Complete Shiba Inu Guide For First-Time Owners

The most popular dog in Japan, the Shiba Inu is a proud and noble breed.

With their famous dense sesame and red coat, this small dog is often mistaken for a fox and packs a lot of punch into their 30-pound body.

Many prospective owners are drawn to the Shiba due to their unique appearance and personality. However, they are far more than just a cute-face and can be a tricky dog to care for.

Active and feisty, Shiba Inus are not recommended for first time owners. Their aloof nature and working temperament means they need an owner who has first hand experience.

Just adopted this breed or thinking about adoption? In this article you will learn if this dog is a good match for you and how-to care for one.

History Of The Shiba Inu

Shiba Inu

Shiba Inus were first seen in Japan and they were used by Japanese people on hunts to flush game out of forests.

There is evidence of the Shiba Inu dog breed as far back as 300BC!

This breed is one of the six original Japanese breeds, alongside others like the Hokkaido, Akita and Kai Ken.

It is widely believed that when roughly translated, “Shiba Inu” means “Little Brushwood Dog”, referring to the color of their coats. The red of their coat is the same color as the Brushwood Tree Forests in Japan.

At the start of the 20th century (in the 1920s), Japanese-American hybrid dogs became very popular, as a result the Shiba Inu almost died out!

In 1928 the Japanese public realized the breed was on the verge of becoming extinct and took action, they began adopting the breed to save them, and in 1936 the dog was proclaimed a national treasure.

Modern Shiba Inus are all bred from three lines: Shinshu, Mino and San’in. The three lines are similar enough to be considered the same-breed, but all have slight differences (e.g. the Mino line has a straighter tail as opposed to the usual tightly curled tail).

Kennel Club Recognition

Shiba Inu Dog Outside
Shiba Inu Dog Outside

It wasn’t until 1954 when the first Shiba Inu was imported into the United States.

They became an instant hit and breeding programs started with the the first American-born Shiba in 1979. As a result, they were added to the American Kennel Club registry in 1993 in the non-sporting group.

They also have their own breed club, the National Shiba Club of America, which has promoted the standardization and safe breeding of this dog since 2001.

The popularity of Shiba Inus has been steadily growing over the past seven years and they are now the 44th most popular dog; up by three places since 2013.

Temperament and Behavior

Characteristic Rating
Friendliness
Confidence
Protectiveness
Prey Drive
Social Tendencies

Shiba Inus are tenacious, dedicated, and loyal dogs; they are completely dedicated to their work and love-of-chasing!

Any home with this dog should have a securely fenced yard, as no amount of training will stop your dog running after a neighborhood cat!

They have also been known to dig their way out, and on even rarer occasions, may even climb over a fences in pursuit of small-prey.

As a breed, the Shiba Inu is known to be strikingly independent.

If you are looking for a cuddly lapdog, you would do well to reconsider your breed choice. They will want to spend time with you because they choose to, but they are too proud to ever sit on your lap!

Shiba Inus tend to not bark, instead they make a sound known by owners as the “Shiba Scream”. It can be heard both in periods of great joy, as well as great emotional stress.

Despite their bold and excitable personalities, a Shiba Inu can be shy when meeting new people. If this occurs, give them lots of space and allow them to approach the new person in their own time.

Do They Make Good Family Dogs?

Family Member Compatible
Young Children No
Teenagers Yes
Seniors No
Other Pets No

Shiba Inus are feisty dogs, however it does not take a lot to shake their confidence. They can find both the erratic movements of young children and loud noises of a family home scary!

Because of this, a Shiba Inu is better suited to homes with slightly older-children who are slightly more reserved and less likely to scare them.

Shiba Inus can be good family pets. Their loyal and playful nature means they can do very well in family home. However, potential owners should consider very carefully if they have the right home and environment.

When it comes to seniors adopting this breed, it depends entirely on the person and their dog. Shiba Inus can be low maintenance and a relatively active senior can have an excellent relationship with them.

The Shiba Inu can be somewhat fickle with other dogs.

Generally speaking, Shiba Inus can get on well with a dog of the opposite sex in the same home, but they struggle to see eye-to-eye with other dogs of the same sex (especially when unneutered). To avoid unnecessary conflict, it is best to have this breed in a home where they are the only dog.

This somewhat fickle nature extends to other pets in the home too. The most common example is with cats. Some will spend their whole lives antagonizing the cat!

To avoid unnecessary stress and conflict, those who are looking to adopt a Shiba Inu are best to ensure they are the only pet in the home.

Shiba Inu Care Guide

Shiba Inu Lying on Snow
This dog is very demanding and will need a very specific environment to live in.

Prospective owners should be prepared for an uphill battle with training and socialization. Inexperienced owners or busy families may struggle to meet this breeds’ needs.

How Much Should You Feed A Shiba Inu

Daily Food Consumption
Guide 800 calories
Cups of Kibble Two Bowls of Kibble Required per Day

As a breed, the Shiba Inu is known to be a very fussy eater and requires a flexible and patient owner.

Although you should ideally feed your dog twice a day, these dramatic guys like everything on their own terms, including a feeding schedule. A high-quality diet and consistent feeding schedule will help to reduce their naturally shy temperament.

Like all aspects of their life, the Shiba Inu has specific needs, and will only accept food on their terms. It is best to feed two cups of high-quality kibble each day; one in the morning and one in the evening.

Shiba Inus need approximately 1g of protein per pound of body weight (e.g. a 23 pound dog would require 23 grams of protein each day).

When looking at a dog food, it is recommended that you feed a diet that contains approximately 18 to 23% protein and 10 to 15% fat.

Exercise Requirements

Daily Exercise
Minutes 60+ minutes
Activity Level This is a medium activity dog breed
Favorite Exercise Fetch

Shiba Inus are very active and love to be outdoors on a walk! Their favorite way to pass the time is with their nose to the ground, sniffing for other dogs that have been by.

As adults they needs around 60 minutes of exercise every day. Ideally this should be split into two walks, morning and evening, to balance out your dog’s day.

Until they are fully grown, Shiba Inus need approximately five minutes of exercise for each month they have lived. A six-month-old puppy needs thirty minutes of physical activity each day. This is to prevent over-exercising and potentially damaging your puppy’s growth.

When walking this dog, training their recall must be your absolute priority.

It takes a lot for your Shiba Inu to come back when called, especially if they are chasing a squirrel or playing with another dog. Therefore, it is not a good idea to let go of the leash until their recall is bomb-proof!

How To Train A Shiba Inu

Definitely not a dog for a first-time owners, their independence and strong-will means they are unlikely to participate in any training activity that does not appeal to them.

Owners and trainers will need to have the ability to slowly break down tasks into easy incremental-steps to allow your dog to understand what is required.

As with all dogs, never use punitive or dominance-based methods. This will result in a damaged and broken relationship between you and your puppy.

Instead, use positive reinforcement methods to turn training into a fun game for your dogs.

One thing that is often very easy to train is toilet training. They are naturally clean dogs that are often described by owners to toilet train themselves!

How To Groom A Shiba Inu

Two Shiba Inu Dogs
Two Shiba Inu Dogs

Very often, this dog is very touch-sensitive (i.e. they do not enjoy being handled). It is important to reinforce formal handling from puppyhood by rewarding your dog with food rewards for staying in position and consenting to being groomed. A fun way to do this is to teach The Bucket Game.

The Shiba Inu has a short, stiff and naturally waterproof coat. They do not need regular clipping but will need very regular brushing to remove the dead hair and skin. Use a wire-brush or de-shedding brush to gently remove hair.

They should be bathed as infrequently as possible to prevent skin-irritation or coat-degradation. When bathing is absolutely necessary, use a hypoallergenic shampoo and allow their coat to dry all the way through.

Like other breeds, they need regular teeth-brushing, as their smaller mouths mean that smaller pieces of food can get stuck in their teeth easier. Owners should be prepared to brush their dog’s teeth daily and introduce this from puppyhood (with lots of rewards for good behavior).

Nails will need to be trimmed by an experienced professional every 6 to 8 weeks.

Known Health Issues

Shiba Inu Running
Shiba Inu Running

Due to their selective breeding from healthy bloodlines, Shiba Inus are generally seen as very healthy dog living long lives of between 13 and 16 years.

On average, Shiba Inu owners will pay between $33 and $49 USD per month for health-insurance as they suffer from only a few isolate health issues:

  • The most prominent health issue is Patellar Luxation. This is where the knee joint dislocates while the dog is moving, causing an inability to walk correctly and lameness. This can lead to osteoarthritis if not caught and treated.
  • Another issue is dietary sensitivities. If your puppy has this, it may manifest as a skin condition, such as atopic dermatitis.
  • Occasionally dietary sensitivities may cause loose stool and/or vomiting. If you are concerned that your pet has a dietary sensitivity, you can feed a hypoallergenic diet.

Appearance: Size, Color and Coat

Shiba Inu Licking Their Nose
Due to their hunting origin, Shiba’s have a natural grace in their movement.

This is a medium and muscular dog that is often described as having a “fox-like” appearance. A sharp medium snout, triangular ears, almond-shaped black eyes and a small nose are all characteristics of their face.

Their curled and fluffy tails are instantly recognizable. The curly tail is synonymous with the Shiba Inu. The purpose of this was to keep their noses warm when they slept in the cold (like a husky).

The lightening of the coat on the sides of the muzzle and cheeks, inside the ears, under their jaw, inside of legs, chest, and on the base of the tail, is a requirement of their breed standard (regardless of coat color).

How Big Do Shiba Inus Get?

As medium-sized dogs, they stand between 13.5 and 16.5 inches tall and weigh between 17 to 23 pounds.

Females are slightly more petite than males, weighing approximately 17 pounds and males are slightly larger, weighing around 23 pounds.

Both male and females will stop-growing at around one year of age.

Coat and Colors

Two Black Shiba Inu Dogs

Shiba Inus have a thick double coat which is very high-shedding. Owners should be prepared to brush their pet daily:

  1. Their undercoat is soft and thick
  2. Their outercoat (i.e. guard coat) is shorter, stiffer and is waterproof

They have longer hair around their upper back, the purpose of which is to repel rainwater.

In terms of color, the Shiba Inu can come in a variety of shades including: red, black and tan, or sesame. Sesame is characterised by red hairs with black flecks.

Some can be all-white, but like with most breeds, this is not permitted by their breed standard.

Shiba Inu Puppy

Red Shiba Inu
Red Shiba Inu

Known for their tenacity and daring, these little dogs become very bold very quickly! As puppies, they will run circles around an inexperienced owner.

Attached is an approximate Shiba Inu puppy growth chart. If your puppy varies massively from the chart or has a large loss or gain of weight, then you should speak to your veterinarian.

Age (months) Male Weight (lb) Female Weight (lb)
3 7 to 10 6.5 to 8.5
6 14 to 19 12 to 15.5
9 16.5 to 23 13 to 19
12 18 to 24 17 to 19

How Much Do Shiba Inu Puppies Cost?

The average litter size is between 4 and 6 puppies with each puppy costing between $1,500 and $2,000 USD. Showline puppies will cost slightly more, between $2,000 and $3,500 USD.

Where To Adopt

If you would prefer to adopt a Shiba Inu as opposed to purchase, despite them being rare in local shelters, there are many rescue organizations you can apply to:

  • The Midwest Shiba Rescue (founded in 2002) rehomes dogs in Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana.
  • The National Shiba Club of America run a rescue organisation dedicated to rehoming this pet.

It is rare, but not unheard of, to come across a Shiba Inu in a local rescue.

Choosing A Breeder

As Shiba Inus are a popular breed, it is important to only ever support responsible breeding.

The American Kennel Club has a list of registered pedigree breeders. These dogs will be more expensive because of their pedigree bloodlines, but they will have been checked against kennel club standards.

A reputable breeder is very easy to spot, their dogs are usually their passion, and they take the responsibility very seriously:

  • Always ask to see mum with her puppies
  • Puppies should not be weaned before eight weeks, and if the breeder offers to allow you to take your puppy home before then, you should raise this up with them
  • Reputable breeders will have very long waiting lists and so it can be tempting to look elsewhere – don’t

Summary

Breed Overview
Size 13.5 to 16.5 inches
Weight 17 to 23 pounds
Lifespan 13 – 16 years
Breed Type Non-Sporting Group
Suitable For Experienced Individuals
Color Sesame, Red, Black and Tan, Black Sesame, Red Sesame.
Temperament Proud, Feisty, Playful, Independent and Loyal

This breed can be a perfect match for a very specific individual. Shiba Inus thrive in a household where they have lots of space, but that they are the only pet and there are no young children about.

They have a strikingly independent nature and will often let you know that they don’t necessarily need you around, but they would like you around.

At their happiest in a home where they have a lot of space, they can be shy to lots of noise and rapid movement.

When the Shiba Inu is in a home where they feel happy and comfortable, they are a joy to have around. Their fun and playful nature will shine through, bringing an endless source of your life.

Ready to adopt this dog? Already have one? Leave us a comment on this fantastic breed in the comments below.

John Woods Headshot
John Woods is the Founder of All Things Dogs and leads our editorial team as our Editor in Chief. A member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, he has been a dog lover since he was 13 years old. John is parent to Nala, a working lab retriever. John has also volunteered at multiple animal shelters, where he gained firsthand experience of rehabilitation and force-free positive reinforcement training methods.

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