Shiba Inu

The bold and fiery Shiba Inu is Japan's smallest native spitz dog.

Shiba Inu Breed Photo

The Shiba Inu dog breed was originally bred to flush birds and small game, and was occasionally used to hunt wild boar. He is one of Japan's six native breeds: Akita (large), Kishu, Hokkaido, Kai, Shikoku (medium), and Shiba (small). He is known for his spirited personality, small upright ears, and cat-like agility. Today he serves primarily as a companion dog in Japan and the United States.

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Breed Characteristics

    • Almost always

      Adapt Well To Apartment Living

      Contrary to popular belief, small size doesn't necessarily an apartment dog make -- plenty of small dogs are too high-energy and yappy for life in a high-rise. Being quiet, low energy, fairly calm indoors, and polite with the other residents, are all good qualities in an apartment dog.
    • Sometimes

      Good For Novice Owners

      Some dogs are simply easier than others: they take to training better and are fairly easygoing. They're also resilient enough to bounce back from your mistakes or inconsistencies. Dogs who are highly sensitive, independent thinking, or assertive may be harder for a first-time owner to manage. You'll get your best match if you take your dog-owning experience into account as you choose your new pooch.
    • Moderate

      Sensitivity Level

      Some dogs will let a stern reprimand roll off their backs, while others take even a dirty look to heart. Low-sensitivity dogs, also called "easygoing," "tolerant," "resilient," and even "thick-skinned," can better handle a noisy, chaotic household, a louder or more assertive owner, and an inconsistent or variable routine. Do you have young kids, throw lots of dinner parties, play in a garage band, or lead a hectic life? Go with a low-sensitivity dog.
    • Fairly well

      Tolerates Being Alone

      Some breeds bond very closely with their family and are more prone to worry or even panic when left alone by their owner. An anxious dog can be very destructive, barking, whining, chewing, and otherwise causing mayhem. These breeds do best when a family member is home during the day or if you can take the dog to work.
    • Not so well

      Tolerates Cold Weather

      Breeds with very short coats and little or no undercoat or body fat, such as Greyhounds, are vulnerable to the cold. Dogs with a low cold tolerance need to live inside in cool climates and should have a jacket or sweater for chilly walks.
    • Not so well

      Tolerates Hot Weather

      Dogs with thick, double coats are more vulnerable to overheating. So are breeds with short noses, like Bulldogs or Pugs, since they can't pant as well to cool themselves off. If you want a heat-sensitive breed, the dog will need to stay indoors with you on warm or humid days, and you'll need to be extra cautious about exercising your dog in the heat.
    • Not usually

      Easy To Train

      Easy to train dogs are more adept at forming an association between a prompt (such as the word "sit"), an action (sitting), and a consequence (getting a treat) very quickly. Other dogs need more time, patience, and repetition during training. Many breeds are intelligent but approach training with a "What's in it for me?" attitude, in which case you'll need to use rewards and games to teach them to want to comply with your requests.
    • Below average

      Intelligence

      Dogs who were bred for jobs that require decision making, intelligence, and concentration, such as herding livestock, need to exercise their brains, just as dogs who were bred to run all day need to exercise their bodies. If they don't get the mental stimulation they need, they'll make their own work -- usually with projects you won't like, such as digging and chewing. Obedience training and interactive dog toys are good ways to give a dog a brain workout, as are dog sports and careers, such as agility and search and rescue.
    • Very low

      Potential For Mouthiness

      Common in most breeds during puppyhood and in retriever breeds at all ages, mouthiness means a tendency to nip, chew, and play-bite (a soft, fairly painless bite that doesn't puncture the skin). Mouthy dogs are more likely to use their mouths to hold or "herd" their human family members, and they need training to learn that it's fine to gnaw on chew toys, but not on people. Mouthy breeds tend to really enjoy a game of fetch, as well as a good chew on a chew toy that's been stuffed with kibble and treats.
    • Moderate

      Prey Drive

      Dogs that were bred to hunt, such as terriers, have an inborn desire to chase and sometimes kill other animals. Anything whizzing by -- cats, squirrels, perhaps even cars -- can trigger that instinct. Dogs that like to chase need to be leashed or kept in a fenced area when outdoors, and you'll need a high, secure fence in your yard. These breeds generally aren't a good fit for homes with smaller pets that can look like prey, such as cats, hamsters, or small dogs. Breeds that were originally used for bird hunting, on the other hand, generally won't chase, but you'll probably have a hard time getting their attention when there are birds flying by.
    • Low

      Tendency To Bark Or Howl

      Some breeds sound off more often than others. When choosing a breed, think about how the dog vocalizes — with barks or howls — and how often. If you're considering a hound, would you find their trademark howls musical or maddening? If you're considering a watchdog, will a city full of suspicious "strangers" put him on permanent alert? Will the local wildlife literally drive your dog wild? Do you live in housing with noise restrictions? Do you have neighbors nearby?
    • High

      Wanderlust Potential

      Some breeds are more free-spirited than others. Nordic dogs such as Siberian Huskies were bred to range long distances, and given the chance, they'll take off after anything that catches their interest. And many hounds simply must follow their noses, or that bunny that just ran across the path, even if it means leaving you behind.
    • Moderate

      Amount Of Shedding

      If you're going to share your home with a dog, you'll need to deal with some level of dog hair on your clothes and in your house. However, shedding does vary greatly among the breeds: Some dogs shed year-round, some "blow" seasonally -- produce a snowstorm of loose hair -- some do both, and some shed hardly at all. If you're a neatnik you'll need to either pick a low-shedding breed, or relax your standards.
    • Very low

      Drooling Potential

      Drool-prone dogs may drape ropes of slobber on your arm and leave big, wet spots on your clothes when they come over to say hello. If you've got a laid-back attitude toward slobber, fine; but if you're a neatnik, you may want to choose a dog that rates low in the drool department.
    • Somewhat

      Easy To Groom

      Some breeds are brush-and-go dogs; others require regular bathing, clipping, and other grooming just to stay clean and healthy. Consider whether you have the time and patience for a dog that needs a lot of grooming, or the money to pay someone else to do it.
    • Very good

      General Health

      Due to poor breeding practices, some breeds are prone to certain genetic health problems, such as hip dysplasia. This doesn't mean that every dog of that breed will develop those diseases; it just means that they're at an increased risk. If you're buying a puppy, it's a good idea to find out which genetic illnesses are common to the breed you're interested in, so you can ask the breeder about the physical health of your potential pup's parents and other relatives.
    • Very low

      Potential For Weight Gain

      Some breeds have hearty appetites and tend to put on weight easily. As in humans, being overweight can cause health problems in dogs. If you pick a breed that's prone to packing on pounds, you'll need to limit treats, make sure he gets enough exercise, and measure out his daily kibble in regular meals rather than leaving food out all the time.
    • Small

      Size

      Dogs come in all sizes, from the world's smallest pooch, the Chihuahua, to the towering Great Dane, how much space a dog takes up is a key factor in deciding if he is compatible with you and your living space.
    • Not particularly

      Affectionate With Family

      Some breeds are independent and aloof, even if they've been raised by the same person since puppyhood; others bond closely to one person and are indifferent to everyone else; and some shower the whole family with affection. Breed isn't the only factor that goes into affection levels; dogs who were raised inside a home with people around feel more comfortable with humans and bond more easily.
    • Not usually

      Dog Friendly

      Friendliness toward dogs and friendliness toward humans are two completely different things. Some dogs may attack or try to dominate other dogs even if they're love-bugs with people; others would rather play than fight; and some will turn tail and run. Breed isn't the only factor; dogs who lived with their littermates and mother until at least 6 to 8 weeks of age, and who spent lots of time playing with other dogs during puppyhood, are more likely to have good canine social skills.
    • Rarely

      Friendly Toward Strangers

      Stranger-friendly dogs will greet guests with a wagging tail and a nuzzle; others are shy, indifferent, or even aggressive. However, no matter what the breed, a dog who was exposed to lots of different types, ages, sizes, and shapes of people as a puppy will respond better to strangers as an adult.
    • Not usually

      Kid Friendly

      Being gentle with children, sturdy enough to handle the heavy-handed pets and hugs they can dish out, and having a blasé attitude toward running, screaming children are all traits that make a kid-friendly dog. You may be surprised by who's on that list: Fierce-looking Boxers are considered good with children, as are American Staffordshire Terriers (aka pit bulls). Small, delicate, and potentially snappy dogs such as Chihuahuas aren't so family-friendly.**All dogs are individuals. Our ratings are generalizations, and they're not a guarantee of how any breed or individual dog will behave. Dogs from any breed can be good with children based on their past experiences, training on how to get along with kids, and personality. No matter what the breed or breed type, all dogs have strong jaws, sharp pointy teeth, and may bite in stressful circumstances. Young children and dogs of any breed should always be supervised by an adult and never left alone together, period.
    • Moderate

      Energy Level

      High-energy dogs are always ready and waiting for action. Originally bred to perform a canine job of some sort, such as retrieving game for hunters or herding livestock, they have the stamina to put in a full workday. They need a significant amount of exercise and mental stimulation, and they're more likely to spend time jumping, playing, and investigating any new sights and smells. Low-energy dogs are the canine equivalent of a couch potato, content to doze the day away. When picking a breed, consider your own activity level and lifestyle, and think about whether you'll find a frisky, energetic dog invigorating or annoying.
    • Low

      Exercise Needs

      Some breeds do fine with a slow evening stroll around the block. Others need daily, vigorous exercise -- especially those that were originally bred for physically demanding jobs, such as herding or hunting. Without enough exercise, these breeds may put on weight and vent their pent-up energy in ways you don't like, such as barking, chewing, and digging. Breeds that need a lot of exercise are good for outdoorsy, active people, or those interested in training their dog to compete in a high-energy dog sport, such as agility.
    • Very low

      Intensity

      A vigorous dog may or may not be high-energy, but everything he does, he does with vigor: he strains on the leash (until you train him not to), tries to plow through obstacles, and even eats and drinks with great big gulps. These dynamos need lots of training to learn good manners, and may not be the best fit for a home with young kids or someone who's elderly or frail. A low-vigor dog, on the other hand, has a more subdued approach to life.
    • Low

      Potential For Playfulness

      Some dogs are perpetual puppies -- always begging for a game -- while others are more serious and sedate. Although a playful pup sounds endearing, consider how many games of fetch or tag you want to play each day, and whether you have kids or other dogs who can stand in as playmates for the dog.

Vital Stats

  • Dog Breed Group: Companion Dogs
  • Height: Generally 1 foot, 1 inch to 1 foot, 5 inches tall at the shoulder
  • Weight: Generally 17 to 23 pounds
  • Life Span: 12 to 16 years

With his prick ears, squinty eyes, and curly tail, this breed from the Land of the Rising Sun looks like a fox, or perhaps a stuffed toy. He is neither. He is the Shiba Inu, the smallest — and possibly the most ancient — of six spitz dogs that originate in Japan.

The Shiba Inu is known for a bold, fiery personality. The Japanese have three words to describe the breed's mental traits: kaani-i (spirited boldness), ryosei (good nature), and soboku (alertness). Combined, these traits make up the interesting, intelligent, and strong-willed temperament of this breed.

The Shiba Inu is small (about 20 pounds) and athletic. Like a ninja warrior, the Shiba Inu moves quickly, nimbly, effortlessly. He is keen and alert.

And superior — or so he thinks, according to those who know and love this breed. The Shiba Inu approaches the world with a calm dignity that is uniquely his own, which is likely why he is also described as stubborn.

Because of his independence, the Shiba Inu is not the easiest breed to train. Socialization — the process by which puppies or adults dogs learn how to be friendly and get along with other dogs and people — and training should begin early to teach the Shiba Inu proper canine manners.

It is important to understand the freethinking nature of the Shiba Inu so you won't be frustrated. The Shiba Inu is highly intelligent, but he doesn't necessarily want to do what you want him to do. You may have to make him think obedience is his idea. For best results, it's important to work with a trainer who understands the breed's independence.

Another tendency of the breed is possessiveness. The Shiba Inu guards his stuff, including toys, food, or territory. Proper socialization helps minimize this characteristic, but it's wise to put away any of his favorite toys and treats when other dogs or children are around so he's not tempted to quarrel over them.

Despite all of this, the Shiba Inu is a good family dog — he is loyal and devoted — and does well with children as long as he is properly socialized and trained, and the children treat him kindly and respectfully.

The Shiba Inu has been known to show the fiery side of his personality with other dogs and animals. He can be dog-aggressive, especially intact males with intact males. Most Shibas cannot be trusted off leash because they are natural hunters and love the chase. There's a strong chance he will chase a squirrel, chipmunk, or cat. He is generally suspicious of strangers and is a good watchdog, alerting you to anything unusual.

Getting outside for some action is also important to a Shiba. He needs a good daily workout, whether it's a walk in the neighborhood or a jog alongside his bicycling owner. He is best suited to a home with a securely fenced yard (he has escape-artist tendencies) where he can romp. He should always be leashed when he's not at home because of his prey drive and potential for dog-aggression.

The Shiba Inu is a wonderful companion, though his strong-willed personality can be too much for some people. Others are charmed by his pluck and loyalty, which is why enthusiasts say that owning a Shiba isn't just owning a dog — it's a way of life.