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Behind the Breed: Shiba Inu

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The Shiba Inu is a rather iconic dog, especially in their native Japan where they are still an incredibly popular breed and one of the six native breeds to the country. This breed is intelligent, quiet, clean, rather strong-willed, and generally tends to do better as an only dog. But there are so many reasons to have a Shiba in your life! Shibas are relatively small, particularly compared to some other spitz breeds, and are often described as being aloof or having “old souls”. They can be active dogs and would do well with people willing to channel some of their energy into something fun. Some might also recognize this breed as the “doge” meme!

Like Akitas, Shiba Inus have a long history in Japan and are classified as spitz dogs because of their thick coats, pointed ears, and curled tail. While they do have plenty of similarities, there are more than a few differences between Shiba Inus and Akitas. Both breeds were originally bred to be hunting companions but they hunted vastly different game, with Shiba Inus hunting small game in thick, wooded forests of central Japan. Their incredible noses and strong prey drive are two traits that survive in the breed to this day and Shibas have spent plenty of time tracking down birds, rabbits, and other small animals. These dogs also have their own histories as well and ancestors of today’s Shiba are thought to have been brought over to the island nation of Japan roughly 9,000 years ago. It wasn’t until the 7th century that records of Japanese dog breeds, including the early versions of the Shiba, started to be kept.

The exact origin of their name is a bit of a mystery. In Japanese, ‘Inu’ does mean dog and ‘Shiba’ means brushwood so it could mean that these dogs were named after the terrain they hunted in. It’s also possible that they were named because their coat color often resembles the colors of the autumn brushwood. While there’s only one Shiba Inu today, there also used to be three types of Shibas: the Mino, Sanin, and Shinshu. They were all named for the regions they orginated in and today’s Shiba is most similar to the Shinshu.

These dogs are medium in size, usually standing 13-17 inches tall at the shoulder and weighing 17-23 pounds. Their coarse, short, double coat is relatively easy to groom and gives them an almost Teddy Bear look. Shibas need to be brushed once a week or so but they are seasonally heavy shedders when they need more brushing than usual. As mentioned, their AKC breed standard includes four coat colors: black and tan, cream, red, and red sesame. Heath wise, Shibas tend to be pretty health but can be prone to issues like allergies, hip dysplasia, patellar luxation (dislocation of the kneecap), epilepsy, and chylothorax (an accumulation of fluid in the chest cavity).

Shibas are playful, stubborn, and can be rather solitary dogs, meaning they generally prefer being an only child of sorts. And because of their intelligence, mischievous curiosity, and agility, these dogs can also be great escape artists. All of that put together means that a securely fenced yard, a close eye, and plenty of positive reinforcement training and socialization can really make a difference with a Shiba! It also means that if you’re looking for a dog who is very social and loves to be around other dogs, this might isn’t the breed for you.

If you don’t have a yard or live in an apartment, it’s still entirely possible to have a Shiba Inu. This breed can generally do well in a variety of living situations, from a house to an apartment, as long as they get plenty of exercise and enrichment. However, it’s important to know that these dogs are known for their distinctive “Shiba scream” and it might annoy neighbors if your Shiba indiscriminately and repeatedly voices their opinion.

While their high prey drive generally means they tend to chase after small animals, Shibas have been compared to cats and foxes because of their looks and personalities. These dogs are rather fastidious when it comes to personal grooming and have a rather fox like appearance. And like cats, they can be rather independent, aloof, and agile. That agility, combined with a high prey drive and troublemaking nature, makes these dogs Houdini-esque escape artists and why, as mentioned, a fully secured yard and leash manners are important.

Ultimately, Shiba Inus can be a great companion but if you’re looking for a very social dog that loves sharing, these aren’t the dogs for you. With plenty of training and socialization, these dogs can be pretty friendly but instinctively, Shibas are independent, aloof, and they tend to like being the only dog in the house. They also have a high prey drive and impressive escaping abilities, meaning that they’re not usually great with small animals and any yard should be fully and securely fenced. While Shibas can be strong-willed and standoffish at times, there are still many great things about them! They can do well in apartments and with their goofy personalities, they can be playful, fun dogs to be around. Plus, they’re surprisingly neat dogs and don’t usually have that typical dog smell to them. Once you’ve earned a Shiba’s respect, you’ve earned a loyal, affectionate friend for life.

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