This is my routine when judging the Akita. If there are multiple entries in a class, I bring them in and line them up, looking for balance and proportions as they come in and set up. While most exhibitors are aware of this, keep in mind that a little space between dogs is the norm. I send them around together, looking at each dog’s side gait (moderate and powerful) and level topline. When they come around to the designated stopping point, I am ready to go over my first dog.
JUDGING THE AKITA – INDIVIDUAL EXAMS
The dog has been set up and I stand back so that I can look at general proportions. The tail is curled over the back and should balance the head. The topline is level. Akitas are longer than tall. (In dogs, as 10 is to 9; in bitches, as 11 is to 9). Sometimes an Akita will come in the ring with its tail down. It’s usually a young puppy, a bitch coming into her first season or any dog on a 100-degree day in August. Never fear, most will come up when they are moved. We’ll talk more about this later.
I have adopted a 3/4 approach when walking up to dogs for the initial exam. Here I’m within their vision and they know I’m approaching. As I approach, I usually give a good morning with a smile to the handler but I’m actually addressing the dog. A quick glance of the head and I’m able to take note of head shape, ears, eyes, and length of muzzle. I don’t bend over the dog; I approach with confidence, neither too fast nor hesitantly.
His head is massive but in balance with the body. When viewed from above, it looks like a blunt triangle. It will be free of wrinkle when he is at ease. Don’t be fooled by markings. The skull is flat between the ears. The ears are carried slightly forward, strong, thick, and well-furred, with slightly rounded tips. From a side view, they are in-line with the neck. From the front, they look triangular. Our first DQ is here (DQ #1); drop or broken ears are to be disqualified. The eyes are also triangular in shape; small, tight, black rims, and dark brown in color. The muzzle is broad and strong. The distance from his nose to his stop as to the distance from stop to occiput is 2 to 3. His nose is broad and black, although a lighter nose with or without shading of black or gray on a WHITE Akita is acceptable. Our standard states that “partial or total lack of pigmentation on the nose surface” is a disqualification (DQ #2). We have started seeing dogs that are liver. They are also called chocolate. A liver or chocolate dog WILL NOT have a black nose. Their nose as well as their lips and eye rims will be liver-colored. While our standard doesn’t specifically address liver pigment at this time, the dog does not meet our standard and must be heavily penalized to preclude it from being placed.
Although this was all taken in quickly as I approach the dog, clearly, the head is important to the overall balance and appearance.
At this point, I have stepped to the side of the dog and asked the handler to show the bite. An Akita should have a scissors bite, although a level bite is acceptable. We do have a disqualification for either overshot or undershot (DQ #3). Although I have only seen one or two overshot bites, I am seeing undershot more and more frequently. Since we don’t have a disqualification for missing teeth, and complete dentition is not mentioned in the standard, I don’t ask for more than a bite check.
I move on to the body. The shoulders are strong and powerful, with moderate layback. The front legs are heavy-boned and straight. The depth of the chest is one-half the height of the dog. I run my hand across his topline. It is level. Leaving my hand on the dog, I step around to his rear, lifting his tail if it impedes my checking his topline and gently putting it back where I found it. Please, please don’t pull the tail down to check length. In some cases, this might be uncomfortable for the dog. Yes, I know the standard says tail bone must reach point of hock, but it’s merely a guideline. If you’ve ever seen an Akita with a tail too short, you’ll know it. The balance of the dog will be “off.” I slip one hand in to check his testicles, take note of well-let-down hocks, and I’m “out.” I step away, moving to the right behind the handler and around to the front. This puts me at the top of the down and back without walking up beside the dog from behind. This is what I do with all breeds, even Toys.
An Akita’s movement is similar to many other Working Dogs. The rear legs move in-line with the front. Although an Akita doesn’t actually converge, he will have a tendency as he moves along to come in toward the middle line. From the side, he should have a moderate stride. Brisk and powerful, but moderate. And here, I will discuss feet. The Akita’s foot is a cat foot. Toes are knuckled up and short, pads are thick. You know, like a cat. Flat feet with splayed toes and incorrect ears are my personal pet peeves.
An Akita’s movement is similar to many other Working Dogs. The rear legs move in-line with the front. Although an Akita doesn’t actually converge, he will have a tendency as he moves along to come in toward the middle line.
As I’m observing this dog, I touch on other parts of the standard. His tail will be curled over and touching his back. It could be a tight curl; it could be a three-quarter curl with the end dropping overhis flank, but it must be touching his back. A tail that hangs straight down behind or is a sickle tail is a disqualification (DQ#4). If the tail is hanging down, I ignore it while I’m examining the dog. When he moves, it should come up, usually on the down and back, BUT even if it comes up on the go-round and touches his back, even for a second, it’s okay. That doesn’t mean I’ll use him, but it does mean he meets the standard.
The Akita is a double-coated breed. The undercoat is soft and dense with longer, harsher guard hair. Although I think everything is great about an Akita, one of the best is that they come in all colors. We tell judges and potential puppy buyers that color should not be a consideration, BUT it’s still great that they can be in so many hues. Our standard allows any color, including white (white Akitas have no mask), pinto (a pinto has a white background with large, evenly placed patches covering the head and more than one-third of the body) and brindle. However, although any color is allowed, it must have proper pigmentation; remembering that whites and only whites MAY have a lighter-shaded nose. The colors are brilliant and clear, and markings are well-balanced with or without a mask. The undercoat can be a different color than the topcoat, and quite frequently it is!
Dogs are 26″-28″ tall. Under 25″ is a disqualification. Bitches are 24″-26″ tall. Under 23″ is a disqualification. (That’s DQ #5 and our last one.) This INCLUDES puppies. Imagine a cute fuzzy puppy finishing from the 6-9 Class. It happens all the time. Then we never see him again because he never made height! If there is a question on height, I measure, and I’m asking you to do so. Our standard is very specific about size, with under the minimum being a disqualification. The Akita is considered a large breed, let’s keep it in the range specified; that range being 26″–28″ for dogs and 24″-26″ for bitches. While under 23″ or 25″ is a DQ, we want 24″-26″ and 26″-28″!!
The Akita’s personality is what attracts many people to my breed. They can be fun-loving and a jokester with their people one minute, alert and protective in the next. They are smart as a whip, but because they are so independent, they don’t like repetitive training. They walk down the street or through a show site like they own everything. It is awe-inspiring. But take note, they can be intolerant of other dogs, especially of the same sex. Please don’t pack several Akitas in a corner while you’re sorting out another group—neither the handlers nor the dogs will appreciate it. For large classes, I excuse a group so that I can see movement, and everyone stays safe. I don’t do this because I’ve had a problem, I do it because it’s the safest thing to do and it helps me to judge large classes in ANY breed.
Okay, I’m done with the class. It’s time to place them. I hope that as you’ve read this you’ve been able to derive the key points, the essence of an Akita. They are large with heavy bone and substance, balanced, with triangular heads and triangular, forward-set ears, curled tail, and they give the overall impression of power and stature with a reserved temperament.
A very wise man once told me, “When you go to dog shows, if you stay all day and watch other breeds, the Groups, and Best in Show, while you may not know all the disqualifications or nuances, you should be able to pick out a good dog.” That’s what I’m challenging you all to do. To learn more about the Akita or, for that matter, any breed, go to shows. Watch all day and then go one step further. Talk to the exhibitors. Talk to other judges. Go to seminars.
Finally, remember that the standard is what breeders are striving for. As judges, we all need to choose our winners, with that standard always forefront in our minds. Whether you are an exhibitor or a judge, I hope that you were able to picture my day and get a new “nugget” from it about the Akita. Enjoy your next show… I know I will.
Judging the Akita – First Impressions
By Nancy Amburgey