Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Jack goes to work

Today I took Jack with me to the prison to play with Walker. I thought they might be a good match based on both of their play styles. Walker needs to be around other dogs more as well. This time Walker settled down much more quickly than the last time I brought Jack. The rule is no playtime until everyone is nice and calm. I figured Cooper would probably be to forward and I was right. Cooper tried to pick a fight but I was prepared for that. Jack may be pretty good with some dogs but not the ones who want to start something. So that meant Cooper got to sit today out. Cooper does best with dogs he can boss around. That ain't Jack.

Walker was a bit intimidated at first and ran away from Jack in the beginning. That became a chase game. We tried to get them interested in tug but they weren't quite comfortable enough with each other for that just yet.

It was pretty warm out so they got tuckered pretty quickly. Walker definitely likes being around other dogs. I hope we can find him a home with a buddy to play with.

Every time I bring Jack with me I end up doing a fair amount of "Akita" education. There are always a lot of questions about him. He definitely attracts attention. I am lucky to have such a social akita. They aren't all so accepting of dogs they don't know. It is even written in the breed standard: "Akitas may be intolerant of other dogs, particularly of the same sex." Unfortunately some of that is leftover from their having been used in dog fighting for sport in their past. Sadly some breeders use that as an excuse for them being that way instead of trying to breed away from it. I remember complaining about it on an akita e-mail list (long ago when they were as popular as facebook) and was told, "If you want a Golden Retriever temperment then you should get a Golden Retriever. Akitas just aren't going to be like that." Here's an idea, breed AWAY from that sharper temperment. It is obviously possible. Heck they even did it with fox years ago. (google Russian Fox Study)

Of course I'm not a breeder, so perhaps the fact the breed doesn't have the largest gene pool doesn't help. (depending on who you talk to) I do think in todays society there is no place for purposely breeding dogs that want to kill other dogs. We all have to live on the same planet and in the same neighborhoods after all. End of rant. I am just happy to have an akita that is more social than some. Of course I worked hard to help him be that way with lots of good socialization when he was young. It's hard to say how much nature vs nurture is at play. Of course he is from a fabulous breeder so I'm willing to bet it was a combination of both.

Jack prefers to hang at home or run in the woods with his friends to the more formal obedience work that Jenny will do for hours. (Let's be honest, her stomach keeps her going.) But he sure does make a great partner when I need him to be. It's kinda nice being able to take your best friend to work with you. I love my job!


Joanna said...

As a breeder (not Akita), I would object to changing the temperament too. It's not "can we," it's "should we" change the temperament. It's entirely right that we're not supposed to breed a whole ton of Golden Retrievers in different shapes and sizes. Temperaments are functional, and just because the function has become outdated doesn't mean we just declare that all dogs are companion dogs and nobody should ever breed something that's sharper.

The standard doesn't just describe what IS, it describes the way breeders are supposed to strive. In other words, the Akita is SUPPOSED to have a bit of sharpness with other dogs. So are the livestock guard dogs, so are Shepherds, etc. Labs are supposed to tear apart your house if they don't get exercise. Beagles are supposed to kill your pet rabbit. Westies are supposed to dig out under any fence they possibly can. Shelties are supposed to bark incessantly in an annoying way. "Make them easy for anyone to own" is not what we should do as breeders.

I think it's great that Jack can go hang out with a lot of other dogs, but not because I think that Akitas should do that, or because I'd feel bad if somebody told me their Akita (or Malamute, or Anatolian, or Kerry Blue) could not.

Marie said...

So that leaves me with the question, why should akitas have a sharpness with other dogs? What function does that serve the breed? (Aside from getting them killed in shelters for flunking their temperment tests. Fodder for another post.)

And from my understanding of what their job was back when they were developed, (as hunting dogs, and sometimes guard dogs) dog to dog aggression has no bearing. Just one more reason I will never be a breeder I guess. Cuz I damn sure would try to change it. I guess I'm missing something here.

(And I do know there will always be dogs in every breed that don't do well with other dogs. It isn't realistic to think they should all get along and things will be peachy keen if we just started breeding them with that in mind. To many variables.)

Joanna said...

Akitas should be sharp with other dogs because it's not an accepting or easy breed. The reason it was selected as a national treasure and saved from extinction is not because it was an easy pet; it's because it was remarkably UN-easy. The early praise for the breed is all about its bravery (which usually means willingness to fight), its loyalty (which means I will obey you; I will not obey him or him or him), and its spirit (unwillingness to back down from a fight).

The facets of temperament that lead to being sharp with other dogs are the same that make it the breed it is. It's supposed to be arrogant, intensely attached to a few people, distrustful of others, instinctively telling other people and other dogs to move away, not come near. If you change the temperament so it's thrilled to see other dogs, even other dogs who are behaving stupidly or badly or riskily (as so many do), you've created a dog who will not tell other people and other dogs to move back and away. That's a LOT easier to live with, but it's not true to the original breed in any way.

The way a dear friend who bred working Shepherds described it is that she wanted every one of her dogs to think he was the only dog in the universe. That's what made them so incredibly functional; they would not back off a track or back off an attacker or give up on a task; they would not "honor" another dog like retrievers are expected to do. That created a great working dog, but it lowers the threshold of what other kind of crap the dog will accept, and it leads to several magnitudes more arguments between dogs.

Foxhounds would be on the other end of the spectrum; their dog-to-dog social skills have been magnified to the point that they can live in huge, fluid packs with little to no conflict. They tend to ignore human feedback, especially when they have the opportunity to be with other dogs. That can ALSO make them very difficult to live with, for the opposite reason that Akitas are hard for many owners. But that doesn't mean we should breed the social skills out of the Foxhound.

In this country, in this particular decade, a "good" temperament in a dog is defined just about exactly by how close the dog is to a stuffed animal. A "good" dog never gets into conflict, never destroys anything, never asks for more than the minimum effort or commitment, will follow the same command over and over, and who mirrors its owner in every aspect. But that's VERY new, and VERY odd when you look at the history of dogs. For most of the history of people and dogs, a "good" dog was one who sailed into any fight with a glad heart, who hated many other dogs implacably, who challenged everybody and everything, who killed cats and other small furry things, and who worked all day and all night and required the same from its owner.

Just because we have this new, weird situation where dogs have become defined as a cross between children and beanbag chairs does not mean that we're right and they were wrong. And it doesn't mean that dogs who were developed and thrived under the older system shouldn't exist anymore or shouldn't be intact in body and brain the way they were back then.

Michael said...

I think the question is can you keep the rest of an Akita's temperament while remove the sharpness toward other dogs.

I love that my Akita is independent, stand-offish, and careful. She isn't afraid of you, but she doesn't go roll over and beg for attention from every person she meets. Some parts of that "dominant" dog behavior are very important to what makes an Akita an Akita.

I'm perfectly fine with my dog not instantly loving every other dog she meets... the question is one of degree. Kumiko isn't very far toward the aggressive side - she is ok with many other dogs, has a boston terrier that is her favorite friend in the world, and only has a problem when other dominant females try to boss her around. It would be a very different story if she were on the end of actively trying to kill every dog we meet. But on the other extreme, we wouldn't have picked her if she acted like our fluffier version of our neighbor's golden.

So... personally, I think preserving the general personality of the breed is more important than getting rid of dog aggression or prey drive, but if you can reduce some of it while keeping the rest of the Akita traits, I'm all for it. I have no idea if breeders have that level of precision, though.

Marie said...

To me bravery is a willingness to fight if there is a valid reason to do so. Not looking for a fight around every corner.

You both make very good points and maybe I wasn't clear enough. I also love their independant nature. I don't want them to be a golden, I just think the level of dog to dog aggressiveness in some lines are over the top. I understand prey drive and give them a pass for that. They were hunters after all. I understand (maybe I mean accept) territorialness (is that a word?) because that is another facet of the breed that attracted me to them. And if they want to kick a dogs butt that comes into their yard I understand that. What I don't want to see are the akitas that want to kill any other dog they see. I don't give the breed a pass for that and think it should be changed. I don't expect them to love all other dogs but they should at least be socially appropriate with them. Yes they are a more primitive breed than many but even wolves do more posturing than actual fighting. You can have a dog that doesn't like other dogs, that shouldn't mean they are allowed to try to kill them.

But maybe my tolerance for dog behavior has changed and I just need to get out of akitas. :)

I do agree that we (silly humans) expect FAR to much from our dogs these days. You are right, they aren't nor should be like a stuffed animal.

Darlin Mikey said...

I will have to chime in with Marie here. I'm just catching up on some old stuff and came across this. I know Jack's breeder well (he, he) and I TOO love the fact the an Akita is a proud and dignified dog. I don't want a lap dog either that looses those traits. That said...I DO think it is possible to get a dog just like Jack on a regular basis. We run several bitches together and the same can be said for our males in most cases...not all. Akita in our yard will back down from a challenge but with the exception of Ta-Da (who is just too high energy for most other dogs)...most can be in any situation with any dog or person and come out making me proud. This doesn't mean they are just going to run up to a stranger but they aren't fearful at all....aloof is a perfect description. As Michael said does require a certain level of precision ( love that term) that most breeders don't strive for as it is too much work...they will generally prefer one or the other...lap dog or dominant.