Shiba Inu

Small but mighty, Shiba Inus are an ancient Japanese dog breed that walk to the beat of their own drum. They’re completely satisfied roaming the house without much human attention, but they still love to entertain and make their owners laugh.
By Sierra Burgos
August 24, 2020
Shiba Inu
Breed Group
Dog Size
Other Traits
Temperament
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Shiba Inu

height
  • 13.5–16.5 inches
weight
  • 17–23 pounds
life span
  • 13–16 years
breed size
  • small (0-25 lbs.)
good with
  • children
  • families
temperament
  • willful
  • playful
  • aloof
  • protective
intelligence
  • high
shedding amount
  • frequent
exercise needs
  • medium
energy level
  • active
barking level
  • when necessary
drool amount
  • low
breed group
  • non-sporting
coat length/texture
  • medium
colors
  • red
  • cream
  • black
  • white
patterns
  • bicolor
  • tricolor
  • tuxedo
  • black and tan
other traits
  • easy to groom
  • good watch dog
  • highly territorial
  • high prey drive
  • high potential for weight gain
  • cold weather tolerant
  • strong loyalty tendencies
  • good hiking companion

Shiba Inus have a lifespan of 13–16 years and a personality similar to a cat. They are 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. 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.

Appearance

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). “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 qualities both physical and emotional. For starters, males stand up to 16.5 inches tall and weigh about 23 pounds. Females start around 13.5 inches tall and weigh 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.

Temperament

The temperament of any dog depends on a number of factors including lineage and upbringing, but generally speaking, a female Shiba is more aloof than a male. She will be cautious with strangers. However, she does have a very high level of intelligence and is likely more receptive to training. Males tend to be more active and friendly with humans, but they also can be aggressive 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.

Both genders are incredibly smart, but also willful, meaning they trot to the beat of their own drum. They’ll understand that you want them to sit, stay, or rollover, but they’ll do it when they feel like it. “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,” Cheri says. With their mischievous nature, Shiba Inus need humans who can be firm, yet patient, with the peculiarities that make this breed both frustrating and endearing.

Living Needs

A Shiba Inu needs a fenced-in yard with space to roam—emphasis on the fence. The breed has 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 will chase smaller animals in an effort to protect their turf. They have a high prey drive and love to chase, thanks to their hunting roots. With a potential for aggression when meeting a new dog, a Shiba should always be leashed outside the house. 

They can be very possessive, especially when it comes to their food or toys, so a Shiba won’t always get along with other dogs or cats. A potential owner is best off socializing the dog at a young age so they are used to being around other animals (if that will be the case in their household). 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.”

Shibas are not extremely affectionate dogs. However, they are very devoted to their families and will protect them at all costs. Young children must learn the proper way to treat a Shiba Inu, and they’ll be rewarded with a loving and funny companion.

Care

With their thick double coats, Shibas are big shedders. Their heaviest periods of shedding are in the spring and fall, but they still shed year-round and will need to be brushed if the owner wants to save their furniture. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), “blowing the dog with a strong blow-dryer or a shop vacuum in reverse is a good way to remove loose hair, dirt, and dandruff and to check for fleas.” Shibas are notorious haters of nail-trimming, so unless they have an experienced owner, they may need to see a professional regularly for clipping.

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. 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,’” Fellinger says. Shibas typically house-train quickly and are perceptive to learning commands, but may need obedience classes to fully grasp being contained.

Health

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 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. Signs of pain or itching should be assessed by a vet as soon as possible.

History

The Shiba Inu is an ancient Japanese breed that has been around since 300 B.C. They are the smallest of Japan’s national dogs, called the “Nihon-ken,” that consist of six treasured Japanese breeds. These are the Akita Inu, Hokkaido Inu, Kai Ken, Kishu Ken, Shikoku Ken, and Shiba Inu. Shibas were originally used to hunt small game and birds. Their name supposedly comes from the reddish brushwood bushes in which they hunted: Shiba means “brushwood” and Inu means “dog.” During World War II, Shibas suffered. The ones who survived 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 America).

Fun Facts

  • 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 the pups behind. Mari kept her litter of puppies alive for two weeks until they were finally rescued, Mari looking thin but her offspring plump and happy. Her incredible story was made into a Japanese movie called “A Tale of Mari and Three Puppies” in 2007.
  • 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?