Shiba Inu Temperament & Personality
The Shiba Inu is an ancient Japanese dog breed that was once used for hunting. The Shibas are confident and bold, and are now one of the most popular companion dogs in Japan and many parts of the West. They are alert, confident, and move like a ninja warrior. They are a little restrained when it comes to socializing, but it can be improved by exposing them early to people and other pets.
Shiba Inu Characteristics
The Shiba is the smallest among the six native breeds from Japan, Akita being the largest, and Shikoku, Kai, Hokkaido, and Kishu are medium-sized. The Shiba Inu was first bred to flush small game and birds. There were also times when it was used in hunting wild boars.
Shibas are agile like cats, have small upright ears, and are known for their feisty personality. They have keen senses, are alert, and are excellent companions and watchdogs. These dogs have well-developed muscles and compact frame. The differences between female and male dogs are distinct – females look feminine but not weak, and males look masculine but not coarse.
Shiba Inu Size
The average size of Shiba Inu dogs depends on their gender. The size of male Shibas ranges from 14.5 to 16.5 inches, and 13.5 to 15.5 inches for females.
Shiba Inu Height
Female dogs of this breed measure 13.5 to 15.5 inches in height and the males stand 14.5 to 16.5 inches tall.
Shiba Inu Weight
The average weight of Shibas is about 23 pounds for the males and 17 pounds for the females.
Shiba Inu Lifespan
This dog breed's average lifespan, both male and female, is from 12 to 16 years.
Shiba Inu Personality
Shibas are strong-willed dogs, but they sometimes tend to act aggressively and guard their territory, toys, or food. They easily get suspicious of strangers, but are affectionate and loyal to their families. They don’t always get along with other dogs and tend to chase what they deem as prey, such as small animals.
This dog breed is freethinking and smart, but they are not easy to train like other dog breeds that would be delighted to come when called. Shibas will come only when they feel like it or may not come at all. Their personality varies, depending on factors that include socialization, training, and heredity.
When you get this breed as a puppy, it is best to choose a middle-of-the-road type. They are easier to train than the young Shibas that prefer to hide in the corner or often beat their littermates. You know the puppies with nice personalities when they don’t hesitate approaching and be held by people, and the types that are playful and curious.
To get an idea of what the puppy would be like when they become adults, you can meet their siblings or one of the parents, and observe their behavior. This way, you’ll be more assured that you get the kind of puppy that you will quickly grow accustomed to.
Shibas need early socialization. You have to expose them to different experiences, sounds, sights, pets, and people while they are young. You can enroll them in a kindergarten class or invite visitors to come to your house. You can also take them to leisurely walks, and allow them to meet the neighbors, take them to the park, or at business establishments that allow dogs. They need to hone their socialization skills early on to help them grow with a well-rounded personality.
Shiba Inu Exercise
Shibas are not the hyper type. They won’t throw a fit if you forget to bring them out, but you have to ensure that they get sufficient exercise, especially when you don’t have a big space in the yard where they can play or move around. They love going for walks and are fairly energetic.
Crating your Shibas for a certain period even when you are home can decrease their chances of suffering from anxiety. Crating gives them the guarantee that their home will be intact, especially when they reach maturity and are left alone.
Shiba Inu Training
Shibas are born housebroken. They will stay as far as they can from their sleeping area when they have to eliminate as early as 4 weeks of age. On their 5th week, they will try to hold it and patiently wait until they are taken outside. It takes a longer time and more diligence by their humans for Shibas to practice controlling their bladder. It will be easier if they have easy access to the doors.
It is important to remember that you must never let a Shiba off lead unless you are in a confined area. This is something that will not change even after the dog has completed obedience training. A quick moment of inattentiveness, an unlocked gate, or a door left open will tempt the dog to get out and get lost.
Shiba Inu History
The breed originated in Japan and was primarily used for hunting. Several stories floated about how the breed was given the name, Shiba Inu. One explanation said that Shiba means brushwood, and the dogs were hunted in the brushwood bushes.
Another one said that the leaves of brushwood have the color of autumn, similar to the breed’s fiery red color. It was also said that the Shiba term refers to the dog’s small size, from the word’s archaic meaning.
World War II was a chaotic and traumatic period for the breed. The dogs that survived the bombings suffered from many disorders and discoloration after the war. They were brought to breeding programs put up in the remote countryside. The dogs were interbred, and they are the Shibas known to this day.
The first documented Shiba Inu in the United States was born in 1979, but as early as 1954, the first dog of this breed was imported in the US by an American service family. In 1993, the American Kennel Club Miscellaneous Class recognized the breed, and in 1997, it was given its full status in the Non-Sporting Group.
Shiba Inu Health Problems
While the breed is generally healthy, they are also prone to some health issues that include the following:
- Chylothorax. This health issue results from fluids that accumulate in the chest cavity, which causes lethargy, coughing, decreased appetite, and difficulty in breathing. An underlying condition usually leads to this problem. It can be treated through a low-fat diet, removal of the fluid, or surgery if the condition is severe.
- Epilepsy. This condition, which is often inherited, can cause seizures that range from mild to severe. Other than idiopathic epilepsy, seizures in Shibas can also be caused by major head injuries, metabolic problems, exposure to poisonous items, tumors, and infectious health issues that affect the brain.
While the long-term prognosis for Shibas with epilepsy is most commonly good, it is traumatic to watch them having seizures. Such attacks can cause the dog to act unusually, like hiding, staggering, or running as if being chased.
- Allergies. The breed is also susceptible to common dog allergies, such as inhalant, contact, and food allergies. Inhalant allergies are caused by airborne allergens that include mildew, dust, and pollen. Contact allergies are caused by a reaction to chemicals or a topical substance, such as dog shampoos, flea powders, or bedding.
The cause of food allergies can only be determined and treated by eliminating certain foods in their diet. Treating dog allergies is done through environmental changes, medications, and restrictions in diet.
- Cancer. Symptoms of cancer in canines include difficulty in elimination and breathing, bleeding from any opening in the body, sores that don’t heal, and abnormal swelling of bumps or sores. Cancer is treated through medications, surgery, and chemotherapy.
- Hip Dysplasia. This hereditary condition is observed when the dog’s thighbone doesn’t fit securely into the hip joint. Most dogs don't show signs of discomfort, but some show lameness or pain on one or both their rear legs. When buying a puppy, you can ask for proof that none of the parents suffered from the condition.
Dogs with this health issue must not be bred. They are prone to develop arthritis when they get older. If you want to have your dog tested for this problem, you can have them undergo an x-ray screening.
- Hypothyroidism. This thyroid gland disorder can cause other health issues, including skin problems and dark patches, lethargy, obesity, hair loss, and epilepsy. It is usually treated through diet and medications.
- Spinning or tail chasing. There’s a little information about this unusual problem in dogs that typically begins when they turn 6 months. It is characterized by the constant spinning of the dog that can last for hours. Once it attacks, it is impossible to stop the dog from spinning no matter what you do.
This may result in your pet’s lack of interest in water and food. Some studies suggest that the behavior can be a form of seizure. It is usually treated through phenobarbital alone or in combination with other medications.
- Glaucoma. The eye disease doesn’t only affect people but dogs as well. It can be hereditary or secondary, meaning other eye diseases caused a decreased flow of fluid in the eye. Its symptoms include pain and loss of vision, and can be treated through surgery or eye drops.
- Patellar Luxation. The condition is a result of the dog’s knee joint sliding in and out of place. It can be painful and crippling, but most dogs easily adapt to this health concern.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA). This is a type of eye disease that gradually progresses as the retina deteriorates. It may begin with the dog losing their vision at night until they can no longer see even during the day. Most dogs do not have problems adapting to vision loss for as long as their environment will remain the same.
When buying a Shiba Inu puppy, you should request for both the parents' health clearances from the breeder. You can confirm these papers in the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) website.
How to Care for Shiba Inu
The Shiba Inu is active and loves to play. They enjoy a big space to roam, which makes them suited to a home with a big backyard with a fence. Since dogs of this breed have an innate prey character, you have to always put them on a leash when outside of the fence. Aside from wandering, they get triggered by small animals and would chase them away if not controlled.
Shibas need to be properly socialized early. This will lessen their suspicious character and aggressiveness when they become adults. They also tend to become quarrelsome and timid if not socially trained. Training this breed can be a challenge since they are strong-willed and difficult, but that’s how they are.
You have to work with a trainer who has experience with this breed. Leash training is one of the most important things they have to learn for their own safety, but they hate being restrained. While it would take patience and a longer time, you must not give up on giving your dog this kind of training.
Crate training has to be done early on. This will train them to accept confinement that will become handy when your dog needs to be hospitalized or boarded. Do not make them feel like they are a prisoner in the crate. The breed isn’t meant to spend a long time locked up in a kennel or crate. Their stay in the crate shouldn’t exceed a few hours each day, except when they sleep at night. They have to learn to associate the crate as the space where they can go to for a nap.
Crate training will also make it easier for your dog to housebreak. This will prevent them from getting things they aren’t allowed to or having accidents inside the house. The good thing about this breed is that they easily remember where they must go when nature calls.
Nutrition and Feeding for Shiba Inu
The breed’s diet must be according to the recommendation of your veterinarian. It has to be appropriate to your dog’s age, size, activity level, metabolism, and build. They can eat home-prepared or commercially manufactured dog food of high quality. Just like humans, these dogs differ in appetite. Some will eat anything you feed them, but some tend to be picky.
You have to watch their calorie intake, especially if your dog is a healthy eater so that you can do something before they become overweight. While treats can help a lot during training, giving your dog too many is unhealthy and can lead to obesity. It is essential to provide your dog with fresh and clean water all the time. You must also be careful in giving them human food. Always check with the vet to make sure what human foods are safe for your dogs.
The recommended daily amount of high-quality dry food to feed your Shiba Inu is 1/2 to 1 1/2 cups, divided into two meals. It’s not recommended to leave the dog’s meals for the day all the time, but rather, feed them twice a day.
To check if your dog is overweight, perform the eye and hands-on test. Look at the dog and check the waist. Put your hands on their back, spread your fingers down, and run your thumbs along their spine. Feel the ribs, but don’t press hard. If you can’t feel the ribs, it means that you need to exercise your dog more often and give them less food.
Coat Color and Grooming
This dog breed has a teddy bear look due to its thick double coat. The undercoat is thick and soft, and the outer coat is straight and stiff. The coat has a color orange-red with black-tipped fur. Some dogs have white markings on their hind legs, forelegs, and the tip of their tails. They heavily shed their coat twice a year and moderately throughout the year.
Grooming your Shibas is easy because they are naturally odor-free and clean. You can give them a bath every three months. Bathing too often will cause dryness to the dog’s coat and skin. Brush them once a week to distribute oils and remove dead hair, but do it often when the dog is shedding heavily. If you can, brush their teeth every day to prevent bad breath and gum disease, but you can also do it twice or thrice a week to avoid bacteria and tartar buildup.
Check and clean the dog’s outer ear every week for foul odor or redness, which may already be signs of infection. Clean the outer ear with a cotton ball soaked in a pH=balanced, gentle ear cleaner. Make sure that you don’t put anything inside your dog’s ear canal.
Be careful in trimming the dog’s nails. Do not grow their nails too long and trim them once or twice a month. Their toenails have blood vessels that will bleed when you cut too far. The dog may also get traumatized and won’t cooperate the next time you have to do it. To be safe, you can bring your dog to a pet groomer.
Practice pet grooming while the dog is still young. Your pet needs to get accustomed to being examined and brushed. You can use rewards or praise in the process. This will come in handy when you need to bring them to the vet for exams when they reach adulthood.
Whenever you groom your Shiba Inu, look for signs of infection, rashes, and sores all over the body. Make sure that the eyes are free from discharge, clear, and without any redness.
Children and Other Pets
As long as they get proper training early on, Shibas make an excellent family dog. They treat children with respect and kindness and get along with them well.
It’s important to teach your kids how to properly handle and interact with the dog. No matter how friendly the dog is, they must never be left with a child without supervision. Your child has to learn not to take away the dog’s food and leave the dogs in peace when they are sleeping or eating.
Training is a good way to teach your Shibas how to get along with other animals, but there’s no guarantee that they won’t act aggressively since it is their nature. You have to practice them being always on a leash to control how they interact with other pets.
The National Shiba Club of America Rescue handles rescue concerns of Shiba Inus. Many dogs of this breed need fostering and adoption, but future owners must educate themselves first about the right ways of caring for them before getting one. You can also direct your rescue issues to a local or national breed club nearest you.
The organization responsible for promoting and standardizing the breed's description is the National Shiba Club of America (NSCA). Its members do not recommend buying or selling the dog from/to pet shops.
More About This Breed
Shibas are keen dogs. They move effortlessly like a ninja warrior. They are the smallest and probably the most ancient from the dog breeds that originated in Japan. They look like a stuffed toy due to their thick coats, have a curly tail, squinty eyes, and prick ears.
In Japan, the breed’s main characteristics are described in three words – soboku or alertness, ryosei or good nature, and kaani-I or spirit boldness. These three words combined make the perfect description of Shibas. They are intelligent, interesting, and strong-willed.
Shibas are also often described as stubborn due to the unique calm dignity in approaching the world as if they think of themselves as superior. It can be frustrating to train this breed because they are highly intelligent. You have to trick them that obedience was their idea or for best results, hand the training process to someone who fully understands everything about the breed.
They are loyal, devoted, and good family dogs. They treat children well when they are treated kindly. You have to train them as early as possible to hone their socialization skills as they get older. They can be aggressive with other dogs, and they tend to catch smaller animals they deem as prey. They love chasing, so to keep them safe and by your side, always put them on a leash when you are outside of your home.