The German Shepherd/Akita LIE!

Was the Japanese Akita Inu crossbred with the German Shepherd during World War II to produce the American Akita? No, Akitas and German Shepherds were never bred together to form a new breed. In fact both the Japanese Akita Inu and the American Akita are native to Japan and have a long and rich history.

So why are both these dogs called “Akitas” but look so different? We’ll explain all of that and more in this article!

The Akita Almost Went Extinct!

The name “Akita” comes from the Akita prefecture in northern Japan. These dogs were simply named after the region they came from! Prior to modern day dog showing, breeds weren’t so structured and carefully distinguished as they are today. Dogs from the Akita region of Japan were referred to as “Akita Inu” or “Akita Dogs” in English. This means that there were likely several types of dogs that were all called Akitas.

After World War II, Japan was facing economic hardship and fallout from the war. At that time there were an estimated 20 Akitas left in Japan. A man named Morie Sawataishi, who had recently been stationed in the Akita prefecture for work, became interested in the breed, and began raising and showing dogs.

In the book “Dog Man” by Martha Sherrill, Morie describes how there were two bloodlines of Akitas at that time, the “Dewa” line and the “Ichinoseki” line. The Dewa Akitas were heavier, thicker, and more muscled, where the Ichinoseki line of Akitas had a more traditional “spitz” type of physique and look.

The two bloodlines were shown in Japan, until the 1970s, when the Dewa line fell out of fashion in Japanese dog showing. But the Dewa line had gained popularity elsewhere in the world, namely in the United States, hence the name the “American Akita.” The extensive interviews Martha Sherill did with Morie, proves that German Shepherds were not crossbred with Japanese Akita Inus to get the American Akita.

If you’d like to grab your copy of Dog Man, you can do so by clicking here, it’s a great read, even if you don’t have an Akita. But if testimony from someone who was there isn’t enough for you, we have a few more ways to prove to you, that German Shepherds were not bred with Akitas…

Hachiko Was an American Akita

If you have an Akita, you’ve probably heard the story of Hachiko, the famous Akita who waited for his owner at the train station at the end of each work day. When Hachiko’s owner passed away while at work, Hachiko still went to the train station every day to wait for his master. It’s an incredible story that cemented the Akita as a natural monument in Japan.

Take a close look at Hachiko and ask yourself, does he look more like an “American Akita” or a “Japanese Akita Inu?” In our opinion, Hachiko looks more like an American Akita. Hachiko was born in 1923, a decade and a half before the Germans and Japanese were allied in the war, which means 15 years before Akitas and German Shepherds were supposedly cross bred to form the American Akita.

Hachiko is proof that the “American Akita” is originally a Japanese breed.

American Akitas vs German Shepherds: Size

It only takes a little bit of common sense to figure out that American Akitas coudln’t have come from breeding Japanese Akita Inu together with German Shepherds. GSDs and Japanese Akita Inus are very similar in size, both weighing between 80-100lbs. Yet American Akitas are typically up to 100-130lbs for adult males. You can’t get a larger dog breed by breeding two smaller dog breeds together. That’s simply not how dog breeding works.

It’s also typical for American Akitas to be taller than both Japanese Akita Inu and German Shepherds. While occasionally a puppy grows up to be larger than either of its parents, that’s now how you spawn a whole new breed of larger dogs.

American Akitas vs German Shepherds: Temperament and Behavior

Another place where American Akitas differ quite a bit from German Shepherds is in their temperament. While both dogs have been used for

guarding, there are many breeds that are also used for guarding like Rottweilers, Cane Corso and Dobermans. German Shepherds are known to be high energy, and sometimes even neurotic dogs, who need a lot of training and exercise to be healthy and happy. German Shepherds are known to have serious health issues like degenerartive disc disease, epilepsy, hemophilia, diabetes and cataracts.

America Akitas on the other hand are very similar to Japanese Akita, in that they are known to be quite “cat like” be extremely independent and aloof, and while they’re not “lazy” they certainly are not a high energy dog. The health issues Akitas face are severe allergies, thyroid disease, and progressive retinal atrophy.

It stands to reason, if the German Shepherd were truly cross bred with the Japanese Akita to form the American Akita, they would inherit more than just the physical appearance of German Shepherds, but also their temperament and health concerns.

DNA Testing

Genetic testing of dogs has come a long way, and it’s a fun way for those who adopt mixed breeds to find out their dog’s genetic makeup. This information can be extremely helpful in terms of understanding your dog’s temperament, training needs, and health concerns to be on the lookout for.

So what do the results say when you DNA test an American Akita? 100% Akita. No German Shepherd. DNA tests, while not perfect, are fairly advanced, enough so that if a dog had remnants of another breed in it, it would likely be detected.

We have this proof first hand ourselves as we had Haga DNA tested, and his results came back as pure Akita. No German Shepherd

The Japanese Tosa

While many people believe that Japanese Akitas were crossbred with German Shepherds during World War II, and that formed the American Akita, there are some people that believe it was actually cross breeding with the Japanese Tosa that gives the American Akita its extra bulk and size.

The Tosa is another legendary dog from Japan, used to this day in Japanese dog fighting. The Tosa is a mastiff that can weigh up to 170lbs! While both breeds are from Japan, and some crossbreeding has probably happened from time to time over the centuries, other than being large, the Tosa and the American Akita don’t have much in common.

Tosa’s are short haired mastiffs, with skinny legs, droopy ears and lips, and a straight tail. If the Tosa had truly been bred with Japanese Akitas to form the American Akita, we would get more Tosa traits in the American Akita other than just being BIG!

Does it Really Matter?

Some people seem to take offense when you suggest that both the Japanese Akita Inu and the American Akita have more in common than they do differences. Both are incredible dogs, and are also potentially difficult dogs to own and train, and are not recommended for beginners.

No matter whether your dog is a pure bred American Akita, Japanese Akita, or some kind of mix, you should love your dog to the best of your abilities and promote responsible dog ownership!


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4 Comments. Leave new

  • An interesting read. Makes alot of sense, but also shows how misconceptions on places like YouTube can spread.

    • Absolutely. Even people who have owned this breed for years tend to spread misinformation unfortunately.

  • That’s interesting, considering virtually all reliable sources claim Akitas were nearly extinct after the war, presumably due to their furs having been used to line soldiers’ coats (Japan was at that stage committing all resources to the war effort and owners were forced to hand in their dogs “or else”). The few remaining dogs belonged to a man who literally hid them in his shed in the mountains while some owners were turning their Akitas loose, giving them a chance to survive. After that they were supposedly trying to bring the breed back by breeding what little amount of dogs they had left with various others, like the mentioned GSD or Tosa (since the dog fighting was gaining on popularity). Also to make a point here, dogs have travelled around the world just the same as people so assuming GSDs were never found in Japan until after the war is rather presumptuous. There were so few purebred Akitas left that it makes you wonder what exactly is a pure bred Akita and how has the genetic test determined that. I’ve know a few breeders who did genetic testing on their excellent purebred lines and absolutely none of them got a 100%, since all human-created breeds are technically just a good mix of other breeds, many extinct by now, but still. Only a wolf would show 100% wolf, dogs are not created by nature. I am absolutely not an expert and don’t claim to know better here, but this description of the breed’s history has been around since the war, so since the actual events took place, with many people, including the woman who brought the first Akita to US, describing it as such. Did all these people lie? What would be the point? This isn’t just some YouTube invented story that someone just passed on casually until it became gospel. I am curious to read that book you mentioned, but also under the impression that perhaps something got terribly lost in translation here. It would be interesting to get to the bottom of it, that’s all.

    • Yes the Akita population was extremely low immediately after the war. This is described in great detail in Dog Man by Martha Sherril. The book includes extensive interviews with Morie Sawataishi, who was one of the breeders responsible for reviving the breed. No where does he claim that he bred his dogs with German Sheppard’s. There are also many other historical records from people involved in breeding that make no mention of cross breeding with GSD.

      You don’t revive a breed by crossbreeding, and there was enough stock to breed only Akitas. At that point there were two lines of the Akita, the Dewa line and the Ichinoseki line. Neither really represented what dogs from the Akita prefecture really looked like in ancient Japan because Akitas had been crossbred with other dogs after the end of the Edo period where Japan opened up to foreigners.

      As I state in the above article, the American Akita is bigger than a GSD, and a Japanese Akita, which is probably as close as you can get to the “natural” dog of the Akita prefecture is roughly the same size as the GSD. It’s unlikely that anyone would have bred with a GSD to make a better hunting or fighting dog.

      No one is claiming that there were ZERO GSD in Japan prior to World War II, however the claim uninformed people make is that the breeding of GSD and Akita occurred during that time. Which is unlikely. Despite Japan’s alliance with Germany during the war, there wasn’t really a very strong German presence in Japan.

      As it stands the modern day American Akita is likely a closer representation to the Matagi dogs used for hunting bear, while the Japanese Akita is a better representation of the natural dogs of the area prior to ANY intentional crossbreeding with mastiffs like the Tosa.

      The woman who brought Akitas to America was Helen Keller. To my knowledge she never made any statements about her dogs being a product of crossbreeding.


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