The Shiba Inu is the smallest of all six Japanese native breeds and is the most popular companion dog breed in Japan.
It was originally bred to flush small game and birds, as well as for wild boar hunting in mountain regions and on rough terrains. With a high spirited and happy personality, the Shiba Inu is a natural charmer.
The dogs from this bread have small pointed ears, feline-like agility, and are small-sized. With the erect ears, the thick fur, and their fluffy thick coats and curly tails, Shiba Inus resemble cute foxes.
Today, the dogs from this small-sized Japanese breed are used as companion dogs in Japan, as well as around the world.
The Japanese breeds include the largest Akita, Hokkaido, Kishu, and Kai, as well as the medium-sized Shikoku and the smallest of them all – the Shiba Inu.
These good-natured dogs have high spirits and are pretty agile and fast dogs. They have smooth and effortless strides and bright shining eyes. Shiba Inus are actually considered a national treasure in Japan, and everyone who has ever owned a dog from this superb breed will agree that they are pure treasures.
Their thick and eye-catching fur is due to their double coats. The outer coat is strong and straight, and the undercoat is softer and provides superb insulation for these dogs. Overall, they look like and feel like adorable plush toys.
In the US, the Shiba Inu dogs weigh only about 25 lbs. so they are small companion dogs but have big personalities and a humorous attitude.
Still, there are some specific characteristics of these dogs which make them suitable for owners who are aware of what to expect and how to care for and raise them.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about these amazing canines.
Basic characteristics of the Shiba Inu
- Canine breed group: companion dogs
- Height at the shoulder: 1’1” – 1’5”
- Average weight: 17-23 lbs.
- Average lifespan: 12 – 16 years
- Coat color: it can be red, tan, or black, as well as red sesame, but all Shibas have cream to white colored cheeks, muzzles, throats, bellies, as well as on the inside of their legs, ears, and under the tails
Overview of the Shiba Inu breed
The erect prick ears and the squinty bright little eyes, along with the curled tail, are among the most recognizable features of this amazing dog breed from Japan.
The Shiba Inu is believed to be among the oldest of all Japanese breeds, which are all of the Spitz types.
The dogs from the smallest Japanese breed are known to be quite fiery and bold.
In Japan, the Shiba Inu is described with three native words, including ryosei, which means good-natured, kaani-i, which means spirited boldness, and soboku, which is the local word for alertness.
All of these traits make the Shiba Inu one of the most strong-willed, smart, and interesting dogs in the world.
These small-sized dogs are very athletic. They move quickly and without effort, just like little ninjas.
The Shiba Inu is an alert and keen pup and has a very calm approach to the world, which some dog owners consider to be a form of stubbornness.
Due to its natural independence, the Shiba Inu is not the easiest dog breed to train. Training should begin at an early age, along with proper socialization. This means meeting the pup up with other dogs, with people, children, and different situations.
In order to teach a dog from this breed to behave itself and obey commands, you will need to be persistent and patient, and also to understand the free-thinking nature of the Shiba Inu.
Although these small dogs are very intelligent, this doesn’t mean that they will want to obey your commands just like that. This is why working with a trainer who is experienced with the Shiba Inu breed is highly recommended, especially for first-time dog owners.
Another typical trait of the dogs from this unique Japanese breed is their possessiveness. You should expect your Shiba Inu to guards its toys, its food, and its belongings, as well as its territory.
If you can curb this behavior and manage to train and socialize the Shiba Inu dog, it will become the perfect companion dog and family pet. Still, keep in mind that its inborn possessiveness can cause arguments with other dogs and even with the kids, so make sure you put away the toys and other belongings when they interact.
Unfortunately, the Shiba Inu has a tendency to show aggression towards other dogs, especially if it is a male dog. Also, unless you have trained your pup really well, you should abstain from letting it run free and unleashed because there is a strong possibility that your dog will run off to chase small animals like squirrels or birds. Also, you will keep the dog safe from fights with other dogs, because as mentioned previously, the Shibas are not so good with other canines, especially ones they don’t know.
Overall, Shiba Inus are excellent watchdogs and will alert you every time they smell or sense anything suspicious going on in your home.
The dogs from this ancient Japanese breed do need long daily walks and exercise. It is a good idea to take your Shiba Inu with you if you run or ride a bike. It will enjoy running along and will be happy with the physical and mental stimulation you have provided for it.
If you have a safely fenced yard, your Shiba Inu will be at its happiest, but make sure that the fence is secure because these clever little dogs are excellent escape artists too.
As a whole, these cute looking dogs have rather strong personalities and an inborn stubbornness, which can be a handful for some people.
But if you have the patience and confidence to train your dog and socialize it, as well as if you are prepared to spend a lot of time keeping your Shiba Inu active and happy, you will end up with the perfect loving and extremely loyal companion dog.
Because the dogs from this breed get very attached to their humans, it is never a good idea to keep them isolated outdoors or crated inside. If left alone without their humans for a long time, these dogs are prone to destructive behavior and a lot of barking and noise.
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History of the Shiba Inu
The Shiba today is the most common companion dog breed in Japan, but it is one of the most ancient local breeds in the land of the rising sun.
The word Shiba in Japanese means brushwood, which was the common type of terrain where the ancestors of today’s Shibas used to hunt and is also the autumn leaf color of the fiery red coats of some Shibas as well.
Another ancient meaning of the word Shiba is small, so it comes to no surprise that these pups are often referred to as little brushwood dogs.
As for the word Inu, it means dog in Japanese.
There is no clear evidence of the exact origin of this ancient breed, but it is clear that Shiba Inus are developed from Spitz-type dogs.
It is believed that the fist Shibas were bred in central Japan back in 300 B.C. and were used for hunting.
There were three types of Shibas back then, which were named based on the region where they originated. One was the Shinshu Shiba, which comes from the Nagano prefecture, the Mino Shiba from the Gifu prefecture, and the Sanin Shiba from the northeastern regions of Japan.
Following WWII, which was disastrous for Japan, the Shiba breed came close to extinction. The destruction of the breed further deepened in the decade following the war.
Thankfully, some breeders were determined to save the Shiba Inu breed and brought in the various types of Shibas which had survived the cruel war and the difficult post-war years, and proceeded to crossbreed the different types of Shibas, including the heavier mountain types with the smaller ones from the other Japanese regions.
As a result, the Shiba Inu breed managed to survive, but there are still some differences in the bone size of the different dogs from this breed.
The Japanese Kennel Club was first founded in 1948, and it was then that the Shiba Inu breed was adopted by it as well as by the Federation Cynologique Internationale.
The breed was first brought to the US by an American service family who brought their Shiba Inu dog back home with them in 1954.
The first Shiba Inu litter born in the US was in 1979. In 1993 the breed was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in Miscellaneous Class, and in 1997 the Shiba Inu acquired its status as part of the non-sporting dog group.
Thankfully for all Shiba lovers and fans, today, the breed is becoming increasingly popular and is not only the most loved local companion dog breed in Japan but is a preferred breed in the US and around the world as well.
The size of the Shiba Inu
Although there are some variations in the bone size of the different Shibas, the traditional height at the shoulder of this dog breed is 14.5 to 16.5 inches for males and 13.5 to 15.5 inches for females. The males typically weigh about 23 lbs. and the females are slightly smaller and weigh about 17 lbs.
They are small-sized dogs and are the smallest of all Japanese breeds.
The personality of the Shiba Inu
As we already mentioned, the Shibas are quite headstrong, independent and bold dogs which are very self-confident.
They are very active, lively and fast when outside, but if provided with sufficient exercise and outdoor time are pretty calm when indoors.
The Shiba Inu is a hardy dog breed, and the dogs from this breed are always ready for new adventures.
They can be stubborn, and even though they are an intelligent dog breed and learn fast, some Shibas are simply not willing to follow or obey the commands they already know.
The Shibas are also very protective of their belongings and are pretty territorial, which makes them excellent watchdogs, but can cause quarrels and problems among them and the children or other dogs at home.
These pups actually hate sharing, so put away their toys and food when they are about to interact with your other dogs or with your children if you want everything to be peaceful and calm at home.
These small sized dogs are reserved to strangers and need to be socialized from an early age if you want to avoid all of the barking and noise they can make when they sense danger or something strange.
Well-bred and well-trained Shiba Inus are good-natured, confident, vigilant, strong-willed and bold little dogs.
Keep in mind that these dogs were used for hunting, and do have a natural instinct to chase small animals.
They are also territorial, so they are not so good with strangers, especially if you haven’t socialized the dog from a young age.
Shibas often have a mind of their own and are not too fond of obeying commands.
Of course, the temperament of the specific Shiba depends on its heritage, as well as on its socialization and training.
When picking a Shiba puppy, it is a good idea to choose one which is curious and allows humans to hold it and play with it. Avoid the boisterous puppies or the ones which prefer to hide out in the corner if you want to make life easier on yourself later on when it comes to teaching the dog to behave itself and to communicate with other people and dogs normally.
It is also important to meet at least one of the parents of your future dog. Make sure that the mother or father of your puppy is well-tempered and that you feel comfortable with their characters and behaviors.
Just like any other dog, the Shiba Inu needs to be socialized from early on. Make sure that your Shiba puppy gets to meet new people of all ages, and take it to different places with different surroundings so that it learns how to communicate with people and how to act in different settings.
Also, meet up your puppy with other dogs on a regular basis, because Shiba Inus do have a tendency of being aggressive to other dogs.
Health care and common health problems for the Shiba Inu breed
These sturdy small dogs are generally healthy, but like all other dog breeds, they are prone to some specific health problems.
It is essential to choose a Shiba from a breeder who has health clearance for both parents of the dog, to ensure that it is less likely to have genetic and hereditary health problems later on.
The clearance for Shiba Inus should include health clearance issued by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals for hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, von Willebrand’s disease, and hypothyroidism. It should also have clearance by the Auburn University for thrombopathia as well as health clearance for normal eyesight and health by the Canine Eye Registry Foundation.
You can confirm all of these clearances at the offa.org website.
Here are some of the common health problems of Shiba Inu dogs to look out for:
Allergies are common among all dog breeds and types, including the Shiba Inus. There are 3 types of canine allergies: food, contact and inhalant allergies. The food allergies can easily be resolved by eliminating the allergens from the daily meals of the dog. The inhalant allergies are caused by airborne pollutants and particles, so you can help suppress these triggers by vacuuming and cleaning your home regularly or using an air purifier which will suck up all harmful pollutants. As for the contact allergies, these can be caused by different shampoos, topical substances, powders and lotions, and others.
Overall, just like in humans, the best way to curb the allergic reactions is to keep the Shiba away from the allergens, ensure that it takes the prescribed medications and follow the dietary restrictions closely.
This is a serious health condition in Shiba Inu dogs which consists of fluid building up in the dog’s chest cavity. This type of fluid accumulation can cause problems with its breathing, a loss of appetite, lethargy, and coughing. Chylothorax can be caused by another health problem and can be treated with a suitable low-fat diet, or by the vet removing the fluid, as well as with surgery when the condition is serious.
This is a common disease both among canines and humans. Glaucoma is caused by increased pressure inside the eye. It can be hereditary or can be caused by a decrease in the eye fluid which is due to other diseases or problems with the eye. The symptoms of glaucoma include pain and loss of vision in the affected eye. The treatment depends on the type of glaucoma and can include applying eye drops or surgery.
Unfortunately, just like us humans, Shiba Inus and other dogs are also prone to developing various types of cancer. Some of the common symptoms that your dog may be suffering from cancer include swelling, bumps and sores, sores which do not heal, unusual bleeding, problems with elimination or bleeding, and others. Just like with humans, the treatment of cancer depends on the type of cancer and can include chemotherapy, medication, and surgery.
Epilepsy is often hereditary and can cause mild to severe seizures in dogs. These seizures can come in many kinds of forms and changes in the behavior of the Shiba Inu, such as frantic sudden running, hiding, staggering and others. Even though the seizures can be frightening for the owners to watch, the long-term prognosis for canines suffering from idiopathic epilepsy is pretty good in general.
Please note, that dogs can experience seizures caused by other reasons than idiopathic epilepsy, including exposure to poisons, brain tumors, brain infections, head injuries, and others, so always contact your vet if your dog experiences a seizure and is not diagnosed with epilepsy.
The patella is the dog’s kneecap. Luxation of the kneecap means dislocation of the bone at the joint. This condition is more common on the hind legs and causes pain and also the leg sliding out of place. Patellar Luxation in dogs can be crippling, but many dogs manage to live absolutely normal lives with this specific condition.
This is yet another hereditary condition which causes dislocation of the thighbone in the hip joint. In some dogs, this condition can occur on both rear legs, but usually, it affects one of the hind legs only.
Hip dysplasia causes pain and lameness. It is diagnosed via an X-ray screening. As the dog ages, arthritis in the legs can develop as well.
It is essential that you check for health clearance for dysplasia for your puppy’s parents because dogs with this condition should not be bred at all.
Tail spinning and chasing
This is not a usual health condition but it can be quite troubling both for the dog and for you. It usually starts at the age of about 6 months. The dog becomes obsessed with chasing its tail and can often spend hours spinning frantically. This causes the affected pup to lose interest in drinking water or eating, and any attempt to stop the dog will fail. Some vets and researchers have deemed this behavior as a type of seizure in canines. In some cases, the condition can be regulated and curbed with the help of phenobarbital or other medications.
This is a disorder of the dog’s thyroid gland which can cause epilepsy, obesity, hair loss, dark skin patches and other problems with the skin. It can be treated with a proper diet and medication.
Progressive retinal atrophy
PRA is a group of eye diseases which cause the deterioration of the retina. The earliest symptom of PRA is that the dog has problems with its vision in dark conditions. As it progresses, PRA will cause limited or complete vision loss.
Thankfully, dogs can cope pretty well with the partial or complete loss of eyesight, as long as you keep the furniture in place, and guide them so that they learn how to get around the house or neighborhood safely.
Caring for the Shiba Inu
Shiba Inus require daily exercise which can be in the form of long walks, vigorous playing outside, running in a safely fenced yard, or running along with you while you run or ride a bike.
This is why the best housing option for the Shiba Inu is a home with a securely fenced backyard. But as mentioned earlier on, this breed does not like to be isolated from its human family, so do not leave your dog kenneled or crated outside.
As with all other dog breeds, Shiba Inus need to be meticulously socialized from a very early age. They should be exposed to different settings and sounds and met up with as many different people and dogs as possible. Properly socialized Shiba Inus are less likely to become aggressive towards other canines, or the opposite – timid and fearful.
Make sure that you check your fence for any potential breaks and holes, because Shiba Inus have a strong chasing instinct, and are free minded animals which will run given the chance to do so.
Also, keep in mind that Shibas dislike being restrained, so teaching your dog to wear a collar and walk on a leash should begin from day one when you bring your little Shiba home with you.
Due to their quite stubborn and difficult characters, Shiba Inus are not the easiest dog breed to train, which is why it is recommended that you turn to an experienced trainer to help you train your dog or give you tips, specifically targeted for this breed.
Overall, training a Shiba Inu will require quite a bit of patience and consistency, so if you are not prepared to do this, you may want to consider a dog from another breed instead.
If you decide to crate train your Shiba Inu, you should get it used to napping or resting in the crate from an early age. Never keep a Shiba crated or kenneled all day long though because isolation will cause the dog to become destructive, noisy and can cause it suffering as well!
Feeding the Shiba Inu
The recommended amount of food for a Shiba Inu is half to one and a half cups of top quality dry food per day. You should divide these into two meals.
Of course, the amount of food your dog needs depends on its age, its size, metabolism and its activity level, so accommodate the amount of food accordingly or ask your vet for specific recommendations regarding the food type and quantity and number of meals for your dog.
Active dogs need more food than couch potatoes, and younger dogs need more food than older ones which lead more sedentary lives and have slower metabolisms.
Also, the quality of the food you feed your Shiba Inu also affects the quantity. The higher the quality of the food – the lesser quantities your dog will need to get all of the essential nutrients to stay healthy and well.
Feed your Shiba Inu twice a day, rather than leaving the food out all day long. This will allow you to control the quantity that the dog eats and prevent it from becoming overweight.
You can ask your vet whether the Shiba needs to be on a diet, or test it yourself by monitoring its size and weight.
A healthy dog with normal weight should have a visible waist, and you should be able to feel its ribs under the coat and skin without having to poke your fingers deep in.
If you can’t see a waist and can’t feel the dog’s ribs easily, then you should decrease the amount of food you feed it and increase its exercise, so that it loses weight and avoids other health problems which are caused by being overweight.
Grooming the Shiba Inu
The thick and soft coat of the Shiba Inu gives it that cute plush toy look. The fact is, the Shiba has a double coat which consists of a straight and stiff outer coat, and an insulating soft undercoat.
The Shiba sheds moderately throughout the year and heavily around the spring and autumn seasons when it blows its coat.
The coat of the Shiba Inu can be orange-red, sesame, and cream to white (urajiro). Some dogs from this breed have white markings on their tail tips, the hind legs or the forelegs.
Overall, grooming is not a particularly difficult task for Shiba Inus. They are odor free and naturally clean canines, but they do require some brushing to remove the dead hairs and to distribute the skin oil on the coat and skin once a week. During the shedding seasons, you will have to do some more brushing though.
The Shibas should be bathed occasionally but not too often because their coats and skin can dry out if washed too often. A bath once every 3 to 4 months is sufficient to keep the Shiba clean and healthy.
In order to prevent the buildup of tartar, you should wash your dog’s teeth twice a week. This is an easy task if you get the pup accustomed to the washing from an early age. Regular oral care will keep the teeth and the gums healthy and will prevent bad breath and tooth decay.
In case the dog doesn’t wear off its nails naturally, you will need to trim the nails once per month as well. This is another task which should be introduced at an early age if you want to prevent problems when it comes to nail trimming.
Of course, you should use a suitable nail clipper, and if you are uncertain about how to proceed you should ask your groomer or vet for guidelines.
The maintenance of the Shiba Inu also must include regular inspections of the ears for any infections which can exhibit themselves in unnatural redness or bad odor. Use a balanced cleaner to clean out the ears, but do not insert q tips into the actual ear canal.
You can teach your Shiba to tolerate the regular grooming by rewarding it every time it allows you to proceed with the brushing, trimming, cleaning and other tasks.
Also, do regular check-ups on the condition of the skin of your Shiba, and look for any bumps, sores or other unusual problems. If you notice that the dog has red eyes or discharge from them, you should contact your vet.
By checking up your dog’s overall condition regularly, you can easily prevent more serious health problems in the long run.
Socializing the Shiba Inu with other pets and with children
When bred and raised properly, the Shiba Inu is an excellent family pet. It can get along with children and adults alike, but just like with any other dog breed you will need to socialize it early on and also to teach your children to treat the pup respectfully and without rough play.
Make sure you teach your kids to refrain from approaching the Shiba when it is eating or sleeping.
Shibas can be taught to get along with other dogs or pets in the home, but as we mentioned earlier on, the dogs from this breed are prone to aggressiveness to other dogs, and also have strong hunting and chasing instincts, so make sure you get the Shiba accustomed to your other pets as early as possible, and supervise their interactions until you are sure that the animals get along with each other.
When outdoors, always keep the Shiba Inu on a leash to prevent it from getting in fights with other dogs, and also to keep it safe from running off to chase squirrels, cats or other small animals.
Rescuing a Shiba Inu from a shelter
Unfortunately, like many other cute dog breeds, Shiba Inus are bought and adopted by people who are not aware of the specifics and the character of these dogs. The stubbornness and other typical features of the Shiba Inu make these dogs more difficult to train than others. Due to the fact that many inexperienced owners find that raising and caring for a Shiba Inu is a handful, there are many dogs from this Japanese breed which are being left in shelters.
So, check your local shelter or the breed clubs for any Shibas in need of adoption before proceeding to buy one. If you are familiar with the specific traits of this breed and have the patience and energy to train and care for the dog, you can end up with the perfect companion and family pet, and you can save the life of a canine which has been left behind in a rescue shelter.
Shiba Inus are incredibly cute and loving pups, which look like plush foxes or teddy bears, but they do have specific traits and natural instincts which can make them difficult to train in control.
With enough knowledge, patience, and confidence, you can raise your Shiba Inu to be the perfect family dog.
These pups will feel extremely happy if you have a securely fenced backyard where they can roam around and spend some of their endless energy, and also if you have the time and the energy to take them running or cycling with you or on long walks every day.
The most popular companion dog in Japan is quickly becoming a preferred pet in the western world as well because these unique canines are not only gorgeous looking, but they have very interesting and fun characters, they are amazingly intelligent, and can become loving and faithful companions to all kinds of families for life.