Dog Fancy Breed Profile Shiba Inu
Shiba Inu In Brief
Country of origin: Japan.
Group: Non-sporting (AKC); Northern (UKC).
Life span: 13 to 15 years.
Color: Red, black and tan, and sesame (black-tipped hairs on red) with cream, buff, or gray undercoat.
Coat: Thick and plush double coat comprised of a strong, straight outercoat with a soft, dense undercoat.
Grooming: Seasonal shedders. Brush twice a week; bathe twice a year or more often as needed.
Height/weight: Males, 1412 inches to 1612 inches, 23 pounds; females, 1312 inches to 1512 inches, 17 pounds.
Activity level: Moderate.
Known health problems: Patellar luxation, early onset cataracts, hip dysplasia, inhalant and food allergies. Possible heart
murmur, often in puppies, but usually not serious.
Best home: Single person or couple who want a take-along companion.
Good with children: Can be, with older and supervised children who understand and respect the dogs’ personal space.
Good with other pets: Not particularly. Especially poor around same-sex dogs.
National breed club: National Shiba Club of America http://www.shibas.org/
Reprinted from DOG FANCY Feb. 2005
Shiba Inu: The king and you
Committed owners only need apply for the dynamic, independent Shiba Inu.
By Terry Winkelmann
For most of her life, 14-year-old Girl Puppy — GP for short — displayed a Shiba Inu’s typical disinterest in her owner’s
activities. Until, that is, she’d lose track of the woman. “The minute I’d walk outside, she’d be up on the dining room table,
looking out the window trying to see where I went,” says Jacey Holden of Lodi, Calif., president of the National Shiba Club of
America. “When I’d look back, she’d give me that funny little grin, that Shiba smile.”
Like energetic, exasperating, and endearing toddlers, Shiba Inus love to run, jump, and climb. “Rosie jumps over
everything,” commiserates Laura Payton, author of Shiba Inus: The Complete Pet Owner’s Manual (Barron’s, 2003, $7.95)
and a breeder in Richmond, Va. As a puppy, Rosie would climb a 6-foot fence and perch on the top of her run. “We called
her Monkey Girl,” Payton says.
The breed’s tendency to think in terms of “mine, mine, mine” also calls to mind a 2-year-old child. But the resemblance ends
there. “They’re very fierce, tenacious, and agile,” Payton adds. “When you’re hunting wild boar, you need to be.”
It’s that background as a hunter in Japan’s steep mountains that gives today’s Shiba Inu his nimble athleticism. The oldest
and smallest of six native Japanese breeds, including the Akita, the Shiba Inu was recognized as a “precious natural
product” of the Japanese nation in 1936.
Ancestors of modern Shiba Inus may have accompanied the earliest immigrants to Japan as long ago as 7000 B.C.,
according to historians. Servicemen returning from World War II brought Shiba Inus to the United States; the first naturalized
litter was born here in 1979.
Inu simply means “dog” in Japanese. Shiba has several meanings, including “to wither or sear,” which, when applied to
autumn leaves, also describes the breed’s most common coat color: a rich coppery red.
Despite the breed’s ancient past, or perhaps because of it, owners frequently refer to the dog as “feral.” “Shibas are a little
closer to primitive than other breeds,” says Sharon Roble, president of Shiba Inu Rescue Resources of America, part of the
national breed club, and a 17-year Shiba Inu breeder in Center Valley, Penn. “They’re very instinctual animals.”
With an intense prey drive, most Shibas Inus can’t be trusted off lead, no matter the training they’ve received or their bond
to their owner. “If they see something moving across the ground — a bird, a plastic bag — they’re going to go,” Payton says.
“They’re definitely runners,” agrees Holden, who, after 25 years of sled dogs, converted to Shiba Inus in 1989.
“They’re not running from you, exactly, they’re just trying to see what’s on the other side of the street or the mountain.”
Teaching the curious dog to come when called is extremely difficult and never 100 percent reliable, notes Leslie Engen, a
Redmond, Wash., breeder, past NSCA president, co-chair of the current judges education committee, and part of the push
for American Kennel Club recognition of the breed in 1992. “Shibas are highly motivated by their hunting instinct, and [the
chase] will win out every time.” Owners must commit to providing safe containment and vigilant leashing.
Training the strong-willed Shiba
Although the need to be off lead increases the risk involved in agility practice, 20 Shiba Inus competed in the second
Shiba-only agility trials last September. In a given year, Shiba Inus typically win five times more titles in agility than
“They’re lousy at obedience,” Holden confesses. “Shibas are not into pleasing you; they are their No.1 focus.” That means
owners must ensure firm, consistent, and exclusively positive training.
“Many of the old training techniques are a complete bust with Shibas,” adds Norma Hornung of Pittsburgh, Penn., agility
chair of the NSCA. “There has to be something in it for them.” Furthermore, owners should begin training as early as 7
weeks. “Four months is too late to start with a Shiba,” Engen emphasizes. Once Shibas acquire bad habits, “it’s very difficult
to reprogram them.”
Small and clean, Shiba Inus can successfully live in an apartment “as long as you don’t leave them alone all day, but take
them with you to places,” Engen says. Never leave the curious, watchful Shiba Inu to his own devices for extended periods.
Overly confined, uninvolved Shiba Inus “will get cantankerous,” she says. “They’re not at all happy alone.” Shibas enjoy
having their people around; they just prefer to set the terms.
“Shibas are like the Poodle of Japan,” Engen continues, explaining how Shiba Inus there accompany their devoted owners
everywhere. Retirees, empty nesters, and anyone who can take the dog with them to work or the coffee shop find they mesh
well with the confident Shiba Inu.
As far as health goes, “Shibas are sturdy, healthy dogs,” Holden says. But as with any breed, hereditary defects occasionally
crop up, including patellar luxation (loose kneecaps) and mild hip dysplasia. Heart murmur, while perhaps more common
among Shibas than other dogs, tends to be innocuous. Holden says she see more allergies than serious problems in the
Born practically housebroken, the neatniks groom themselves like cats, with whom they share not a few similarities,
including intelligence and independence. “Maybe because they’re not glued to you all the time, they really make you feel
special when they do give you affection,” Holden surmises.
Although adult males may deserve their aloof reputation, “the girls tend to be more patient and sociable,” Payton says. Still,
no one would ever mistake a Shiba Inu for a lapdog, whatever its gender. “They prefer standing on you to snuggling,”
Holden says. That said, every Shiba Inu is an individual.
Payton’s 9-year-old female, Karma, works with autistic children as a therapy dog. “She knows how to interact with strangers,
who she needs to be gentle with, who will play ball with her,” Payton reports. “Shibas are a very intuitive breed, with a high
Despite a low tolerance for pain and teasing, Shiba Inus do well with kids trained to do right by them, say breeders, who
recommend taking puppy school twice: once for parents and again for the kids. “It’s important that the Shiba understands
that it is subservient to all of the family, that the children are not its littermates,” Payton says.
Shiba Inu retain their own seemingly childlike exuberance long into life. “They go after anything with gusto,” Roble says, “and
they age extremely well.” Her 11-year-old Cutter can still jump, flat-footed, over a 6-foot fence.
Indoors, Cutter seizes every opportunity to strew Roble’s knitting yarn throughout the house “in a very decorative fashion,”
she says. “He thinks he’s Christo, and he prefers to work in purple” — an appropriate color for the breed with the confidence
of a little king.
Terry Winkelmann is a DOG FANCY contributing editor and lives in St. Louis.
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