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If you are already this far, you have probably caught your first glimpse of a Shiba. It may have been at a dog show, walking in the park, or just a picture in a book. Cute, huh? The Shiba is probably one of the most universally appealing of all breeds.
It has the look toy manufacturers try to capture in their favorite stuffed animals, the teddy bear. But the Shiba is not a toy. It is a very lively little dog with a unique set of characteristics. Each one is an individual with his/her own personality, but there are some traits that are considered typical of the breed.
The first part of this booklet will attempt to describe those qualities as well as give you an overview of the breed as a whole.
The second part will try to help the new Shiba owner adjust to his new dog so that the years they spend together will be ones of mutual enjoyment!
Contents & Quick Navigation
A Brief History of the Shiba Inu
Originally, Shibas were bred to flush birds and small game and were occasionally used to hunt wild boar. Now they are primarily kept as pets, both in Japan and the US. There are more Shibas in Japan than any other breed.
Around 7000 BC the ancestors of today`s Shibas may have accompanied the earliest immigrants to Japan. Archaeological excavations of the shell-mounds left by the Jomonjin, or Rope-Pattern People (a name derived from the pattern found on their earthenware), show that they had small dogs in the 14.5 to a 19.5-inch range.
In the third century BC, a new group of immigrants brought their dogs to Japan These dogs then interbred with the descendants of the Jomonjin dogs, and produced canines known to have pointed, erect ears and curly or sickle tails.
In the 7th century AD, the Yamato Court established a dog keeper’s office which helped maintain the Japanese native breeds as an integral part of Japanese culture.
Although the country was closed to foreigners from the 17th through 18th centuries, some European dogs and a breed known as the Chinese Chin were imported and crossed with native dogs living in the more populated areas. Dogs in the countryside, however, remained relatively pure.
Originally there were three main varieties of Shiba, each named for its region of origin: the Shinshu Shiba, from the Nagano Prefecture; the Mino Shiba, from the Gifu Prefecture; and the Sanin Shiba from the northeastern part of the mainland.
Although similar, the Shibas from each area contributed to differences in breed type seen today.
From the original Japanese native dogs, six distinct “breeds” in three different sizes developed. They are the Akita (large size); Kishu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, Kai (medium size); and the Shiba (small size).
The small sized dog has been called the Shiba since ancient times, and there are several theories surrounding the development of that name. One popular explanation is that the word Shiba means “brushwood”, and the dogs were named for the brushwood bushes where they hunted.
Another theory is that the fiery red color of the Shiba is the same as the autumn color of the brushwood leaves. A third conjecture is related to an obsolete meaning of the word Shiba, referring to its small size.
These explanations are often combined and the Shiba is referred to as the “little brushwood dog”.
World War II nearly spelled disaster for the Shiba, and most of the dogs that did not perish in bombing raids succumbed to distemper during the post-war years.
While the Mino and Sanin Shibas became practically extinct, more of the Shinshu Shibas survived. After the war, Shibas were brought from the remote countryside and breeding programs were established. The remnants of the various bloodlines were combined to produce the breed as it is known today.
The Shiba is a very proportionate dog with a height to length ratio of 10 to 11. Males run from 14.5 to 16.5 inches tall, with females ranging from 13.5 to 15.5 inches. Height over the upper limits is a disqualification.
The weight varies according to a height of up to about 25 pounds. It is a medium boned, moderately compact and well-muscled dog with a generally spitz-like appearance.
Because of its hunting heritage, it should be quick, agile and able to turn on a yen. It has a dense double coat similar to that of a husky. Although all colors are acceptable in the Shiba standard, red, red sesame (sable) and black & tan are preferred.
White and cream shadings are present of the legs, belly, chest, and part of the face and tail.
With black button nose, little-pricked ears and a curly tail, the Shiba enters the world knowing he is a superior being. Whether with intrepid boldness, squinty-eyed cuteness or calm dignity, he is KING.
The Japanese have three words to describe the Shiba temperament. The first word is “kan-i” which is bravery and boldness combined with composure and mental strength. The opposite of “kan-i” is “ryosei” which means good nature with a gentle disposition.
One cannot exist without the other. The charming side of the Shiba is “soboku” which is artlessness with a refined and open spirit. They combine to make a personality that Shiba owners can only describe as “irresistible”!
If a Shiba could utter one word, it would probably be “mine”. It is “mine” food, “mine” water, “mine” toys, “mine” sofa, “mine” crate, “mine” car, “mine” owner, and “mine” world. Sharing is a concept he feels others should practice. He doesn’t want you to forget those wonderful things your mother taught you about generosity!
If the bait is dangled when a potential Shiba owner sees adults at a dog show or pictures in a magazine, the hook is set when he encounters his first puppy! Exemplary examples of canine cuteness, fiery little fuzzballs-from-hell, no words can describe the appeal of the infant Shiba.
A litter of Shibas is a Dakin convention and a school of pirahna; strutting, posturing little windup toys!
The adult Shiba is far from a toy. “Macho Stud Muffin” has been used to describe the male Shiba. The body may look “muffin”, but the mind is all “macho stud”. The Shiba takes the “spirited boldness” part of his temperament quite seriously.
Early socialization, temperament testing, and careful conditioning are mandatory for the young puppy. This fiery aspect of the Shiba nature cannot be taken lightly.
Most Shiba owners learn to deal with the difficult aspects of the dog’s temperament in order to enjoy the delightful ones. With “soboku”, the Shiba sets his hook into the heart. This is “artlessness” with squinty-eyes, airplaned ears, and a vibrating tail.
It is “charm” standing in your lap washing your ears, and “dignity” plus “refinement” born of the knowledge of superiority.
As a breed, Shibas can rightfully be described as sturdy, healthy little dogs, able to withstand the rigors of outdoor life as well as enjoying the comfort of indoor dwelling.
They are easy keepers, requiring no special diet other than good commercial dog food, and they can run for miles with an athletic companion or take their exercise chasing a tennis ball around the backyard.
Their catlike agility and resilience provide good resistance to injury, and the “natural” size and symmetrical proportions lessen susceptibility to conditions caused by structural imbalance. Despite these assets, Shibas do have some hereditary defects which all reliable breeders screen for in their breeding stock.
Patellar luxation is common in toy breeds and sometimes appears in Shibas. It causes loose kneecaps and is usually not severe enough to be detrimental to a pet. An experienced veterinarian can detect this condition by palpation.
Hip dysplasia occasionally occurs but it is not as serious in the Shiba as it is in large breeds of dogs. Mild dysplasia will not show any adverse clinical effects and the dog will lead a normal life. Good breeders will not breed any dog whose hips have not received a rating of “fair” or better from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.
Breeders are also checking their Shiba’s eyes for hereditary eye defects. No breed of dog is totally free of hereditary eye defects. Few defects are severe enough to cause blindness or interfere with a dog’s life, but dogs with eye defects that are potentially blinding should not be bred.
A smattering of other defects have been reported, but none in numbers to cause concern at this time. Reputable breeders do all they can to screen for serious defects and will guarantee their puppies to be free of disabling hereditary problems for the first few years of life.
Where to Find a Shiba
If you have made it far enough to obtain this booklet, you have probably been admonished to buy from a reputable breeder. Where are they? You may look in the newspaper, but many of the most reputable breeders use other methods of advertising.
It is best to check with the National Shiba Club of America which is the National Organization for the Shiba. If you call AKC, that organization will give you the number of the Secretary of the NSCA.
Breeders are also listed in Dog World magazine and in publications geared for the Shiba breed. Check the next page of this booklet for names and addresses of these publications and the NSCA.
Let your best instincts guide you when choosing a breeder. Don’t pick a puppy because you feel sorry for it or want to “rescue” it. This is an animal that will be sharing your life and the life of your family for the next 12 years or so.
Take your time. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Remember, people become stupid about their Shibas, so it`s best to become stupid about a nice one.
Living With a Shiba
If you are really considering taking the plunge, then the next section is for you. Don`t forget that Shiba people get really crazy about their dogs and owning a Shiba is not just owning a dog, but a way of life.
Before bringing home your Shiba it is best to have a supply of food on hand. Several boxes of granola, some oranges (for vitamin C) and a few sandwiches should give you enough energy to keep up with the little guy.
Even though the Shiba would prefer to share your dinner, it is best to buy him a top quality dog food, one containing about 30% protein and 15 – 18% fat. Do not think in terms of a human diet when feeding a puppy.
An 8 week old Shiba will eat approximately 1/3 Cup of puppy food three times daily. He may be given this moistened in separate feedings, or, if he is not too greedy, he may have dry kibble available at all times.
If he is being fed three times a day, gradually increase the food as he grows and his appetite increases. He may be cut to twice a day at about 4 months of age or if he loses interest in a meal. A healthy puppy is neither too fat or too thin.
You should be able to feel his ribs, backbone and hip bones, but not see them. An adult Shiba will eat from 1 to 1.5 cups of kibble per day depending on his size and energy level.
A Shiba lives with the principle – su casa es mi casa. He will want to sleep on your bed, eat at your table and rest on your favorite chair.
A puppy will also wish to dismantle your VCR wiring, chew the straps off your sandals, round the corners of your kitchen cabinets and, if not watched closely, will definately light up his life with the electrical cords.
If any of these behaviors disturbs you, you may wish to invest in a crate and possibly an exercise pen.
All puppies should be crate trained. It is the best way to housebreak a puppy and a safe refuge during the night and when he can’t be watched.
A size 200 airline crate will suit a Shiba for his entire life and will also fit on the back seat of almost any car. He can ride safely in a crate in the car, and with a little ingenuity, a crate can be seat belted or bungied into place.
When you’re not home, you will never wonder where your puppy is or what he is doing if he is in a crate or exercise pen.
Keeping a puppy in a crate day and night is not good, and even though he may be exercised, it is akin to you staying in bed, going out jogging, and going back to bed again.
While the puppy is small, an exercise pen set in the kitchen, garage or in any room of the house on top of a six foot by six-foot piece of inexpensive linoleum is an ideal place to leave the puppy while you’re at work. This allows the puppy room to move around and play while keeping him safe and comfortable in the house.
Later, when he is mature, he may be allowed free access to the house or yard. The Shiba is an excellent indoor/outdoor dog with a coat that will protect him from both heat and cold. He must have shelter from the sun in summer and storms in winter, but he can withstand a wide range of temperatures.
Unless you plan to give your Shiba all his exercise on a leash, a fenced yard is mandatory. Nothing is more devastating than going out to find your beloved Shiba is a $600 carpet remnant on the street in front of your house.
No amount of training will deter your little hunting dog from darting across the street to chase the neighbor’s cat — at just the wrong time. This is true of any breed of dog. Dogs also dig and some climb. Check frequently for possible escape routes. A Shiba is safest indoors or in an escape-proof run when you are away from home.
Shibas are an active breed but don’t need many acres on which to run. They can get adequate exercise banking off the couch and spinning bodies on the bed, but to get in good condition, they need additional exercise.
On the 2,000-acre mountain ranch where Chris Ross lives, his Shibas are allowed to run free when he is home.
With all this room, most seldom stray very far from the house until he goes on his daily “run”. Dogs like to go for walks with their people, and for many, it is more exciting than eating.
A wheelchair-bound Shiba owner takes his two dogs for a four-mile “walk” every day around the streets of suburbia. The majority of people snap on the retractable lead and make a morning(or evening) tour of the neighborhood.
It is a good exercise for both man and beast and a great way to meet the neighbors!
Given a choice, a Shiba puppy will usually choose human body parts as his favorite chew toys. Fingers and toes are preferred, especially if covered with socks or sandals. He will enjoy ankles, pantlegs and the ultimate – shoelaces on the shoes you are wearing.
If you wish to expand his horizons and preserve your flesh, a visit to the pet supply store is a fine place to start. Hardware stores also carry a supply of delectable goodies such as the business end of a toilet plunger, handles for garden tools and rubber galoshes.
Around the house, you may find old stuffed animals, socks that can be tied in knots, dirty sneakers, and tennis balls. A trip to the country can bring pine cones, sticks and oak galls which are excellent for dismembering outdoors.
Shibas are not seriously destructive but puppies are puppies, and puppies chew! Even adults like to gnaw on something once in a while. If your puppy chews the straps off your favorite sandals it will make you very angry, but don`t take it out on the puppy for it was your fault for leaving them where the puppy could get them!
A very successful sled dog driver lived with 12 large Alaskan Huskies in his house. His home was not destroyed by the animals and everyone lived together amicably. This man handled his dogs by the philosophy that dogs do not make mistakes; people do.
It’s something to think about.
Veterinarians & Vaccinations
Since Shibas are a healthy, hardy little breed, they seldom need trips to the vet except for routine vaccinations and occasional teeth cleaning. Your new puppy should be taken to the vet of your choice within a few days of purchase.
Most breeders require this as a condition of the puppy’s health guarantee. The vet should check his overall condition, his heart for possible murmurs, and have you bring in a stool sample for a parasite examination.
A puppy should already have had a least one vaccination from the breeder prior to his sale. You can set up a continued vaccination schedule with your vet during this first check-up.
Puppies should have a complete set of vaccinations before exposing them to situations where many other dogs have been. These vaccinations are against distemper, hepatitis, kennel cough, parvovirus, and coronavirus.
Often the first shots do not contain a vaccine against leptospirosis (lepto). Lepto has frequently been fingered as the “bad guy” in vaccine reaction and vaccine manufacturers had a difficult time combining it with coronavirus vaccine into a single injection.
Since puppies are much more likely to be exposed to coronavirus than lepto, many breeders and veterinarians prefer to wait until the puppy is three to four months old before giving an injection with lepto.
Several Shiba puppies have experienced anaphylactoid reactions to the vaccine on their second injection even when it did not contain lepto. This is the same severe allergic reaction some people experience when stung by a bee.
Epinephrine must be administered immediately, so a veterinarian should be warned of the possibility of a reaction. A puppy should remain in the waiting room of the vet’s office for 15 to 20 minutes after his injection to ensure there is no reaction. Rabies shots are given at four months of age.
Rabies is the only vaccination required by law. All others are for the puppy’s health.
A trip to the mall or neighborhood park will bring you all the attention you can handle. This may be wonderful for a young man looking for a date, but it can be deadly for a small puppy.
Until a puppy is fully immunized against parvovirus, at about the age of 20 weeks, it is not safe to take him to areas frequented by other dogs. Many people solve this problem by taking the dog to visit friends and relatives in “clean” environments and asking them to return the favor.
Some Shibas may be shy of strangers while others are dog aggressive. Early socialization is mandatory to obtain the best possible temperament from a puppy.
It is well established that if you are not somewhat trainable and flexible, you will have a difficult time adjusting to a Shiba. Shibas want their owners to come when called, fetch when they want food, stay off the furniture they want for a nap and speak whenever someone wants to talk about Shibas.
Owners too feel they should be able to make a few polite requests from their dogs Sometimes there is a small power struggle, but the owner must establish that he is in control.
Housebreaking is easy and something that Shibas do naturally. If a puppy is taken out whenever he awakes from a nap or after a meal, he will almost never soil in the house and especially not in a restricted area such as a crate.
A puppy as young as five weeks can hold his bowels all night, but not his bladder. He will want out or will wet on a blanket or paper in his exercise pen. As soon as the puppy figures where “out” is, he will try to go there to potty.
This becomes easy when there is a door directly to a back yard. Leashbreaking is not as natural for the Shiba as housebreaking. It involves something they truly detest – restraint. It is best to put on a snug collar or soft nylon choke collar and let the puppy wear it around for a while.
Attach a leash and let the puppy take you for a walk. You go where he goes. After a few times, you can suggest he follow you. He may pull back and scream a little, but that is natural.
Encouragement and praise help, and soon he will be walking with you. Never leave a choke collar on an unattended puppy and never tie up a dog with a choke collar. A dog can easily hang himself by a choke collar just by getting tangled in something as simple as a bush.
Some Shibas can carry around their disdain for collar and leash all their lives. They do it in the form of the patented “Shiba Shake”, where they cock their heads sideways as if something was in their earthen stop and shake violently.
Amazingly, this “ear problem” goes away the minute the leash is removed and returns the minute the dog is near the show ring.
The fiery aspect of the Shiba temperament is apparent at an early age. Even as puppies they stage mock battles and make much noise as they vie for top honors. With people, they are all kissy-face, but with other dogs, and especially other Shibas, they are macho little muffins.
There is a wide range of variation in this aspect of a young Shibas temperament and difficulties should be discussed with the breeder. Many Shiba puppies are just playful and not quarrelsome, but others are more serious.
All like to play with other dogs once they are acquainted. Just as there are hundreds of books on child-rearing, there are as many theories on how to deal with canine temperament.
Dog trainers who are not familiar with the Shiba temperament may only make the problem worse. Shibas seem to work well with the reward system. They easily learn commands like sit, and down, and such parlor tricks as roll over, speak and sit up.
Obedience work done on lead is readily acquired, but a Shiba who reliably “comes” on command is any situation is rare indeed. There are a few who learn boundaries, come when called, even when chasing a cat, and can wander loose in any situation.
These are exceptional and usually a combination of an extremely responsive temperament plus diligent training. It is realistic to expect that the average owner with the average Shiba will not have that situation.
Most Shibas will not wander miles from home but will want to investigate every nook and cranny within a larger radius than the owner is comfortable. Expect your Shiba to be an “on leash” breed and if he proves otherwise, then you are among the fortunate.
Do not feel your Shiba is untrainable, for he is is not. Shibas love “agility” training as it is natural for their athletic ability. They are smart and enjoy activities that challenge their mind and body. If you work with the Shiba nature rather than against it, training will be fun for both.
Shibas and Children
The responsible Shiba owner asks himself, what type of child would be like for his favorite dog. It would be a child with a good nature and stable temperament, one that was gentle and most of all, easy to train.
A child of an extremely energetic nature or whose hearing is too selective may be better suited to a larger, more docile breed.
Interactable children should have animals made of plastic, or maybe cement. All dogs, and especially puppies, regard very small children as peers rather than superiors. Puppies will try to play with children as they would another puppy, particularly if the child falls on the floor or runs around making squealing noises.
Nothing was more misleading than an advertisement aired on television a few years ago depicting a two-year-old child rolling around on the ground, laughing while being bombarded by about six small Labrador puppies.
What wasn`t shown were the tears that must have followed as the puppies sharp nails raked the child`s tender skin and the puppies pulled at his hair. The responsibility of how a puppy interacts with children falls on the parents.
Most trainable children over six years of age should have no trouble adjusting to a Shiba puppy. Dog oriented people find it easy acclimating a Shiba to a household with children. People with little dog experience should visit several households with Shibas.
DO NOT FALL IN LOVE WITH A SHIBA AT A DOG SHOW AND IMMEDIATELY RUN OUT AND BUY ONE. Take time to visit the dogs in the home environment. See how they react to children and let your intuition be your best guide.
When adults visit a home with Shiba puppies, they usually sit and wait for the puppies to come to them. Children tend to pursue the puppies. Shibas do not like to be continually restrained and manhandled.
Although a well-socialized puppy will tolerate some of this, too much will make him shy or irritated. It is absolutely necessary that a child learn to sit and let the puppy come to him. It is difficult to train a child who is used to running in and out of the house at will to close the door quickly and make sure the Shiba doesn’t get out.
It is even more difficult to train the child`s friends. Training the puppy and child when little can make the child aware of the necessity to use a double door system or exercising caution when going in and out, but it is up to the parent to watch when visitors come and to put the puppy out of harm`s way.
Spay & Neuter
For many people, the decision to neuter a male dog is somehow tied into their own sexuality. Maybe it should be, for the amorous intentions of the stimulated male Shiba are only rivaled by those of Geraldo Rivera and Wilt Chamberlain.
Many people would rather have a female as a pet. They see the female having a gentler nature and not having the desire to continually mark territory. Spaying a female does little to change her basic temperament, just as a hysterectomy does little to change a woman.
It just prevents pregnancy. On the other hand, neutering a male dog has a great effect on the male temperament, just as castration would have on a man.
Neutering a male before the age of six months will usually prevent marking and other “big guy” ideas. Females should be spayed at about 5 months of age, before they have their first heat cycle.
This makes it easier on the little girl as the uterus is small and the female lean. Recovery is quick and after a few days, you won’t know anything has been done. Sometimes it takes up to eight months or more for a Shiba male`s testicles to drop into the scrotum.
They seldom fail to arrive, and if the vet can locate them at all, he can perform the castration. DON’T POSTPONE IT!
Shibas SHED. You would too if you were wearing a wool coat in summer. All dogs with double coats shed, even Dobermans, Labradors, and Whippets. Those breeds with single coats that don`t shed, such as poodles and terriers, need clipping or constant brushing to keep their coats from matting.
You have a choice – clip, brush or vacuum. A Shiba could go his whole life without ever experiencing a brush, comb or bath and be just as happy. Shibas have little odor to their fur unless they have rolled in something pungent.
Show dogs are often bathed weekly while pets are occasionally shampooed at the owner’s whim. All seem to have healthy coats.
Fleas are the scourge of pet ownership. The flea most commonly found on the dog is the cat flea. Cats are flea farmers and outdoor cats spread fleas from yard to yard to yard like dandelion seeds. Methods for treatment are so varied and controversial that they are a book in themselves.
If fleas are eradicated from the environment, they will soon vanish from the dog. Fleas like warm, moist, sheltered environments and do not tolerate direct sun, dryness or extreme cold. Fleas do not survive outdoors in arid environments but thrive in the warm, damp summers of the majority of the US.
The indoor environment can be treated with desiccating powders and many professionals such as “Flea Busters” use these products with much success. It takes about six weeks for them to work. Avon “Skin So Soft” bath oil does help repel fleas.
A small amount rubbed through the coat leaves an aromatic residue that is distasteful to fleas (and some humans). It’s the only drawback is the oily residue it leaves on the hair that works like a “dust magnet”.
Most commercial flea products are toxic. How else could they kill the fleas? Start slow and work your way up the “hard stuff”. If a flea allergy develops it is often less harmful to the dog to get an occasional cortizone injection or a few pills to stop the itching than it is to saturate the environment with poison to eradicate every flea – an almost impossible task.
Collars & Tattooing
It is a good idea for a Shiba to wear a collar with identification tags or plates attached. Some collar distributors will print the owner’s phone number in large letters that can be seen without touching the dog.
Unfortunately, many Shibas that end up in the pound have lost their collars. Show dogs can`t wear collars because it leaves an ugly ring around the neck.
Tattooing is an additional method of identification. It is usually placed on the inside of the dog`s thigh. Although it is permanently attached to the dog, a person finding a lost dog may not look on the dog`s leg for a tattoo, and if he does look, may not know what to do about it.
Hopefully, most animal shelter personnel will look and know who to contact. The AKC is strongly encouraging all dog owners to tattoo their dogs for two reasons. One is the hope that a lost or stolen dog can be returned to its owner, and the other is for the definitive identification.
The AKC wants it to be possible for any stranger to go into a household and identify the dogs. If the dogs are tattooed with the AKC registration number, the dogs can be identified with the registration papers or the records at the AKC.
This would also assist in the dispute over ownership of a dog. The AKC registration number is like the dog’s Social Security number; it’s his identification for life.
How to Learn More
The best place to learn about Shibas is from other Shiba owners. The breeder of your puppy should be your primary source of information. Sometimes this is difficult as the breeder may live far away or be extremely difficult to contact.
Ask the breeder for names of other Shiba owners in your area and feel free to contact them. People love to talk about their dogs. Organize a gathering of Shiba owners in your area and have a potluck. It’s a Shiba owners support group!