August 17, 2017

Introduction to the Shiba Inu

The name “Shiba Inu” translates to “little brushwood dog” in Japanese.

These alert, agile dogs were originally kept for hunting by sight and scent in mountainous areas in Japan.

They are the oldest and smallest of Japan’s native breeds. Loyal and affectionate to their families, the Shiba tends to be reserved with strangers. The Shiba is a very clean breed and almost cat-like in their habits.

They make an excellent watchdog and companion. They don’t always get along well with other dogs. For this reason they are most often recommended for people who don’t have other dogs or children.

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History of the Shiba Inu

The Shiba Inu has been identified as one of the 14 oldest dog breeds in the world today. (This paper is also helpful.) It’s believed that ancestors of the Shiba Inu accompanied early immigrants to Japan around 7000 BC. Later immigrants to Japan in the third century BC also brought dogs to the islands and these dogs interbred with the dogs already in Japan. The resulting dogs had pointed, erect ears and a curly, sickle tail like modern Shiba Inu. The Shiba is a spitz breed – a family of dogs found in various places in the world but mainly associated with norther latitudes, though their origin is not known. There are six spitz breeds found in Japan and the Shiba Inu is the smallest of the spitz breeds there.

In the 7th century a dogkeeper’s office was established to help maintain the native Japanese breeds as an important part of Japanese culture. The country was closed to foreigners for the most part but some European dogs and the Chinese Chin were brought into Japan and crossed with some native Shiba Inu, at least in the cities. The Shiba Inu in rural areas were reported to remain purebred and were not crossed with other breeds. Prior to the 20th century there were three main varieties of Shiba, each named for different parts of the country. Although the dogs were similar and recognizably Shiba Inu, they did have certain differences which can still be seen in the breed today.

During and after World War II the Shiba nearly became extinct because of food shortages and a deadly outbreak of distemper. There were only three surviving bloodlines in Japan at that time. Dogs from remote areas (the Shinshu line) survived in greater numbers than the other two lines (the Mino and Sanin lines) but all three were combined to develop the modern Shiba Inu.
The first Shiba Inu was brought to the United States by the family of a U.S. service member in 1954. The first litter was not born in the U.S. until 1979. The breed was recognized by the AKC in 1992 and added to the Non-Sporting group in 1993. Today the Shiba Inu’s popularity is rising and they are the 44th most popular breed in the United States according to AKC registration statistics. The Shiba Inu is the most popular breed in Japan today.


Shiba Inu Health Related Issues

According to the National Shiba Club of America, the parent club for the breed in the United States, Shiba Inus are sturdy, healthy little dogs. Like all dogs, they can have some hereditary defects.

Patellar luxation (a loose knee cap) is the most common health problem that occurs in the breed. This condition occurs when the patella is displaced from its normal position. There are varying grades of severity. In some instances the patella will move back into place by itself after a moment. In more severe cases, the patella will remain out of position all the time and the dog will be lame. In these cases the dog will usually developed bowed back legs. Most Shibas that are affected will have the mildest form. There may not be any clinical symptoms or the dog may only have a slight hitch in his gait from time to time. In severe cases, however, a dog may require surgery.

Hip dysplasia also occurs with Shiba Inus. This is a condition that is more often associated with larger breeds. Current Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) data for the Shiba Inu shows that the breed has 93.4 percent normal hips and 5.9 percent abnormal hips from a large number of Shiba submitting x-rays (3542). The breed ranks 147th for hip dysplasia, which suggests that the breed has made good strides in improving hips.

You can check the data for hips and other health tests on the OFA web site.

The Shiba Inu can be prone to some eye problems such as distichiasis (eyelashes), entropion, corneal dystrophy, persistent pupillary membrane, cataracts, and progressive retinal atrophy.

Individual Shiba Inu can also be prone to allergies such as flea allergy dermatitis, food, and inhalant allergies.

Poor dentition – bad bites, missing teeth, and premature tooth loss – can all occur in the breed. Many small breeds tend to have problems with their teeth but with some Shiba Inu it can become a health problem because it can interfere with a dog’s ability to eat.

Other health issues have been seen in the breed but only rarely.

Shibas tend to have very long lives.

The median age of death for a Shiba Inu is 14.2 years.

We advise you to talk to breeders about health issues in the breed. Ask questions about the parents of puppies. Ask about health guarantees. Ask about the health tests the breeder has had done with their dogs. All of these things will help you choose a healthy puppy or adult dog.

Shiba Inu Temperament

The term “spirited boldness” is often used to describe the Shiba. They are dignified, naturally beautiful dogs. They also have an independent nature. Reserved toward strangers, they are loyal and affectionate if you are lucky enough to be accepted into their circle. The Shiba has qualities of bravery and gentleness. People who love this breed find them irresistible.

The Shiba Inu is sometimes dog-aggressive so potential owners are often advised that they don’t do well in homes with other dogs. According to some sources, female Shibas are more dog aggressive than males. It’s very important for the Shiba Inu to have good early obedience training and socialization.

Ironically, the Shiba gets along rather well with cats. In fact, the Shiba has a number of cat-like traits. They enjoy grooming themselves. They are very clean and fastidious. They are also very easy to housetrain.

You can also expect your Shiba to scream. If your dog is unhappy or provoked in some way, you may hear a loud, high-pitched scream. At the opposite extreme, Shibas sometimes scream when they are very happy.

The National Shiba Club of America recommends a fenced yard for the Shiba. You won’t be able to train a Shiba to stay in your yard if he sees a cat or squirrel. This breed has a tremendously strong prey drive and individuals will give chase.

Your Shiba will also expect to enjoy all of your creature comforts when he’s indoors such as your bed and your dinner. A crate or an exercise pen are recommended if you object to giving your Shiba your food, at least until he learns some manners. You can expect your Shiba Inu puppy to be a little monster until he outgrows the puppy stage and you can start trusting him in the house when you’re away from home.

The Shiba is an active breed but they are also small so they don’t need to run miles per day. Walks around the neighborhood together, play in the backyard, and other routine methods of play should keep your Shiba happy and well-exercised. Do keep your Shiba on a leash when you leave your property since they can get into fights with other dogs you encounter – including larger dogs.

Shiba Inus are not recommended for homes with very small children. Homes with older children may consider a Shiba but it’s a good idea to visit breeders or friends who have Shiba Inus to see if this breed is suitable to be around your kids. Remember that you must always supervise children when they interact with dogs, regardless of the breed.

This is an athletic breed. If you’re willing to train and work with your dog, the Shiba is able to excel at obedience, agility, rally, flyball, coursing, musical freestyle, tracking, and even barn hunting. They also make very good therapy dogs.

Shiba Inu Grooming

The Shiba Inu is a small dog but not a Toy. Males are 14 1/2 inches to16 1/2 inches at withers. Females 13 1/2 inches to 15 1/2 inches. Males average about 23 pounds; females average about 17 pounds. The breed appears in Red Sesame, Black & Tan, Red, Sesame, Black Sesame, with a cream, buff, or gray undercoat. Dogs have a dense double coat. The undercoat is soft while the outer guard hair is stiff and straight. With seasonal shedding, extra grooming may be needed in the spring and fall.

Shiba require minimal grooming but they do need to be brushed often to cut down on shedding. A good brush and a good vacuum cleaner are recommended.

Shiba Inu Fun Facts

  • The Shiba Inu is the smallest dog native to Japan.
  • The Shiba may be as much as 9000 years old!
  • “Inu” means “dog” in Japanese.
  • The Shiba Inu is a spitz breed, like the Samoyed and the Keeshond.
  • There’s another ancient breed found in Japan but it’s much larger than the Shiba Inu. The Akita is one of the other spitz breeds from Japan.

Common Shiba Inu Mixes

Checking online, we found Shiba Inu x Red Heeler mixes, Shiba x Corgi mixes, Shiba x Alaskan Klee Klai, Shiba x Eskimo, Shiba x Keeshond, Shiba Siberian Husky, and a Shiba x Finnish Spitz. The most popular mixes seemed to be crossing the Shiba Inu with other spitz breeds for health or temperament reasons.

Shiba Inu FAQ’s

What is a Shiba Inus Life Expectancy?

The Shiba Inu has a median lifespan of 14.2 years. Many dogs live into their teen years. One Shiba reportedly lived to be 26 years old.

Are Shiba Inus easy to train?

This depends on who you ask. We found many responses online that suggested the Shiba is not easy to train. However, people who have had the breed for a long time seem to believe Shibas are easy to train. These are people who are most familiar with the breed so they probably have more insight into Shiba Inu behavior and the way the dogs think than first-time owners.

According to the book The Intelligence of Dogs, the Shiba Inu ranks 49th among breeds in intelligence which is average working/obedience intelligence. Remember that just because a dog does not always obey a commend doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand it. Some breeds/dogs are more independent than others and the Shiba Inu has been described as having a certain amount of independence.

Do Shiba Inus shed a lot of hair?

Yes. They shed regularly plus they have seasonal sheds in the spring and fall.

Do Shiba Inus make good apartment pets?

Not always. While their small size and moderate exercise requirements would seem to suggest that the Shiba Inu would be a good apartment pet, you should keep in mind that this is a breed that can scream at times if they are not happy – or if they are very happy. It can depend on the individual dog and how understanding your neighbors may be.

Are Shiba Inus good with Children?

The Shiba Inu is not recommended for homes with small children. If you have older children, we recommend that you take the kids to meet the Shiba at the owner or breeder’s house before making a decision. Try to have your kids meet some adult Shiba Inu to see how they get along with the breed and to see what you think of the breed’s interaction with the kids. This breed is not always a good choice for homes with kids.

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta Cooper is a freelance writer and a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine, Dog News. She is the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Adoptashelter.com award-winner for 2013. Additionally, Carlotta is the author of Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Health and Happy, as well as other books about pets. She is a guest writer for numerous website and blogs and a frequent pet food reviewer.

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