AKITA TEMPERAMENT, PAGE 4
Of course, to accomplish all the foregoing tasks, an Akita must be
trainable. Personally, I think trainability is an innate characteristic
of all dogs and that all dogs are trainable. Puppy Aptitude Testing
helps match people to dogs and dogs to training methods, which is one
reason I strongly advocate its use.
Some combinations of people and dogs just do not work well together,
such as a dominant dog with a shy, timid person. Likewise, a very dominant
person may overwhelm an omega bitch. Occasionally, you may encounter
the people who Ian Dunbar describes perfectly as "dog dim." A short
conversation will tell you that they haven't got a clue as to why dogs
do anything nor do they have a clue about how to get them to do anything!
If they are otherwise suitable, they can learn a lot provided they
will read or watch videos. Appropriate material, such as a good training
book or video, can provide a basis for understanding their dog. It's
a good idea for you to provide this material for their review before
they pick up their puppy and for you to question them closely to make
sure they understood it. These owners will require a disproportionate
share of mentoring to stay on track. Just as some people cannot learn
a foreign language, a few of these people will never have a clue about
their dog's real personality. Fortunately, dogs are very adaptable
and better at understanding people than we are at understanding them.
When we discuss training,
I caution new owners that an Akita is not going to sit at your feet
with shining eyes that beg you to tell him what to do. Compared to training
a Border Collie, training an Akita is an uphill climb. Does that mean
they are not trainable? Certainly not!
On the other hand, finding a suitable training class and utilizing
it successfully can be difficult for a newcomer. As I mentioned earlier,
my sales contract contains a clause requiring the new owners to attend
a training class with the dog. I encourage them to attend puppy classes
and give them information on trainers who are in their area. To sweeten
the pot, I rebate $50 of their purchase price when they give me a copy
of their graduation certificate. Although everyone doesn't graduate,
they all do attend class, so at least they have some foundation for
working with the dog.
If you have some grounding in obedience training, another approach
is to offer classes yourself. For extra incentive, you could rebate
part of the class fee for graduation with a puppy you bred. A trainer
with whom you are on good terms might discount her rates for your puppies
in exchange for referrals. However you manage it, the new owner should
leave your house with the clear understanding that his puppy must be
trained and the determination to do so.
Before I send them off,
though, I talk to the new buyers about training classes and discuss
a few problems they might encounter because
they have an Akita and not a Border Collie. After all, back in the days
when dogs actually did work for people, they performed different jobs
which required very different skills. I wouldn't ask my accountant to
wire my house nor would I go to a plumber for brain surgery.
Herding and gun dogs are the telephone operators of the dog world.
We think of them as "smart" because they learn behaviors quickly and
will repeat them endlessly and eagerly. If you take a retriever duck
hunting, you expect him to go after the last duck just like he went
after the first. What would a shepherd do if his helper suddenly decided
that running back and forth around the sheep was boring?
Although these dogs are capable, indeed must be capable, of independent
decisions, they are not particularly "independent" dogs. They must be
what shepherds describe as "biddable;" that is, when the master gives
a command, the dog should hasten to obey it unless he has a compelling
reason not to. In that case, sooner or later, he will communicate it
to the owner.
Looking at the way an obedience trial championship is obtained, it's
hardly a surprise that most of the dogs achieving it are herders or
gun dogs. Even breeds not classed in these groups such as Papillons
and Poodles have that background. Poodles were originally retrievers
and Papillons were bred down from spaniels.
Akitas are shown in the working group, but where do they fit in the
obedience picture in terms of working traits? To determine this, you
have to look at function. The forerunners of the breed were used to
hunt large game in the mountainous territory of Dewa Province on the
Japanese island of Honshu. Accompanied by a hunter, they located, followed,
and held or tackled bear, elk, and boar--activities which make them
Evaluating them in terms of appearance, they obviously derive from
"spitz" or "Northern Dog" ancestry. These dogs have certain common traits:
short, erect ears; mesocephalic heads with oblique-set eyes; double
coats; and tails that curl upwards in some fashion. Representatives
are found throughout the Arctic and northern temperate areas and include
the Pomeranian, Keeshond, American Eskimo, Samoyed, Alaskan Malamute,
Greenland Eskimo Dog, Siberian Husky, Norwegian Elkhound, Norwegian
Buhund, the Russian Laika, the Karelian Bear Dog, the Korean Jendo,
as well as all the native Japanese dogs. The working representatives
of this group have served as sled and pack dogs and hunters, and guards.
Obviously, the Akita fits nicely with this group of dogs. Like the
Elkhound and Karelian, he is a hunting or hound/spitz type dog. Characteristics
which suit them for their jobs do not necessarily produce a stellar
obedience performer. Hounds must be flexible in their responses. After
all, the prey sets the pace and determines the course, and the hunter
must be adaptable, ready to abandon one strategy in favor of another.
In common with the northern/hound types, he is physically tough with
a high pain threshold which was probably increased through selective
breeding when he was used as a fighting dog. From both his function
as a hound and his heritage as a northern dog, he has a core of independence
that makes him unable to always do what you want. This doesn't mean
he won't do it, just that he might not.
How do these idiosyncrasies translate to training? Akitas, like many
hounds, have a very low tolerance for repetition. Once boredom
sets in, and it does so quickly, the dog looses interest, which means
repetition is not the key to successful training. The problem is that
dogs learn by repetition, so as a trainer, you have to balance the two
by mixing a variety of exercises, using short training times, and by
keeping training a manageable challenge.
Therefore, in class, when your Akita has done two great figure eights,
instead of doing three more, praise him and go on a couple of other
exercises regardless of what the rest of the class is doing. Of course,
you need to discuss this with your trainer first so she doesn't think
you're being uncooperative.
Even as early as seven weeks on the PAT, Akita puppies show little
persistence. They often attack the mop but abandon the attack after
a few seconds, while Rottweiler puppies in the same situation may have
to be pulled off of it. The Akitas will chase a ball that rolls in front
of them but quickly loose interest in favor of some other activity.
Variable behavior :
They also tend to vary their behavior rather than stereotyping it quickly.
When we test puppies, one of the things we do is put them on a box,
stand in front of them, and call them. In most herding and sporting
breeds, done a second time, the puppy tends to repeat what he did the
first, even if it is falling off the box backwards! Akita puppies may
jump off towards the tester once and to the side the second time. They
might jump off once and refuse a second time; jump off to the side and
explore their surroundings the first time, and go right to the tester
One of the characteristics we consider "smart" in a breed is the ability
to consistently repeat a learned behavior. Dogs that stereotype quickly
are easy to train. A resistance to stereotypical behavior does not make
a dog dumb; it makes it more flexible. Akitas tend to try more than
one approach to any problem; just because they did it one way first
does not mean they will do it the same way next time.
For the obedience trainer, these traits present a real challenge. You
have to work harder to reinforce correct responses and learn to shrug
off those times when your dog adds a new wrinkle.
Another problem is the Akita's slowness in generalizing from a specific
learned behavior. For instance, when you begin teaching the sit, your
dog may be beside you in the heel position. Then you teach him sit in
front, then sit when he is away from you. A German Shepherd will quickly
learn to sit anywhere because he generalizes well. He is able to make
the connection that the same action is called for regardless of where
he is spatially. He will seem to understand the concept of "sit," so
Akitas, on the other hand, take much longer to go from the specific
to the general. Instead of expecting the dog to grasp the concept, you
may have to break the exercise into many component parts and teach each
as a separate step and then, chain them together. Some Akitas seem to
have an "Aha!" experience and suddenly get the point, while others never
have a clue.
They may have more trouble with some exercises than others. In discussing
this subject with a friend who is training an Akita in Open, she said
she thought it applied to the problem she had with teaching the quarter
turn. In this exercise, the dog and handler stand in a heel position
with the dog sitting. The handler then shifts her position, in place,
a quarter turn to the left. The dog must get up and reseat itself in
the proper heel position.
All the class Goldens learned to scoot into position without ever really
getting up, while Teresa was still trying to teach her dog that when
Teresa moved, the dog had to move too. Obviously, they need to try a
different training method that takes into account a slower ability to
Sooner or later, everyone runs up against the Akita's independent steak.
Hound independence is expressed in passive resistance. The dog won't
openly defy you, he just won't cooperate. He may lag while heeling or
move a foot on the stand. If you're in the conformation ring, maybe
he continually moves while you are trying to set him up even though
he's not unbalanced or swings his rear out away from you when you stop.
You can put a stop to this by introducing some variety and perhaps some
levity into your training routine. Sometimes, passive resistance is
the end result of boredom, so shorter training sessions will help.
Northern-dog independence, however, runs more to outright defiance
if the dog is determined enough. Again, all of us have seen this with
Akitas. Has your dog ever slipped out the door and headed off? He'll
come home when he is ready or when he's enticed by something more fun
than cruising the neighborhood.
I had one Akita who liked certain crates. He didn't just escape from
crates he didn't like, he demolished them, just to make his point. I
never could discern what characteristics made an acceptable crate, so
I have a varied collection of broken ones, courtesy of Max. However,
if he liked a crate, he never made any attempt to leave it. One was
so flimsy, if he'd inhaled it would have broken apart, but he stayed
in it peaceful and content. This is Northern-dog independence--my way
or the highway!
The next question that
arises is "what kind of training should I do?" When I first started,
mumble, mumble, years ago, everyone used the same basic methods for
training. Over the ensuing years, learning research has supplied additional
tools for working with dogs. Plenty of books on dog training are available,
and most areas have more than one type of training classes available.
To a certain extent, how you train will depend on the methodology of
The method I first learned has now garnered the rather unappealing
name "force training or jerk and pull (j/p)." Here, you put the dog
on a lead and choke collar (we didn't even have pinch collars when I
started) and gave a command. If he did it, you gave him lots of praise.
If he didn't, you gave him a quick jerk with the leash to get him to
do whatever you were working on and as soon as he did it or was in position,
gave him lots of praise.
Back in the dark ages, no one even considered training a dog until
it was six months old. This, of course, made the dog harder to train,
both because he'd been learning on his own all along and because he
was that much bigger than a puppy. So, maybe part of the "force" was
because the dog was just harder to work with.
Finally, some enlightened people, Dr. Ian Dunbar among them, advocated
working with puppies. The age to start formal training then halved to
three months. This type of training goes by the more attractive terms
of "lure" or "food training." It is grounded in the surety that puppies
will do almost anything for a food treat or a favorite toy.
Using natural actions, the puppy is persuaded through use of the lure
to perform. For instance, if the lure is held slightly behind and above
his head, he will have to look up and sit to get it. Likewise, held
between his feet, he will tend to go down to get it. The lure, coupled
with a command and praise teach the dog. When the command and action
are firmly associated, food rewards are decreased and eventually ceased.
Bill Bobrow one of our most successful obedience trainers cautions
that older dogs may not work all that well for food rewards unless they
are encouraged to do so as puppies. This applies also to baiting dogs
in the conformation ring. He also points out that food rewards may not
be enough with Akitas and that sooner or later you will have to resort
to some type of physical correction.
His comments reminded me of a young male I was working on the down-stay.
As his hormones have kicked in, he's become increasingly reluctant to
down in the presence of adult males. A few nights before at class, I
had given him a down command along with one of his favorite goodies.
He started to go down, taking the treat in his mouth. Then he stopped,
pointedly looked at the adult male next to us, looked right at me, spit
out the food, and sat up. I got his message. There and then, I decided
it was time for a different training technique.
Much to my surprise, I found an even newer technique which uses food
too but couples it with what psychologists call an event marker.
The first people to introduce this training method to the world of dogs
came from dolphin training at marine exhibitions. While they use
whistles with the sea mammals, with dogs most use a clicker (those toys
we used to call "crickets").
The seminal book for this training method is Don't Shoot the Dog by
Karen Pryor. In it, she discusses the basic principles governing
what is now commonly referred to as "click training (c/t)." While it
shares many aspects of lure training, it relies on the dog's figuring
out what you want him to do rather than your forcing him to do them.
Thus, he becomes an active participant in his own training. One
of the reasons I think this method is so successful with Akitas is that
it challenges them--no boredom here! Because of this participation on
his part, the dog isn't resentful or sullen because you are making him
do something. Instead, he's figuring out what to do which is made
easier for him because correct behaviors are marked with a click at
the instant it occurs. He keeps working because he is given a
reward which can be food, play, or verbal praise and a pat.
Almost everything you'd like to know about this training method can
be found on the internet. I've got several excellent sites linked
on my web page. Vendors at most shows carry video tapes and other
equipment, and seminars are held all over the country by Karen Pryor,
Gary Wilkes and other excellent trainers.
Akita trainers I've consulted and my own experiences lead me to think
that while clickers, food rewards and lure training are effective tools
when they work, expecting them alone to carry you through a complete
obedience course may be unrealistic. Therefore, when you pick a trainer,
look for someone who is willing to combine methods. Above all, try to
find someone who understands that not all dogs have the same temperaments,
abilities, or tendencies, someone who recognizes that one training technique
may not work all the time with every dog and who has more than one to
Unfortunately, not every area has enough trainers for you to pick and
choose, in which case, you will have to get additional help. Through
the dog training books at your local library, you have access to some
of the finest trainers in the world and a plethora of training methods.
The internet offers information on web pages as well as many e-mail
lists dealing with training. Don't ignore these resources. Don't forget
to talk to other Akita people who have trained their dogs in obedience.
They've already been down this road and can offer you constructive advice.
With humor, understanding,
and persistence, you can train almost any Akita in basic obedience.
For every person who thinks that Akitas are not trainable, I'd point
to my house dog. She has never had an obedience lesson, came to us at
the age of three from life in a kennel run, and moved seamlessly into
our household. My kids and I talked about this today and we can think
of three unacceptable things she's done in all that time. She stole
a steak off the counter--once and she's run out the door twice.
Like scores of other Akitas, her training has been so effortless, that
we can easily say, she's had none. She's trained herself by observing
our responses to her actions and carefully fitting her behavior into
an acceptable mode with little or no formal instruction from us. Even
though she has no CD, she is a very trainable and well trained dog!
I think this is very typical of Akitas and one reason they are so easy
to live with in a house.
Although Akitas are naturally
careful and cautious, few fall into the fearful category which may be
the one exception to trainability. Fearfulness may be the result of
an inherited temperament and/or severe and early abuse.
Very fearful adults are very hard to deal with. To train them, you
must first gain their trust. They become dependent on your judgment
and rely on you for cues about their environment. While they may be
confident with you, with someone else they may revert to their previous
behavior until that person also establishes a bond with the dog. A few
dogs may extend their trust to people generally, but most will not.
A dog that is not afraid of noise is more pleasant to own. To some
extent, noise shyness is an inherited characteristic. Steadiness to
shot is of primary importance in the temperament of gun and guard dog
breeds. If you attend a Schutzhund or field trial, you'll find the dogs
impervious to the guns going off all around. They are also fairly staunch
in the face of all noise.
Historically, I suppose Akitas have little reason to be unaffected
by noise, and many seem unsettled to some degree by loud noises. I had
a female who hated the sound of generators. Believe me, getting into
a show site without passing a generator can be difficult depending on
the parking. If we walked by one, I might just as well have turned around
and gone home as take her in the ring. Somehow, she seemed to think
they were mobile and any minute, one would make an appearance.
Most dogs aren't so neurotic, but you never know what will happen.
We've all seen dogs react poorly to loudspeaker announcements, falling
chairs, or other unexpected sounds at a show. Years ago, while the groups
were going on at the dog show site on one side of a river, the city
set off fireworks on the other for some sort of celebration. We
spent hours trying to catch a Sheltie that had gotten away from its
handler. A multi-group winning dog, it was so traumatized by the experience,
it was never shown again.
Noise shyness is a trait you can breed away from, although it is of
considerably less importance than many others. If you think you might
have a problem, the time to start working with your puppies is while
they are in the whelping box. Make sure they are in a noisy environment,
although it should not be at such a level it makes them unduly nervous.
Play a radio on rap, hard rock, and talk stations. I have a satellite
dish and one of the channels we get has nothing but war movies. My last
few litters listened to bombardments, machine guns, and bombs every
I took two of them out to a Schutzhund German Shepherd Specialty when
they were six-months old and was very pleased by their response to the
guns fired off in the ring right in front of us. The male, who was asleep,
looked around, then curled back up and went back to sleep. The female
was unconcerned initially, but after about ten shots, she turned around
and looked at me for reassurance. I continued talking to my friend and
after a few seconds, my puppy began playing with her toy. Her mother,
on the other hand, would have bolted out of there at the first shot,
so I think early exposure has helped.
Desensitizing puppies to noise is also important if you live in an
area with frequent thunderstorms. Since these never go away, the dog's
fear tends to escalate. In the worst cases, the dogs engage in escape
behavior which means destruction of their confinement area. This may
be a crate or your windows and doors.
I don't mind answering questions when I have time. And I certainly
welcome your observations. You can email
me or call me (713/465-9729, this is CST, not between 8-10 pm.,