The Shiba Inu

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.)

The Shiba Inu

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.

Playful Shiba Inu

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!

17 Responses to “The Shiba Inu”

  1. I have a Shiba Inu named Kuma too! He is every bit what you described! I don’t think I can ever have another dog breed now because I’m so stuck on Shibas! But you’re so right – they need a lot of training as they can be pretty bossy lol. Thank you for sharing this – what a great post, and wonderful pictures!

  2. Hi Mari! That is too funny that you have a Shiba named Kuma also. We thought he looked like a teddy bear, and looked it up… it came out something like “kuma no noiguri” but I probably spelled it wrong. He sure did look like a little fuzzy bear… is that why you named him Kuma also? Thanks for your comments!

  3. Yep, our Kuma looked like a fuzzy little bear too. (Of course we have tons of pics of him on our website lol). There are one or two other Shibas named Kuma on dogster I think. Have you started one yet? Our’s is here: https://www.dogster.com/dogs/202137. We haven’t updated in ages and ages – though we’ve taken about a bazillion pictures of him lol. We originally named Kuma “Aka Kuma” for “red bear” but the “aka” didn’t stick. BTW, there are several Yahoo groups about Shiba’s that you may want to look into – they’re loads of fun!

  4. […] the barn, ripping out grass by the rootfuls!  With visions of eroding hillsides in mind, I called our little hunter, the foxy looking japanese Shiba, and ran around toward the barn hoping he could chase the geese into the water.  The geese knew […]

  5. […] a picture of the shiba when he was a puppy…    A few years ago I described how he adopted me from a little Japanese pet store in 2002.   We call him Kuma, which is short for Kuma no […]

  6. Karsyn

    I have two Shibas, male and female, and they are nearly identical to waht you described. Being a first time dog owner I did not realize the enormity of the task that I was taking on! My babies are neer allowed off leash because the female has tried just about everyway possible to escape their pen. So until we figure out a solution they will have to stick to our daily walks and weekend hikes. Would you recommend your ‘pet fence’ to any Shiba caretaker? I do not know much about underground fences but I am almost to afraid to try one for the fear of my duo ignoring this boundry. I did not realize that these ‘foxes’ did not wished for their feet to be touched when I first clipped Rusty’s (the male’s) nails. I though for sure I had cut to far, but I saw no blood. I have practice this skill many times over again on my relatives dogs (because no one seems to enjoy this task and I seem to be the easy ‘go-to-gal’). You can imagine how confused I had been when my little guy started wailing. Daisy (the female) came running to see if I had killed her friend! I thought having two dominant dogs would pose as a challenge, but the two rarely scuffle, unless pig ears or popcorn is present. Daisy is the alpha of our pack, poor Punkin, our Cairn Terrier Mix is the Omega.

  7. Karsyn- Thanks for your wonderful comment. So true about what we were getting into! The “pet fence” I installed work very well for quite a while. However he did learn to “charge” through it at times. Then he would wander back and lay down outside the “fence.” It’s so hard to say based on yard size, etc.

    That is too funny about the nails and feet! They are something… Our Kuma is 8 years now, and still doing well although a bit chubby! But he loves to be outside… What amazing dogs though.

    Thanks again for visiting, and commenting… and best wishes with your Daisy and Rusty! :)

  8. Kerri

    I just adopted my Shiba girl today, we went to the pound to look at animals, and around the corner she laid so pretty in her little cage, she turned her little head to the side with a cute little wag of her tail. I looked at my fiancée and smiled oh so big, and said BABY look at her…Well her owners had put her, this little angel out on a chain behind there property and the landlord said either you go or the dog goes, they took her to the POUND! We are blessed to have found her, she is adorable. Very proud little thing,shes about 8 weeks old- she thinks she 10 ft tall, we named her Yoshi. I know she will be a great member of our family.

  9. Kerri- That is so wonderful… and you are very lucky to have found her! So is she of course :) I’m sure she will be so much fun, and probably a handful at times too! I hope you get a chance to “socialize” her- especially if she’s been out on a chain- maybe a class to enroll her in? I would recommend finding some younger folks or kids for her to get to know, under supervision- especially if that may be in the cards for the future! Some dogs become kid-shy if they aren’t around them very much. I’m amazed anyone would put a Shiba in the pound… Thanks for coming by and commenting!

  10. CocoBee

    Hey! I just bought my shiba boy today :) he is actualy 4 months old …his previous owner bought him in czech republic but she also has 5 yrs old german spitz and that one was very sad and even jelaous…so she sold that lil shiba to me. He is so adorable and he reminds me of lil fox :) his name is Hachi (cause of that movie Hachika: a dog story – but there was akita inu in it). i also have a 2yrs old kid and thought lil shiba will be shy but no they r actualy great 2 geter :) they were even kissing each other over and over again :) active day today so lil Aaron and lil Hachi…well they r both “coma” sleeping :)) CUTE and ADORABLE dog. i love him :)

  11. CocoBee- How cool is that?! And a great name… I loved the movie. Bigger dog, but same thing really. They are incredibly cute when so young. Ours is going on 9 years old now- hard to believe, and he’s filled out quite a bit. Meaning he’s a little chubber :) He’s a very good watchdog however. Congrats on yours and I wish you many happy years together!

  12. CocoBee

    He is so wonderful. so protective…my friend played with my son and Hachi thought she is going to hurt him or something…so he started barking and growling :) but than he saw that she is only playing with Aaron so he licked Aaron’s hands :) i love this relationship. i think they’ll be good friends. here is Hachi’s father:

    and his mummy:

    cute :)
    thank you:)

  13. CocoBee- Oh my, they are beautiful dogs! What a treat to have such a friend for your son too. It’s neat that they will grow up together… Now I need a place to show pictures with comments! :)

  14. CocoBee

    i know..,.they r wonderful :) that’s why Hachi is cute too ;) best friends i guess ;)

  15. Kat

    That top pic of him in his adventure pose–I totally thought you Photoshopped it so he was standing in the clouds. Then I realized it was snow! Great picture!

  16. Coco

    Our shiba is 3yrs old now and we love her soooo much. She is spoiled rotten,and
    demands to be rubbed all the time(even all night) and we accomidate her. She was
    easy going and loved to play with other dogs but we got a little vizsla puppy and she
    will not let another dog around. She is very protective of him. They play and run all
    day. I love this breed!!!!!!!

  17. Hi Coco! That’s wonderful… they are such awesome dogs- definitely have their way :) Thanks for the update!

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