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Shiba Inu Japanese dog breed with catlike appearance

Updated on June 14, 2015

The Japanese dog breed called the Shiba Inu is a small (Males 18-25 lbs., 14 1.2 to 16 ½ inches, the female about an inch shorter,) dog with a foxlike appearance. It is a spitz type dog and related to other spitz dogs in Japan. It is a unique hunting breed, according to the The Shiba Inu is an ancient dog breed which may be descended from the Honshu wolf, known by the Japanese as Shamanu, according the book The Complete Shiba Inu by Maureen Atkinson. The Shamanu was the world’s smallest wolf, with a dog like tail which was 12 in., short dense coat, ash grey in color and white, russet and brown fringes. It stood 14 in. at the shoulder and had short legs. Some thought it more like a wild dog than a wolf.

Shamanu, according to Atkinson, was feared by the aboriginal Japanese people who called it the ‘Howling God’ because these wolves would howl for hours. Charms were displayed at the homes north of Japan to keep the wolves away. They were hunted and trapped for skins and sold to Europeans. Bounties were offered and by 1905 the Shamanu was extinct, according to Atkinson.

The Shiba Inu dog breed is an ancient breed and could be one of the oldest dog breeds. If one could go back to the third century B.C. they might see drawings and carvings portraying a Shiba –like dog. “Primitive drawings and carvings…show that a Shiba-like dog existed in the third century B.C.” Atkinson states. In the Middle Ages Japan had outside contacts, including places such as Korea, China and Holland. It had little effect on Japan’s native dog at that time. Emperor Meji extended commerce in the 19th Century to western countries resulting in cross breeding of dogs. However, the dogs that lived in the mountain areas were not subjected to the cross breeding. Before anyone ever thought of keeping written records of dog breeds, many thousands of years ago, the Shiba Inu was developing. We don’t know much about it except that it is very ancient and was developed primarily in Japan. It is a Spitz type dog like all other Japanese dogs before the 19th century.

During the period ranging from 14,000 to 35,000 years ago the domestic dog was developed. We don’t know exactly how the dog became domesticated and we do not know for certain where it happened but according to easypetmd website, studies suggest it was a singular happening. It was probably in the area or India, the Middle East or China from the smaller, wolves that were somewhat tolerant of humans found in those areas. The easypetmd website suggests that first dogs were more than likely similar to wolves in appearance and would have been very similar to the modern Dingo, a wild dog in Australia.

The native dogs started to be valued as cultural treasures after a period of modernization and the Japanese were once again looking to their own culture. In the beginning of the twentieth century research was done on the native dog. They had used the term “Inu” as a generic term which simply means “dog.” The new breeds were named for the area they originated in, except for the Shiba Inu.

Artifacts from archeology show that there were dogs nearly everyplace that humans lived. On the other hand early dogs were not suited for all climates where humans decided to settle. The dog was descended from wolves. In order for this to happen, dogs had to adapt to climates such as the cold north. There were different types of wolves during prehistoric times. Northern wolves inter bred with dogs from warmer climates. The dogs that resulted from the combining of southern dogs with northern wolves, according to easypetmd website, produced offspring with longer coats and more wolf like than the dogs they came from. This was the beginnings of the “Spitz” family of dogs. This dog type spread through Asia, North America and the northern regions of Europe.

Japan was first settled by humans about 10,000 years ago. They may have brought the Shibu Inu’s ancestors with them. Artifacts of about 7,000 B.C. show there were small dogs in Japan at the time. They belonged to the Jomonjin, also known as Rope-Pattern People. We do not know what the connection is between the small dogs that this people had and the modern Shiba Inu. However, we can be fairly certain that the Shiba Inu ancestors were there by the 3rd century B.C. At that time another group began to settle in Japan, who probably came from Asia or Korea. They probably brought their own dogs with them and were cross bred with the dogs already there. Experts dispute whether the Shiba Inu came as a result of the first or second migration. There seems to be agreement that the dog was the result of some combination of the two groups. As such the breed was in Japan for at least 2,300 years and no more than 10,000 years. Definitely one of the oldest known dog breeds. Genetic testing shows that the Shiba Inu “shares this part of its ancestry with five other closely related breeds…,” according to easypedmd. All are considered national treasures by the Japanese government. They are the Akita Inu, Hokkaido, Kai Inu, Kisha Inu, and Shikoku Inu.

For hundreds of years this breed did was not considered a separate breed. It was more like a group of related breeds. There may have been hundreds of varieties all over Japan. The name may have been used for small hunting dogs in Japan for centuries. A more local name may have been used in some places. Inu means “dog” in Japan. Sheba is the word for “brushwood.” It may be that it hunted in the brushwood or its red coat resembles the brushwood. Another theory is that in some old dialect Shiba meant small and merely meant “small dog.”

Japan was isolated until 1894 when Admiral Perry came and brought Japan into the global community. Foreign dogs were introduced to Japan. Many of the new dogs were specialized including the English Setters. Cross breeding became popular in the urban areas and the original Shiba Inu began to disappear from the urban areas. The breed still survived in rural areas. Japanese dog fanciers became concerned in the early 1900’s that the native dogs might be lost. Organized efforts were made to save the breeds. Leading up to World War II dog breeders were attempting to purify the breeds from foreign influence. In 1934 the first official Shiba Inu standard was published. During the war many of the dogs were killed by the bombing that took place. The hardships of the times halted much of the dog breeding. After the war a distemper epidemic ravaged Japan. Fanciers searched the rural areas for dogs of the breed and found enough to reestablish the breed. Out of dozens of varieties of the breed before the war only three seem to have survived World War II in numbers large enough.

At one time there were many Shiba Inu varieties but it is believed that only three survived World War II. These were the

1. Shinshu Shiba which was native to Nageano prefecture. It is the smallest of the three varieties

2. Mino Shiba which was native to the Gifu Prefecture.

3. The San’in Shiba in the Tottori and Shimane Prefectures

The Sjinshu Shiba survived in greater numbers and was most influence on the modern breed. Shiba Inu soon gained popularity in Japan and seemed to parallel the Japanese economy. They “skyrocketed together,” says theeasypetmd. Since post war Japan became the one of the most urbanized of countries, and city dwellers prefer small dogs the Shibu Inu was a natural for the situation. By the 21st Century it was the most popular bred in Japan.

United States

· A military family returning to the United States from Japan in 1954 brought the first Shiba Inu to the United States.

· Over the next 20 years more of them came the same way. American breeders and exhibitors started to take an interest.

· The first known litter was whelped in the United States in in 1979.

· In 1992 The American Kennel Club recognized them in the non-sporting group.


This dog has a primitive temperament which means it is more like the earliest dogs than most modern dogs. Some fanciers like this because the dog is more independent and cat-like but creates problems with training and aggression. They usually like the families they live with but not a lot of close contact and somewhat reserved. The will challenge authority and slow to train. They are independent and aloof of strangers. They need training to avoid aggression which comes from their aloof nature. Many are possessive of their private space. Like wolves, they are very possessive and do not like to share. They will claim things and do not like to share. One should be very careful of them around children who might inadvertently invade the dog’s space or possessions. Some feel that they should not be placed where there are children younger than six years old.

They have a high prey instinct since they were originally hunting dogs. Also, they are very intelligent and like many intelligent dogs are hard to train. They will do what they want to do not what you want them to do. They may simply refuse to learn a command or might disobey a command they know. These are traits that are present to one degree or another in most spitz family dogs.

The Shiba Inu is an ancient breed from japan. It nearly died out during World War II, but gained popularity after the War in japan and later outside of the country. Originally bred as a hunting dog in Japan it later, after World War II, became a companion dog for city dwellers. It is small and catlike. A Spitz breed of dog it shares the qualities of being intelligent, willful, stubborn and aloof.

Copyright 2012 Don Hoglund

© 2012 Don A. Hoglund


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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Natashalh, Thanks for visiting my hub on the Shiba-Inu. We also have and have had huskie dogs. presently we have a Siberian Husky. Previously we had a husky/German Shepherd mix.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      vocalcoach, They certainly are attractive dogs and may be ideal for some who want a smaller dog. Might even be a dog we should consier for ourselves. I appreciate the votes and the share,

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Peggy,

      I think they would be good dogs for someone wanting a small dog. Also, they are cute. Thanks for the votes and share.

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      I love Shiba Inus!! They are so cute. I have huskies and they kind of remind me of tiny fox huskies.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 5 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      What a stunning breed the Shiba is! I've learned so much from this hub. The video was a joy to watch and the information you have collected is so interesting. Voted up and across and delighted to share this!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Cute video showing the Shiba Inu dogs playing. They have such a sweet look on their faces. Very interesting reading about them. Up, useful, interesting, pinning and sharing.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      ivanmarginal, Thank you for commenting. Sorry you are unable to keep a pet.

    • ivanmarginal profile image

      ivanmarginal 5 years ago from Jakarta

      What a lovely dog, if only I could have one of them, lol. But it's impossible for me to keep any animal as a pet in my house. Thanks.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      midget38, thanks for visiting. I appreciate your comment, votes and sharing.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 5 years ago from Singapore

      The Shiba is indeed a beautiful breed with wonderful history which you have described so well. I share this here on HP, with votes up and away!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      TToombso, thanks for reading, voting and sharing.

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 5 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      What a beautiful bree, Dahoglund! Voted up and shared.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      lipnancy, glad you found it interesting. I appreciate the comments.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      drbj, I do not think they generally howl. I pasted a link to a "dogster" forum in which someone had one of these dogs that started howling and they are trying to figure out why. It might appeal to you. I used to have a Husky mix that would howl when a fire siren sounded. Trying to sing harmony, I guess. Thank you for commenting.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

      Thank you, Don, for your very interesting, fulsome research on the Shiba Inu dog. This is a handsome-looking dog but I wonder. Does it howl at night like its probable ancestor, the Shimanu? Just askin'.

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 5 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      These are beautiful dogs. My neighbor had one of these dogs years ago. I have not seen the breed since then. Thanks for the education.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Debbie, thanks for reading and sharing. I am glad you enjoyed the hub.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Rhonda, Thank you for your comment. I am glad to enjoyed reading about the Shiba Inu dog breed.

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 5 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      Excellent hub.. I thought I already commented but I want to say I love this hub.. these dogs are beautiful and nicely done.



    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Sis, Shib inu dogs just about disappeared during the Second world War but because of interest of breeders were brought back. They became quite popular but possibly because of the economy interest has somewhat dropped off. I think it will make a comeback. Thanks for commenting.

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 5 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      wow how interesting. not only are these dogs beautiful but they are amazing.. i love this hub.. thank you for sharing

      I am sharing


    • RhondaHumphreys1 profile image

      Rhonda Humphreys 5 years ago from Michigan

      Wonderful information on a very interesting breed. I enjoyed it very much. Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 5 years ago from Central Texas

      Wonderful read -- and I was unaware of the existence of this interesting dog -- so thanks for the heads up. Sorry to hear their number is dwindling! Thanks for sharing this one. Best/Sis

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Bobbi, I hope I was not misleading about the survival of the dogs after the World War II. The Shiba Inu made quite a comeback after the war and has been popular outside of Japan as well as in Japan.

      Thank you for the votes and sharing.

    • PurvisBobbi44 profile image

      PurvisBobbi44 5 years ago from Florida


      You did a lot of research on this one or you have a lot of knowledge about the history of this breed of dogs in Japan. It is sad about not many left after WWII.

      I really enjoyed this as I am an animal lover of all animals domestic and wild animals.

      I will be watching for more of your hubs. I put this on FB, and Tweeted it. Also voted awesome and interesting.

      Thank you for sharing,

      Bobbi Purvis

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Skarlet, Thanks for reading and commenting. We have a Husky and they have a lot in common.

    • Skarlet profile image

      Skarlet 5 years ago from California

      I love this breed because they are a lot like the Basenji. They are absolutely beautiful, smart and interesting. The only downfall for me is when the blow their coat. What a mess!


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