Shiba Inu: Everything You Need To Know About This Dog

If you know of the Shiba Inu, chances are you know of the "Doge" meme.

If not the "Doge" meme, cute YouTube videos might've been your introduction to the Shiba.

However you found out about the breed, one thing's for sure: The Shiba is one of the most interesting dog breeds in the world. Before you buy one of these beautiful and spirited pooches, read on.   

A Basic Overview of the Shiba Inu

As you might've guessed from the name, the Shiba Inu is a breed from Japan. Depending on who you ask, Shiba Inu can mean either "brushwood dog" or "little dog."

Shibas are medium-sized pooches, with males reaching up to 16.5 inches tall and 23 pounds. They're usually mistaken for other Japanese breeds like the Akita and Hokkaido/Ainu dog, though the Shiba is smaller than either of those.

Like the Akita and Hokkaido dog, Shibas have erect triangular ears, thick double coats, stocky bodies, and bushy tails curled over the back. Shiba coats can be red and white, black and tan, cream, sesame or pure white.    

If you want to buy a Shiba for show, look for a dog with the urajiro quality. Urajiro means he has a cream or white ventral color below the cheeks, on the side of the muzzle, on the neck, on the chest, on the stomach, under the tail, and under the legs. Since the urajiro has to be clearly visible, pure white or pure cream Shibas can't be used for show.

Shiba Inus are relatively healthy dogs. They can live up to 15 years, and are able to adapt to most environments. If you want a sturdy dog with the face of a fox and the personality of a cat, the Shiba is for you.


What is the Personality of the Shiba Inu?

In Japan, people use three words to describe the Shiba's personality: kan-i, ryosei and soboku.

Kan-I means that the Shiba Inu is strong, confident and independent. He's the sort of dog who does as he pleases, and relentlessly chases after anything that catches his fancy.

On the other hand, his kan-i is balanced out by his ryosei and soboku, which roughly translate to "good nature" and "alertness," respectively. He is loyal and devoted, and can be good with children if he's been socialized from an early age. However, he can also be possessive and distrustful, so be extra careful if you're anywhere near his belongings.

You may have heard the infamous Shiba scream, online or personally. Despite what you might've been led to believe, screaming isn't normal for Shibas. They're usually a quiet breed, so if you hear one wailing like a banshee, it's a sign that the Shiba hasn't been trained properly.  

Granted, the Shiba isn't a dog for everyone. If you're a first-time dog owner who doesn't want to spend too much time training a pooch, the Shiba isn't for you. But if you are patient enough to teach a willful, free-spirited dog the ways of the world (or the ways of your house, at least), you'll find that his pluses outweigh his minuses.  

History and Background of the Shiba Inu

Originally, the Shiba Inu was bred in Japan as a hunting dog. With his keen intelligence and sense of smell, he would flush out prey such as birds, boars and even bears. Because Shibas often hunted in areas that are challenging to navigate (like Japan's mountains, for example), he needed to be fearless, adaptable, and able to think on his paws.

The Shiba Inu thrived in Japan until World War II, when the dogs were nearly wiped out by bombing raids and distemper epidemics. Luckily, the Shibas from the countryside survived, and were brought into breeding programs that allowed their populations to recover. The American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognized the breed in 1993, and the Shiba Inu now ranks as the 45th most popular dog breed in the U.S.

Are Shiba Inus Playful and Fun?

There's a reason the Internet loves the Shiba Inu.

As shown by the "Doge" meme, people can't help but be drawn to the Shiba's intelligent foxlike face. It also helps that the Shiba Inu has the personality of a cat (which, incidentally, is also an Internet darling). Combined with its cute and cuddly looks, the dog has all the makings of a viral superstar.

On the flip side, the Shiba's idea of fun may not always match up with yours. If you want him to put his paws up in the air like he just doesn't care, you might be disappointed to know that he, in fact, does care. And that's where your training skills (or lack thereof) will make all the difference.

How Much Exercise Does a Shiba Inu Need?

Much like cats, Shiba Inus are easily bored. They'll take out their nervous energy on your furniture, unless you give them some kind of physical or mental stimulation.

For example, you can walk your Shiba around the block for 30 to 45 minutes a day. You can also play ball with him, or practice obedience exercises to keep his stubbornness in check.

If you're a mountaineer or hiker, you might be happy to know that you can take your Shiba with you. As mentioned earlier, the Shiba Inu was specially bred to navigate mountainous areas, so he won't have too much trouble following you up treacherous slopes.    

That said, although the Shiba isn't a couch potato, he's not as lively as larger dog breeds either. Give him enough exercise to keep his muscles from atrophying, but also take care not to overexert him.   

Also, remember that the Shiba Inu is a hunting dog. Once he catches hold of a scent in the wild, it's highly likely that he'll track it down to the source. If you don't want your Shiba to go somewhere he's not supposed to, better get him used to a collar or harness.

What are the Grooming Needs of the Shiba Inu?

Another thing the Shiba Inu and cats have in common is his ability to keep himself clean.

It's not unusual for a Shiba to lick himself all over. In some cases, he may even "volunteer" to groom his fellow pooches (assuming said pooch is willing, of course).

Although he has a thick, seemingly high-maintenance double coat, he's usually odor-free and doesn't require a lot of bathing. At most, you only need to bathe him once every three or four months. Any more than that, and you might risk drying out the natural oils that protect his skin and coat.

That said, he still needs help with grooming once in a while. Brush him once a week to remove dead or matted hair. Trim his nails every month or every two weeks, so they won't cause him discomfort. Inspect his eyes, ears and other body parts for redness, foul odor and other signs of infection. The moment you spot any of these signs, take your pooch to the vet.

Are Shiba Inus Easy to Train?

If you're looking for a pooch that's easy to train, the Shiba Inu is definitely not for you. Unless you're an experienced dog owner, it'll be incredibly difficult to keep an adult Shiba under control.

A Shiba puppy, on the other hand, is much more manageable. He still has the natural curiosity and playfulness of youth, so he'll be much easier to teach. Teach him like you would any other dog, i.e. by being patient, persistent and consistent. Reward him every time he does something you want, and don't be angry when he doesn't.  

One of the best rewards for a Shiba is food. Being catlike, he won't necessarily respond to obvious displays of affection. But if you have a tasty treat in hand, you pretty much have him wrapped around your finger. Be careful not to overfeed him, though: His medium-sized knees will buckle under the excess weight.

Apart from early training, socialization and good breeding also make a Shiba Inu more manageable. Before you buy a Shiba puppy, check if he has a family history of aggression and bad behavior.

How Much Does a Shiba Inu Puppy Cost?

Nowadays, you can expect to pay between $1,200 to $2,500 for a Shiba Inu. Some breeders charge even higher than that, especially if the dog comes from a superior lineage.

For a Shiba Inu's annual upkeep, prepare to shell out $1,641 at the minimum. That's the average cost for food ($220), spaying/neutering ($250-$500), vet expenses, training, supplies and other things to keep your Shiba happy.

If you don't want to shell out thousands of dollars upfront, you can also adopt a Shiba from a shelter. For $330 to $500, you may be able to get a dog who's already been vaccinated and registered. A shelter Shiba's temperament may not be as manageable as you like, though.

As far as dogs go, Shibas are an acquired taste. For starters, they have personalities that aren't always a match for their owners. But if you're lucky enough to win their loyalty and respect, Shiba Inus can be one of the best friends you can have for life.  

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