Shiba Inu

Shiba Inu Dog
John Walton
Written by John Walton

In 1936, the Shiba Inu dog breed was declared a monument of Japan thanks to its consummate role in the culture of this nation. Shiba Inu is the smallest dog out of Japan’s 6 national dog breeds, namely Akita, which is a large dog, Kishu, Hokkaido, Shikoku and Kai, which are medium-sized dogs.

It is the oldest Japanese dog type characterized by primitive nature and imposing physique despite its size. Also called Japanese Small Size Dog or Shiba Dog, it has distinctive physical features and unique personality traits that make it perfect for some people and totally inappropriate for others.

Breed Characteristics

TrainabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessBelow Average
Exercise NeedsBelow Average

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

Although the main purpose of this dog breed was to hunt birds and various types of small animals, it is now very popular as companion dog in both Japan and the US. It was only in 1950 when this dog breed was brought to America. 20 years later, its fans founded a kennel club, but it was officially recognized only in 1992.

The meaning of its name is “brushwood dog”. Some people think it was named so because of its ability to camouflage itself among brushwood. Others believe the color of its coat is close to the color of brushwood, thus the name. However, it looks very similar to foxes, so it often likened with them.

Shiba Inu is a spitz type of dog. Its body is muscular, balanced and compact. Its tail is curled over the back. Its head is round and it has a well-defined snout. With black eyes and triangular ears, it has all the physical features that define a Japanese dog.

Shiba Inu’s personality is independent and very similar with a cat’s personality. Although it is loyal and it enjoys the company of its owner, it is not the type of dog that asks or needs affection. It is not recommended to be left alone not because it might feel lonely, but because it has a destructive tendency.

Shiba Inu thinks it is smarter than its owner, trainer or any other human being. Moreover, it is always trying to find ways to outsmart people and obey as little as possible. This type of dog knows how to manipulate a person, but it is also emphatic. However, it is often referred to as “a drama queen” because it acts like the world is going to end sometimes without having an actual reason.

Main Highlights
  • Shiba Inu is a Japanese dog breed. It is the shortest of all Japanese canines and is present in various regions of Japan. It is said that its ancestors occupied Japan since the primitive era.
  • Shiba Inu is an agile, rigid, courageous and independent dog type. This dog is loyal and affectionate with its family and hesitant regarding strangers, fact which makes it a perfect companion dog.
  • It was used for hunting small animals and birds. These days it is a great guard dog and an appreciated companion.
  • Shiba Inu is a very smart dog, but very stubborn as well. This situation makes obedience training quite difficult, but absolutely necessary.
  • It has a high energy level, but its actual exercising needs are not significant. Long walks are its favorites.
  • It has a beautiful and proportional body conformation. It is robust with well-developed muscles and compact bones. It is lively, agile and elegant.
  • It can adapt to a life in an apartment if it exercises enough.
Breed History

This dog breed first appeared around the third century BC. This dog type was bred for hunting birds and various other small animals. Because it was brave and strong, it was also used for hunting wild boars and bears.

Shiba Inu was successful in rapidly finding the prey when it fell on the ground. As for its name, no one knows for sure what it means. There are 3 main theories that identify Shiba as a geographical region, match its red-orange color or think about brushwood and this dog’s ability to hide in it.

Since it was bred, Japanese people loved this dog breed. Unfortunately, after World War II, Shiba Inu was endangered. Many copies have died during the war, while others died of various diseases in the coming years due to the side effects of nuclear bombs. Thanks to various breeders, this dog breed was revived in the 1950s. They searched and found a few dogs left in rural areas that were far away from the disastrous effects.

Since puppies from this dog breed became more and more numerous, people took Shiba dogs in Europe and in the US. They gained a lot of popularity especially in the US thanks to their physical appearance, but they were only recognized as a breed after the 1990s. The American Kennel Club established standard features for Shiba Inu in 1992.


A standard copy of male Shiba Inu should measure between 14.5 to 16.5 inches tall, while a female should be about 13.5 to 15.5 inches tall. As for these dogs’ weight, females are lighter, weighing around 17 pounds than males that weight about 23 pounds. Shiba Inu is a small sized dog.

Personality and Character

Shiba Inu is not a dog for everyone. If you want a lazy dog, obedient and quiet, Shiba Inu is not a good option for you. This is an extremely intelligent dog, but very individualistic, which means that it does what it wants, when it wants.

Although it is a dog, its personality is similar with a cat’s. It rarely accepts signs of affection or performs commands. Even so, it respects its owner and loves him or her unconditionally. The loyalty of a Shiba Inu is immeasurable. It likes the company of people, but it doesn’t need their attention. Being in the same room with a person is usually enough for such a dog.

Shiba Inu is an energetic dog, always alert. Its ownership and defensive instincts are well represented. Shiba can be a good watchdog since it is very suspicious about strangers. It barks when it thinks that something is wrong or if a stranger approaches and it doesn’t stop until its owner checks it out. It also pays attention to what happens around it and sometimes it notices if something disappears, such as a piece of furniture from the yard. Regarding the yard, a Shiba Inu is such a clean dog, that it doesn’t like to empty its bowels inside the yard or pee in the vicinity of its sleeping spot.

Shiba Inu is always a young spirit, eager for adventure. It moves like a samurai, beings precise, fast and effortless. This is why it needs an open minded owner that is relaxed and doesn’t have too many expectations from it. If you get angry and frustrated, this dog will stop listening to you. It responds very well only when it is at peace with its owner.

Often called “a drama queen”, this type of dog tends to whine. For example, if you try to put on a harness on a Shiba Inu’s body it might start whining and forget to stop, trying to tell you that it doesn’t like what you’re doing to it. Others are even more sensitive and react like that because of insignificant reasons.

Health and Potential Problems

Shiba Inu might be affected by various types of allergies, glaucoma, chylothorax, various types of cancer, epilepsy, patellar luxation, hypothyroidism, progressive retinal atrophy, hip dysplasia, tall chasing and others.

  • Knee dislocation. This is a common problem in small sized dog breeds. The kneecap slides out of its normal position, moving against the femur. This happens because numerous dogs jump from one place to another and the impact affects their bones and joints. Having weak bones is also a hereditary condition.
  • Malformation or hip dysplasia. The head of the femur does not fit perfectly in the hip bone; therefore dogs often have difficulty in movement. This can be fixed with surgery, but the success rate is not always 100%. Usually hip dysplasia is passed from parents to puppies.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). PRA is a group of diseases that involve the gradual deterioration of the retina. At first, dogs seem to lose their vision during nighttime, but then the same happens for daytime. They become unable to focus on things, but they can live a happy life if their environment doesn’t change.
  • Epilepsy. A dog with epilepsy can live a normal life, but it is harder for its owner. The seizures are almost shocking to watch, especially the ones that happen at the beginning. A dog with an epileptic seizure will run frantically, hide like something is following it and so on.
Care Features

Although it’s been centuries since Shiba Inu was used for hunting purposes, it didn’t lose its instincts. Therefore, when you take your Shiba Inu for a walk, you should always keep its leash on and don’t let it run freely. This is because it may see small animals and start chasing them.

Such dog doesn’t give up, so it will run far away from you, forgetting that you were even there in the first place. It is a devoted explorer and it may not return home for days in a row if it gets away. In addition, if you leave it alone in the yard, make sure it cannot jump over the fence.

It is indeed a small sized dog, but you would be surprised of how high it can jump. As for Shiba Inus that are kept in apartments or houses, if their owners take them out for at least one long walk per day, then they are satisfied. This dog type has a lot of energy, but it doesn’t need much exercising to consume it.

Although it is very clever and quick-witted, Shiba Inu is one of the most difficult to train dogs. It is very astute in solving various problems, but only if it is thoroughly motivated. It has a strong and dominant character, so it requires a firm owner and trainer. It needs socialization at an early age and consistent obedience training in order to make it understand who the boss is.

The best time for a Shiba Inu to start socializing is between 8 weeks to 4 months. As an independent dog, Shiba Inu tends to ignore its owner until it begins to attend training sessions. Often considered bullies, these dogs need a strong authority that controls when they play, eat, sleep and make social contact.

If you are in control of all these activities, then you can control your dog too. In addition, the reward-based system is also very effective. When you reward its good behavior, you become increasingly stronger in its eyes.

Feeding Schedule

An adult Shiba Inu should be fed twice a day. Half a cup to one and a half cups should be enough for one adult copy. Owners usually feed it dry food that contains all the necessary nutrients for a normal development. Such dog should have fresh water at its disposal, especially during those times when it tends to be very active.

Since it is a small sized dog, it has a slight tendency to gain weight. In order to avoid that, don’t leave food at its disposal throughout the day. Give it 15 minutes to finish the contents of its food bowl and then remove it.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The coat of Shiba Inu consists of 2 layers, namely a soft and dense layer and a longer, harsher one. Also, it is waterproof, rejecting dust and dirt. This means that it doesn’t have to be bathed too often. Some people believe that washing a Shiba Inu 2 times per year is more than enough.

Its body doesn’t emanate any specific dog odor, so that can’t be a reason to wash it. The color of its coat is red-orange. It may also have white spots. However, it sheds profusely twice per year. That is when it must be brushed daily. During the rest of the year, its coat may only be brushed once per week. In addition, Shiba Inu is known to wash itself, like cats do.

Checking Shiba Inu’s ears and skin for potential rashes or infections is necessary at least once per week. Also, its teeth need care because they can deteriorate fast since bacteria are not removed. Cutting this dog’s nails is also necessary. If it doesn’t wear them off naturally, they might need to be cut up to 2 times per month. In order to groom a Shiba Inu in peace, you have to start this routine when it is a puppy.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

Shiba Inu tolerates kids if it is used with their presence when it is a puppy. Since it is independent and it doesn’t look for affection, it doesn’t like kids to take it in their arms or pet it too often. Also, it is very possessive when it comes to its toys and its food. So, kids should know not to touch its stuff and offer it space in case it is not in the mood to play. If children are kind with it and they respect it, then it has no problems with them.

In relation with other animals, Shiba Inu may be dangerous or not. Rabbits, rats and other small animals alike do not stand a chance. This dog likes to chase them and hunt them down. Cats are included in the same category. As for dogs, Shiba Inu can tolerate them only if it was used to be around them when it was a puppy. Otherwise it tends to be aggressive, especially in case a male meets another male. However, there are always exceptions.

Small and adorable, Shiba Inu is not the typical tiny, playful dog. This canine specimen is pretentious, stubborn and very intelligent. It has the individuality of a cat and it doesn’t want to accept the fact that you can tell it what to do.

Therefore, it will always try to find ways to disobey you. Even so, Shiba Inu is a very loyal dog that can live for up to 15 years if it is properly cared for. Easy to groom and not pretentious when it comes to food, this type of dog may live in an apartment with you, but with one condition, namely to take it out for a long walk every day.

Keeping this dog on a leash cannot be emphasized enough. In case you don’t want to lose it, do not give it the chance to run away from you because it might not come back soon or at all. It is a Japanese dog with strong hunting instincts, so watch out!

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.