"Originally Japanese dogs were small to medium in size and no large breeds existed. Since 1603 in the Akita region, Akita Matagis (medium-sized bear-hunting dogs) were used as fighting dogs. From 1868 Akita Matagis were crossed with Tosas and Mastiffs. Consequently, the size of this breed increased but characteristics associated with Spitz type were lost. In 1908 dog fighting was prohibited, but this breed was nevertheless preserved and improved as a large Japanese breed. As a result, nine superior examples of this breed were designated as " Natural Monuments " in 1931.
Before World War II
After the Meiji Restoration, people began to breed Akita with many dogs from other regions in Japan, such as the Tosa. The Meiji Restoration also ended Japan's closed door policy, and large, western dogs began to enter Japan. As a result, Akita were also bred with German Shepherds, Great Danes, and Mastiffs. This resulted in the breed losing many of its spitz-like characteristics. Akita were later bred with Hokkaido and Karafuto dogs (also known as the Sakhalin Husky), which were introduced to mainland Japan after the First Sino-Japanese War.
In the Taisho Period, people such as the mayor of Odate Town began a movement to preserve the Akita breed. By this time, the Akita had begun to turn into a mixed breed as a result of excessive breeding with other dogs. Watase Shozaburo, a Japanese zoologist that successfully proposed the Law for Protection of Natural Monuments also worked towards preserving the Akita breed. As a result, the Akita inu Introduction Foundation was created in May 1927 by the mayor of Odate, and nine Akita dogs were designated as natural monuments in 1931. In 1932, the faithful Akita dog Hachikô was featured in an article in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, which contributed to the popularity of the breed. When Helen Keller visited Akita prefecture in 1937, she expressed that she would like to have an Akita dog. An Akita called Kamikaze-go was given to her within a month. Kamikaze-go later died because of canine distemper.
During World War II
"During World War II (1939-1945), it was common to use dogs as a source of fur for military garments. The police ordered the capture and confiscation of all dogs other than German Shepherd Dogs used for military purposes. Some fanciers tried to circumvent the order by crossbreeding their dogs with German Shepherd Dogs.Also during World War II, the number of Akita dogs greatly diminished because of the lack of food. There were also orders to capture all dogs exKenzan-go, was promptly sent to her. By 1938 a breed standard had been established and dog shows had been held, but such activities stopped after World War II began.cept German Shepherds in order to use their fur for warm army uniforms. Many people bred Akita with Alsatians to avoid capture. When the war ended in 1945, there were fewer than twenty purebred Akita dogs in Japan.
Since World War II
"When World War II ended, Akitas had been drastically reduced in number and existed as three distinct types; 1) Matagi Akitas, 2) fighting Akitas, and 3) Shepherd Akitas. This created a very confusing situation in the breed. During the restoration process of the pure breed after the war, Kongo-go, a dog of the Dewa line, which exhibited characteristics of the Mastiff and German Shepherd Dog influence, enjoyed a temporary but tremendous popularity. However, sensible learned fanciers did not approve of this type as a proper Japanese breed, so they made efforts to eliminate the strain of foreign breeds by crossbreeding with Matagi Akitas for the purpose of restoring the original pure breed. They succeeded in stabilizing the pure strain of large sized breed as known today."
The Akita's ancestors were dogs used by matagi for hunting. These dogs, usually called matagi inu, were not as large as modern Akita dogs. Many of these dogs were used as guard dogs. Many were used to guard the emperor and his children. Akitas would sometimes be used instead of babysitters. They were also used for hunting bears, usually trained as mated pairs, with an eagle. The two dogs would attack the bear as it was distracted by the eagle.
Recent DNA analysis found that the Akita was among the most ancient dog breeds.
In the Edo Period, Dewa Province (present-day Akita prefecture) was ruled by the Satake clan. Since the Satake were tozama daimyo (considered potentially rebellious), they received severe restrictions by the Tokugawa Shogunate in all military areas. The clan decided to encourage dog fighting around 1630 in order to make it possible for the samurai to retain their aggressive edge in a way that would not offend the shogunate. Dog fighting became especially popular in the Odate area. Dog fighting enthusiasts in the area began to interbreed matagi inu with dogs indigenous to the area. These dogs, which later turned into the Akita, were called Odate inu at that time.
The War and its aftermath
However, the Akita became quite popular during the postwar period. Many occupation soldiers liked the Akita, because it was by far the largest Japanese dog. The fact that Helen Keller had an Akita also became well-known when she came to Japan in 1948 and thanked people in Akita for the dogs she was given. Most of the Akita dogs at this time had many German Shepherd-like characteristics. These dogs are currently known as Dewa line, or Dewa type Akita.