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Breeding the Ideal Akita Dog
My Thoughts on Breeding
by Naoto Kajiwara, Tokyo, Japan
In the dog world, as in animal husbandry, the breeder should also have a planned breeding program through the careful selection of dogs. It seems that the Akita dog was also bred to meet certain requirements in the olden days.
They became large and majestic when bred as guard dogs. They became more muscular and powerful as fighting
dogs. The goal during the much criticized period of breeding of the early 1900s to western dogs or the Tosa fighting dogs was to produce powerful large dogs. Later, after the Akita dog was declared as a natural monument, the goal was to return to the Japanese dog bloodlines by temporarily using the Matagi, Hokkaido or Kishu dogs in a planned breeding program. Since then, the Akita dog breeding program has been devoted almost exclusively to producing dogs with essential qualities by various methods.
However, many are not acquainted with the Akita dog's bloodlines and have no plans to improve the Akita dog. They usually breed their female Akita dog to a male dog living nearby or through arrangements with a friend in the dog business. Without any deep studies into the pedigrees and body structure of one's foundation bitch and no formulated plan, some have bred their dogs to a popular male dog with a show record that dazzled the would-be breeder. Breeding of an ideal Akita dog is not easy and the results are often not as expected. However, occasionally, an excellent Akita dog has been produced by such people. As the saying goes: "It is a case or a black hen laying white eggs (The child excelling the parents)." The pedigrees of parents may reveal nothing spectacular in general, and one must be again reminded of the importance of knowing the bloodline.
Then how should a dog breeder proceed? First of all, one should be able to visualize the Akita dog from a thorough knowledge of the Akita dog's essential features and hereditary factors in the bloodlines. One should be able to recognize the dog's essential qualities from his or her ancestral lines by studying the dog and its pedigree. One should have an overall idea of the Akita dog and know the principles of breeding. Then one should try to visualize what he considers as the ideal Akita dog and work toward that goal. The road toward that goal is often not easy. In spite of the obstacles encountered, one should strive to advance toward that goal. One should obtain a foundation bitch from an excellent bloodline and breed to a male from a known bloodline. However, if the results fail in spite of careful planning, one should not become discouraged, but should look for the reasons for failure with a renewed zeal in an effort to turn failure into a success.
However, as a dog lover, an inanimate nature is also important. This may seem cruel. That is, when one obtains an unsatisfactory litter in spite of a carefully planned breeding, one must prepare to weed out the undesirables. Many breeders in the Akita dog's home base of Odate have resorted to this weeding out process for many years. However, this is not a very common practice among dog lovers in cities. They say that it is cruel and heartless, and puppies of poor quality with undesirable coat color are distributed to acquaintances or friends. This weeding out process may not have been desirable when Akita dogs were scarce. But in our day of surplus, failure to weed out could be the first step toward many strays, which can lead to a decline of the Akita dog. To produce an ideal dog, one should not become discouraged and, instead, combined with die inanimate nature to weed out the undesirable dogs.
In reality, the breeding of an ideal Akita dog is not that simple. As in the past, many Akita dog lovers and breeders still do not agree in their concepts of the true Akita dog image. As discussed before, this may be due to various factors. Today, it is largely due to the lack of uniformity in the ranking at the Akita dog shows by the judges. For example, a dog may be ranked as Yushu (Excellent) at one dog show and ranked as average elsewhere and may yet be ranked as a Tokuyu (Superior) and win first place at another dog show. Although it is somewhat true that the rank of a dog is determined on the quality of dogs entered at a given show, when the appraisal of a dog varies greatly at each dog show, the entrants and spectators may become confused as to which judge is correct. Furthermore, owing to laxity in judging, a recent flood of Tokuyu awards has made it more difficult for one to independently judge which are the truly excellent Akita dogs. Unless one is a very experienced dog breeder, who is able to evaluate a dog better than the judges, one will be unable to determine the true objective.
Many also do not have a full understanding of genetics, which is very important in breeding. Breeding of adequately standardized animals will generally produce animals relatively close to what one has planned. However, the history of the development of the Akita dog reveals that the results often differ from one's breeding scheme. For example, if a white foun-
dation bitch is bred to a brindle stud dog, the litter may not be limited to white or brindles and may also contain red, goma and even some pintos. It seems better dogs come from a multi-colored litter than from a litter resembling both parents. The breeding of a top winning foundation bitch to a top winning stud dog may not produce any outstanding litters. Thus, the value of a stud dog and a foundation bitch may not necessarily coincide with their winnings in the show ring.
However, some excellent Akita dogs are still being produced and entered at dog shows. This may be due to the guidance by dog pioneer breeders or to informed Akita dog lovers in general. However, many of these results are probably not necessarily due to any careful planning, but due merely to awareness, changes or by accident. Thus any famous Akita dog kennel or Akita dog breeder is unable to last very long for the foregoing reasons. Many famous kennels, soon after the war, took advantage of their popularity from their winning in dog shows and engaged in a very active breeding program, but this did not last very long. Eventually, owing to overinflated egos over their representative dog, some have gradually faded from the scene. It was mainly their failure to learn the genetics of the Akita dog's bloodlines.
Much planning is necessary to produce excellent Akita dogs and to preserve them in the future. Let us now review the breeding of the Akita dog immediately after the war to now. The late 1940s to the mid 1950s was the period of recovery for the Akita dog breed that was in a great decline. More attention was given to merely increasing the number of dogs. This led to neglect of deep research on the essential qualities of the Akita dog. The number of dogs increased greatly and this was followed gradually by emphasis on the essential qualities of the Akita dog, so that one is now able to say that nearly all of the Akita dogs produced since with the "kusami" ("offensive odor," impure look, western dog appearance) have been almost eliminated. Within the past twenty years, various breeding experiments have been attempted. If marked improvements are seen in the Akita dogs of today, these may be due to the breeding of stud dogs and foundation bitches with essential qualities of the Japanese dog.
It seems that many outstanding dogs have been produced from such a breeding program. Among these are Ichinosekigoma-go (see photograph), which received the Akiho's first award for an outstanding stud dog and established the so-called Ichinoseki bloodline. Ichinosekigoma-go was followed by Goromaru-go (see photograph) and Tamagumo-go (see photograph) which are considered as ancestors of the post war revival period. Then there is Kiyohime-go (see photograph), highly evaluated as a foundation bitch in more recent years. Azumazakura-go (see photograph), Azumagumo-go (Toun-go) (see photograph) and Kumomaru-go (see photograph) which won the Meiyosho Award have also become famous as stud dogs. However, among the foundation bitches, it is probably Daiunme-go (see photograph), a representative foundation bitch from the Iwamatsuso Kennel that produced three Meiyosho winners. In recent years, many bitches have been awarded the Meiyosho, but none seem to have surpassed the record of Daiunme-go as a foundation bitch. Therefore, let us now consider the body form and bloodline of Daiunme-go.
Daiunme-go's sire was Daiun-go and her dam was Kiyome-go. Her grandfather was Tamagumo-go and grandmothers were Kiyohime-go and Makome-go. Although one is unable to determine which bloodline contributed to their body form, it may be due to the mixing of the bloodlines from Tamagumo's sire, Arawashi-go (see photograph) and the bloodline of Kiyome-go via Kiyohime-go, via Goromaru-go, via Chinpei-go. An important point is that these ancestor dogs with their body form were
bred to dogs then considered to have the character and features of a Japanese dog. Thus by breeding Daiunme-go with Azumazakura-go, Bankomaru-go and Nanun-go were born. Tanigumo-go (sire: Tanihibiki-go, dam: Jurome-go) produced Kumohibiki-go and Tanigumome-go. Also the dogs that inherited the body form and other excellent features were not all larger dogs, but had tight and solid body forms. Until recently, it was necessary to include pure Japanese type Matagi dogs in the bloodlines and Daiunme-go had some of these essential qualities as a foundation bitch.
However, the dog world tends to move from one extreme to the other, probably due partly to the search for knowledge of the essential qualities of the dog. It may be due to a consideration of the smaller dog with a tight body being a better dog, so that for a time the Akita dogs became smaller and strong objections were raised against the smaller Akita dogs. For a time, smaller Akita dogs were winning at the dog shows. This was probably due to a breeding plan then, which was probably an attempt to restore toward the Japanese dog. Thus, dogs produced then, when compared to those produced before, were smaller, but were markedly improved, with almost no hint of the western dog appearance. This was followed with the gradual appearance of dogs of superior quality.
However, one should not conclude that the smaller Akita dog is acceptable, since it was so mentioned in the previous paragraph. If the Akita dog becomes too small, one may have difficulty in differentiating the Akita dog from the medium dogs and no matter how improved the Akita dog may be, the significant value of the Akita dog will be lost. As mentioned previously in the section on the historical development of the Akita dog, it has been inferred by some that several thousand years ago, no, several hundred years ago, the Akita dog belonged to the medium dog class. However, later, over many years the Akita dog underwent changes owing to changing environmental conditions from wild to domesticated and as working dogs, they increased in size so that they began to be recognized as a large Japanese dog and went on to be recognized as a natural monument. From this standpoint, one must draw a line between the medium and large dogs.
Let us now return to our main topic. By studying the records of dog shows of many years ago in the Odate area, one is able to clearly understand that few outstanding stud dogs existed then. The number of champion dogs in the headquarters show in Odate in those days were limited to litters of only one or two stud dogs in many instances. Thus in the Odate area, heavy emphasis was placed on stud dogs, and it seems that the outstanding accomplishments of certain foundation bitches were not as appreciated then. Many famous stud dogs from the Akita area were sent to breeders in the Kansai (Kyoto-Osaka) area. However, they were unable to produce any outstanding dogs for many years, in spite of many earnest attempts, until they were able to grasp the essentials, somewhat vaguely at first. They eventually began to produce some excellent Akita dogs recently, not only in the Kansai area, but in all areas. Furthermore, the parents of a champion of today usually differ from their parents of the past. This is one of the great differences from the past, and is good evidence of the overall improvement in the Akita dog.
For the present and future breeding of the Akita dog, it is very important to have a clear vision of the Akita dog in mind. However, this is probably not easy, if more discussions resulting in repetitious confusions occur. I would like to present my thoughts, which may be regarded as somewhat bold by some. Should one ask me what is a true Akita dog, I shall reply, first of all, it must be a Japanese dog to the bitter end. In other words, it must not have the appearance of a western dog or the "foul smell of butter," but must have the appearance of complete harmony with Japan's natural surroundings. Also, it must be a large Japanese dog with much physical substance. However, many are aware this is not so today and that should be changed.
Therefore, how should one go about in his breeding program? It seems each individual dog breeder should plan his own program. Until now, almost all of the Akita dog breeding involved improvements in the Akita dog. However, no further improvements will occur from now on if one merely repeats the predecessor's footsteps by straying from one side to the other. One must try to attain a high level of quality in essential features, body structure and color by enhancing the dog's strong points to make up for its weak points. For example, although lacking some weight, a Japanese dog with the essential substance, height, body volume and bone volume with an excellent should be acceptable for now. For dogs with no faults in the essential features, volume and form, but with an unclear coat color, one should strive to correct the fault in color.
Inbreeding, that is between parent and child, brother and sister, etc., is not recommended for now and one should probably limit themselves to line breeding. One should strive to avoid the great confusions of the past and carefully select the breeding partner for each individual Akita dog.
A breeder should always try to produce excellent Akita dogs for the future and thus contribute to the progress of the Akita dog.
(This article was also printed in the September/October 1993 Akita World magazine)