Complete Guide To The Shiba Inu: Care, Grooming, Feeding and More

The Shiba Inu is a charismatic little dog with a formidable personality. Cheerful yet cheeky, bold but courteous and independent yet loyal, it’s no wonder Japan’s favorite breed is America’s new darling.

In my 20+ year veterinary career, I’ve seen loads of Shiba Inus. In fact, I think every time I saw one of them, there was always a second to complete the pair. It’s as if owners of Shiba Inus can’t stop themselves at just one dog.

How Big Do Shiba Inus Get?

Male14.5 – 16.5″ at the shoulder ~23 lbs
Female13.5 – 15.5″ at the shoulder~17 lbs

What Do Shiba Inus Look Like?

With a thick coat, pointed ears and a bushy tail, the Shiba Inu is remarkably fox-like in size and appearance. Compact and muscular, its round face, black button nose and subtle smile project an air of confidence. Their deep brown eyes are thoughtful and always alert.

The Shiba Inu’s medium-length coat is less silky than sturdy and comes in four colors:

• Red Sesame
• Black and tan
• Cream

Black tips and white markings are common, but for show, they must adhere strictly to the AKC’s breed standard. Urajiro, the predominantly white areas on their cheeks, chest and tail are required, making cream dogs less desirable because the contrast is faint. The Shiba Inu is the smallest of Japanese breeds but looks similar to the larger Akita, Hokkaido or Shikoku.

What Is The Personality Of A Shiba Inu?

Small dogs can be timid, but not the Shiba Inu. Physically and mentally energetic, they need both companionship and exercise. Independent thinkers, they think of themselves as partners, not property.

Shibas excel at canine athletics but are just as happy to go for walks — a leash is a must. Single-minded, if something catches their eye, their instincts kick in, and they’ll give chase until you’re both exhausted. Safety first.

Shibas can be dependable with children and other pets if they’re raised together — they’re devoted companions — but training and early socialization are critical. Cautious around strangers but not overly aggressive, they’re good guard dogs.

How Much Grooming Do Shiba Inus Need?

Shiba Inus shed twice a year — the first half and the second half. Their thick double coats drop hair year-round and with gusto in the spring and fall. Shibas are clean dogs, but grooming them takes commitment and a degree of tolerance for shedding.

The best approach is weekly brushing with a slicker that removes dead hair and thins the undercoat. A steel comb might be necessary to reach through the thicker fur around the neck and hindquarters. Counterintuitively, bathing them every 6-8 weeks can help control shedding, but always brush dogs first — wet hair is a recipe for mats.

Their nails should be trimmed monthly or filed weekly. Start your pup out early and get them used to having their feet handled by you so they won’t be afraid when you start to work on their nails. Also, an emery board is a gentle alternative to clippers for dogs with sensitive feet.

Most Shiba owners can handle grooming at home if they have the time, but a professional has the tools and experience to keep their coats in top condition. A twice per year trip to the groomer relieves some of the burden for owners without being too costly.

How Much Exercise Does A Shiba Inu Need?

Shiba Inus do great with a daily walk of at least 30 minutes in length. This is not the walk so they can use the bathroom. This is exercise.

Think of the difference as to how you see people walk at your local mall: are they the window shoppers who stop at every store window for 30 seconds or are they the mall walkers that stride purposefully around the crowds? Is this a walk for entertainment or exercise? It can be both but it should be exercise first.

However, every Shiba Inu is different and there are some that are highly active and need more stimulation. I’ve seen Shiba run agility courses and chase balls at the dog park.

What Kind Of Dog Food Is Best For Shiba Inus?

Shiba Inus require no special dietary considerations other than they tend to lean towards obesity as they get older (at least the dogs in my practice have). Because they’re already a small frame size, adding extra calories is easy by giving them high-calorie snacks and small bites of people food.

Before we start with the food lists, just know that grain-free dog foods are a myth. There’s zero science showing that they are helpful. In fact, there’s increasing evidence that it’s causing issues in certain breeds of dogs. Food allergies are the only reason to even consider a grain-free diet but only choose one with the help of your veterinarian.

Basic dog foods that I recommend include:

How Long Do Shiba Inus Live?

13-16 years of age according to the AKC

What Health Problems Do Shiba Inus Have?

Any dog can develop health conditions such as dental disease, allergies, and obesity. I do tend to see obesity in my Shiba Inu patients that, if not caused by hypothyroidism, is easily remedied with the proper diet portions.

I have had a few Shiba Inus that had orthopedic issues such as luxating patellas and ACL tears. Any dog that has a rear leg that is very straight vertically (no angle at all in the knee) can be prone to an eventual ACL tear (or two). Some Shiba Inus are like that.

Where Can I Find A Shiba Inu?

Breeder Directory For The National Shiba Club of America

AKC Puppy Page

Looking for a Rescue? Here’s a List Of Rescues

Where Can I Learn More About Shiba Inus?

National Shiba Club of America

AKC Breed Page

Interesting Facts About Shiba Inus

Shiba Inus remain relatively rare in the United States, so they have a certain mystique. Here are some exciting facts about this head-turning breed.

• Shiba Inus Are a Monument Breed

The Shiba Inu is one of nine monument breeds in Japan. Considered national treasures, they share honors with the Akita, Hokaido, Shikoku Inu, Kai Ken, Tosa Inu, Japanese Terrier and Japanese Spitz. Each is prized for their distinct role in their nation’s history, but the Shiba Inu is the oldest breed and considered Japan’s national dog.

• They’re Old Souls

Archaeological evidence suggests the Shiba Inu’s ancestors date as far back as 14,500 B.C. They’re one of four basal breeds that retain strong genetic similarities to their forebearers. While some dogs change dramatically over the years, today’s Shiba Inus are likely comparable to those found in ancient Japan.

• Even Their Name Is Mysterious

The word “inu” means dog in Japanese, but the origins of “shiba” aren’t quite as clear. Shiba means brushwood in Japan, so the name could reflect the bushes common to the mountainous regions where they hunted. It could also refer to the rusty, fox-like color brushwood bushes turn every fall or to an obsolete form of the word meaning “little.”

• The Shiba Inu Is a Recent Import

Shibas weren’t introduced in the United States until 1954 when a service family brought the first specimen home. The first litter wasn’t recorded until 1979, explaining their relative rarity today. It was 1992 before they were officially recognized by the American Kennel Club as their 136th breed.

• They Were Almost Following World War II

Japan’s Shiba Inu population was decimated after World War II due to injury, food shortages and an outbreak of canine distemper. To preserve the breed, the nation’s three different strains — the Mino, Sanin and Shinsu — were interbred to increase numbers.

• Shibas Are Celebrity Favorites

The Shiba Inu may not be as popular as Chihuahuas in Beverly Hills, but they’re catching on. Celebrity owners include British TV personality Kelly Osbourne, American actor Daniel Dae Kim and Grammy Award-winning singer Roberta Flack.

• They Can Be Melodramatic

Shiba Inus have a flair for drama. They don’t bark much, but when they do vocalize, it’s an unearthly yowl designed to call attention to their hurt feelings. Affectionately known as the “Shiba scream,” you may hear it when their breakfast isn’t served on time or when their tail needs brushing.

• Shibas are Internet Superstars

All dogs have a personality, but Shibu Inus take it to hilarious extremes. YouTube sensation “Mari” and her owner, Inosemarine, post skits guaranteed to get laughs and some real-world interactions to make you smile. Mari has over 300k subscribers and counting.