Is that a fox or a dog or a stuffed animal? None of the above—it’s a Shiba Inu! These affectionate, energetic, adaptable dogs are known for their fox-like appearance and tenacious nature. The Shiba is the smallest, and most likely the most ancient, of Spitz dogs that originated in Japan.
The Shiba Inu’s Origin Story
Originating in Japan alongside the Kai Dog, Hokkaido, Kishu, Shikoku and the Akita, the Shiba is the smallest of these breeds. Theories abound as to how the Shiba Inu got its name. One theory is the word “shiba” means “brushwood” and the breed was named for the brushwood bushes in which they hunted prey. Others believe the red color of the Shiba’s coat is the same as the color of autumn leaves on the brushwood. The third is that “shiba” refers to the breed’s small size.
Most of the dogs in Japan that didn’t perish during World War II bomb raids succumbed to distemper. Following the war, Shiba Inus were transported from remote countryside locations and a breeding program was established. The Shiba Inu breed standard was accepted by the Japanese Kennel Club in 1948 when the breed was drafted.
It’s been said an American service family brought the first Shiba to the US in the mid 1950’s. The breed fell out of the news until the mid-1970s when the first litter was born in the US. The American Kennel Club welcomed the breed into its Miscellaneous Class in 1993, and gave it full status in the Non-sporting Group in 1997. Currently, the Shiba Inu ranks 44th out of 193 on the American Kennel Club list.
Personality and Characteristics of the Shiba Inu
This feisty yet attentive, small powerhouse is not a dog for the timid or for the first-time dog owner. The Shiba is intelligent and learns quickly. He may be challenging to train because even though he learns quickly, whether he acts on what he’s learned is another matter.
Your Shiba Inu will guard “his” resources. Those resources could be his humans, his toys, his food or territory he considers his (like his crate or bed). There are occasions the Shiba will guard his resources aggressively because he doesn’t believe in sharing. This brings us to the fact that he may not get along well with other dogs and will chase small animals (small dogs, cats, squirrels, etc) that he considers prey.
His prey-drive is strong and because of that the Shiba Inu needs to be always leashed or in a securely fenced-in space. Be aware—considered something of an escape artist—the Shiba’s prey drive may lead to his digging his way out of a fenced-in area; he shouldn’t be left alone outside to his own devices.
Overall, the Shiba is a good-natured pup, but his confidence makes him strong-willed. Your Shiba Inu will bond with you and will be affectionate and loyal, but he will be suspicious of strangers.
Training the Shiba Inu
Unlike other more amenable breeds—like a Labrador Retriever, for example—who will come when called, the Shiba will come when she feels like it. He may also ignore you completely, especially if he is on the scent of prey. Stubborn or free-spirited? You decide!
The temperament of your Shiba will be determined by many factors including his lineage and his level of socialization. Look for a puppy who is playful, who approaches you and who is curious. Look for the puppy who is having fun with his littermates—not beating up or bullying smaller littermates.
Socialization is important for every puppy and the Shiba Inu is no exception. You will want to expose your puppy to other puppies and dogs and humans outside of the family. Introduce your puppy to different experiences, sights and sounds. The more your Shiba is introduced to strangers and strange situations, the more adaptable he will be.
The training of the Shiba should begin as soon as you bring him home. As the new owner, you need to be aware of his free-spirited thinking and be prepared to be frustrated when training him. Look for a dog trainer who understands this highly intelligent breed and can help you with positive reinforcement training.
Note: Regardless of how much you think your Shiba Inu listens to you and will come when called, he cannot be trusted off leash. He loves the chase and his high prey drive will have him on high alert for something to hunt.
Shiba Inu Health and Grooming Concerns
The Shiba ranges from 13.5 inches to 16.5 inches tall and weigh between 17 and 23 pounds; the males are larger than the females. Their full coat makes this smallish breed look larger than he is.
The grooming of your Shiba will be minimal, but he will shed his entire coat twice a year. A good daily brushing will remove loose hairs and keep his coat shiny.
Shiba Inus are prone to allergies. If your Shiba has skin irritation and itching, it could be an allergy and you should talk with your veterinarian.
Should You Welcome A Shiba Inu Into Your Life?
If you’re looking for an adorable dog with ninja-like reflexes and cat-like grace, the Shiba will fit right into your life. This is a dog who is comfortable in an apartment or in a large country home. He isn’t prone to barking and is extremely easy to house train (some owners say they feel as if their Shiba came already house-trained!). Your Shiba will be loyal to you and friendly with well-behaved children.
Their intelligence and escape artist tendencies mean you will need to be on your toes when it comes to training and to keeping track of this pup. This is an energetic breed who can become destructive if not exercised regularly; so long daily walks are highly recommended.
Welcome this confident dog into your life and your home if you have the strength of will to train him with positive training methods and be rewarded with his loyalty and love!
Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words Matter, My Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.
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