Shiba Inu: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

A Shiba Inu standing on rocks in front of the ocean

Eric Van Der Veken / Getty Images

 

The shiba inu is a small, non-sporting dog breed from Japan that has a short but thick double coat and an overall fox-like appearance. Its ears are upright and triangular, and its bushy tail curls over its back. Shibas were bred for hunting and are still quite muscular and athletic. They also have a reputation for being independent and aloof at times. And they tend to groom themselves much like cats do.

Breed Overview

Group: Non-Sporting

Height: 13.5 to 15.5 inches (female), 14.5 to 16.5 inches (male)

Weight: 17 pounds (female), 23 pounds (male)

Coat: Short double coat

Coat Color: Black and tan, cream, red, red sesame with/without white markings

Life Span: 13 to 16 years

Temperament: Alert, independent, affectionate

Hypoallergenic: No

Origin: Japan

Characteristics of the Shiba Inu

The shiba inu overall tends to have a reserved personality but can be quite affectionate and attentive with its owner. High intelligence and some stubbornness are generally components of the breed’s temperament. The shiba can do well with other dogs and kids, especially when socialized from a young age.

Affection Level High
Friendliness Medium
Kid-Friendly  Medium
Pet-Friendly  Medium
Exercise Needs  Medium
Playfulness  Medium
Energy Level  Medium
Trainability Medium
Intelligence  High
Tendency to Bark  Medium
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Shiba Inu

The shiba inu can track its history all the way back to 300 BC in Japan. Hunters used the dog to help them flush out small game. In fact, "shiba" means brushwood in Japanese, and "inu" means dog—potentially referring to the dog’s ability to flush animals out of the brush. Another possibility is brushwood was in reference to the reddish color of the shiba’s coat.

During the 1800s, many foreign dog breeds made their way to Japan. By the early 1900s, there were almost no purebred shibas due to mixes with these foreign breeds. Breeders started to work to preserve the breed. But World War II derailed those efforts, and the shiba inu almost became extinct. 

Three bloodlines from different regions persisted, and today’s shiba inu is a combination of those. By the mid-1900s, the shiba inu had made its way to the United States. The American Kennel Club first recognized the breed in 1992. 

Shiba Inu Care

This breed has a moderate energy level and needs daily exercise and mental stimulation. Regular grooming, as well as consistent training and socialization, are a must for a happy, healthy, well-adjusted dog.

Exercise

The shiba inu should get at least an hour of exercise per day via walks, hikes, jogging, playtime, and more. Plus, puzzle toys and dog sports are a great way to engage your dog mentally as well as physically. A bored shiba that doesn’t receive adequate exercise and mental stimulation might develop problem behaviors, such as excessive chewing.

When taking your shiba outdoors, always keep it on a leash or in a securely fenced area. This breed specifically has difficulty with recall training and might run off when given the chance—especially if it sees a small animal it wants to hunt. 

Grooming

Grooming is relatively straightforward for the shiba inu. Plan to brush weekly to remove loose fur and prevent tangles and mats. Expect periods of higher shedding seasonally, during which you’ll have to brush more frequently to keep up with all the loose fur. 

The shiba’s coat stays fairly clean. Plan on a bath roughly every month, depending on how dirty your dog gets. And be sure to look in its ears weekly to see whether they need cleaning. Also, check whether your dog’s nails are due for a trim around once a month. Aim to brush its teeth every day.

Training

When it comes to training a shiba inu, you might need more persistence and patience than the average dog breed. These dogs can be quite strong-willed and stubborn, engaging in training sessions only when they want. Aim to start training from a young age to prevent bad habits from forming. Always use positive reinforcement methods, such as treats and praise, to help keep your dog’s attention. 

One aspect of training that often comes easily for a shiba inu is housebreaking. From a young age, these dogs don’t like making a mess in their indoor space and thus appreciate being let outside to relieve themselves.

For socialization, aim to expose your shiba to different people, other dogs, and various locations from a young age. This will help to boost its comfort and quell some of its standoffish nature. Still, many shibas tend to be wary of strangers, though they typically aren’t excessive barkers. 

red shiba inu puppy
Cynoclub / Getty Images
black-and-tan and red shiba inus lying together
Agency Animal Picture / Getty Images
shiba inu smiling sitting on grass
Yuki Cheung / EyeEm / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

The shiba inu has a long lifespan for a dog breed, and it’s generally healthy. But it is prone to some hereditary health conditions, including:

Diet and Nutrition

Always have fresh water available for your shiba inu. Feed a quality, nutritionally balanced canine diet. It’s common to feed two measured meals per day. Make sure to discuss both the quantity and type of food with your vet to verify that you’re meeting your dog’s individual needs. Some shiba inus can be particular about the type of food they eat, potentially requiring you to try a variety of dog foods. But others will eat anything. Always monitor treats and other extra food to ensure that you’re not overfeeding your dog.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Shiba Inu

The shiba inu is a moderately popular dog breed. As such, if you’re looking for one, it’s worth checking local animal shelters and rescue groups for a dog in need of a home. Ask to get on breed wait lists if possible. If you’re looking for a puppy from a reputable breeder, expect to pay around $1,500 to $3,500, though this can vary widely depending on bloodline and other factors.

For further information to help connect you with a shiba inu, check out:

Shiba Inu Overview

Pros
  • Long lifespan

  • Not prone to excessive barking

  • Easily housebroken

Cons
  • Can be aloof

  • Prone to allergies

  • Generally poor recall when loose

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

As with any breed, make sure to thoroughly research the shiba inu before bringing one home to verify that it’s suitable for your lifestyle. Talk to breed owners, rescue groups, quality breeders, and vets. Try to spend some time around the breed, too, if possible.

If you're interested in similar breeds, check out:

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

FAQ
  • Are shiba inus good family dogs?

    The shiba inu is moderately tolerant of children. Well-trained and socialized shibas can be good for families with respectful older children. But exuberant young kids might be too much for this reserved dog.

  • Are shiba inus aggressive?

    Shiba inus with proper training and socialization might be reserved around people and other animals, but that usually doesn't translate to aggression. However, some shibas can be very territorial and will require extra training to prevent them from protecting what they perceive as theirs.

  • Are shiba inus good apartment dogs?

    The shiba inu can make a good apartment dog, as long as it receives enough exercise and mental stimulation each day. It's generally a quiet and clean dog, and it doesn't require a great deal of space.

Article Sources
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  1. Shiba Inu. American Kennel Club.

  2. Shiba Inu Puppies and Dogs. Adopt a Pet.