Shiba Inu

The Shiba Inu is probably one of the oldest native dogs of Japan, it was used as a versatile hunting dog. Its traditional spitz features and lack of exaggeration render it typical of ancient breeds that have existed for many centuries.


The breed has gradually reduced in numbers and almost became extinct thanks to World War II and an outbreak of distemper in 1952.

A breeding program was resumed, combining the stocky, heavier-boned hunting Shiba of the mountainous regions with the more elegant and “leggy” type found in other parts of Japan. The fact that the two types have been combined still manifests itself today, with some variation in the puppies produced.


The Shiba Inu is not a dog for the faint-hearted: it is a large animal in a small body, wonderful with people it knows but quite aggressive toward other dogs. It never feels intimidated by a larger opponent. If necessary, it will take on the whole world and never back down. This natural instinct is used to advantage by the Japanese who exhibit the Shiba “terrier style.” Two dogs stand in their own circle “eye-balling” each other, coming up on their toes, leaning forward and standing their ground. This spirit is much admired by Japanese judges. The bolder dog becomes the winner in a close decision between two otherwise equal dogs.

The Shiba Inu is very territorial and faithful to its owners. An excellent watchdog, it will sound off if all is not well. It is very vocal and will “yodel” when it requires attention, especially at meal times. It is easily excited and, on seeing its owner after an absence, will demonstrate its total exuberance by leaping high into the air on its hind legs while emitting a high-pitched scream. This scream is also used as a self-defense mechanism, especially when lead-training as a young puppy. In fact, the Shiba could collect an Oscar for its performance of over-reaction! Its philosophy is, “If I scream loud enough, they will think that I am hurt and will stop pulling the lead.” The noise is blood-curdling and is often followed by a pretense of being turned to stone. The Shiba Inu will stand rigid, tail tightly held, and give an unrivaled display of stubborness. However, once it has gained its confidence and is fully lead-trained, it will never want to keep still again but will be keen to examine everything in life.

A male Shiba demands respect and, like a Samurai warrior, is bold, courageous and never shy or nervous. The fascination of the Shiba is the way that it investigates people. Once it decides that it likes you, it craves affection, climbs on to your knee and stares into your eyes, as if it is trying to discover the secrets of your soul.


The Shiba Inu is a very sturdy, compact and robust dog with proportions of 9 inches/23 cm high to 10 inches/25 cm long in males and females being 1 inch/2.5 cm longer in body. Males should stand about 15 1/2 inches/39.5 cm and females 14 inches/36.5 cm. There should be a very clear distinction between dogs and bitches, with sexual differentials quite obvious.

A typical Oriental spitz, the Shiba Inu is strong bodied, muscular and powerful. When picked up, it should feel “all dog.” Its neck should be strong and broad, leading into quite high withers and a level topline.

The front should be straight with a good forechest, the depth of brisket representing at least 45 percent of the height. The loins are broad and strong with slight tuck-up, the hindquarters just moderately angulated. The tail is strong rooted and curled. When standing, the Shiba Inu should have plenty of rear behind the tail.

The head carries the essence of the breed. The ears are small, well padded and leaning slightly forward. The eyes are deep set and slanting upward, dark with well-pigmented tight rims, all helping to create an Oriental yet foxy expression. The forehead should be flat with a slight groove leading into a minimally sloping stop. The full cheeks of the Shiba give it a “moon head,” framed under the chin with cream or white “ghosting” that should not extend over the nose or above the eyes. Overmarking will give a “clown” effect that is deemed incorrect.

The Shiba Inu’s colors are red, red sesame and Aka Goma, and black-and-tan (which is technically a tricolor). White, cream and Kuro Goma (red with a predominance of black ) are colors which are not considered correct in Japan and yet are accepted in many other countries.

The coat length should never be such that it has a “plumed” effect. A long-coated Shiba shuld not be used for breeding because a true coat is one of the breed’s main attributes.


In general the Shiba Inu is a very healthy breed. In the United States and Europe, X-raying for hip dysplasia and patella luxation is a matter of course. In the United Kingdom this is not considered a normal practice, keeping in line with other small breeds.

The temperament of the parents should be considered before buying a puppy. Nervous dogs and bitches should not be bred from, since obviously no one wants a cringing wreck as a show dog or companion. A fear-biter in any breed is a danger.

The Shiba has very large teeth for such a small mouth, and when its adult teeth are growing it may hang on to its milk teeth. This must be carefully monitored because retained baby teeth can misalign the adult teeth, pushing the bite out of line. If milk teeth are not shed naturally, they should be removed so that the correct scissors bite can develop. This may require veterinary assistance.

Special Care and Training

The Shiba Inu has a double coat with a woolly undercoat and a strong, straight, harsh outercoat. This creates a really dense and plush look. It requires grooming once a week with a stiff “slicker” brush and will usually shed twice a year, when the coat lifts off from the body in clumps. The coat needs a good raking at this point to strip out all the wool. An amazing amount of coat can be removed for such a small dog.

A show dog must be taught to be “tabled” and groomed from a very early age. It must be trained to stand still on the grooming table and to accept a noisy hair dryer. Its plush stand-off coat must be bathed and groomed

the day before every show.

The Shiba Inu should be fed on a high-fat diet and bathed and blown dry regularly, especially through its shedding period. The quicker the old dead coat is removed, the sooner the new coat will appear. If the dog is well fed and regularly groomed, the coat will “rotate,” in that a new coat will grow as soon as the old coat is shed.

The Shiba Inu needs plenty of mental stimulation; lock it up all day and it will become bored, noisy and try to escape. Some Shibas can use a mesh pen like a ladder and be away in seconds. Training should begin at an early age. As it is a spitz breed, obedience does not come easy, but with patience it can become quite biddable. Shibas still retain the acute hunting instinct of a primitive breed. They are aware of their surroundings and never miss an opportunity for a “bid for freedom.” The breed is extremely fast and agile and could be miles away before its owner has blinked. Consequently, teaching a Shiba to “come” is vitally important. Similarly, an extending lead is an absolute must.


The Shiba Inu is very catlike in its habits, being extremely clean, very affectionate and good with children. It likes nothing better than being a much-stroked lap dog.

A crate is invaluable for traveling in a car, staying in hotels and so on, especially if your particular Shiba is an escape artist. It needs a secure garden or yard where it can race around and chase its toys, and do not be surprised if it proudly trots up to you with a bird in its mouth. It is quite capable of catching a bird on the wing — it is a hunter after all!

Gallery of Shiba Inu