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I first saw a Shiba-Inu while I was watching the Bruce Lee movie "Enter the Dragon" when it first opened in theaters in San Antonio, Texas, in early 1973. The scene with the Shiba was when Jim Kelly, the tall, black, karate expert with the big afro and wearing the burgundy color suit with a yellow turtle neck (the style of the 70s), is riding in a small boat across the Hong Kong harbor on the way to the island where the big martial arts tournament was to be held. As he is riding in the boat, various scenes in the harbor are shown. One scene shows a Shiba prancing around on a sampan as if he owned it–I always remembered that scene.

I saw Shibas again when I visited Japan in the 1990s while serving in the navy. After I retired from the navy, one of the first things I did was purchase a Shiba; I named him Kuma (Japanese for bear, since he looked like a little red bear). We shared adventures for 14 years until he crossed the Rainbow Bridge.

Breed history

The Shiba-Inu has been with the Japanese people for centuries. They are considered the smallest and oldest of Japan's dogs. The ancestors of today's Shiba were the hardy survivors of Japan's mountainous regions that were difficult for men to penetrate.

Over time, Shibas were bred to flush birds and small game and were occasionally used to hunt wild boar and other large game. They were known for their ability to maneuver through steep hills and mountain slopes and their keen senses, which make them superb hunting dogs. Now they are primarily kept as pets, both in Japan and around the world. They make an excellent watchdog and have established themselves as the number one companion dog in Japan; Japan has more Shibas than any other breed.

Around 7000 BC, the ancestors of modern Shibas may have accompanied the earliest immigrants to Japan. Archaeological excavations of the shell-mounds left by the Jomonjin, or Rope-Pattern People (a name derived from the pattern found on their earthenware), show that they had small dogs in the 14 to the 19-inch-high range. In the 3rd century BCE, a new group of immigrants brought their dogs to Japan. These dogs interbred with the descendants of the Jomonjin dogs and produced canines that had pointed, erect ears and curled or sickle tails. In the 7th century CE, the Yamato Court established a dog keeper office which helped maintain the Japanese native breeds as an integral part of Japanese culture. Although the country was closed to foreigners from the 17th through 18th centuries, some European dogs and a breed known as the Chinese Chin were imported and crossed bred with native dogs living in the more populated areas. Dogs in the countryside, however, remained relatively pure.

Originally there were three main varieties of Shiba, each named for its region of origin: the Shinshu Shiba, from the Nagano Prefecture, the most popular in Japan past and present; the Mino Shiba, from the Gifu Prefecture; and the Sanin Shiba, from the northeastern part of the mainland. Although similar, the Shibas from each area contributed to differences in breed type seen today. From the original Japanese native dogs, six distinct "breeds" in three different sizes developed. They are the Akita (largest size); Kishu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, and Kai (medium size); and the Shiba (smallest size).

The smallest sized dog has been called the Shiba since ancient times. Several theories surround the development of that name. One popular explanation is that the word Shiba means "brushwood" and that the dogs were named because of their skill in freely moving and hunting in Japanese brushwood bushes. Another theory is that the fiery red color of the Shiba is the same as the autumn color of the brushwood leaves. A third conjecture is related to an obsolete meaning of the word Shiba, referring to its small size. These explanations are often combined and the Shiba is commonly referred to as the "little brushwood dog." Shiba first came by its current name in the 1920s.

Most of the Shibas being shown in the 1930s came from the Yamanashi or San In areas of Japan, where they had brought down from the mountains to the more populated areas. Since these dogs had been used mostly for hunting, their appearance was somewhat different from the present Shiba. They were large-boned and rough looking, unlike the elegant modern Shibas. In December of 1936, through the Cultural Properties Act, the Shiba was designated as a precious natural product of the Japanese nation, giving the breed official recognition.

World War II nearly spelled disaster for the Shiba. Most of the dogs that did not perish in bombing raids succumbed to distemper during the post-war years. While the Mino and Sanin Shibas became practically extinct, more of the Shinshu Shibas survived. After the war, Shibas were brought from the remote countryside and breeding programs were established. The remnants of the various bloodlines were combined to produce the breed as it is known today.

The first documented Shiba in the United States was in 1954. The Shiba Inu was admitted to the American Kennel Club (AKC) Stud Book on April 1, 1992, with exhibition permitted in the Miscellaneous Class on June 1, 1992, and regular classification in the Non-Sporting Group on June 1, 1993.

Physical characteristics

The Shiba is a very proportionate dog, with a height to length ratio of 10 to 11. Males range from 14.5 to 16.5 inches high, with females ranging from 13.5 to 15.5 inches. Height over the upper limits is a disqualification. The weight varies according to the height up to about 25 pounds. It is a medium boned, moderately compact, and well-muscled dog with a generally spitz-like appearance. Because of its hunting heritage, the Shiba is quick, agile, and can make sharp turns. It has a dense double coat like that of a husky. Although all colors are acceptable in the Shiba standard, red, red sesame, and black/tan are the preferred colors. Some Shibas have white or cream shadings on the lower legs, belly, chest, and underside of the face and tail. 


Shibas can behave with intrepid boldness, squinty-eyed cuteness, or calm dignity. The Japanese have three words to describe Shiba temperament. The first word is "kan-i," which is bravery and boldness combined with composure and mental strength. The second word, which is the opposite of "kan-I," is "ryosei," which means good nature with a gentle disposition. One cannot exist without the other. The charming side of the Shiba is represented by the word "soboku," which is a refined and open spirit. These characteristics combine to make a personality that Shiba owners can only describe as irresistible! "Macho Stud Muffin" has been used to describe the male Shiba. The body may look "muffin", but the mind is all "macho stud."

Shibas are very possessive. They do not share. Part of their original breeding was to protect hunters from the wounded game. These characteristics make them excellent guard dogs since they are so possessive and protective of their owners, The Shiba takes the "spirited boldness" part of his temperament quite seriously. This fiery aspect of the Shiba is what attracts people to them.

Shibas have been described as catlike in their behavior; the way they creep up on their prey, the way they sit, and the way they wash their face with their paws. They are not especially friendly with other dogs. Since they are so protective, owners must keep them under strict control. They can be very vocal; they are noted for their “Shiba cry.”

Shibas are not for everyone. You must be willing to keep them well exercised. They are very dominant so you must keep them in control and not let them dominate you.

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