Shiba Inu: A Complete Breed Guide

With its fox-like appearance and engaging personality, the Shiba Inu stands out among ancient dog breeds.

Today, the Shiba is a well-recognized dog breed, known as the smallest of the Japanese dogs of the Spitz group. In fact, the Shiba has been declared a national treasure in Japan.

The Origins of the Shiba Inu

Shiba Inus were once used to drive out birds and hunt small game in the brush of Japan’s mountains. One of Japan’s six native breeds, the Shiba belongs to a group which includes the large Akita and the medium-sized Shikoku, Kai, Hokkaido, and Kishu. The dog is known for its upright ears and cat-like flexibility, and is considered an excellent companion dog to singles and families in Japan and the U.S.

A U.S. military family brought the first Shiba Inu into the U.S in 1954. However, the first litter of Shiba pups was not born until 1979. In 1993, the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the Shiba as a miscellaneous dog breed, changing the dog’s status in 1997 to the non-sporting group.

Read our article on Shiba Inu Breed History.

Shiba Inu Physical Characteristics

Height and Weight

On average…
• A male Shiba stands around 14.5-16.5 inches tall and weighs about 23 pounds.
• A female Shiba stands about 13.5-15.5 inches in height and weighs around 17 pounds.

A male Shiba Inu is more in height and weight than a female.

How big is a Shiba Inu compared to an average adult? 

Size comparison illustration with dimensions of the Shiba Inu dog breed compared to an average person

From a Shiba Inu puppy to a Full-Grown Shiba Inu


According to the AKC…
• The Shiba Inu ranks 44 of 196 in AKC Breed Popularity

• The Shiba Inu has a life expectancy of 13-16 years on average

That’s a long time with your Shiba! 

A Shiba Inu puppy may actually look very different from how it will look when it is full grown. The main differences are changes in the coat coloring or pattern, as well as the appearance of its face and ears. Some puppies have ears that flop down or are down-turned when they are young, but the ears eventually “stand up” to take on the distinctive Shiba Inu look. 
The coat color may darken or lighten as time goes on, especially if the Shiba Inu puppy is a Red Sesame, a mixture of black and red coloring. 
Like the puppy pictured above, Shiba puppies start off with darker coloring and lighten significantly as they grow up, much to the surprise of their owners! A good way to tell what the final coloring will be like is to take a look at the parents’ coloring. 

If you’re confused about the colors, our next section has you covered on everything about Shiba Inu colors. 

Shiba Inu Colors

Shiba Inus display coats in a cream to white color, an orange-red hue, or sesame (black-tipped hairs on a red background). You may find markings on the hind legs and forelegs and on the tip of the dog’s tail.

Official AKC Shiba Inu Colors:shiba inu, dog, 犬科
1. Red
2. Black & Tan
3. Cream
4. Red Sesame

How do each of these look?

To see how they differ, check out our picture guide on Shiba Inu colors.

The Shiba Inu Double Coat

The Shiba assumes a teddy bear look, thanks to its thick double coat. While the outer coat is stiffer, the undercoat is thick and soft. He sheds to a moderate degree all through the year, and quite prolifically twice each year.

When he does shed, the process is called blowing coat. Envision a winter snowstorm. However, this snowstorm involves your companion dog’s fur, much of which ends up on your clothes and furniture. To reduce the effect, you will need to brush your Shiba Inu twice weekly when it sheds..

Do Shiba Inus Shed?

While the Shiba Inu does not have to be groomed a lot (he takes care of his own grooming like a cat), he will still shed heavily twice a year. That is when he gets rid of his undercoat. During this time, your dog will look like he lost a good deal of weight. However, once the hair grows back, he will re-emerge as that huggable “stuffed toy” that you have come to love.

To learn about how to deal with the dreaded Shiba shedding season, read our handy guide on how to deal with Shiba fur.

A tool that is vital during the shedding season is a great brush for your Shiba. 
There are many different kinds available on the market today, and it can be a little bit confusing and overwhelming for a new owner. 

No worries; follow our suggestions on the most basic and best brushes for your Shiba Inu
It’s not always the most fancy or the most expensive!
It’s one that fits best to the Shiba fur type. 

Does it take a lot to take care of a Shiba? Yes, it does. But that’s true with any pet. If you are not willing to make the necessary time and effort to take care of a pup, then it’s not worth it to buy or adopt a dog just because “it’s so cute!” Please make sure your family is ready and prepared to deal with both the bad and the good. Because although there are responsibilities to take care of as dog owners, there’s so much more good — love and joy — to share with your new Shiba Inu. 

If you are ready to bring one home, check out our Shiba Inu rehoming process

Shiba Inu Personality & Temperament

Your dog’s temperament will be based on training, socialization, and its heredity. A Shiba puppy with a nice temperament will display curiosity and a willingness to approach others or be held.

To make sure you choose the right Shiba Inu puppy, select a pup that is middle-of-the-road – not an overly aggressive pup nor the timid dog that hides when it is approached. It is always a good idea to ask about the puppy’s parents to get a better idea of what to expect as your dog gets older.

To make sure your Shiba Inu puppy becomes well-rounded, expose it, during puppy socialization training, to various experiences, sounds, sights, and people. Make sure his social skills are polished at a young age so he can be a joy to own as a companion dog.

Shiba Inu Tendencies

The adaptable Shiba can live in a home or an apartment, as it adapts well to being on its own. It is a highly sensitive dog, so keep this in mind when issuing dog commands to your new companion dog. Its double coat regulates its body temperature, so the Shiba can adjust to both cold and warm temperatures. It loves family life, as long as it feels included.

To keep your Shiba puppy healthy, make sure you fix it raw dog food recipes, which will lengthen its life and add to its quality of living. You want to give your Shiba well-balanced raw dog food recipes, as the dog has a tendency to gain weight. If you want to maintain its weight during its life, this is important.

Also, the dog has a tendency to roam, so make sure it is placed in a large fenced yard, if possible. Make sure to keep it on a leash and use a harness when you walk it. It may seem tempting to let your dog walk next to you without a harness or a leash, but it is dangerous to let the dog go freely where it can get into dangerous streets, be attacked by other dogs, or suddenly bolt away from you if it gets distracted.

Spirited, Good-natured, and Alert

This dog is quite energetic and playful, so you cannot be a couch potato if you make the Shiba your companion dog and pet. The Japanese describe the dog’s personality in three basic words – spirited, good-natured, and alert.

Because the Shiba is so independent, puppy training or dog obedience training may be difficult at first. You need to work at getting your Shiba socialized early, so it has a better chance at getting along with dogs and people. Because of its independence and strong will, the Shiba does not like to be told what to do. Therefore, you need to show an extreme amount of patience when you are honing your dog obedience training skills.

While the Shiba is highly intelligent, he does have a mind of his own. That is why you have to make him think that any dog commands are his idea. If you are a novice, or have not owned a dog before, you should work with a trainer who understands the unique personality of this willful companion dog.

Shiba Inu Possessiveness: “This is Mine!”

One thing you will notice about the Shiba is its possessiveness. It will guard its territory, toys, or food. By proper socialization, you can neutralize this trait. Just make sure you put up any food or toys when other dogs visit your house, as your Shiba may become quarrelsome.

Even though the Shiba tends to be possessive, he still makes a fine family pet, as he is totally devoted to the people in his household. If you make a Shiba Inu your companion dog, you have not just adopted a new family pet; you are acquiring a new family member and a new way of life.

Communicating with Your Shiba

One thing unique about this dog is its vocalization. While the Shiba does not bark, it does emit whining sounds and uses high-pitched vocalizations to get your attention or to communicate. Therefore, you won’t have to worry about a barking dog although your Shiba will still make itself heard.

Do Shibas Train Well?

While the Shiba must be leashed or placed in a fenced yard for its safety, the dog does not like the idea at all. Therefore, leash training can be difficult, although it is necessary. Dog obedience training that involves other dogs is recommended for puppy training, as it also socializes your Shiba Inu dog.

One thing that is easy for the Shiba Inu puppy to master is puppy potty training. Once he knows where he has to do his business, he will continue to go to the same spot each day. The dog is fastidious about cleanliness, so housebreaking is relatively easy.

Shiba Inu: Maintenance

Maintaining Your Dog’s Weight

Ask you butcher to mince some meat and bone. Also, keep your dog’s weight in check by measuring its food and feeding it twice a day.

Don’t leave food out all the time in his bowl. If he is a fast eater and devours everything. in his sight, use a puzzle bowl (also called slow feeder bowls) to slow down his eating time.

To check his weight, place your hands along the ribcage. You should be able to feel the ribs without seeing them. If you cannot feel the ribs, you need to give him more exercise and reduce his food intake.

Again, you can keep your companion dog healthier by feeding him raw dog food recipes in the form of lean beef, chicken, or turkey, combined with organ meats, such as kidneys, and some fruits and vegetables. There are also organic dog food brands nowadays that purport to be healthier for your Shiba. Watch out though, as organic dog food tends to be high in both calories and nutrients for your Shiba since it is composed of whole food ingredients. 

One good way to make sure that your Shiba isn’t getting too weighty is to be very purposeful about the snacks that you give. Only use snacks as training tools, not just giving them random. 

See our list of favorite dog treats for our Shiba Inus. 


While the Shiba does indeed shed, it does not give off a doggy odor. Brush your dog once a week when it is not shedding its undercoat to remove dead hair and distribute the oils in his coat.

Give your dog a bath only occasionally, as doing so too often will dry out his fur and skin. Baths should be scheduled every two to four months.

Do not bath your dog too much as the fur might become dry.

Brushing the Teeth and Trimming the Nails

Brush your Shiba’s teeth at least twice a week and trim its nails once a month. If you hear your dog’s nails clicking on your linoleum, they need to be trimmed. Because the toenails contain blood vessels, you don’t want to cut the nails too short, as it can hurt your dog and lead to bleeding.

If you are not sure about how to trim the nails properly, get advice from your vet or go to a professional groomer.

Check your dog’s ears once a week for a bad odor or redness, both which may indicate an infection. To clean the ears, wipe them with a cotton ball that has been dipped in a pH balanced ear cleanser. Never insert anything into the inner canal. Just take care of the outer ear.

A Shiba Inu is a great dog to own. Once you know more about its unique temperament and traits, you can get more involved in your dog’s care and enjoy bonding with your companion dog and pet.

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