Everything You Need to Know About the Shiba Inu Dog

Posted by TF Oren

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The Shiba Inu is the most popular dog in Japan.

Originally bred as a sight hunting dog designed to navigate and flush small game out of the dense underbrush of Japanese forests, the Shiba is the oldest and smallest of all the Japanese dog breeds, and has a centuries-long history in its native land.

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During World War II, the Shiba was pushed to the brink of extinction as a result of food shortages and a distemper epidemic. Shibas from only three bloodlines survived: the San In Shiba, the Mino Shiba, and Shin Shu Shiba are the main types. Those three remaining lines continued on are responsible for the Shiba we know and love today.

There is some debate as to how the Shiba Inu came by its name. "Inu" is the Japanese word for dog. However, the origins of "Shiba" are a source of controversy. Some contend that because "shiba" means "brushwood" in Japanese, that the small dog was named for the environment it was bred to work in and its impressive prey drive. Others argue that the name came from the word's alternate definition: "shiba" it means "small" in one Nagano dialect. The debate has generated the occasional nickname "Little Brushwood Dog."


Although the why behind the name is still murky, the when and how are clearer. The Shiba came by its name in the 1920s. In December of 1936, the Cultural Properties Act designated the Shiba a precious natural product of Japan. That distinction earned the breed official recognition.

The Shiba Inu is a relatively recent arrival to the U.S. The first official documentation of a Shiba in America was in 1954 (brought to the States by a military family). By the late 70s, however, the breed began to rise in popularity and Americans began importing breeding stock. The first litter of Shiba puppies in the U.S. was born in 1979.

The breed gained official American Kennel Club (AKC) recognition in 1992, and is currently the 44th most popular dog breed in America. This Shiba life span is 12-15 years and common health problems include patellar luxation and hip dysplasia, but they are generally a healthy dog.

With their prick ears and curled tail, Shibas are super recognizable for all dog owners!

Hover over the image for more information. 


The lively Shiba is independent-minded and very active, requiring vigorous daily exercise and obedience training early on. Loyal and easy to house train, Shibas make wonderful watchdogs and family pets and generally get along well with other pets.

Although usually a relatively quiet dog, when upset or excited, the Shiba lets out a hallmark “Shiba scream.”


The Shiba is double-coated. The outer coat is straight and stiff. The inner coat soft and lush. Fur on face, ears, and legs is short and even. Guard hairs that stand off the body measure 1.5-2 inches at the dog’s withers.

The hair on the tail is a bit longer and is exposed in a brush. The AKC recognizes four coat colors: black and tan, cream, red, and red sesame, and white markings. The coat requires weekly brushing.


The sturdily-built, muscular Shiba has a thick neck, a straight and level topline and a well-developed forechest. Elbows do not turn in or out and sit in close to the body. Straight, parallel forelegs lead to catlike feet with arched toes and thick pads. Hindquarters are moderately angled and well balanced with the forequarters. Hind legs have a wide stance and rear feet lack dewclaws. He has a distinct abdominal tuck, a firm back, and strong loins.


General Appearance

The compact, muscular Shiba maintains an alert, attentive expression. Males and females boast noticeably different appearances: males are masculine but not rough-looking and females are distinctly feminine but still sturdy.

Males stand between 14-17 inches at the shoulder and weigh 18-24 pounds. Females stand between 13-16 inches at the shoulder and weigh 15-20 pounds on average.


The Shiba’s expression is benevolent and his gaze confident. Dark brown, black-rimmed, triangular eyes are deep-set and slant upward toward the outside edge of the ear.

Small, triangular ears are pricked and wide-set. They tilt forward and their slant follows the natural arch of the neck.


Shibas are generally healthy, but, like all breeds, are more prone to certain health issues. These include: hip dysplasia, luxating patellas, and eye disease.

Regular, quality veterinary care is essential, regardless of the dog’s state of health. Life expectancy is approximately 12-15 years.

The National Shiba Club of America is the official national breed club, and a great resource for all things Shiba Inu.

Is there a special Shiba Inu in your life? Show and tell us in the comments section!

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Everything You Need to Know About the Shiba Inu Dog