Before Your Pup Arrives
Three things you should plan for as soon as, if not before, you have placed a deposit with the breeder:
1. Identify a reputable veterinarian practice that is familiar with Japanese breeds and book a well-baby appointment. Good vets are hard to come by, and ones who are familiar with JAs are even more rare. Besides a regular vet for routine check ups, you should also identify a 24/7 emergency vet nearest you. Here are some suggestions as to how to identify a well qualified vet:
- If you happen to live in the general vicinity of your breeder or other AKIHO/JACA club members, asking for a referral is the easiest way to go
- Try posting on Nihon Ken Forum to see if anyone near you can give a referral, or tell you who to avoid
- The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) evaluates veterinary practices on the quality of their facilities, staff, equipment and patient care. Search AAHA’s website for a list of accredited vets in your area
- You might also be interested in shopping for pet insurance, as the premium is lower for a young puppy than an older one. Pet Insurance Review is a good reference for what to look for and ratings by major carriers
Why should it matter if my vet is familiar with Japanese breeds?
For one, most vets in the US are familiar with breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), and are more experienced with Shiba-inus, American Akitas (AA) than Japanese Akitas (JA). Though AA and JA share a common heritage, their adult physiques vary greatly, as do the genetic or hereditary diseases common to the breeds. For instance, we do not hear of as many incidents of gastric torsion (commonly called bloat) in JA, but sadly it occurs in 27% of AA.
JACA is one of the few clubs whose Code of Ethics require members to choose “only healthy, registered parents of excellent temperament and qualities, X-rayed and eye-examined, resulting in certifications from OFA or PennHip and CERF, doing everything possible to prevent the passing on of devastating genetic defects.”
Japanese breeds are susceptible to allergies just like humans are. Some are allergic to certain foods, some environmental, some both. Find a vet who is willing to find the cause of allergies before treating with medication.
In other matters, it is known within the club that JAs tend to have lower than normal platelet count. However, an inexperienced vet might incorrectly infer that the pup has underlying medical conditions, and postpone a planned surgery. This has actually happened to two of our club members within the last year, and one vet even went so far as to suggest the pup might have cancer, which thankfully wasn’t the case.
Finally, Your vet should be aware of rare, autoimmune hereditary conditions that can affect Japanese Akita such as Sebaceous Adenitis and VKH-Like Syndrome (VKH), and how to diagnose correctly.
2. Identify a facility that offers puppy socials in a safe environment supervised by certified trainers. Without their littermates, your JA puppy needs other puppies of similar age to learn doggy body language and, more importantly, practice bite inhibition. Bite inhibition is defined as a dog’s ability to control the pressure of his mouth when biting, to cause little or no damage to the subject of the bite. Puppies can learn “what” is appropriate to bite via training, but in terms of “how” to control the pressure, it’s easiest via interactions with their own kind. Here are some suggestions as to where you might find puppy socials and certified trainers:
- Your local SPCA or Humane Society. They will probably be the lowest cost option
- Dog training academy/puppy school
- Doggie day care
- Veterinarian practice
- Pet stores. This is the least likely option to have certified trainers (See more below)
I encourage you to check out the facility prior to your first visit, interview the trainers and staff and see if you would be comfortable with the environment and fees, if any. Find out what the puppy social schedule is and see if it’s possible for you to attend a minimum of 2 times per month, ideally until the pup finishes teething. Some puppy socials have cut offs at 16 weeks of age. Some allow attendance for as long as the dog remains friendly or are enrolled in a puppy class. We have found pup socials to be an excellent venue to identify trainers who we would enjoy working with.
Here in the SF Bay Area, puppy socials are usually held indoors with hard surfaces that can be easily cleaned and disinfected. Typical requirements are as follows:
a) Pups must be 10 to 18 weeks of age when they attend their first social.
b) Bring proof of current vaccinations (DHLPP, Bordatella and Rabies) or shot records with you to your first social (puppies under 20 weeks can attend without Bordatella or Rabies vaccines).
c) Flat collar only (no metal or slip collars).
d) No flexi-leashes.
e) Please bring many small tasty treats for your dog (and for yourself to share with other humans if you so desire)
3. Sign your pup up for group puppy classes. I recommend off leash, group classes over private training for the benefit of pup-pup socialization and also to simulate the real-world environment where there are distractions EVERYWHERE. Puppy classes typically are five to six 50-min weekly sessions, where the humans are given short lessons to practice with the puppy during and in between sessions. Most puppy schools offer three levels of courses:
- Puppy Kindergarten/Puppy 1. Requires first set of shots 7-days before first session and usually limited to puppies under 18 weeks of age at the first session. This is to ensure classmates can practice bite inhibition before the adult teeth are in. Besides socialization and bite inhibition, the course focuses on handling, basic obedience and loose leash walking, also training new dog owners how not to let bad behavior slide
- Puppy 2. Typically offered up to 18-month-old for graduates of Puppy 1. While it is usually not possible to repeat Puppy 1 due to age reasons, it is not uncommon to repeat Puppy 2 before advancing to Puppy 3. If your puppy can hold a solid sit-stay and down-stay with distraction, you might want to consider a Canine Good Citizenship preparation class instead of advancing to Puppy 3
- Puppy 3. These advanced classes are rare. I will tell you more about it after I have completed one
Some dog training academies do not distinguish between introductory dog obedience vs. puppy classes. The downside is older adult dogs might not be tolerant of a playful, young puppy and the pup misses out on socialization with its peer group.
One thing to note is that there is no universal, independent certification for dog trainers. Here is a good resource that explains the differences between a Certified Professional Dog Trainers (CPDTs) and Applied Animal Behaviorists, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAABs) and Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (ACAABs).
Next section: Socialization