Before you adopt a Shiba Inu, it is nice to know something about its history. This Japanese bred dog’s name means “little brushwood” (Shiba) “dog” (Inu). “Inu” translates to “dog” in Japan as does the word “ken.” Therefore, both these words may be used—Shiba Inu or Shiba Ken—to describe the smallest of the Japanese breeds of dogs.
A Dog from Japan’s Joman Period
A well-loved companion dog in Japan, the Shiba Inu’s history goes back thousands of years. In fact, the dog can be traced back to Japan’s Joman period, which dates all the way back to 7,000 BC. Therefore, these findings suggest that this type of dog existed during the Stone Age. The modern Shiba has been developed through careful breeding of Japanese strains.
The Chronicles of Japan
Japans’ oldest historical document, called Nihon Shoki, (The Chronicles of Japan) notates the importation of dogs from the Asian continent. The document indicates that dogs, during the time, were frequently used for hunting, and therefore named accordingly – thus, the name, “Shiba Inu.” The dog was used for hunting in the underlying brush in the mountains of Japan.
The Western Influence
At the end of Japan’s Tokugawa period, which lasted from 1603 to 1867, a variety of canines were imported from other countries outside of Japan. At this time, the trend was to respect all things western. As a result, dogs from foreign countries were considered highly valuable. This did not bode well, however, for Japanese dogs, who were gradually mixed out because of their status during this time. The situation became even more serious, especially during Japan’s Taisho period, which spanned from 1912 to 1926.
A National Monument
As a result, some Japanese dog enthusiasts at the time were prompted to protect the lovable canines. Therefore, to preserve the standing and importance of the Japanese dog, the Education Ministry in Japan gave dogs indigenous to the country the designation of national monuments. A national monument in Japan is a highly prized and valuable property. Because of this initiative, the pure blood standing of dogs, such as the Shiba Inu, is recognized today.
Japanese Dog Sizes
Dogs who originate from Japan are categorized by their size and where they were bred for use. The sizes are classified as follows:
- Akita – Large sized dogs
- Kishu and Shikoku – Medium-sized dogs
- Shiba – Small dogs
With respect to use, all these sized dogs were bred to hunt prey.
Little Brushwood Dog
The Shiba Inu represents a breed whose name comes from a Nagano prefecture dialect translation of “little brushwood dog.” It was considered the smallest ancient Japanese dog until around the third century BC. As noted, the Shiba of today has been bred through a careful mix of strains of small and medium dogs in Japan. All Shiba Inus come from the landlocked and mountainous terrains of Japan. In these areas, the dogs thrive in the cold and in natural outdoor settings.
As traditional pets, Shiba Inus in Japan were beloved family dogs who were used as companion dogs and guard dogs. They were used for hunting small game on the ground and, in some cases, helped with the hunting of boars and bears. While the Shiba Inu may be bred in one or more colors, it is best known as Aka-Inu or red dog, and loved for its reddish coat.
Today’s Shiba Inu originates from the select breeding of three primary ancient strains of Shiba Inus, or the San’in, the Mino, and Shinshu. The San’in strain comes from the Sekishu and Imba breeds, and prevailed in the Tottori and Shimane prefectures in Japan.
The San’in was larger than the standard Shiba of today, and would have been considered a medium-sized dog. The dog’s coat was mottled black, and it did not show off the white cheeks that is prized in the black-and-tan Shibas of today. San’ins were known for lacking affection, which has been passed down to today’s Shiba as independence and feistiness.
The second of the strains, the Mino Shiba, was smaller than the San’in, and featured a fiery red coat. This dog was known to have lived in the Gifu prefecture in Japan. What was notable about the Mino was its fleshy, triangular, and erect ears as well as its triangular eyes. These features are well known in today’s Shiba Inu. It also displayed a sashi-o (extended tail), as opposed to a curved tail, displayed by some Shibas.
The third of the ancient strains, the Shinshu Shiba, hailed from the Nagano prefecture and was bred from the Kimawa Shiba. This small dog was mostly red and displayed a soft and dense undercoat and bristly outer coat. The two weaknesses of the strain were the dog’s rounded eyes, versus the preferred inset triangular eyes in today’s Shiba show dogs, and its black mask.
While those who loved the Shiba worked to preserve the breed, the Shiba almost became extinct during the Second Word War. Later, during the 1950s, the breed was almost wiped out by distemper. During this time, a number of strains were interbred, which mixed the lighter-boned canines of Japan’s lowlands with heavier-boned dogs in the mountains. These characteristics give the Shiba its unique and appealing appearance nowadays.
When Shibas Became Popular in the U.S.
The first Shibas entered the U.S. in the 1950s. However, the Shiba Inu breed has only gained AKC recognition recently (in 1993). Since that time, the dog has become increasingly popular – loved in Japan and the U.S. for its headstrong and hardy demeanor.
When you learn more about the history of the Shiba Inu, you can truly see why this dog is so special from the standpoint of personality and features. Almost lost to extinction, the companion dog and pet proves to be a great addition to a single household or to a family. If you are interested in adopting a unique breed of dog, you will find that the Shiba is as interesting as its history. Knowing this information will make owning this dog both enjoyable and inspirational.