The Shiba Inu (also called Shiba Ken in Japan) is one of the 6 native Japanese spitz breeds, very similar to Hokkaido but smaller.
The Shiba is the smallest of the Japanese native breeds of dog and was originally developed for hunting by sight and scent in the dense undergrowth of Japan’s mountainous areas. Alert and agile with keen senses, he is also an excellent watchdog and companion. His frame is compact with well-developed muscles. Males and females are distinctly different in appearance: males are masculine without coarseness, females are feminine without weakness of structure.
The first documented Shiba to enter the United States was imported by a military family in 1954. But the Shiba is an ancient breed, having been around since 300 b.c. The breed is named after its history as a hunter in the rugged mountains of Japan; “Shiba” means “brushwood” (referring either to the brush in the mountains or to the dog’s reddish color) in Japanese, and “Inu” means “dog.” By the end of World War II Shibas were nearly extinct, but they survived Japan’s wartime deprivations and are today the country’s number-one companion animal. Their popularity has been growing in the United States for the past 50 years.
Brought to America from Japan as recently as 60 years ago, Shibas are growing in popularity in the West and are already the most popular breed in their homeland. Their white markings combined with their coloring (red, red sesame, or black and tan) and their alert expression and smooth stride makes them almost foxlike. They’re sturdy, muscular dogs with a bold, confident personality to match. The official breed club is the National Shiba Inu Club of America.
Shiba Inu are a fastidious, extremely intelligent, active, independent breed. Most are fairly energetic well into their early teens and love to go for walks. They are not generally so hyper that they will climb the walls if they don’t get daily exercise, but a Shiba owner should be dedicated to exercising the dog, especially if the dog doesn’t have an adequate yard in which to exercise himself. In general, Shibas are not massively destructive if left alone once they reach maturity, but some can suffer separation anxiety and should be able to spend periods of time crated even when the owners are home and at night. Crating guarantees a home will remain intact.
The one thing every Shiba owner must know is that 99% of Shibas will not be reliable off lead as a rule without early, consistent, excellent training. Even then, preventable accidents will happen if owners fail to take precautions and tempt fate. No amount of obedience training will fully overcome the hunting instinct in a very determined Shiba, although it will certainly help with enforcing recall and other necessary life skills. Letting a Shiba off lead—or any dog, for that matter—is playing Russian roulette with its life. An open door, an unlocked gate, a moment of inattentiveness, and the Shiba may be gone forever.
The most common health condition in Shibas is allergies, which is likely resulting from population bottleneck and autoimmune issues. There is no way of testing breeding stock, but dogs with active allergies should not be bred. Responsible breeders screen their stock for health conditions such as hip dysplasia, eye disorders, and patella luxation.