Welcome to the BarkPost guide to dog breeds where we belly flop straight into the depths of dog breed origin, evolution, and purpose. Follow along each week as we publish new guides that highlight the strangest, most interesting, and most surprising stuff about these creatures who have been our best buds the last 30,000 years.
Intro / Overview
(All dogs are individuals, which means any single dog from any breed can be any number of ways, both good and not so good. Keep that in mind as we discuss breed generalities!)
It’s a dog! It’s a fox! Maybe it’s both! The Shiba Inu is loyal, yet sly. Beautiful, yet sturdy. Good-natured, yet free thinking. Energetic, yet adaptable. In other words, there is a lot to love about these “big dogs in small bodies,” but it’s best to know what you’re getting into before choosing this (or any) breed.
Shiba Inu are small breed hunters with well-muscled bodies hidden beneath 2 fluffy coats a, and curling tail. They are intelligent, proud, dignified, free-spirited, affectionate, and bold.
Although categorized as a non-sporting breed, Shibas are athletic and are able to navigate rugged terrain and love to hike with their humans. Although they are happy spending time at home chilling (read: guarding) as well! They are people-oriented pups that need your attention. Just don’t try to tell them what to do.
Also Known As…
Shiba Ken. Shiba. Shibe. The Doge dog. “Whoa! I didn’t know you could have a fox on a leash!” “My man, do you not know what a Shiba Inu is?”
Originating in Japan as early as 300 B.C., Shibas are known as a primitive breed or “basal breed” which predated modern breeds in the 19th century. Bred to hunt small game such as rabbits and to flush out birds, Shibas lived in mountainous areas and hunted in brushwood bushes (the word “shiba” means “brushwood”).
By the end of World War II, Shibas were nearly extinct in Japan, although today they are thriving as one of the country’s most popular breeds. The breed was imported to the U.S. in 1954 by a military family, and their popularity continues to rise.
14.5-16.5 inches tall for males; 13.5-16.5 inches tall for females.
23 pound average for males; 17 pound average for females.
Shibas are strong-willed and confident, and have their own ideas about what they should be doing. In other words, they’re their own boss. But they are also incredibly good-natured and affectionate. They love being with people almost as much as love running off and hunting. They may be independent thinkers, but they still need humans around to love them. They are also excellent guard dogs, much like larger breeds tend to be, and consider themselves the boss in any circle. In a way, they are the teenager of dog breeds. They need your guidance no matter how much they pretend they don’t.
Intelligence / Trainability
Let’s not sugarcoat it. Shibas, although good-natured and affectionate, pretty much see human commands as a joke, at best. Shibas know best, therefore Shibas are one breed that can never be off-lead except in confined areas, no matter how much training they receive, due to them being natural hunters who love the chase. Their instincts to hunt will always win out. Practically born house-trained, this breed quickly learns to do their business outside, often in just a matter of days. Being independent free-thinkers (bossy!) socialization beginning at a young age will go a long way to helping your Shiba adapt to changing life situations and to curb resource guarding.
Secure is the key word, as Shibas are known escape artists and will bolt if given half the chance. No matter how happy they are at home, the hunt is always calling. If you have a hard, be sure to regularly check for possible escape routes and be sure that anyone entering/exiting is aware of the situation so as not to let your dog out by accident.
Being smaller in size, Shibas are very adaptable, so apartments are fine and a yard is not necessary, however this is an active breed, so walks, runs, and hikes are encouraged as often as possible.
Good For Families And Kids?
This is a breed that is very loyal and affectionate to their family. In fact, Shibas always want to be part of the pack, so be sure to include them whenever possible. They also have the protectiveness of larger breed dogs and are great guard dogs, often perching as high as possible to keep watch over their home and family.
Shibas often do great with kids, especially when raised with them, however, as with any breed, it is important that children know not to tease or play roughly as Shibas can be sensitive.
The average life expectancy for Shiba Inus is 13-16 years.
Shibas are a pretty healthy and sturdy breed of dogs. In fact, the most common issue they face is allergies, manifested as itching and other skin irritation. Other conditions to be aware of include glaucoma, cataracts, hip dysplasia, entropion, and luxating patella.
The hunter in Shibas wants to run, and certainly has the energy to do so. They are also very agile on rough terrain and can move with stealth (like a fox!). So, their minds and bodies do require exercise. Daily walks, runs, or hikes will surely be enjoyed, however, they are very adaptable dogs, so if necessary, just a few outings a week should suffice. They can also do well in apartments and/or without a yard. But they’ll be sure to fins a way to enjoy whatever space as they have.
Friendly With… (Dogs, Strangers, Cats, Other Pets?)
Affectionate with family but often suspicious of strangers, Shibas do not always get along with other dominant dogs, especially those of the same sex. However, other dogs (as well as cats) who are willing to agree that the Shiba is the boss are usually a good fit. Shibas are guard dogs and therefore do not share well, which may include acting aggressive over food, toys or space. Also, the hunter within will want to chase smaller animals that of reminiscent of prey.
Coat & Grooming
Shibas can red, sesame, or black & tan, usually with some white as well. They are double coated with an outer coat that is stiff and straight, and an inner coat that is smooth and thick. They are a very clean breed, requiring minimal grooming, although shedding can be a nuisance during seasonal changes. Although Shibas only drop their undercoat twice a year, it is a running joke that each shedding season lasts 6 months. However, brushing or blowing can help get rid of a lot of the fur before it ends up around your home. Never cut or shave a Shibas coat, as it protects them from seasonal weather.
Toys Shiba Inus Would Like Best
Running and hunting are two favorite activities of Shiba Inus, therefore yoys that instigate exercise of the body and mind are sure to be a hit.
Fetch toys are great for giving your Shiba something to chase down and catch, while also making yourself part of the game. Remember, they love their humans!
Puzzle toys and thinker toys are also great for these dogs that were originally bred to flush out small prey for hunters. Give them something to root in!
For more toy ideas, see our “Best Toys For Shiba Inu Dogs” post!
Recommended Diet Or Supplements
A fish oil and coat supplement could be good for combating allergies. You can also give your Shiba a spoonful of locally sourced honey each day.
These delicious, vet-formulated chews are made with all-natural ingredients including Omega 3, 6, 9, and Vitamin E. They are designed to support immune health, provide relief from itchy allergic skin, and promote a healthy coat. ($19.99)
BARK’s Full Spectrum Hemp Oil is made of organically grown whole plants, grown in Colorado, and is non-psychoactive. It comes in 100mg, 250mg, and 500mg varieties, and can help with pet anxiety and pain relief. Shih Tzus are known for hip dysplaysia, which causes joint pain. Full Spectrum Hemp Oil will help ease your pal’s movements and get them up and playing again. ($17.99-22.99.)
This joint supplement is veterinarian-formulated, made with all natural ingredients (glucosamine, MSM, chondroitin, and hyaluronic acid), and comes in the form of 150 soft chews. Basically, it looks and tastes just like delicious treats, and it could really help your Shiba with any hip and joint issues. ($32.99.)
For older Shibas or Shibas suffering with arthritis or hip dysplasia (or just any dog that likes lying down!), a comfortable, supportive dog bed is probably a good idea.
This ultra plush orthopedic dog bed provides support for dogs of all shapes and sizes! The combination ergonomic memory foam and gel foam relieves pressure points, and helps ease body aches caused by hip dysplasia, arthritis and other orthopedic issues. It offers the best therapeutic support for your Shiba. ($27.99-64.99.)
Notable Rescues To Find The Shiba Inu Of Your Dreams
- Midwest Shiba Inu Rescue – has been helping Shiba Inus throughout the Midwest since 2002. This non-profit, all-volunteer corporation seeks out, fosters and places homeless Shiba Inu dogs into carefully screened, lifelong, and nurturing homes.
- DC Shiba Inu Rescue (DCSIR) – is a Washington, DC area rescue specializing in Shiba Inus. This non-profit, volunteer-run network of foster homes also promotes positive reinforcement training and raw-fed nutrition.
- Shiba Inu Rescue Association (SIRA) – is a volunteer organization dedicated to saving abandoned, neglected, and abused Shiba Inu, Shiba mixes and other primitive breeds from commercial breeders, shelters and owners.
- Adoptable Shibas on Petfinder
Notable Instagram Shiba Inus
Former trash addict Soomsoom (he occasionally relapses) and his Klee Kai brother Barak love to go on adventures together. Follow them on said adventures!
Buttons is an incredible service Shiba. Together with his mom, he fights for equal access and animal rights.
Cooper & Ginger are two foxy ladies living it up in Minneapolis, MN. Follow their adorable adventures inside and outside their apartment and beyond.
Mr. Okami is just a hair over two years old and enjoys playing soccer and eating hot dogs. But you’ll mostly want to see this beautiful pup exploring the French Riviera where he resides.
Shabu is just 3 years old and cute as can be, but you can trace his puppyhood all the way back to his first day of preschool. Cuteness and mischief abound!
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Featured image via Greywolf.Blackfox/Instagram