When considering which breed of dog you should get, you want to make sure the breed you’re selecting fits with your lifestyle. If you’re an avid hiker, a French Bulldog probably won’t be a great choice. If you live in a tiny apartment, a large dog like a Great Dane wouldn’t be ideal. Picking a breed that meshes with your lifestyle will make for a much more successful relationship between you and your pooch.
One of the questions we get most often about our American Akita, Haga is Do Akitas like to Swim?
Many Akitas do like to swim. When it comes to our American Akita, he’s a bit hot and cold about swimming. So if you’re the type of person who loves to go to the beach or spend a lot of time at the lake, will an Akita be a good choice for you? Well before we get to the heart of the matter, let’s talk about the history of the regal Akita.
Akitas: National Treasures of Japan
If you haven’t yet heard the story of the most famous Akita, Hachiko, it’s worth hearing. Hachiko lived in Japan, where the Akita is from, and would accompany his master to the train station each day as his master went off to work. The pup would then come back to the train station at the end of the day to greet his master as he got off the train. Only one day, Hachiko’s master never came back…he had unfortunately passed away while at work.
The brave and loyal Hachiko waited every day at the train for his master return until his own passing nine years later in 1935. This never before seen devotion spurred the Japanese government to recognize the Akita as a national treasure.
What is often left out of the story is that at the time, Hachiko was one of only 30 remaining purebred Akitas in the world. Unfortunately in the years prior to the famous Hachiko story, Akitas were mainly used for dog fighting in Japan. This lead to purebred Akitas being mixed with other, larger or more aggressive breeds. Prior to the dog fighting years, Akitas were mostly used for bear hunting expeditions in the harsh winter mountain climate of Northern Japan.
Because of this harsh and cold climate, Akitas are a double coated dog. An Akita’s undercoat is thick and wooly, and helps to insulate them from both hot and cold temperatures. Their outercoat helps to keep out moisture and dirt. However, thick double coated breeds like Akitas are also not known for being strong swimmers. Their thick coats can weigh them down in water, and can also take a long time to dry. When a dog’s coat is wet, it can’t do it’s job insulating the dog from cold or hot temperatures.
Do Akitas Like to Swim?
Although Akitas are not naturally strong swimmers, most Akitas do enjoy swimming, however it will likely take some time for them to warm up to it. Because swimming isn’t in the Akita DNA and it doesn’t come naturally to them, don’t be surprised if your Akita is hesitant to test the waters of swimming…literally!
With that said, there is a lot you need to know before you let your Akita hop in for a quick splash.
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Health Considerations with Akitas and Swimming
When your Akita is a puppy, your veterinarian will likely recommend quite a few vaccinations for your pup such as rabies, distemper, kennel cough, lyme, bordetella, Parvo and more. It may seem like a lot, but germs can spread quite easily in dogs, and puppies immune systems are not strong enough to fight off these infections on their own.
For the most part these vaccines are safe and effective, however when we picked up our American Akita, Haga, from the breeder, she strongly warned against the Leptospirosis (aka Lepto) vaccine. While it may be easy to waive off such a concern as superstition or paranoia, I had to consider the fact that this woman at present time owned 15 adult Akitas, had owned dozens more previously, and had produced hundreds of dogs through various breedings over the years. She clearly had a lot of experience with Akitas and vaccinations. It’s also true that vaccine studies in pets are not as robust as those done for human use, and there is a strong genetic difference between various dog breeds, meaning medicines that are completely safe in one breed might cause an adverse reaction in another.
After doing some further reading, we opted not to get the Lepto vaccine for our American Akita, Haga, as we felt the risks outweighed the benefits. You should have a serious and in depth discussion with your vet before making this choice, however since Lepto is mostly found in natural bodies of water (including puddles), that meant we couldn’t let Haga swim or play in the river or lake until he was at least a year old, as most studies show that adult dogs handle a Lepto infection much better than puppies, for which it can be fatal. We were also extremely careful to not let Haga share a water bowl with other dogs, as Lepto can be transmitted by dogs who have received shots for Lepto.
So if your Akita is not up to date on certain vaccinations, be very careful about letting the swim or play in natural bodies of water, which can be a breeding ground for infectious diseases.
Another big issue for thick coated breeds like Akitas are hot spots. A hot spot is an irritation and/or infection of the skin. Typically hot spots are formed when moisture gets trapped between the undercoat of your Akita and their skin. This moisture creates an irritation that your Akita will scratch or bite at. Because your Akita’s mouth and feet both likely contain bacteria, the bacteria can then get into the wound created by the itching, and voila…you have a hot spot.
Hot spots are very painful for your pup, and can also lead to more serious infection, so it’s best to treat them right away. The best way to help treat a hotspot is to make sure the affected area is kept dry and clean, and make sure your Akita stops picking at it! This can be hard to do, but we recommend an inflatable donut. Click here to see the one we use. You’ll probably want an XL for your big headed Akita! It may also be necessary for you to trim the hair back to let the hot spot heal, or you may need to put an ointment on it. There are a lot of great over the counter options like this one however if the infection is very serious, you may need to go to your vet to get a treatment that includes antibiotics.
Hot spots typically occur in areas where skin rubs together or there are skin folds. For Akitas this can be the armpits, groin and neck, but mostly commonly is where their tail curls back on itself for that classic Akita look. To help avoid your Akita from getting hot spots, make sure to thoroughly dry them after a dip in the water. If you live in a humid climate, make sure to get your Akita in a cool and dry space (preferably air conditioned) as soon as possible to stop the moisture from getting trapped. Humid climates and thick fur are a recipe for hot spots.
While a pool may be a safer place for your Akita puppy in terms of the risk of germs and infections, chlorine can also be a harsh chemical. While chlorinated water is generally considered safe for dogs, it can still cause their hair and skin to dry out. Just like too much moisture is bad for your Akita, so isn’t too much dryness. If your dog has dry or itchy skin, they are likely to continue to scratch themselves, sometimes to the point of bleeding, and any time your Akita has an open wound, that opens them up to infection, so while the occasional dip in the pool won’t hurt, pool swimming daily won’t be healthy for your Akita’s beautiful coat.
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Collars, Harnesses and Leashes
Should you take off your dog’s collar or other items when they go swimming? It depends. First, check to make sure that these items are designed to get wet. Some are, and some aren’t. If they aren’t, it will take forever for them to dry out, or they will potentially be ruined. Aside from the inconvenience of having to re-purchase these items, if a collar isn’t made to get wet, and it does, it can be a breeding ground for…you guessed it, germs!
It’s also not a great idea to let your dog wear anything that may weigh them down, so again if your collar or harness isn’t made for getting wet, it will likely get water logged and create significant restraint to your Akita.
As far as leashes are concerned, the only time you should keep your Akita’s leash on while they are swimming is if you are holding on to the other end, but most of the time, leashes are a no-no, and this is particularly true for natural bodies of water like rivers and lakes. If the leash is dragging at the bottom of a river, and gets caught on a submerged branch or rock, it could easily drown your Akita. One of the few times we like to use a retractable leash with our American Akita, is if he’s in the water, and we’re standing on the shore. This gives him room to swim freely, but we can always pull him back in if necessary.
If your Akita gets wet, you’ll definitely want a non-fabric dog collar and leash. Something made of rubber, or polymer like this water proof collar are ideal. Not to mention, fabric collars STINK when they get wet!
Swimming Safety Tips for your Akita
There are just a few more things you should keep in mind when talking about Akitas and swimming, first of which is: If your Akita doesn’t want to swim, don’t force them. Of course this goes for any dog breed, but if your Akita doesn’t seem interested or is scared, don’t force them to swim. Just like people, dog’s can panic, and panicking and swimming are a recipe for disaster.
Dogs also have a difficult time barking when they are swimming, and barking can also fatigue them which can increase the risk of drowning, so your dog may not be able to verbally communicate that they don’t want to be in the water, so just because your Akita isn’t complaining, doesn’t mean they are having a good time. A good way to test this is out, is to start with a very short swim, let your Akita figure it out, and then immediately take them out of the water. If they decide to go back in on their own, that’s a sign they are interested in swimming. If they are hesitant, or are trying to pull away, don’t force the issue.
When it comes to swimming in pools, it won’t necessarily be intuitive to your Akita how to get in and out of the pool, so it’s important that you show them. It’s also highly advisable that you never let your Akita in any water, pool or otherwise, unsupervised. It’s extremely important that you keep your pool obstructed from your Akita or other dog whenever you are not home. I personally know someone who came home to find that their dog had drowned in their pool. Not only is that heart breaking as a pet owner, but also an extremely painful and terrifying way for your pet to pass away.
Lastly you can get a life vest for your Akita, which is ideal for boating trips and other outdoor water related adventures. Although I’ve never personally used a life vest for any of my dogs, this one has nearly a 5 star rating on Amazon with nearly 30,000 reviews, and it’s reasonably priced.
Hopefully this article was helpful in making the most of your summer swimming trips with your Akita!