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What do you call a dog that looks like a fox, cleans itself like a cat, and squeals like a teenage girl? Well, you could call it confused, among other things, but since ancient times this interspecies mash-up has been called the Shiba Inu. In this edition of Animal Facts, we will break down the basics of this multifaceted and mysterious canine from the East.
The bloodline of the Shiba Inu goes back to 300 B.C. The Shiba is a basal breed whose job was to hunt small game in the brush. As a matter of fact, the word “shiba” means brushwood and “inu” is the Japanese word for dog.
In the first two decades of the 20th century, Shibas were nearly rendered extinct due to crossbreeding. But, through the efforts of hunters and preservationists, they were spared the death knell for a brief period. During the Second World War, they faced extinction again, due to a food shortage, and yet again during a distemper epidemic in the 1950s. In the aftermath of these crises, the three surviving bloodlines were crossbred, resulting in the version of the Shiba that exists today.
Although the breed was introduced to the U.S. in 1954 by a military family, the first litter wasn’t born until 1979, and in 1993, the Shiba Inu was recognized by the American Kennel Club.
Size & Appearance
The Shiba Inu is the smallest of the six original Japanese dog breeds which also included the large Akita, as well as the medium-sized Kishu, Hokka, Kai and Shikoku. Males range in height from 14 to 17 inches, while females tend to be slightly smaller, 13 to 16 inches. It has a stocky, athletic build, and its facial features are very similar to those of the fox.
The Shiba has a short, “double coat” of fur. The outercoat is coarse and straight, with guard hairs that protect the skin and are rain and snow repellent. The undercoat is soft, thick and serves as a barrier to frigid winter temperatures, as does its tail, which it curls up like a scarf to cover its face and nose while sleeping. Shibas have a grey, buff or cream undercoat with an outercoat that is black and tan, red, or sesame (black-tipped red fur).
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Temperament & Family Life
The Shiba Inu is known for its bold, independent demeanor. Although they are loyal and affectionate to those who reciprocate that loyalty and affection, they can be guarded when dealing with strangers, and aggressive toward other canines. Males that have not been neutered can be particularly aggressive with other intact males. They are also quite possessive when it comes to their food, toys and territory. To curtail possessiveness, they should be properly socialized as early as possible.
Despite their social quirks, Shiba Inus are good family dogs. With training and proper socialization, Shibas tend to do well with kids —as long as the children treat them with respect and kindness.
Shibas are not a barking breed, but when they are unhappy or stressed, they sometimes let out a loud, high-pitched “Shiba scream.” They may also make the same sound when they are very excited or happy.
Shibas take pride in their cleanliness and constantly self-groom to maintain an unsoiled coat. Their compulsive, cat-like behavior makes housetraining easy. If they go outside after meals and naps, some pups will even train themselves.
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Trainability & Intelligence
Although highly intelligent, Shibas have a reputation for being one of the most difficult breeds to train. This is due in part to their self-assured, dignified demeanor. They are quick learners, but are stubborn, independent, and want to do things their own way, so training requires plenty of patience. Shiba humans must pay attention to their dog’s preferences and develop personalized training plans to suit their needs. One method is to use a bit of psychology to make the Shiba think that obedience training is his or her idea.
Aversion training should be avoided. Trust will be broken and the strong-willed Shiba will respond aggressively to this type of training. They will not give up, nor back down.
Also, never trust your Shiba off-leash when you’re in a public place. Shibas are quick, agile, and have a very high prey drive, so the likelihood of you chasing your pup because they’re chasing a cat, squirrel or some other small critter is very high, unless you have a proper restraint. A yard with a high fence is also recommended, as this is a breed known for their ninja-like escape skills.
Shiba Inus are a moderately active breed that adapts well to different active lifestyles. In addition to being walked daily, they respond well to hiking, playing ball, slow jogging and climbing stairs, but of course, the exercise plan will vary depending on the disposition and energy level of the Shiba.
“An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” It is imperative your Shiba Inu gets sufficient exercise to keep him or her from chewing household items and digging up soil.
Again, since they are inclined to seek prey, it is very important to keep your Shiba on a simple leash when walking or hiking. If it is particularly excitable, a harness might be a more useful restraint.
Health & Lifespan
Shibas are a particularly healthy breed overall and they have an average lifespan of 12 to 15 years. But like any other breed, they are vulnerable to certain diseases and infirmities.
Common health issues include eye disorders such as glaucoma, cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy. To be sure that there are no existing eye problems, it is important for Shiba Inus to visit the ophthalmologist regularly. Hip and knee conditions like hip dysplasia and patellar luxation, are also ailments seen more frequently in Shiba Inus than in other breeds, as is chylothorax (the accumulation of fluid in the chest cavity).
Female Shibas that have not been spayed are susceptible to pyometra, a serious bacterial infection of the uterus. Although this infection can occur in any female dog, it is seen more often in Shibas. Therefore, Shiba owners who do not plan to breed their females should be sure to have them spayed.
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Without doubt the Shiba Inu is an amazing and beautiful dog. But, as we’ve seen this energetic and unwieldy canine can be a bit overwhelming for novice owners. They sure are cute though.