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10 Shiba Inu facts

Shiba Inu facts: Shiba Inu sat amongst cherry blossoms in Japan
(Image credit: Getty Images)

These Shiba Inu facts reveal the fascinating history behind this ancient breed, which has existed for centuries in Japan but is a fairly recent addition to Europe and America. The Shiba Inu was brought home to America by servicemen in the 1950s after World War II and was only recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club in 1992. 

While it may not be that well-known, this dog is very popular with those who do know it thanks to its fiery personality and its fox-like looks including its upright ears and curly tail. A small to medium-sized hunting dog, the Shiba Inu is alert and agile and their ability to handle mountainous terrain with ease makes them the ideal hiking buddy.

Here are 10 facts about the Shiba Inu that highlight what makes this breed such a wonderful companion.

1. It’s one of the oldest breeds

It is believed that the Shiba Inu dates back to around 300BC when it was used as a hunting dog in the mountainous regions of Japan. The breed has a keen sense of hearing and smell, so it could flush out birds and small game such as rabbit and boar. Today, the Shiba Inu still loves to hunt so it’s worth keeping them on a lead when you’re walking them as they may try to chase squirrels when out in the park and they’re not shy about chasing neighborhood cats either!

2. They're a national treasure in Japan

The Shiba Inu is one of six national breeds in Japan including the Akita, Kishu, Hokkaido, Kai and Shikoku. It’s not only the smallest of the spitz breeds (measuring up to 16.5 inches and 23 pounds, it’s nearly half the size of the Akita, which is the nation's biggest breed,) but also one of the most popular and has even become the top trending dog online. Instagram star Maru Taro has 2.6 million followers!

3. The origin of their name is uncertain

While we know the “Inu” means dog in Japanese and “Shiba” means brushwood, it is not certain whether this refers to the ground where these dogs once hunted, the autumnal color of their coats or if it is to do with their size (Shiba is also an old word for little). 

In Japan, Shiba Inu are described using three words: kaani-i which means spirited boldness, ryosei, the word for good nature, and soboku which translates as alertness. We may not know the true origins of its name, but the words used to describe this breed are very fitting. 

4. They may remind you of a cat

The Shiba Inu is known for sometimes behaving more like a cat than a dog. They are not only agile like a cat, moving quickly and gracefully, but they can be quite independent, free-thinking and stubborn at times, which may make them difficult to train. However, you’ll be glad to know they like to keep themselves clean and will spend a lot of their time grooming their coats and licking their paws like cats. So this makes them the ideal pet for people who love both cats and dogs!

5. They almost went extinct

The breed almost died out during World War II, as they were being killed in bombing raids, and following the war, due to an outbreak of distemper, a canine viral infection. Fortunately, breeding programs helped keep the Shiba Inu going. Before the war, there were three kinds of Shiba: Mino, Sanin, Shinshu – all named after the regions they came from. Today there is only one kind and, while the Shiba Inu is most similar to the Shinshu, they share traits from all three of these.

Shiba Inu facts

(Image credit: Getty Images)

6. They are fiercely loyal

Although they may not be particularly affectionate or love to cuddle, Shiba Inus are very loyal companions. They love their owners and will do anything to protect them, which makes them great guard dogs, but they do not warm to strangers. 

The best example of this loyal breed is Mari, a rescue Shiba Inu from Yamakoshi. In 2004 an earthquake hit the area, causing buildings to collapse. She moved her three puppies to safety before returning to find her elderly owner trapped under a cabinet. She alerted rescue workers who helped save the family.

7. They’re drama queens

Shiba Inus are sometimes nicknamed the drama queens of the dog world because of their unique vocalizations. While they are usually pretty quiet dogs, and therefore suitable for apartment living, when they are upset, they will let out a sharp, quick howl so you may want to take care not to upset them. They’re not fans of baths or nail cutting and are absolutely not shy in letting you know about their displeasure!

8. They’re great escape artists

This breed is quite energetic and loves to explore. They not only need space to roam but also daily exercise. The reason for this is if they don’t get it, they’ll go looking for adventure and might try to escape, which they’re notorious for doing. As well as making sure they get enough exercise and go on enough walks so they don’t feel the need to run away, you’ll want to build a safe fence and get your pet microchipped. 

9. They won’t want to share their toys

Shiba Inus are very possessive dogs so if you’ve got people or other dogs visiting you may want to put away their toys. They won’t want to share anything with anyone, no matter how friendly they are. However, they still love to play and make great family dogs as they’re very intelligent. As long as you socialize them correctly when they’re young, they will be devoted friends to your kids. They may not warm to other dogs, however. 

10. Their coats are soft like teddy bears

The Shiba Inu isn’t a breed that loves cuddles and be stroked, which is a shame as they have an incredibly soft coat. It was adapted over hundreds of years to be able to withstand the cold and it’s soft like a teddy bear. While they do shed heavily twice a year, fortunately, they won’t need a lot of grooming. Their coats come in a variety of colors including red, black and tan, sesame and cream. 

Untamed heart

According to a study by National Geographic, the Shiba Inu is the closest breed to the wolf genetically, followed by the Chow Chow in second and the Akita in third.  Although they do not share many wolf-like qualities apart from their looks, they do have a calm dignity about them. If you’re happy to let the Shiba Inu do what it wants, this is one breed that will tame your heart. 

Zara Gaspar

Former editor of World of Animals magazine, Zara is a freelance writer with a passion for wildlife. Born in South Africa, she developed a love of animals from an early age. She is currently looking for a bigger house just so she can get a cat and a dog.