Shiba Inu Dog Breed Facts, Traits, Stats & Pictures

close up one Shiba Inu dog barking and looking at camera

Small but athletic, with fox-like features and alert, confident behavior, the Shiba Inu dog breed is among the world’s oldest breeds and is one of six breeds native to Japan: Akita, Kishu, Hokkaido, Kai, Shikoku, and Shiba.

The Shiba Inu is the smallest of this group of six. This ancient Japanese dog was once employed as a hunter, known for its strength and agility. Now, the Shiba Inu is the most common companion dog in Japan, and Shibas are gaining popularity in the west amongst breeders and pet owners who value their spunk and confident personality.

Shiba Inu dog stands on the road in summer

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Shiba Inu Stats 

  • Height: 13.5-16.5 inches.
  • Weight: 17-23 pounds. 
  • Life Span: 13-16 years.
  • Breed Size: Small (0-25 lbs.)
  • Good With: Children and families.
  • Temperament: Willful, playful, aloof. 
  • Intelligence: High.
  • Shedding Amount: Frequent.
  • Exercise Needs: Medium.
  • Energy Level: Active.
  • Exercise: 1+ hours a day.
  • Barking Level: When necessary.
  • Drool Amount: Low.
  • Breed Group: Non-sporting.
  • Coat Length/Texture: very thick, double coat.
  • Colors: Red, cream, black, white.
  • Patterns: Bicolor, tricolor, tuxedo, black and tan.
  • Other Traits: Easy to groom, highly territorial, high prey drive, high potential for weight gain, cold weather tolerant, strong loyalty tendencies, good hiking companion.

History 

The Shiba Inu originated in Japan along with the Akita, Shikoku, Kai Dog, Hokkaido, and Kishu, all of which are larger than the small Shiba Inu.

The size of the Shiba Inu was recognized as an advantage by hunters. The Shiba Inu was used primarily as a hunting dog to flush out small game and birds for hunters. There are three prominent theories about how the Shiba Inu got his name. One theory is that the word Shiba means “brushwood.”

Thus, 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 was almost a disaster for the Shiba Inu breed, which was almost entirely concentrated in Japan. Many Shiba Inus were killed in bomb raids, 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.

Appearance 

The Shiba Inu is described by all as looking like a puffy fox. This has as much to do with their appearance as with the agile way that they move. The Shiba Inu’s classic color is orangey-red and white. Shibas also come in black and tan, cream, and sesame (black-tipped hairs on a red background).

These dogs appear quite fluffy as if they were meant to weather the snow. Shiba coats are dense and double-coated, similar to a Siberian Husky’s. “Urajiro” is the Japanese term that describes the white color markings all Shibas have on their chest, cheeks, belly, inner ears, and legs.

Shibas are an intense breed, an intensity that can easily be seen in their bright brown eyes. Male Shibas stand up to 16.5 inches tall and weigh about 23 pounds. Females are smaller, standing around 13.5 inches tall and weighing 17 pounds. A male Shiba will have a broader face, while the female has softer facial features.

No matter the gender, the Shiba Inu is built like a hunter. They are quick and agile and seem always alert in a confident stance. Their perky, triangular ears and fluffy curlicue tail give them the look of a resourceful and alert animal of the forest. 

Temperament and Personality 

The Shiba Inu is bold and good-natured with an unaffected forthrightness, though at times the Shiba can be aggressive. At times the Shiba Inu may seem aloof as if he does not desire anything but his independence.

At other times, he wants everything, from whatever it is you’re eating for dinner to all your affection. If you don’t learn to set some boundaries for him when he is a puppy, you’re going to have problems on your hands when he grows up believing he’s the center of the universe.

It’s not unusual for Shibas to think that way. Because of their independence, dignity, and reserve toward strangers, they are often described as being somewhat cold, but with family members, however, they are very affectionate and loyal, and if socialized early on, they may grow up to enjoy the company of other dogs and other humans.

The Shiba howls when he wants your attention. Expect to hear complaints if you have not provided his meal quickly enough. In fact, the Shiba absolutely loves to be vocal, and you might get the sense that he wants the spotlight to show off his voice.

From yelping in delight when you come home from work to yelping in distress when you constrain his movement by putting him on a leash when he is a puppy full of wanderlust, this dog will be heard. He just loves the drama. However cute and sweet he is, don’t neglect to train and socialize your Shiba from a young age to understand what is and isn’t acceptable behavior.

Make sure he understands that he can’t snap, growl, or bite to protect his food or his favorite toys, and that the other household pets are friends who are to be respected. He can be aggressive toward dogs he doesn’t know, so early socialization with other dogs is important, too.

Luckily, the Shiba is usually not aggressive or shy when it comes to people. It is important to start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Shibas are extremely intelligent, so even at 8 weeks old, he is capable of learning everything you try to teach him.

With the right amount of training and socialization, you will find yourself with a calm and collected loyal companion. Because the Shiba Inu is so headstrong, he may not be the best bet for first-time dog owners with little or no experience training. However, if you are a more experienced dog owner or trainer, then you may find the perfect best friend in the Shiba Inu. 

Grooming

Despite the thick coat, the Shiba Inu does not require an extensive amount of grooming.

However, expect some pushback when it comes to some grooming practices. He doesn’t like to be handled in a way that restricts his autonomy. The Shiba has a double coat. The undercoat is soft and thick, and the outer coat is 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 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. 

Make sure to introduce your Shiba to grooming early so that he learns to accept it without putting up a fight. This is especially important with nail trimming, the bane of a Shiba’s existence.

Care

This breed doesn’t like to be cooped up in the house all day long.

They like long walks or jogs, and if you can provide a space for them to play, such as a fenced-in yard, they will find much joy in exploring and chasing small animals. Since they do not like to be restrained by a leash or anything else, it is important to find this space for free play, even if you take him for walks and jogs.

Housebreaking is relatively easy for this breed. They are quite intelligent and will understand what they are told to do. Still, training them to be obedient can be somewhat of a struggle. They can be very headstrong, but if you are up for the challenge, you will likely see your work pay off. 

Finally, socialization is very important. Because they are so independent, Shiba Inus need to be placed in situations where they can socialize so that they learn to get along with other animals and humans. 

Veterinarian examining Puppy Shiba inu dog

Health

Shiba Inus are generally healthy but they’re prone to certain health conditions, as can be expected from any breed.

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, you should expect clearances for thrombophilia.

From the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) you should see documentation certifying that their eyes are normal. You can confirm health clearances by checking the OFA website. Certain conditions that you should look out for are as follows: 

  • 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.

Feeding

It is recommended that you feed your Shiba Inu a daily amount of 1.5 cups of high-quality dry food, divided into two meals.

Shibas are not uniquely prone to overeating or obesity, but it is still a good idea to make sure that your Shiba stays in good shape by measuring out the amount of food you give him each day and ensuring that he gets at least 1 hour of daily exercise. 

The Shiba Inu: A Magnificent Breed

The Shiba Inu is an ancient breed, and as one might expect, this breed carries itself with dignity and confidence.

Although they are not now used for hunting, they still have the instinct, which will often show itself in their wish for independence and adventure. That being said, they are a great pet for the home. They are incredibly loyal, and although they require training and socialization from a young age, their headstrong nature won’t likely cause problems if they are taught to learn their place.

They are an incredible breed, and it is no wonder that they are gaining in popularity all over the world.

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Jonas Muthoni