The Shiba Inu

A complete breed guide

LAST UPDATED 30 August 2019

This article is written by our veterinarian, Dr Teagan Lever, BVSc (Hons)


1. At a glance

2. History

3. Personality

4. Distinguishing Features

5. Nutritional Requirements

6. Fun Facts

Further reading

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Breed size: Place of origin: Other names:
Small Japan Translates from Japanese to "Small Brushwood Dog"
Breed group: Energy level: Activity Needs:
Non Sporting/Utility High Requires daily walks and vigorous playtime to keep them mentally and physically fit
Life expectancy: Tendency to bark: Weight range:
12 to 15 years Low to Moderate Female: 6.8 - 9kg, Male: 8 - 11kg
Height range: Coat length: Coat Type:
34 - 42cm at shoulder Short to medium length with a double coat The outer coat is naturally waterproof and their thick undercoat protects them from the cold. Coat colour varies from orange-red, white, black and tan to sesame. Those described as 'red sesame' are red in colour with an even overlay of black guard hairs.
Shedding factor: Drool factor: Overall grooming needs:
High Low Low to medium maintenance. The Shiba Inu is generally a clean, low odour breed with low bathing requirements. They are however, heavy shedders during seasonal changes and have increased grooming requirements during this time.

2. History

Native to Japan, the Shiba Inu is the smallest of the Japanese breeds which also includes the Akita, Shikoku, Kai Ken, Hokkaido and the Kishu. In the 19th century, the Shiba was initially bred as a hunting dog to flush out birds and rabbits in the dense Japanese mountainous areas. By World War II, a combination of food shortages and a fatal viral infection known as Distemper had nearly eradicated the breed entirely. Three surviving bloodlines remained and formed the common ancestors of the Shiba Inu breed today.

There is some debate as to the origin of the word Shiba however a few theories have been suggested. Some believe that the mountainous areas in which the Shiba hunted had a high density of brushwood bushes. It is believed that the word Shiba means 'brushwood' in reference to these bushes whose leaves reportedly turn red during the autumn months. Others believe that the fiery red coat of the Shiba is akin to the autumn leaves of the brushwood bush. There is also a suggestion that the word Shiba means 'small' which is why the Shiba Inu is sometimes translated to 'Little Brushwood Dog'.

3. Personality

The Shiba Inu is often described as independent, alert, aloof and with a 'spirited boldness'.

Shiba's make loyal and affectionate pets and are a fantastic companion for the active pet parent. They do best when housed in a large yard which is fully fenced as they are notorious escape artists, particularly if a small cat or rabbit runs by! They are agile and full of energy, and require at least one hour of exercise or playtime each day to keep them mentally and physically stimulated.

Shiba Inu's are very intelligent but can be stubborn during training. If you choose to add a Shiba puppy to your family, make sure to be diligent with socialisation, puppy preschool and training, and always practice positive reinforcement with treats. They are best suited to single pet households and families with older children.

Shiba's are also known for their complex personalities and can sometimes show aggression towards smaller animals due to their strong prey drive and hunting instincts. Consistent training from a young age and early socialisation can make all the difference and teach this confident and independent breed to trust strangers.

4. Distinguishing features

Resembling a cross between a fox and a teddy bear, the Shiba Inu has pricked ears, squinty eyes, a curly tail and is traditionally known for its fiery red coat.

5. Nutrition

The Shiba Inu is a small breed of dog, so their nutritional requirements are typical for this category.

1. Puppyhood: A premium small breed puppy food will support their rapid growth and energy requirements.

2. Adulthood: Once they have reached adulthood, a small breed dry food or a diet marketed for 'all breeds' combined with occasional wet food is a great diet for the Shiba Inu.

  • They are known to be vocal and loud when they want something and will produce a characteristic sound called the 'shiba scream'.
  • Their characteristic tails traditionally helped to protect them from the harsh winter weather by shielding their face and nose while they slept.
  • In December 1936, the Shiba Inu was recognised as a Natural Monument of Japan, largely due to the efforts of the Association for the Preservation of the Japanese Dog.
  • Shiba's are alert and agile dogs, making them excellent watchdogs and companions.