to cause pain and affect the dog’s way of walking.

Teeth

Train your Akita to have the teeth brushed from a tender age. Use a dog’s toothpaste – human toothpaste is not safe for dogs.

It contains xylitol, a sweetener that is safe for humans but toxic to human beings.

Use a long-handled toothbrush for dogs or get one that fits over your finger. Exercise a lot of patience with your dog when teeth brushing until they get used to the process. Older Akitas can enjoy dental treats that will help to keep their teeth clean.

3. How to Train Japanese Akitas and American Akitas

Both Japanese Akita and American Akita have an independent character, which makes it a challenging breed to train. The owner needs to be seen as a pack leader by the Akita and training needs to start when the dog is a young puppy and more flexible to learning new things.

Training an Akita dog at home

Akita is a strong-willed breed and difficult to train if the training does not start early enough.

The Akita needs to understand that YOU are the leader in the relationship from day ONE.

Akitas, when properly trained, can be useful for protection. When they learn obedience, they can make great service dogs and pets for the right owner.

However, if they haven’t received full obedience training, they can be difficult to manage. And considering a fully grown Akita can reach the size of up to 130 pounds in weight and 28 inches in height, controlling a willful large dog in public can be quite challenging.

Akitas need a seasoned owner who can be firmly in control of the dog and channel the dog’s energy in the right direction.

Lifelong obedience training is crucial in managing its large size combined with a guard dog temperament (in the case of American Akita). If not well handled, this breed can be a liability.
Socialization should begin from its formative years.

4. Exercise and Health

Akita Inu resting after a daily walk outdoors

A bored Akita will turn to destructive behavior to pass time, yet this time can be spent constructively exercising. The Akita breed needs moderate but regular exercise to stay in shape. So, make time for long daily walks.

Both Japanese and American Akitas are genetically similar and tend to suffer from the same illnesses. The Akita breed is genetically predisposed to a number of health issues: bloat, thyroid problems, cancer.

Bumps, swollen glands, and limping can be signs of bone cancer.

Akitas are also known to suffer from hip dysplasia.

Avoid taking young Akitas through high-impact exercises that require a lot of jumping until the dog is fully grown. Akitas with arthritis need a good quality dog bed to ease the discomfort associated with arthritis. An orthopedic dog bed with a washable cover is suitable for large breeds such as Akita.

Health Conditions Affecting Akitas

American Akita resting at home

There are auto-immune diseases that are linked to the Akita breed. These include but are not limited to:

Uveo-Dermatologic Syndrome

An auto-immune condition which affects the skin and eyes – more precisely, the pigment tissues that have melanin.

The most significant manifestation is bilateral diffuse uveitis, which affects the eyes and may also involve the inner ear, with effects on hearing, the skin, and the meninges of the central nervous system.

Auto-Immune Hemolytic Anemia

Certain medications can cause this condition. But unfortunately, vets sometimes cannot pinpoint the exact cause of the disease.

Sebaceous Adenitis

A rare skin disease found in some breeds of dogs, including the Akita. It is characterized by inflammation of the dog’s Sebaceous glands (glands found in the hair follicles in the skin dermis), leading to gland destruction.

Pemphigus Foliaceus

An uncommon group of blistering diseases that affect the skin and mucous membranes.
In 1964 researchers found that the blood patients with Pemphigus contained antibodies to the layers of the skin that led to the formation of the blisters.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues in parts of the body. Symptoms vary between individual dogs and may be mild to severe.

Common symptoms include – painful and swollen joints, fever, hair loss, mouth ulcers, swollen lymph nodes, and tiredness Flares are periods when the illness is at its height and remission, periods during which symptoms are few.

Brown and white Akita Inu lying on dog bed at home

Non-immune conditions that affect Akita’s include:

Gastric Dilation

It is also known as bloat progresses to Gastric dilation volvulus, in which the stomach twists on itself. Gastric dilation causes the stomach to become overstretched and twisted due to excessive gas content.

The word bloat is generally used to mean gas distension without stomach torsion (a normal change after eating). This is a life-threatening condition in dogs, so it requires emergency treatment.

It is common in certain breeds of dogs. Deep-chested breeds, including the Akita, are especially at risk. Mortality rates in Akitas range from 10-60 percent, even with treatment. With surgery, the mortality rate falls between 15 to 33 percent.

Microphthalmia

Also referred to as microphthalmos is a developmental disorder of the eye in which one (Unilateral Microphthalmia) or both (Bilateral Microphthalmia) eyes are abnormally small and have anatomic malformations.

Canine Glaucoma

Is also known as primary glaucoma. It is a disease that affects the optic nerve and involve a loss of retinal cells.

Untreated glaucoma in dogs leads to progressive blindness.

The group of multifactorial diseases which cause glaucoma in Akitas can be divided roughly into three main categories, namely congenital, primary or secondary. In Akitas, the most common form of primary glaucoma is closed-angle glaucoma.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Progressive degeneration is the gradual deterioration of the retina (the portion of the eye that senses light and allows sight).

Hip Dysplasia

The condition where the head of the femur does not fit properly into the hip socket leading to osteoarthritis and pain.

Elbow Dysplasia

This is a condition in which the components of the elbow joint (the humerus, radius, and ulna) do not line up properly leading to osteoarthritis and pain.

Von Willebrand’s Disease

A genetic bleeding disorder caused by a deficiency in the quality or quantity of van Willebrands factor (VWF). That is a protein needed for your platelets to adhere to each other.

Cushing Syndrome

Also known as hyperadrenocorticism. It affects the adrenal glands. It is due to exposure to high levels of certain steroids in medication or naturally occurring.

Black and white American Akita dog lying on hard wood floor

In addition to autoimmune diseases, there are also immune-mediated endocrine diseases such as:

  • Hypoadrenocorticism – also known as Addison’s disease. It affects the adrenal glands and is essentially the opposite of Cushing’s Syndrome.
  • Diabetes Mellitus – also known as type 1 diabetes, affects the pancreas.
  • Hypothyroidism – this is an auto-immune disease, which affects the thyroid gland.

There are also breed-specific conditions including:

  • Immune sensitivity to vaccines, drugs, insecticides, anesthetics, and tranquilizers.
  • Pseudohyperkalemia – a rise in the amount of potassium that occurs due to its excessive leakage from red blood cells when blood is drawn. Hence the prefix pseudo, meaning false. This is common with East Asian breeds, including Akitas, because of the high level of potassium in their red blood cells compared to other dogs.

5. Price Comparison

Japanese Akitas and American Akitas are generally valued the same.

American Akita puppies and Japanese Akita puppies
Top: American Akita puppies. Bottom: Japanese Akita puppies

It is best to take them in as puppies. The Akita puppies have a price range of between $750 to $2000 depending on the breeder.

Whether you are planning to get a Japanese Akita or an American Akita puppy, they will not come cheap. The pure-bred Japanese Akita is considered slightly more expensive. Akitas have recently become widely recognized and have featured in many Hollywood movies

The Akita Club of America has a list of breeders who have signed up to their code of ethics.
This gives the assurance they are breeding ethically and responsibly and eliminates room for unscrupulous breeders to con the general public by selling them breeds purported to be Akitas.
If you consider rescuing an Akita rather than buying a pup, it could be cheaper.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Akita banned in some cities?

Akita faces bans in many cities across the United States because of its aggressiveness.

In any encounter with other dogs or uninformed people, no matter if the Akita was the aggressor or not, expect it to be blamed.

It isn’t fair, but there’s hardly anything you or I can do about it except for spreading some positive prop-akita-ganda!

In some areas, there is no outright ban on them and other restricted breeds. They require you to handle them with care when in public.

Animal Planet reports that in areas with such rules, you may be required to muzzle your dog when in public.

You may also have to take out liability insurance or display a dangerous dog sign at your residence. In some jurisdictions, The Akita might be required to wear a tag indicating it is a dangerous dog. In others, you might be mandated to micro-chip and spray or neuter the Akita.

Are Akitas good with kids?

Young boy playing with Akita dog outdoors

They are known to be protective of their owners while aloof and silent with strangers and visitors. If you have kids and thinking of acquiring an Akita, it is wise to do some in-depth research ahead of time. Being a temperamental breed, you can’t be sure how they will react towards children.

These breeds are not best for younger children who may be careless during play. They are large, powerful, and headstrong and can be aggressive if they feel threatened or need to protect. They can also be possessive of food and toys and are generally not easily enticed to play or open to being fussed over.

However, with consistent training and proper socialization from a young age, Akitas can behave safely around children and make great family pets.

Nevertheless, adults should always oversee interactions and play between children and Akitas. Children should be taught how to properly behave around Akitas.

Can Akitas get along with cats?

The short answer is: it depends. Sometimes they do get along and sometimes they don’t. They have very high prey instincts and can rupture everything before you even notice. After all, they were originally bred for hunting and killing any small animal!

So for Akitas to live with cats, they have to be trained.

And here are a few specific steps you need to follow during training:

  1. Buy your Akita at a very young age like 8 weeks. This will ensure the dog is young and can’t harm the cat.
  2. Get to know the history of the Akita before taking it in. Is he aggressive? What is the temperament of the parents?
  3. The cat should be the older resident of your home compared to the Akita.
  4. Never leave them alone at first. They usually attempt to kill the cat when left alone together. It is always advisable to separate them whenever you go out.
  5. Evacuate the cat when the Akita becomes hyper.
  6. Introduce your Akita to the cat gently.
  7. Train the dog to stay with the cat.

Akitas can get along with cats only if both are properly trained.

Bottom Line

Japanese Akitas have developed into companion dogs while the American Akitas’ nature is to protect property and serve as a guard dog. Depending on whether you are looking for a guard dog or a companion, you have an available option of an Akita to choose from.

Apart from size, appearance, and to a lesser extent temperament, the two Akitas are largely similar. But the Japanese Akita eventually comes out top as the ideal pet.

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