BY PAMELA STACE, FREELANCE WRITER
The Japanese use three words to describe the Shiba Inu or Shiba—a national monument in Japan—and their most popular dog breed.
FIRST WORD: "Kan-i"—refers to the Shiba’s spirited confidence, alertness and bravery.
SECOND WORD: "Ryosei"—means good natured and loyal.
THIRD WORD: "Soboku"—describes easy, natural good looks.
Indeed, Shiba Inus exhibit all of these magnificent qualities as well as a couple interesting behaviors unique to them. But more about that later.
The Shiba Inu is the smallest of six original dog breeds native to Japan, the largest being the Akita. Shiba means “brushwood” in Japanese, and Inu means dog. It is unclear whether brushwood became part of the dog’s name because Shibas hunted in dense underbrush or because its red coat was like the autumn color of Japanese brushwood. During World War II, between bombing raids and outbreaks of distemper, Shibas almost became extinct. In order to save the Shiba, the Japanese began a breeding program that incorporated the last three remaining Shiba bloodlines. The Japanese Kennel Club was established in 1948.
Shiba Inus are relatively new to the U.S. The first Shiba arrived here in 1954, but the breed really didn’t become popular until the 1990s. The AKC officially recognized the Shiba in the Non-Sporting group in 1992, and today Shibas are the AKC’s 44th most-registered breed.
A Plucky Little Dog ...
Sarah and Michael Conley’s 18-month-old Shiba Inu Morley is quite the handsome guy with his red fox-like appearance, curly tail and triangular perked ears. During his interview, his quirks became apparent. Morley did not want to be left out. He seemed very conscious of being on the job protecting his home, moving about and surveying his territory, but also he wanted to be the center of attention, carrying his toys around in a “hey look at me” sort of way, coming over to find out what this new human was all about and accepting a little attention. Although they never taught him to do this, Michael says Morley knows all of his toys by name and will bring them to him on command.
Shiba Inus are extremely intelligent, independent and inquisitive. They are very adaptable and can live comfortably in either a small apartment or a larger house. Cat-like, they are not “needy” dogs and are fine spending time alone. Shibas really bond with their families. They are not necessarily cuddly, but they want to be where you are. They are not noisy dogs, but because they are very alert, they make good watchdogs. With proper socialization, they can get along well with kids and cats. According to the Conleys, Morley took to their cats right away and plays with them often. Bold and self-confident, Shibas can be very stubborn. They think for themselves and like to do what they want to do. As Sarah put it, “Shiba does what Shiba wants.”
Fortunately, Shibas respond well to gentle and patient training and are
very easy to house train—Morley got it in two months! They love to play but will try to escape if not on leash or in a fenced-in yard. Shibas love snow but hate water. Morley avoids puddles at all costs! Shibas have deep, plush, double coats that repel dirt and keep them pretty clean. Shibas do well in both hot and cold weather. They shed and blow their undercoats seasonally, but they only need to be bathed and brushed occasionally.
Health Issues ...
Shiba Inus are generally very healthy, although they have been known to suffer from hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, eye problems and allergies. They have strong, fast-growing nails that require frequent trimming. Like all dogs, their teeth need to be brushed often, and their ears should be checked regularly.
Shiba Shake & Shiba Scream ...
Shiba Inus are famous for two unusual behaviors: the Shiba Shake and the Shiba Scream. Shibas thoroughly shake themselves all the time from nose to tail tip. The Shake seems to be just business as usual for the breed. They don’t do it because they are afraid or as a response to aggression. They just do it! The Shiba Scream, on the other hand, is something that only happens when the dogs are very upset or excited. It is an extremely loud, high-pitched wail. Videos of both the Shake and the very dramatic Scream can easily be found on YouTube.
Is the Shiba Inu the Dog for You? ...
The charismatic Shiba Inu has many wonderful qualities, but it is not the dog for everyone. Shibas have strong personalities and can be very headstrong. They do best with thoughtful, sensitive owners who can understand and embrace what makes this little dog different from other breeds. In the right home, the Shiba will certainly reward human kindness and understanding with loyalty, love and amusement!
Original Job: Hunting game by sight and scent in mountainous terrain.
Size: Males 14.5-16.5 inches, 23lbs, Females 13.5-15.5 inches, 17lbs
Coat Colors: Red, sesame (black-tipped red hairs), black and tan
Exercise: Regular walks with an occasional romp
Lifespan: 12-16 years
OUR FALL LOOK: Celebrating your dog's uniqueness! Does your pooch have a quirk or two? Well take a look at this beautiful cover dog named Nikko. Nikko is a Shiba Inu and loves to run the Shiba 500—where your Shiba runs like a lightning bolt and the best thing you can do is move aside. His sister Mika featured on this page is a quirky little character as well and will wink back at her owner. Each dog I've met seems to have a quirk or two...so what's your dog's quirk?
PHOTOS BY IN-FOCUS PHOTOGRAPHY