Vital Stats:Dog Breed Group: Companion Dogs
Height: 1 foot, 1 inch to 1 foot, 5 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight: 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.
- Grooming is minimal for the Shiba Inu, though he does shed heavily twice a year.
- The Shiba Inu is an intelligent breed who learns quickly. However, whether he chooses to do what you ask is another matter. First-time dog owners or timid owners may be frustrated by the challenge of training this dog.
- He's a small dog, but he's need plenty of room to romp. The Shiba Inu needs a home with a fenced yard.
- The Shiba Inu can be aggressive with other dogs and he will chase small animals he perceives as prey.
- The Shiba Inu tends to be possessive about his toys, food, and turf.
- To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they're free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.
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.
SizeMales stand 14.5 to 16.5 inches tall and weigh about 23 pounds. Females stand 13.5 to 15.5 inches tall and weigh about 17 pounds.
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.
Shiba Inus are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they're prone to certain health conditions. Not all Shiba Inus will get any or all of these diseases, but it's important to be aware of them if you're considering this breed.
If you're buying a puppy, find a good breeder who will show you health clearances for both your puppy's parents. Health clearances prove that a dog has been tested for and cleared of a particular condition.
In Shiba Inus, you should expect to see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia (with a score of fair or better), elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand's disease; from Auburn University for thrombopathia; and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certifying that eyes are normal. You can confirm health clearances by checking the OFA web site (offa.org).
- Allergies: Allergies are a common ailment in dogs, including the Shiba Inu. There are three main types of allergies: food allergies, which are treated by elimination process of certain foods from the dogs diet; contact allergies, which are caused by a reaction to a topical substance such as bedding, flea powders, dog shampoos and other chemicals; and inhalant allergies, which are caused by airborne allergens such as pollen, dust, mildew. Treatment varies according to the cause and may include dietary restrictions, medications, and environmental changes.
- Chylothorax: Chylothorax is a condition that causes an accumulation of a fluid in the chest cavity. This accumulation causes difficulty breathing, decreased appetite, coughing, and lethargy. Chylothorax can be caused by an underlying condition. Treatment includes removing the fluid, a low-fat diet or in serious cases, surgery.
- Glaucoma: Glaucoma is a disease that dogs and people. It is an increased pressure in the eye, and can be found in two forms: primary, which is hereditary, and secondary, which is caused by decreased fluid in the eye due to other eye diseases. Symptoms include vision loss and pain. Treatment and prognosis vary depending on the type. Glaucoma is treated with eye drops or surgically.
- Cancer: Symptoms that may indicate canine cancer include abnormal swelling of a sore or bump, sores that do not heal, bleeding from any body opening, and difficulty with breathing or elimination. Treatments for cancer include chemotherapy, surgery, and medications.
- Epilepsy: Epilepsy is often inherited and can cause mild or severe seizures. Seizures may be exhibited by unusual behavior, such as running frantically as if being chased, staggering, or hiding. Seizures are frightening to watch, but the long-term prognosis for dogs with idiopathic epilepsy is generally very good. It's important to remember that seizures can be caused by many other things than idiopathic epilepsy, such as metabolic disorders, infectious diseases that affect the brain, tumors, exposure to poisons, severe head injuries, and more.
- Patellar Luxation: The patella is the kneecap. Luxation means dislocation of an anatomical part (as a bone at a joint). Patellar luxation is when the knee joint (often of a hind leg) slides in and out of place, causing pain. This can be crippling, but many dogs lead relatively normal lives with this condition.
- Hypothyroidism: This is a disorder of the thyroid gland that's thought to cause conditions such as epilepsy, hair loss, obesity, lethargy, dark patches on the skin, and other skin conditions. It's treated with medication and diet.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): PRA is a family of eye diseases that involves the gradual deterioration of the retina. Early in the disease, dogs become night-blind. As the disease progresses, they lose their daytime vision as well. Many dogs adapt to limited or complete vision loss very well, as long as their surroundings remain the same.
- Hip Dysplasia: Hip dysplasia is a heritable condition in which the thighbone doesn't fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but you may not notice any signs of discomfort in a dog with hip dysplasia. As the dog ages, arthritis can develop. X-ray screening for hip dysplasia is done by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program. Dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred. If you're buying a puppy, ask the breeder for proof that the parents have been tested for hip dysplasia and are free of problems.
- Tail Chasing/Spinning: Tail chasing or spinning is an unusual problem that's not well understood. It usually begins at 6 months of age. The dog is obsessed by his tail and may circle for hours. He loses interest in food and water. All attempts to get the dog to stop the behavior fail. Sometimes the dog yelps while spinning and may attempt to bite. Research suggests that spinning may be a type of seizure. Some dogs respond to treatment with phenobarbital either alone or in conjunction with other medications.
The Shiba Inu is best suited to a home with a fenced yard. He is an active breed who likes to play, take walks, or jog along with you. Giving him room to roam will help him get his ya-yas out.
Socialization is important with this breed. Like any dog, he can become timid or quarrelsome if he isn't properly socialized — exposed to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences — when he's young. Early socialization helps ensure that your Shiba Inu puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog because he is suspicious of strangers and tends to be aggressive toward other dogs.
He'll also chase small animals such as cats or squirrels that run away from him, triggering his prey drive. For this reason, he should always be on a leash when he's in outside his fenced yard.
One quirk to the Shiba Inu's personality is his dislike of being restrained, even though it's required for his own safety. He doesn't like wearing a collar or being leashed. Leash training this breed takes time and patience, but is a must.
Puppy and obedience classes are recommended for the Shiba Inu, not only for the lessons learned but also for the amount of stimulation and socialization it provides the dog. Work with a trainer who knows this breed. Don't be disappointed if the Shiba Inu is a difficult and strong-willed student — that's his nature. Think of it as a challenge.
Housebreaking is relatively easy with this breed. Once your Shiba Inu understands the concept of where he needs to go, he will go to that area whenever he can. Crate training is a great housetraining aid that benefits every dog and is a kind way to ensure that your Shiba Inu doesn't have accidents in the house or get into things he shouldn't.
A crate is also a place where he can retreat for a nap. Crate training at a young age will help your dog accept confinement if he ever needs to be boarded or hospitalized. Never stick your Shiba Inu in a crate all day long, however. It's not a jail, and he shouldn't spend more than a few hours at a time in it except when he's sleeping at night. Shiba Inus aren't meant to spend their lives locked up in a crate or kennel.
Recommended daily amount: 1/2 to 1.5 cups of high-quality dry food a day, divided into two meals.
Note: How much your adult dog eats depends on his size, age, build, metabolism, and activity level. Dogs are individuals, just like people, and they don't all need the same amount of food. It almost goes without saying that a highly active dog will need more than a couch potato dog. The quality of dog food you buy also makes a difference — the better the dog food, the further it will go toward nourishing your dog and the less of it you'll need to shake into your dog's bowl.
Keep your Shiba Inu in good shape by measuring his food and feeding him twice a day rather than leaving food out all the time. If you're unsure whether he's overweight, give him the eye test and the hands-on test.
First, look down at him. You should be able to see a waist. Then place your hands on his back, thumbs along the spine, with the fingers spread downward. You should be able to feel but not see his ribs without having to press hard. If you can't, he needs less food and more exercise.
For more on feeding your Shiba, see our guidelines for buying the right food, feeding your puppy, and feeding your adult dog.
Coat Color And Grooming
The Shiba Inu has a thick double coat that gives him a Teddy Bear look. The outer coat is stiff and straight, and the undercoat is soft and thick. He sheds moderately throughout the year and heavily twice a year when he "blows" coat (imagine a snowstorm — but on your furniture and clothing).
The Shiba Inu coat comes in orange-red, urajiro (cream to white ventral color), and sesame (black-tipped hairs on a rich red background). Sometimes, there are white markings on the tip of the tail and on the forelegs and hind legs.
The Shiba Inu is fairly easy to maintain when it comes to grooming. He is a naturally clean and odor-free dog. He does need brushing to remove dead hair and distribute oils once a week, or more often when he's shedding heavily. A bath now and then is necessary, too, but not too often because over-bathing will dry out his skin and coat. Many owners bathe the Shiba Inu every three to four months.
Brush your Shiba's teeth at least two or three times a week to remove tartar buildup and the bacteria that lurk inside it. Daily brushing is even better if you want to prevent gum disease and bad breath.
Trim his nails once or twice a month if your dog doesn't wear them down naturally to prevent painful tears and other problems. If you can hear them clicking on the floor, they're too long. Dog toenails have blood vessels in them, and if you cut too far you can cause bleeding — and your dog may not cooperate the next time he sees the nail clippers come out. So, if you're not experienced trimming dog nails, ask a vet or groomer for pointers.
His ears should be checked weekly for redness or a bad odor, which can indicate an infection. When you check your dog's ears, wipe them out with a cotton ball dampened with gentle, pH-balanced ear cleaner to help prevent infections. Don't insert anything into the ear canal; just clean the outer ear.
Begin accustoming your Shiba Inu to being brushed and examined when he's a puppy. Handle his paws frequently — dogs are touchy about their feet — and look inside his mouth. Make grooming a positive experience filled with praise and rewards, and you'll lay the groundwork for easy veterinary exams and other handling when he's an adult.
As you groom, check for sores, rashes, or signs of infection such as redness, tenderness, or inflammation on the skin, in the nose, mouth, and eyes, and on the feet. Eyes should be clear, with no redness or discharge. Your careful weekly exam will help you spot potential health problems early.
Children And Other Pets
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.
Shiba Inus are often purchased without any clear understanding of what goes into owning one. There are many Shibas in need of adoption and or fostering. There are a number of rescues that we have not listed. If you don't see a rescue listed for your area, contact the national breed club or a local breed club and they can point you toward a Shiba rescue.