The Shiba Inu

The smallest of all native breeds in Japan, the Shiba is the only Nihon Ken to not be named after the region from which it was said to originate, because unlike its cousins, the Shiba comes from three large areas all around central Japan. Because of its size and lack of living space in large cities, the Shiba is the most popular native breed in Japan and accounts for about 80% of dogs that is registered with NIPPO every year. Abroad, the Akita is still more widely known and established, but recently the Shiba has been gaining steam outside the Land of the Rising Sun.

The name Shiba has a few theories as to what it could mean (as mentioned before, all other Japanese dogs are named for the region.) One is that the kanji used for the word Shiba is an old reading for the word “small”, meaning that the words Shiba Inu would literally mean “Small Dog.” Two other very popular musings are that Shiba is a word for a type of brushwood, and the word could have lent itself to the dog either because of the foliage’s red color in the region, or the fact that the dog was originally a hunting dog used to flush small game out of said brush.

Shibas have been said to have been around since the Jomon period (about 40000 – 300 BCE) as has been evidenced by modern day Shiba-sized canine bones buried with people from the same period. There is a strain of the Shiba called the Jomon Shiba today, which have a slender face, shallow stop, longer snout, longer teeth and a less biddable nature. The looks of the Jomon are specifically bred to look even more wolf-like and the personalities of these dogs tend to tolerate change, new people and other dogs less than usual. This is rather rare and purely an aesthetic off-shoot of the regular Shiba breed and can come in any of the standard Shiba colors.

At the end of the Tokugawa period in 1868, Japan opened up to the rest of the world, which introduced new and interesting Western breeds to the country and led to cross breeding, like the Akita. Coupled with the hardships and incentives during the war, the Shiba experienced a similar history to their bigger cousins. Like the Akita, the Shiba was declared a Living Natural Monument in 1936 in efforts to try and preserve the breed. Shibas came from three areas of Japan resulting in three different strains; The San’in, the Mino and the Shinshu, which have since been combined into one standard, the decision to do so coming into play after the hardships of war and later Distemper outbreak of 1959.

The San'in in Shiba derived from the Sekishu and Imba breeds, and was prevalent in Shimane and Tottori prefectures. It was larger than the Shiba standard of today, by some 40 - 50 cm, which would fall into today's medium-sized dog class. Its color was a mottled black, without the white cheeks favored in today's black-and-tan. The well-defined stop of today's Shiba was characteristic of the San'in Shiba. As was Shiba feistiness and independence -- San'ins were known for their lack of affection. The second ancient breed is the Mino Shiba, which was smaller (36.5 - 39.5 cm) and fiery red in color. These dogs were prevalent in Gifu prefecture. It had the fine deep-brown triangular eyes and fleshy triangular erect ears of today's Shiba. It was also characterized by the Sashi-o (extended tail) as opposed to the curled tail of the other Shibas. The third ancient breed is the Shinshu Shiba, prevalent in Nagano prefecture and derived from the Kimawa Shiba. These were also smaller and mostly red dogs with thick bristle hair in the outer coat and dense soft undercoat. The best example of this strain is former Champion Matsumaro, but the two weaknesses of this line are a tendency toward round eyes rather than the preferred triangular inset eyes, and a black mask that lingers into adulthood rather than disappearing by the age of 1 - 2 years.

- Julia Cadwell from Shosha Shiba Kennels

The Shibas of today are said to be mainly a mix of the San’in and Mino strain.



The standard Shiba comes in three correct colors; Red, Sesame, and Black and Tan

*Cream is actually a common fault and not accepted in shows. It comes about from a diluted gene from the Black and Tan color and should not be actively bred for, though it can happen to good, ethical breeders and their litters. Creamies should always be sold as pet quality dogs and not be allowed to breed, but make wonderful and healthy pets and companions.

Red is the most common of the colors, while Black and Tans are usually next, then Sesame. Black and Tans are difficult to get the markings just so, but even more so would be the Sesame. Breeders and judges both have a difficult time getting or establishing the coat pattern of the Sesame just right and are not often seen in the ring because not many know what exactly they're looking for in the standard. Furthermore, since puppy coats start out dark then lighten with age, it is difficult to judge whether a Sesame puppy will keep their black-tipped hairs, or if they will turn red.

Other colors absolutely not accepted are pinto, brindle and red headed black and tan (sometimes referred to as tri-colored, generally with more of a German Shepherd-like pattern.) The Shiba Inu, like the other native breeds of Japan, are a living natrual monument, and as such should be preserved as close to the standard as possible to keep the breed strong.

Unlike the Akita, Shibas have a shared standard throughout the world, many dogs being registered and doing well in both AKC and NIPPO shows. Three types of tail curl are actually allowed in the Shiba; The double curl, the single curl, and the sickle.



The Japanese use three words to describe ideal Shiba temperament; Kan’i should represent a confident and spirited side, Ryosei needs to balance that boldness with a good and gentle nature, and Soboku which describes a dog that is alert and constantly aware.

If Shibas could only say one word, that word would be “mine.” They have a natural sense of entitlement and compared to their larger Akita cousins, are more pushy, active, and drama queens. They think they are as big as Mastiffs but have the ability to turn on a dime and squeeze through cracks and spend every waking moment trying to outsmart you and take shortcuts. Generally a quiet breed, Shibas don’t make sounds unless it’s deemed necessary. Events that may warrant talking are visitors, play time, frustration, and temper tantrums, the latter usually ending in the Shiba Scream (good example around 4:50.) Shibas are also generally one-person dogs and can be hostile toward other dogs. Early socialization, patience, and bribes are imperative and generally the way toward combating these behaviors and building a confident dog. Many undersocialized Shibas end up skittish, unsure, dependant and often as a result, snappy.

Shibas need plenty of exercise and can get destructive when bored, but because of their small size, many Shibas make do with the space they have with the zoomies, or “Shiba 500.” Like other Spitz, Shibas have extremely high prey drives and should never be trusted off leash outside of a secure area, and have been notorious escape artists and door bolters. It is highly recommended to use either a harness or martingale-type collar for these dogs. But despite the occasional runaway renegade, Shibas are a relatively healthy breed and has an average lifespan of 10-15 years. Common ailments include luxating patellas, allergies, chronic circling and eye disorders.


More information about the Shiba Inu can be found at the National Shiba Club of America.

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