Shiba Inu Breed Guide: History, Characteristics & Care Tips

by Aliyah Diamond
Pawlicy Advisor
Pet Care Blog
Shiba Inu Breed Guide
Is a Shiba Inu the right fit for you? Learn more about this breed, including personality traits, physical characteristics, trainability, common health issues, and more.

With their bright eyes and plush coat, Shiba Inus are an official Japanese national treasure. These beautiful dogs can make good companions but can also be independent and stubborn.

Wondering if this breed is the best choice for you and your family? Keep on reading to learn more information about the Shiba Inu temperament, breed history, care requirements, and more to help you become the best pet parent possible.

Table of Contents

Pro Tip: Help take the stress out of looking after your Shiba Inu, by signing them up for pet insurance. Shiba Inu pet insurance is the best way to take care of your dog at every stage of their life.

Shiba Inu characteristics

Physical appearance

The Shiba Inu is a medium-sized Spitz breed with pointy ears, dark eyes, and a fox-like appearance. The average weight of a Shiba Inu dog is about 23 pounds for males and 17 pounds for females. The males’ height averages between 14.5 and 16.5 inches, and the females’ is between 13.5 and 15.5 inches.

The members of the breed tend to be well-muscled and have a thick coat (similar to Siberian Husky) that comes in several color variations:

  • Cream
  • Black and tan
  • Red
  • Red sesame

All Shibas have white color markings on their chest, belly, cheeks, legs, and inner ears.

Temperament and personality

Typically, the temperament of a Shibu Inu is confident, bold, and good-natured, though they can be slightly stubborn and occasionally affectionate (on the off-chance they feel like it). In general, females tend to be shyer than males, especially around strangers. Male Shiba Inus are usually more active and friendlier with humans, but they can be wary or defensive around other dogs, especially males.

The American Temperament Test Society (ATTS) objectively evaluates dog breeds by their typical personalities based on scores in categories such as friendliness, protectiveness, reactivity, and more. According to the ATTS data, only 67.9% of Shiba Inus passed the test and were considered to be well-mannered dogs.

This breed is often known for dramatics. They may talk, yodel, scream, or even throw temper tantrums if they need attention or things don't go their way. Both genders have a reputation for being “cat-like” due to their grooming habits and strong independence.

That said, Shiba Inus can be good family dogs due to their loyal, affectionate, and devoted qualities, though their solitary breed history usually makes them best suited for single-pet households. They can do well with children as long as they’re properly trained and socialized, and the kids treat them kindly. Shiba Inu dogs also make good watchdogs as they are known for being fearless, alert, and selfless.

Average lifespan

The average life expectancy of this breed is from 13 to 16 years, which is a good lifespan for a medium-sized dog. The oldest Shiba recorded in the Guinness Book of Records reached the age of 26.

In general, Shibas will stay healthy as long as their owners provide them with proper nutrition, exercise, and healthcare.

woman petting shiba inu on a walk

Shiba Inu care tips

Training and exercise

Shiba Inu dogs are very smart but also quite stubborn and independent. While they do understand when the owner wants them to stay or sit, they may only listen when they feel like it. The good news is these dogs are naturally obedient and very devoted. With some patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement, you should get the desired results.

Early training and socialization are a must in order for your Shiba to learn to have good manners. However, these dogs should never be off-lead unless in a confined area as they’re prone to escaping.

On the flip side, the members of this breed are very easy to housebreak. By five weeks, many Shiba puppies are able to last all night without going outside and can wait until morning to be taken outside to go to the bathroom.

Shiba Inus are fairly energetic and love walks. Owners should be dedicated to providing regular physical activity, especially if the dog doesn't have an adequate, safely-fenced yard.

Diet and nutrition

An adult Shiba Inu is advised to eat around one to one and a half cups of kibble per day, depending on their energy levels and size.

Some members of this breed will eat anything in sight, so free feeding should be avoided. Some Shibas are prone to getting overweight so watch your dog's calorie intake and level of activity. A healthy Shiba is neither too thin nor too fat. You should be able to feel their backbone, hip bones, and ribs but not see them.

If you have any questions about the type, quantity, or frequency of feedings for your Shiba be sure to talk to your veterinarian. As pet nutrition experts, veterinarians can assess your Shiba’s ideal weight and work with you on a diet plan that will keep your pup happy and healthy throughout their life.

Grooming requirements

Although they are generally clean dogs, Shiba Inus do shed quite a lot, especially during molting season. Regular brushing or combing is required during periods of heavy shedding to reduce the amount of hair around the house and keep the coat in good condition.

If they are not used to bathing or grooming, Shibas might let out their infamous, high-pitched scream. If the grooming sessions are a struggle, consider taking your dog to a professional groomer.

One way to avoid struggles associated with grooming is to regularly expose your Shiba to these activities at a young age. Performing regular nail trims, brushing, bathing and grooming when your Shiba is still a puppy will make these activities more pleasant for them and for you as they grow into adults.

Living with a Shiba Inu

Shibas need a fenced-in yard with enough space to roam. Thanks to their hunting roots, these dogs have a high prey drive, which is why they should always be leashed outside the house.

Shiba Inus are known for wanting things done their way when it comes to affection, grooming, and routine and appreciate it if you stick to a certain schedule. Establishing routine and obedience training from a young age will ensure your Shiba is a respectful, healthy member of your family.

Shibas aren’t always in a playful mood or want to be petted, especially by strangers. They also like to mark their territory almost anywhere, both of which are important traits to consider when exercising your dog.

In general, these dogs are not prone to destruction if left alone, but some can suffer separation anxiety and are recommended to be crate trained as puppies so they have a safe, anxiety free space to spend time when left alone.

black shiba inu playing with soccer ball

Common Shiba Inu health problems

In general, Shiba Inus are a healthy breed but due to the early close-breeding of the gene pool after WWII, they are prone to certain inheritable health conditions, including:

  • Hip dysplasia, when the hip joint forms abnormally and impacts the dog’s mobility.
  • Luxating patella, a condition when the kneecap slips out of place, causing pain and discomfort.
  • Eye problems, including progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), cataracts, and glaucoma.
  • Allergies like atopy, which commonly affects the skin folds, belly, ears, and feet.

Pet parents should keep an eye on any symptoms of these conditions and get in touch with a vet as soon as they notice anything out of the ordinary.

Pro Tip: Pet insurance is a great way to ensure the best care for your Shiba Inu without hurting your bank account. Finding the best pet insurance for your Shiba Inu involves research so you’ll get not only the most affordable plan but also the plan that meets your pet’s needs.

Adopting or buying a Shiba Inu dog

If you’re thinking about welcoming a Shiba dog into your family, the National Shiba Club of America is the best place to start your research. You could also reach out to rescue organizations like the NYC Shiba Rescue.

If you are interested in similar breeds, consider looking into Akitas, Chow Chows, and Japanese Spitz.

Key Takeaways

  • Shiba Inus are medium-sized companion dogs with a big attitude. They’re charming, affectionate when they want to be, and known for their odd verbalizations.
  • These beautiful dogs are not traditional family pets, constantly playful and craving affection. However, they are intelligent, loyal, energetic, and clean pups who rarely bark.
  • Shibas require moderate daily exercise and an adequate fenced yard because they’re prone to escaping. They shed quite a lot and can be resistant to nail trimming and bath time.
  • Just like other breeds, Shibas are prone to certain health conditions, such as patellar luxation, hip dysplasia, and eye problems.

Aliyah Diamond

About the author

Aliyah Diamond

DVM Candidate Class of 2023 at Cornell University - Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine

Aliyah Diamond has more than ten years of experience in animal hospitals - working with dozens of species from dogs and cats, to elephants and snow leopards. Her lifelong passion for helping animals currently has her earning her doctorate of veterinary medicine at Cornell University and helping Pawlicy Advisor educate pet parents.

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