Brought to America from Japan as recently as 60 years ago, Shibas are growing in popularity in the West and are already the most popular breed in their homeland. Their white markings combined with their coloring (red, red sesame, or black and tan) and their alert expression and smooth stride makes them almost foxlike. They’re sturdy, muscular dogs with a bold, confident personality to match.
The first documented Shiba to enter the United States was imported by a military family in 1954. But the Shiba is an ancient breed, having been around since 300 b.c. The breed is named after its history as a hunter in the rugged mountains of Japan; “Shiba” means “brushwood” (referring either to the brush in the mountains or to the dog’s reddish color) in Japanese, and “Inu” means “dog.” By the end of World War II Shibas were nearly extinct, but they survived Japan’s wartime deprivations and are today the country’s number-one companion animal. Their popularity has been growing in the United States for the past 50 years.
The Shiba is the smallest of the Japanese native breeds of dog and was originally developed for hunting by sight and scent in the dense undergrowth of Japan’s mountainous areas. Alert and agile with keen senses, he is also an excellent watchdog and companion. His frame is compact with well-developed muscles. Males and females are distinctly different in appearance: males are masculine without coarseness, females are feminine without weakness of structure.
Most Shibas are fairly energetic and love to go for walks. They are not so hyper that they will climb the walls if they don’t get daily exercise, but a Shiba owner should be dedicated to exercising the dog, especially if the dog doesn’t have an adequate yard in which to exercise himself. In general, Shibas are not massively destructive if left alone once they reach maturity, but some can suffer separation anxiety and should be able to spend periods of time crated even when the owners are home and at night. Crating guarantees a home will remain intact.
The one thing every Shiba owner must know is that a Shiba can never, ever be considered reliable off lead unless in a confined area. No amount of obedience training will ever change that. Letting a Shiba off lead—or any dog, for that matter—is playing Russian roulette with its life. An open door, an unlocked gate, a moment of inattentiveness, and the Shiba may be gone forever. On the positive side, a Shiba is practically born housebroken. By 4 weeks of age the puppy is trying to get as far away from his sleeping area as possible to eliminate. By 5 weeks the puppy will hold it all night and wait until taken outside to go. Controlling the bladder takes a little longer and depends a lot on immediate access to outdoors and diligence of the owner.