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How Smart Are Akitas? Understanding Dog Breed Intelligence

Beth Crane

By Beth Crane

woman hugging her american akita dog outdoors

Akitas are a Japanese breed that radiates strength and commands attention wherever they go. Their physical prowess is undeniable, and they are still as renowned for their loyalty, protectiveness, and courage today as they were when they served royalty back in Ancient Japan.

Akitas certainly have the brawn, but do they also have the brains? Well, Akitas aren’t unintelligent dogs. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as it seems to assess a dog breed’s intelligence, but many go by famed psychologist Stanley Coren’s dog intelligence rankings. Coren ranked 110 dog breeds, with one being the most intelligent and 110 being the least intelligent; In this list, the Akita came in at 54th.

Canine intelligence certainly isn’t black and white, however. Many researchers agree that three main types of intelligence can be categorized in dogs 1:

  • Obedience and working: What we would call learning, or how well a dog can perform and adhere to tasks we teach them
  • Instinctive: What dogs are bred to do and what comes naturally to them
  • Adaptive: Problem-solving using their environment and surroundings.

According to this research, all dogs have the mental capabilities of a child aged 2 to 2 1/2 years old, including Akitas! This intelligence means that an Akita can follow commands and understand as well as a two-year-old can in social situations, but how well they measure up in each intelligence category can differ from other breeds.

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How Do Akitas Respond to Commands?

Akitas do well in the obedience category, which is the standard category people use when talking about intelligence. In canine intelligence tests, those who ranked highest (like in Coren’s list), such as the Border Collie, did best in “school-like” obedience tests. The Akita is above average in terms of obedience and responding to commands, but they also have temperament traits that can affect this.

Akitas are well known for being stubborn and strong-willed, which means that gentle training methods can sometimes not keep their attention. However, the American Kennel Club suggests that respectful commands and positive, motivation-based training work best with these dogs, hinting that they may be wiser than they first seem.

akita inu dog being trained and taught tricks with ball outdoors
Image Credit: Jannissimo, Shutterstock

Are Akitas Emotionally Intelligent?

Canine emotional intelligence has often been discussed and studied in terms of understanding human emotions, and the emotional range dogs can feel. Dogs have been proven in various studies to form attachment bonds with people, leading to dogs seeking comfort and closeness with their owners and sharing in their happiness 3. This led to the discovery that dogs can recognize different emotions in people and match people’s emotional expressions to different tones of voice. Dogs really can recognize emotions in people, but can they feel them?

Hachiko

A famous Akita named Hachiko lived in Japan between 1923 and 1935 and stunned the locals (then the world) with his undying loyalty to his owner. Hachi and his owner Hidesaburo Ueno lived in Tokyo, and Ueno was a professor at the Tokyo Imperial University, where he worked every day. Each day, Hachi would dutifully wait for his owner to arrive on the train at Shibuya station when he finished work, and the pair would return home together.

It continued for 2 years (Hachi was 2 years old at the time) until Ueno died suddenly at work without ever returning home.

Every day after this, Hachi would arrive at Shibuya station and wait for an owner that would never return. Hachi waited for Ueno for nine years, nine months, and 15 days until he died in 1935. Hachi showed the world that Akitas (and dogs at large) were capable of incredible shows of emotion, loyalty, and love, and research into canine cognition has backed this up.

Akita Emotional Range

In studies performed on dogs of different breeds, it has been determined that dogs can experience many of the same core emotions as humans, such as joy, fear, disgust, and sadness 4. They can also experience subtle emotional changes, such as excitement, anxiety, and love. Akitas experiences the same emotional range, as shown by the tale of Hachi above.

akita dog with her owner on the couch
Image Credit: Viktoriia Hnatiuk, Shutterstock

Are Akitas As Smart as Other Dogs?

While many dog lovers use Stanley Coren’s dog intelligence list to see how their dogs match up to other breeds, there are differences in individuals and breeds. For example, Border Collies top the list as the most intelligent dog breeds, but that is because they have been bred for decades to be the best at following commands and performing a job.

Each Akita will have its own level of intelligence, so it can be difficult to determine exactly how clever they’re going to be. Most Akitas pick up training commands very well, but they can sometimes be ignored because of their stubborn natures! In comparison, Border Collies are ready at a hair trigger to follow all commands, making them easier to train.

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Final Thoughts

The Akita is a strong-willed, warm-hearted dog that is incredibly loyal to its owners and has courage in spades. This ancient breed is intelligent, with higher-than-average intelligence in obedience and learning. The Akita can be a handful to train due to its stubborn nature and can sometimes refuse to follow a command, so respectful but firm training is needed.


Featured Image Credit: Jessica Torfs, Unsplash

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