The Shiba Inu, a foxy-looking dog, is one of the most popular four-legged companion in Japan. Similarly, these pups are quickly finding favor with pet parents in the U.S., thanks to their lively, good-natured personalities. Shiba Inu originally were used for hunting, and they love being active. Bold, brave and independent, these petite dogs might just be your perfect pet.
Shiba Inu Facts
While Shiba Inu were originally bred as hunters, they’re not classified in the sporting or hound group (like, say, Labrador Retrievers or Beagles). Weighing in at no more than 23 pounds on average, the Shiba Inu size is relatively small, making them conducive to just about any type of home.
- Breed Group: Non-sporting group
- Height: Males, 14.5-16.5 inches; females, 13.5-15.5 inches
- Weight: Males, up to 23 pounds; females, up to 17 pounds
- Life Span: 13-16 years
- Coat: Double coat, with a stiff and straight outercoat and soft, thick undercoat
- Color: Black and tan, cream, red and red sesame, with or without white markings on the tail, legs, chest and throat
Shiba Inu Characteristics
Shiba Inu History: A Centuries-Old Hunter
Shiba Inu history dates back centuries: The ancestors of this breed—small dogs with pointed ears and curly tails—appeared in what is now Japan in third century B.C. They were used for hunting, flushing out small animals and birds.
What does Shiba Inu mean in Japanese? Shiba is the word for “brushwood,” referring to the small trees and shrubs where these dogs went after game, and Inu means “dog.” So Shiba Inu translates to “small brushwood dog.” While these dogs were super popular in Japan, they were pretty much unknown in the U.S. until a military family brought one back to the States in the mid-1950s. In the past 60 years, they’ve been inching up the ranks of the population’s favorite breeds, now ranking 44th on the American Kennel Club’s list.
Part of that popularity probably comes from their adorable expressive faces, and Shiba Inu puppies must be some of the cutest furballs around. That’s one reason why they can fetch a hefty price tag. Shiba Inu prices can range roughly from $1,200-$2,000 when purchasing a pup from a well-vetted Shiba Inu breeder. Alternatively, you may want to consider getting your pet from a Shiba Inu rescue organization, which you can find by going to the National Shiba Club of America.
What Does a Shiba Inu Look Like?
You can’t mistake a Shiba Inu for any other breed. These dogs look like foxes! They have triangular pointed ears that tilt forward, small pointed muzzles and, often, reddish fur with white markings. That’s not to say that there aren’t more Shiba Inu colors. You can find black-and-tan Shibas as well as cream ones.
Shibas have two coats, which helped keep them warm when they hunted in the mountains of Japan. The topcoat is made up of stiff, straight fur while the undercoat is soft and thick. Their fur is short and even on the face, ears and legs, but slightly longer on the tail, which curls up and rests on their back.
Other distinguishing traits include their triangle-shaped eyes and small, compact and muscular bodies. They often have an alert, attentive expression and seem as if they are smiling.
Shiba Inu Temperament
This is a compact dog with a big personality. Though their temperament seems to be friendly and bold around those they’re familiar with, these dogs can also be reserved around strangers. And while Shibas don’t tend to be big cuddlers, they love to interact with you on their own terms; if you’re looking for a dog you can pet and hold all day, you may want to explore different breeds. Shiba Inu dogs also are quick to let you know when they want something from you, so setting boundaries early is important—especially since the characteristic Shiba Inu “yodel” can be quite loud!
Since the Shiba Inu personality tends to skew reserved, it’s very important to choose a breeder who breeds for temperament and employs early socialization training if you opt to purchase a dog. Choose your puppy carefully, and make sure to keep the socialization going after you get your Shiba Inu puppy home. A poorly socialized Shiba Inu can be aggressive toward other dogs and animals—and even toward people—so proper socialization is crucial.
Keeping Shiba Inu Dogs Healthy: 3 Issues to Watch Out For
Shiba Inu are robust little dogs, but they are at higher than average risk for several health problems. The National Shiba Club of America recommends the following tests for all dogs who are being bred:
- Hip dysplasia evaluation through the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvements Program (PennHIP)
- Patellar luxation evaluation registered with OFA
- An eye examination at least once every two years for any hereditary defects by a boarded member of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists.
Before purchasing a Shiba Inu, be sure to ask for results of these tests. If a breeder is hesitant to provide them, find someone new to work with. If you choose to adopt, be sure to get as much medical history as the rescue organization is able to provide.
With the proper care and precautions, the average Shiba Inu life span can reach 13-16 years according to the American Kennel Club, but pet parents should be aware of the following Shiba Inu health problems.
Cataracts, an abnormal cloudiness to the eye’s lens that makes it hard to see, are a common problem for Shiba Inu, even when they’re still young. Loss of vision associated with progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) can also be seen in young or middle-aged pets.
While also diagnosed with some frequency, persistent pupillary membranes (the abnormal presence of membranous strands within the eye) rarely affect vision adversely. Corneal dystrophy (a haziness to the outer, normally clear layer of the eye) and fur or lashes that rub on and damage the surface of the eye also can occur.
Shiba Inu are at relatively high risk for hip dysplasia, a degenerative condition affecting one or both hips that leads to arthritis over time. Patellar luxation (a kneecap that slips out of its normal groove) also is quite common in the breed.
Shiba Inu are prone allergies, which often lead to skin problems. The most common signs of allergies in dogs are general itchiness and recurrent ear and skin infections. Shiba Inu may be allergic to flea bites, environmental triggers like pollen, and/or ingredients in their food.
Caring for Your Shiba Inu Dog
Shiba Inu care is fairly typical of what is expected for most dogs. However, they do have a few special considerations.
Shiba Inu have a thick double coat, which leads many to wonder, “Do Shiba Inu shed?” Yes, Shiba Inu shedding can be a problem for some pet parents. The breed tends to shed heavily twice a year, with periods of less (but not insignificant) shedding in between. Frequent use (at least once a week) of a slicker brush like the Miracle Care Slicker Dog Brush or a deshedding tool like the FURminator Hair Collection Dog & Cat Brush can help reduce the amount of fur that spreads around the house.
Shiba Inu are relatively self-cleaning and only need to be washed a few times a year or when they get especially dirty. Shiba Inu dogs also have a reputation for despising nail trims. Using a high quality nail trimmer like the Safari Professional Nail Trimmer can make the chore easier, just make sure the blades are sharp. Be sure to also brush your pet’s teeth daily using something like the Virbac C.E.T. Oral Hygiene Dog Kit.
And if you’re wondering if the Shiba Inu is hypoallergenic. Unfortunately, no they’re not—but no dog breed truly is hypoallergenic.
Shiba Inu generally do well on high-quality, life-stage-appropriate dog foods. However, picking the best dog food for a Shiba Inu is an individual decision that is best made in consultation with your dog’s veterinarian.
Until they are around 12 months of age, Shiba Inu puppies should eat foods specifically designed to meet their extra growth needs. Foods like Hill's Science Diet Puppy Small Paws Chicken Meal, Barley & Brown Rice Dry Dog Food or Wellness Small Breed Complete Health Puppy Turkey, Oatmeal & Salmon Meal Recipe Dry Dog Food are formulated for a small-breed puppy’s unique needs.
Once they reach adulthood (usually around 16-18 months of age), they can be switched to an adult formulation like Eukanuba Small Bites Adult Chicken Formula Dry Dog Food.
Consider switching to a diet designed for older dogs, like Purina Pro Plan Bright Mind Adult 7+ Small Breed Formula Dry Dog Food, once your Shiba Inu has reached middle age.
The amount of food that a Shiba Inu should eat is determined by their caloric needs, which a veterinarian can help you establish based on your pet’s age, weight, activity level and other factors. Then, you’ll need to feed an appropriate amount of your food of choice to meet those caloric needs, making sure to factor in treats.
While most Shiba Inu enjoy being active, their small size means that providing them with ample exercise is relatively easy. Going for a leash walk at least once a day is a good goal, but time spent playing in the backyard or trips to the dog park (as long as your Shiba enjoys the company of other dogs) also are welcome forms of activity.
Training Your Shiba Inu
As explained above, the Shiba Inu personality is confident and bold with friends and family, which means this dog is likely to plow through any boundaries that aren’t consistent. Decide what your household rules are early, and make sure everyone in the household is on board. Otherwise your Shiba Inu will learn that demanding what they want works some of the time or with certain people—and they’ll think it’s worth trying all of the time with everyone!
For the best results, train your Shiba Inu using positive reinforcement. Use tasty treats, such as Cloud Star Chewy Tricky Trainers cut in half, to encourage your Shiba Inu to sit, lie down, come when called and so on. Make sure your Shiba Inu gets to meet lots of different people and dogs, too. Enroll your Shiba Inu puppy in a puppy kindergarten run by a certified trainer so your young dog gets proper socialization opportunities as well as training. Practice your training at home in short sessions of 5-10 minutes—most Shiba Inu (like cats) have a short attention span and will wander off and find something else to do if your training sessions are too long.
If you’re thinking of getting a Shiba Inu, be aware that they are independent and can be wary of strangers. But ultimately, they tend to be loyal and loving to their family, whether trotting by your side or curling up beside you.