The Shiba Inu looks small, thinks big

Spunk in a 20-pound package


Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, the Shiba Inu catches the fancy of those who like small dogs with a big-dog attitude. His brisk trot and appealing expression bespeak a bold attitude towards life; with a Shiba around, things won't be dull!

A native of Japan, the Shiba has the triangular head, curled tail, upright ears, and dense double coat that mark the members of the spitz family of dogs. Japan has six spitz breeds in three sizes. The big guys are the Akitas; the middle group includes Kishu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, and Kai, all extremely rare in the US. The smallest of the six, the Shiba yields nothing in courage or tenacity to his larger cousins.

Since ancient times, dogs fitting the Shiba's description have been used to hunt birds and small game in the dense underbrush of Japan's mountainous regions. Hardy, bright, and fearless, they have survived the hardships of centuries, the horrors of World War II, and a post-war distemper epidemic to become Japan's most popular companion dog and to gain a following in the US as well.

In Japanese, 'Inu" means 'dog,' but the origin of 'Shiba' is obscure. Breed historians believe it may refer to the brushwood bushes that grew in the countryside where the dogs hunted, in part because the breed is also known as the 'little brushwood dog.'

The Shiba was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1992 and added to the AKC non-sporting group in 1993. In 2001, the Shiba ranked 55th in AKC registrations with 2434 individual dogs and 44th in litters with 1620. Both numbers were slight declines from the previous year.

The standard

The Shiba Inu is a alert and agile, well-muscled dog ranging from 13.5-16.5 inches tall and with ideal weight ranging from 17-23 pounds. Males are at the larger end of the range, females at the smaller end.

Male Shibas are distinctly masculine in appearance, and females are just as distinctly feminine.

The Shiba has a flat forehead, a moderate stop (the place where skull and muzzle join), and a muzzle with a straight bridge, rounded sides, full cheeks, and a slight taper from stop to tip. Ears are small, triangular, and tipped slightly forward to give a hyper-alert appearance; eyes are somewhat triangular, are set deep and slant slightly upward. Lips are tight (no excess slobber here!) and lips, eye rims, and nose are black. Teeth must meet in a scissors bite.

The Shiba is an athletic dog with moderate bone and angulation and well-developed muscling. His thick double coat is stiff outside, soft underneath. Guard hairs stand off from his body and are one-and-a-half to two inches long over the withers. Tail hair is longer and stands open to give the tail a brush-like look. Long or woolly coats are a serious fault. The coat is short on the head, and legs.

Shibas come in three basic color patters, all with cream markings and an undercoat of cream, buff, or gray. Coat colors are red, black and tan, and sesame (black-tipped hairs on rich red background, often called sable in other breeds). Cream markings (called urajiro in Japanese) on all colors must be present on the sides of the muzzle, on the cheeks, inside the ears, on the underjaw and upper throat, on the abdomen, around the vent, and on the underside of the tail. On red dogs, the cream markings are also commonly found on the throat, forechest, and chest. On black and tan and sesame coats, additional cream spots are accepted above the eyes and on the sides of the forechest.

Tan markings on black and tan dogs are similar to tan markings on Dobermans, Rottweilers and other black and tan breeds.
Like most dogs in the spitz family, the Shiba has an independent and bold temperament. He is often reserved with strangers but loyal and affectionate to family members. He is a good watchdog and can be aggressive to other dogs. Although his look is one of dignity and valor, he can get into mischief when left to his own devices.

Shiba health and care

A relatively healthy breed, the Shiba is nonetheless subject to genetic abnormalities and diseases that affect other breeds and mixes. Hip dysplasia, patellar luxation (slipping of the kneecap), and eye problems affect the breed, so potential Shiba owners should make sure to buy from breeders who do the appropriate screening in attempts to minimize these problems.
Like all double-coated breeds, Shibas shed. Grooming helps, but it's almost impossible to eliminate the fluffs of soft undercoat that float around the house during the biennial shed.

Shibas can spend a lot of time outdoors in moderate and cold climates, but they need a leash if they are not confined in a fenced yard, and they need obedience training to help overcome their attitude that 'what's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable.' Individual dogs may be able to romp in public (fenced) dog parks, but some Shibas are dog aggressive and should not be allowed off leash when other dogs are around.

Some Shibas don't take kindly to training, especially when expected to walk on a leash or come when called. Some Shibas actually scream their displeasure at the indignity of it all.

Equipment in a Shiba's home should also include an exercise pen and a dog crate, for the breed will take liberties if not supervised. He'll want to sleep in your bed, sit on your sofa, and sample your dinner if allowed to do so. Although small, he definitely needs a firm hand; if you can't deal with mischief and stubbornness, think about a different breed.

Shibas like children if they are raised with considerate children, but they have no tolerance for children who tease or mishandle them.

Looking for a Shiba?

You must like a challenge! Shibas need lots of time and attention, but they repay the effort 10 times over in loyalty, joy, and affection.The Japanese portray the Shiba as brave and bold, good-natured, and artless with a refined and open spirit. Some Shiba owners add 'superior attitude' and similar phrases to the description. So, if you are of sound mind, body, and spirit and have been captivated by the bright eyes and bushy tail of this appealing little dog, take the plunge. Contact the National Shiba Club of America for a list of breeders and check to make sure any appropriate health screening has been done before placing a deposit on a puppy. Then, in the words of one Shiba owner, "Before bringing home your Shiba, it is best to have a supply of food on hand. Several boxes of granola, some oranges (for vitamin C) and a few sandwiches should give you enough energy to keep up with the little guy."The National Shiba Club of American can be found on the World Wide Web at Shiba rescue can be found at

Norma Bennett Woolf

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