Shiba Inus have a lifespan of 13–16 years and a personality similar to a cat. They're loving, but don't necessarily want to be scooped up into a snuggle: They'd prefer to do what they want, when they want. Incredibly intelligent, Shibas can learn tricks and are a great watchdog, alerting their owners with a sharp bark if anything seems amiss. They're loyal to their families and can grow very fond of children if socialized correctly. Although their average weight is only 20 pounds, the Shiba still needs plenty of room to romp and does best with a fenced yard.
Fox-like in appearance, the Shiba Inu's classic color is orangey-red. Shibas also come in black and tan, cream, and sesame (black-tipped hairs on a red background). No matter the color, Shiba coats are dense and double-coated, similar to a Siberian Husky's.
"Urajiro" is a unique Japanese term that describes the white color markings all Shibas have on their chest, cheeks, belly, inner ears, and legs. Their eyes are an intense dark brown that matches their confident personalities.
It's not difficult to differentiate between a male and female Shiba Inu, as they have distinct physical and emotional qualities. For starters, males 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—quick and agile, with a confident stance. Their perky, triangular ears and fluffy curlicue tail give them the look of a forest animal from a storybook.
The temperament of any dog depends on a number of factors including lineage and upbringing, but generally speaking, a female Shiba can be more timid than a male. This is most apparent around strangers, where she'll tend to be cautious. However, she has a super smarts and is likely more receptive to training than the boys. Males tend to be more active and immediately friendly with humans, but they also can be wary around with other male dogs. He likes to mark his territory almost anywhere, so it will take you a little more effort when it comes to potty training and cleanup. Whether you bring home a male or female Shiba Inu puppy, make sure to socialize them early and use positive reinforcement training so they can learn to have good manners in new situations.
"If raised correctly by a worthy owner, they are naturally obedient and extremely devoted," says Cheri Fellinger, professional trainer and owner of Kawako Shiba Inu. "For added entertainment value, they also seem to have a little bit of a twisted sense of humor."
With their mischievous nature and goofball personality, Shiba Inus need humans who can be consistent and patient so the pup can thrive.
Shiba Inus might be a small dog breed, but they need a fenced-in yard with space to roam—emphasis on the fence. They have a strong dislike for being restrained, and if there isn't a limit to where they can explore, they will wander off. They've also been described as escape artists, so a Shiba should always have a collar with tags and shouldn't be left to his own devices outdoors for a long period of time. Shibas can also tend to dart after smaller animals in an effort to protect their turf. They have a high prey drive and love to chase, thanks to their hunting roots. Because of this, a Shiba should always be leashed outside the house.
As with all dogs, Shibas need to be socialized at a young age so they're used to being around other animals. They can get along well with cats and other dogs if introduced during puppyhood, but might not want to share their food and toys if they don't meet their furry siblings until they're adults.
Because of their agility and regal attitude, they have a reputation for being the felines of the dog world. "Cat-like in nature, they are polite indoor companions who keep to themselves," says Sarah Hodges, author, trainer, and applied behaviorist with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. "While they tolerate kids and may bond to them, their [independent] nature may seem standoffish to attention-seeking humans."
Despite their smiley faces and deep feeling for their humans, Shibas are not known for being in-your-face with affection. But if you take the time to teach young children the proper way to interact with a Shiba Inu, they'll be rewarded with a loving (and funny!) companion.
With their thick double coats, Shibas are big shedders. Their heaviest periods of shedding are in the spring and fall, but they lose fur year-round and will need to be brushed regularly if the owner wants to save their furniture. You can also use a blow dryer to check for fleas and remove loose hair, dirt, and dandruff. Shibas are notoriously less-than-happy about nail-trimming, so unless they have an experienced owner, they may need to see a professional to keep their nails short and neat.
A Shiba needs a moderate amount of exercise before he can calm down. They make great hiking companions, thanks to their history as hunters (and their natural winter coat). Of course, they'll need to be leash trained before they can consistently go for walks. "There is that 'need to run' thing that makes a lot of owners crazy," Fellinger says. "So 99 percent of them will be on a leash for life, unless in a securely fenced area ... if you can catch them. Their favorite game [is] 'keep right out of reach of my owner.'" Most Shibas typically house-train quickly and are perceptive to learning commands, but may need obedience classes—such as puppy kindergarten—to fully grasp good manners.
Shiba Inus have a life expectancy of 13–16 years, and it's generally a healthy, happy ride.
"Shibas think they are happy as long as they are getting their own way and aren't forced to do anything they don't want to, like cutting toenails, cleaning ears, or being handled by the vet," Fellinger says.
This breed is known for dramatics and may talk, scream, or throw a bit of a temper tantrum if things don't go their way. All jokes aside, a responsible owner must be diligent in preventing certain health issues for their Shiba. Obesity and dental disease are big risks for Shibas, so proper nutrition and dental hygiene are a must. Their genetic problems can include hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, and allergies, according to the National Shiba Club of America.
Owners should closely monitor any symptoms of these conditions and alert their veterinarian if they notice anything out of the ordinary. Before bringing home a Shiba Inu puppy, make sure the breeder conducts the tests recommended by the OFA to ensure you get a healthy dog.
During World War II, the number of Shibas declined. The ones who survived the bombing raids in the war caught distemper, a serious disease that can be lethal if untreated. Thankfully, breeding programs were established and the Shiba Inu grew to be Japan's No. 1 companion dog, and the 44th most popular dog in the U.S.
- Mari the Shiba saved her family during a 2004 earthquake in Japan. When the home collapsed, Mari was able to save her elderly owner, who was later evacuated but forced to leave Mari and her puppies behind. Mari kept her litter alive for two weeks until they were finally rescued, Mari looking thin but her offspring plump and happy. Her incredible story was made into the 2007 Japanese movie A Tale of Mari and Three Puppies.
- The misspelling of the word “dog” as “doge” branded the Shiba Inu as a popular Internet meme. “A doge is a picture of a Shiba Inu dog with silly captions that capture the doge’s thoughts at that moment,” Chiyoku Tsu, of My First Shiba, says.
- Marutaro the Shiba has 2.5 million followers on Instagram. Who can compete with those gorgeous looks?