Beau February 23rd, 2007
A little more than four years ago we brought our Shiba Inu home. I stopped by a little Japanese pet shop in Zushi, Japan one afternoon. I say little… the shop was no bigger than a small kitchen. The sales person didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak Japanese, but as I walked a short circle around the displays I saw a few small cages along the window. I think there were three dogs available… and one, a little fuzzy teddy bear, kept staring at me.
I looked away and walked around again (it didn’t take very long)… and then I peeked around the corner and that pup was still sitting quietly and staring at me! And I mean really staring… wherever I walked he followed me with an imperturbable gaze that was somewhat disquieting.
“Hmmm…” I chuckled, “Maybe he’s never seen an American before…” So I left the store then, realizing if I didn’t I would be tempted to get a closer look at this furry creature.
(This is one of my favorite pictures… taken in 2007. It shows his poise and enthusiasm for life… he is 4 years old in the picture.)
Later I mentioned my visit to the pet store at home, and that Christmas was coming up… maybe we could get a puppy and the two-year old would enjoy him? This was met with ambivalence, but we decided we would go look at him the next chance we had.
I thought I would try never to buy a dog from a pet store, but after some research I found that in Japan they consider it an honorable and proper way to find a family pet. When you consider and personally see the population density in Japan, it makes much more sense as well.
The Shiba Inu is in fact a royal dog in Japan, and a popular choice for a pet… with ancestry going back centuries. The Shiba is related to the Akita, but much smaller.
I digress… once in the store again, (yes, the dog stared intently at me again!) we asked to take a closer look at the little guy and, like many pet shop stories, it was hard to resist the little ball of fur in your arms and we decided to bring him home. The salesperson smiled and was very helpful, even if we didn’t understand each other. She pointed to the right food and gave us some toys to take home for him.
Alas, that little pup’s gaze won me over. He was adorable, fuzzy, full of energy and… oh my goodness a little tasmanian devil! We later realized a Shiba is not quite the “puppy” a little boy should have for a first dog. He was a great little dog, don’t get me wrong. But he has a single-mindedness about him that doesn’t care what anyone thinks about his interests.
Our little shiba doesn’t realize he’s barely 30 pounds… he will stare down and wrestle with the biggest dog in the pack. He considers himself the “alpha” of the family… it’s just his nature. He is fastidious and clean, chooses carefully “where” to do his business, and doesn’t grab treats or eat food with any measure of enthusiasm.
In that regard he is like a cat. You can danglethe meatiest, juciest bone or morsel, and he will slowly smell it… take it (if he wants it) in his mouth and walk slowly away… dropping it to the ground as if deciding whether the time is right. Yet he does have a fondness for seafood… perhaps his early Japanese upbringing? He’ll eat shrimp more quickly than any other food.
Does that fuzzy little dog shed? Well, it’s more like he “explodes” once or twice a year… lately he’s had a very thick coat of fur and will keep that until late spring. Then his fur will come out in huge clumps until he looks more like a skinny fox.
Is he trainable? Perhaps with a better trainer! He can sit and come… when he wants to. He loves to run, and for that reason we have a buried groundwire “pet fence” that gives him the freedom to run on almost three acres around the house. At our previous home he would get out at times and run, run, run… I would spend an hour sometimes trying to catch him!
For that reason, the Shiba needs to be inside a home, or in a fenced yard. When he first wore the electric collar on our property he tried repeatedly to push the boundaries of the fence and got a little harmless “zap” as he did so (with a vocal “yip!” as he turned quickly around). He even ran straight through a few times at first, with a little yelp, and kept running… but now he is settled here.
That pet fence isn’t working anymore. The wires are brokern, and the little shiba has settled down. Often we didn’t even put the collar on him and he would stay around the house… walking up within 10 feet of the boundary as he has learned the “invisible” limits of his domain. He has a regular collar, tag and microchip in case he gets lost. I would be more worried that someone might think he’s a fox or coyote and try to shoot him. He loves to “hunt” and chase after rabbits, moles and whatever else he finds.
Our Shiba mostly ignores the cats, and plays mercilessly with the Basset Hound, niping his tail and trying to get him to play. He doesn’t bite normally, but if scared, hurt or threatened, he will react first with his teeth and ask questions later. I think they are defensive in that regard, so I probably wouldn’t recommend the Shiba in a house with small children unless kept separately and/or watched carefully. A good Labrador Retriever as a family pet can be pulled, pushed, wrestled and hugged repeatedly, even enjoying the attention… but I think the Shiba needs more “personal space”. That’s just the way they are. But with older kids and adults they are terrific.
He does love attention and enjoys climbing in my lap and being petted, and he loves to play… the new Labrador pup would run and wrestles with him for hours if I let him. But the Shiba lets the puppy know exactly who is the boss! One of the really strange traits they have is they are sensitive about their feet. If you step on their foot, or when clipping nails get too close to the “quick” or even squeeze their foot too hard, they will let out a crying wail like you’ve never heard. Inside a house your neighbors would think a child is screaming! That’s the only time we’ve heard him make that sound… so we try to be nice to his feet!
I took this picture yesterday as the Shiba was rolling in the grass and “yowling” in a playful manner.
That’s all I know about the breed, but from personal experience they are amazing and unique animals. I would describe them as having boundless energy, rampant independence and a carefree enjoyment of the outdoors. That’s our Shiba, Kuma… and he shows all of those traits and more. If you ever get one, be ready for a dog who thinks the world revolves around him… yet who is also very lovable and wants to be part of the family!