- The Shiba is the most popular companion dog in Japan.
- The Shiba’s appearance often leads people to ask if he is a fox. He has a compact, muscular body, a wedge-shaped head, dark-brown eyes and erect triangular ears that combine to give him a confident, good-natured expression. His coat comes in one of three colors: red, black and tan, and red sesame (black-tipped hairs on a red background). All three colors have a cream to white color known as uwajiro on the sides of the muzzle, the cheeks, inside the ears, underneath the jaw and upper throat, the inside of the legs, the abdomen, and beneath the tail. His thick, powerful tail is carried curved over his back.
UKC group: Northern
Average lifespan: 13 – 15 years
Average size: 20 – 30 pounds
Coat appearance: Soft and thick top coat, straight and tough undercoat
Coloration: Red, black and tan
Other identifiers: Compact with well-defined, muscular build; body is longer than dog is tall; dark, deep-set eyes rimmed with black; large, triangular, erect ears; curved tail.
Possible alterations: May have white markings
The Shiba Inu originated in Japan along with the Akita, Shikoku, Kai Dog, Hokkaido and Kishu, all of which are larger than the Shiba Inu. The Shiba Inu was used primarily as a hunting dog to flush out small game and birds for hunters.
There are several theories how the Shiba Inu got his name. One explanation is that the word Shiba means “brushwood;” the dogs were named for the brushwood bushes in which they hunted. Another theory is that the fiery red color of the Shiba is the same as the autumn color of the brushwood leaves. A third idea is that an archaic meaning of the word shiba refers to his small size.
World War II nearly spelled disaster for the Shiba, and most of the dogs that did not perish in bombing raids succumbed to distemper during the post-war years. After the war, Shibas were brought from the remote countryside, and breeding programs were established. The remaining population was interbred to produce the Shiba as he is known today.
The Japanese Kennel Club was founded in 1948 and the Shiba Inu breed standard was drafted by Nihon Ken Hozonkai, which was adopted by both the Japanese Kennel Club and the Federation Cynologique Internationale.
An American service family imported the first Shiba Inu into the United States in 1954, but there is little else documented about the breed until the 1970s. The first U.S. litter was born in 1979. The Shiba Inu was recognized in the American Kennel Club Miscellaneous Class in 1993 and acquired full status with the Non-Sporting Group in 1997.
The well-bred Shiba Inu is good-natured, alert, and bold. He is strong-willed and confident, and often has his own ideas about things. He is loyal and affectionate with his family, though tends to be suspicious of strangers.
The Shiba Inu doesn’t share well. He tends to guard, sometimes aggressively, his food, toys, or territory. And he doesn’t always get along with other dogs, especially if he’s intact. He won’t hesitate to chase small animals that he considers prey.
This is a smart breed, but training a Shiba Inu isn’t like training a Golden Retriever. While a Golden is delighted to come when called, the Shiba Inu will come when he feels like it — or not. He’s been described as stubborn, but freethinking is probably a more positive way to characterize him.
Temperament is affected by a number of factors, including heredity, training, and socialization. Puppies with nice temperaments are curious and playful, willing to approach people and be held by them. Choose the middle-of-the-road puppy, not the one who’s beating up his littermates or the one who’s hiding in the corner.
Always meet at least one of the parents — usually the mother is the one who’s available — to ensure that they have nice temperaments that you’re comfortable with. Meeting siblings or other relatives of the parents is also helpful for evaluating what a puppy will be like when he grows up.
Like every dog, the Shiba Inu needs early socialization — exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences — when they’re young. Socialization helps ensure that your Shiba puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog.
Enrolling him in a puppy kindergarten class is a great start. Inviting visitors over regularly, and taking him to busy parks, stores that allow dogs, and on leisurely strolls to meet neighbors will also help him polish his social skills.
Overall, the Shiba Inu is a healthy dog breed.Health conditions known to affect this breed are allergies, glaucoma, cataracts, hip dysplasia, entropion, and luxating patella.Periodic joint examinations are recommended throughout life of the dog but problems are generally discovered early in the dog’s life. Eye tests should be performed yearly as eye problems can develop over time. By two years of age, Shiba Inus can be considered fully free from joint problems if none have been discovered by this point, since at this age the skeleton is fully developed.
The Shiba will do okay in an apartment if is sufficiently exercised. It is moderately active indoors and will do best with at least an average-sized yard. The Shiba’s waterproof, all-weather coat protects it in both cold and hot conditions, so it can live outdoors if you have a secure yard of reasonable size. However, it does regard itself as part of the family and does not like to be left alone outside. This breed would be much happier living indoors with its family.
The Shiba Inu is an undemanding dog that will adapt to your circumstances, so long as it gets a daily walk. It is a very active dog and will be healthier and happier with regular exercise. This breed can walk for hours on end as it has tremendous endurance.
The Shiba requires a daily workout in the form of a long walk, a spirited game in the yard, or a good run in an enclosed area. It can live outside in cool and temperate climates if given warm shelter. However, it is at its best when it can spend equal time indoors and outdoors. The double coat requires occasional brushing every week and more frequently when shedding.
The Shiba has a double coat. The undercoat is soft and thick, the outer coat stiff and straight. The coat never needs trimming and is easy to care for, but be prepared for shedding.
Brush the coat weekly with a slicker brush to remove dead hair and distribute skin oils. Twice a year, in spring and fall, the coat sheds heavily for two to three weeks. During this time, you can expect to have piles of fur everywhere and a Shiba with a moth-eaten appearance. Don’t worry unless you see bald patches. A warm bath followed by more brushing and thorough blow drying until the dog is completely dry will help to loosen the hair and speed up the shed.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every week or two. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath. Check the ears weekly for dirt, redness or a bad odor that can indicate an infection. If the ears look dirty, wipe them out with a cotton ball dampened with a gentle, pH-balanced ear cleaner recommended by your veterinarian. Introduce your Shiba to grooming early so that he learns to accept it gracefully. This is especially important with nail trimming, which the Shiba abhors.
Is this breed right for you?
An extremely affectionate breed, the Shiba Inu gets along well with children and other animals. Kind and gentle, they bond well with their direct masters. While doing OK in apartment life if properly exercised, it’s best that the Shiba Inu has a small yard to run in. A bit on the reserved side, he will still need a leash when being walked. A natural-born hunter, he’s not to be trusted with smaller pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs. A bit harder to train, this breed does make a good watchdog. Like other small breeds, he will need a consistent leader to avoid any behavioral issues. Easy to groom, the Shiba Inu is a heavy shedder.
Children and other pets
The Shiba Inu is a good family dog, as long as he is raised properly and receives training and proper socialization when he’s young. He gets along with children who treat him kindly and respectfully.
As with every breed, you should always teach children how to approach and touch dogs, and always supervise any interactions between dogs and young children to prevent any biting or ear or tail pulling on the part of either party. Teach your child never to approach any dog while he’s eating or sleeping or to try to take the dog’s food away. No dog, no matter how friendly, should ever be left unsupervised with a child.
Early training and socialization go a long way in helping the Shiba Inu get along with other dogs and animals, but it’s not a guarantee. He can be aggressive toward other dogs and he will chase animals he perceives as prey. Training and keeping him on leash are the best ways to manage the Shiba Inu with other dogs and animals.
Did You Know?
The Shiba is a Japanese breed, one of the oldest types of dogs native to that island nation, and the smallest. The word “Shiba” in Japanese means brushwood, like the terrain over which the dog hunted, and he is sometimes called the little brushwood dog. The word “Inu” means dog.
A dream day in the life of a Shiba Inu
Waking up at the foot of his master’s bed, the Shiba Inu will calmly join his family in the kitchen for breakfast. Going outside to sniff the yard, he may chase a wild rodent if he sees one. Excited for his walk, the Shiba Inu will be on his best behavior unless you take him off of his leash. Back inside the home, he will love up on the little ones while keeping proper watch of the family home. Going to sleep with the rest of the family, his best day will be spent independently yet quietly attached.