Shiba Inu

Emily A. Fassbaugh, DVM
Written by:
Published: August 23, 2022
Shiba Inu

The Shiba Inu is an ancient dog breed that originated in Japan and was used for hunting. They have a pointed muzzle and upright ears and can best be described as looking like foxes. They were bred to hunt on mountain trails in Japan, so they are built to navigate uneven territory easily.

They are small and compact, typically weighing less than 30 pounds. They have a double coat, meaning there is a soft undercoat, and a stiff outercoat of guard hairs that can be up to 2 inches long. Their tail is curled, with thick hair, and is held upright over the body.

Caring for a Shiba Inu

Shiba Inus can be very friendly dogs, but they can also be stubborn and opinionated—which means they are quite vocal, especially if they are feeling stressed or anxious. Anyone who has a  Shiba Inu can tell you about the “Shiba scream.” The breed is generally athletic and agile, very muscular and strong, and runs and jumps well.

They are high-energy and very intelligent, so they also require lots of mental stimulation and exercise. Their high energy and alertness also mean that they can be predisposed to anxiety or anxious behavior without proper exercise.

This breed can also be very stubborn and get frustrated easily. During these moments, they are known to become mouthy and bite to show their frustration or displeasure. As a result, this breed is not a great match for a family with young children or babies.

Their double coat means that they shed quite a bit, and they need regular grooming to maintain a healthy coat.

The Shiba Inu breed is generally healthy, but can commonly have luxating patellas and hip dysplasia, which predisposes them to arthritis.

Shiba Inu Health Issues

Shiba Inus are overall a very healthy breed, but there are a few issues to be on the lookout for.

Skin and/or Ear Allergies

They can be predisposed to skin and ear allergies, resulting in infections.

Regular bathing and ear cleaning can help to control and prevent some skin and ear infections. There are also medications to help control allergies, which can be prescribed by your veterinarian.

Patella Luxation

Shiba Inus are predisposed to developing patella luxation. This a condition in which the kneecaps (patellas) are unstable and move out of the normal position.

Patella luxation can cause pain, limping, and eventually arthritis in some dogs, while other dogs are asymptomatic.

Patella luxation can be diagnosed by a veterinarian with a physical exam. Any dog diagnosed with patella luxation should be put on a joint supplement to slow the development of arthritis.

Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease

Like many other small breed dogs, Shiba Inus are predisposed to developing gingivitis and periodontal disease. It is important to brush their teeth every day with an enzymatic toothpaste; it is best to start brushing while they are still puppies so they get accustomed to it.

It is also important to have their teeth professionally cleaned and assessed under anesthesia by your veterinarian once a year.

Shiba Inus can sometimes be aggressive chewers with toys; avoid giving your Shiba Inu hard toys and bones to chew, as they can break their teeth.

Anxiety

Because of their high energy and intelligence, Shiba Inu dogs can have anxiety. This can appear as pacing, barking or whining, destructive behaviors, or even aggression when they are in situations that create anxiety.

An early sign of anxiety is simply hyperalertness, where you dog can’t settle down and is constantly looking and listening and just doesn’t seem relaxed.

Common anxiety triggers can be separation from the owner, new people or pets, going to a new place, and loud or new noises; the situation can vary between dogs. Learning what your dog’s triggers are can help you to avoid them if possible.

Adequate exercise and mental stimulation with walks, training exercises, and play can help to tire out your dog’s brain and body, so they feel calm. For intelligent dogs like Shiba Inus, the use of puzzle toys can help. There are also pheromone diffusers and calming treats that you can purchase over the counter to help your anxious dog relax. 

Some dogs do require medications or specific behavior modification training regimens to help, which can be prescribed by your veterinarian. If you are concerned that your dog has anxiety, speak to your veterinarian to help formulate a plan to best help them. 

What to Feed a Shiba Inu

As Shiba Inus are a smaller breed, feeding a dog food formulated for small breeds can be beneficial.  Choose an Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)-approved diet because that means it is certified to have the standard ingredients and nutritional components for a balanced diet.

A diet designed with glucosamine for joint support and increased fatty acids for skin support is ideal for Shiba Inus. Talk with your veterinarian to find out which food would be the best match for their needs.

How to Feed a Shiba Inu

A Shiba Inu can be fed dry or canned food. Ideally, they should be fed twice daily.

These dogs can tend to be grazers; if you have multiple dogs, make sure they are not allowed to eat more than their portion. Electronic feeders—like the ones that use your pet’s microchip—can be helpful for ensuring that each dog only has access to their own kibble.

Be cautious of overfeeding.

How Much Should You Feed a Shiba Inu

Always reference the food bag (or the company website) and talk with your veterinarian when trying to determine the amount to feed.

For dry food, this is typically 1 to 1.5 cups of food or less each day.

Nutritional Tips for Shiba Inu

Shiba Inus are susceptible to arthritis, especially if they have patella luxation. A good quality joint supplement containing glucosamine will help to slow the development or progression of joint problems.

It is also helpful to give a fatty acid supplement, such as fish oil, to help with skin and coat health.

Behavior & Training Tips for Shiba Inu

Shiba Inu Personality and Temperament

Shiba Inus are high-energy and highly intelligent dogs. They need mental stimulation because they can become easily bored. Puzzles and games are a great option to keep a Shiba Inu entertained.  

Shiba Inus are active and curious dogs, so daily walks that allow them lots of time to sniff and explore are enjoyable. They also enjoy games with toys and food puzzles. They also can be very lazy and enjoy just spending time with their family.

They are family-oriented and typically very friendly with people they know. However, some  Shiba Inus can be standoffish with strangers.

Shiba Inu Behavior

Due to their high energy and intelligence, Shiba Inus are very alert and active dogs. This combination can make them very susceptible to anxiety.

Adequate exercise and mental stimulation can help to manage anxiety. The use of food puzzles or balls stuffed with food can provide good mental stimulation for Shiba Inus.

Shiba Inus can be very anxious at the veterinary office. They can be stubborn and often do not appreciate being restrained during veterinary procedures.

It can be beneficial to get your dog used to being handled and touched, such as playing with their mouth and their feet in a positive manner. It can also help to make ‘happy visits’ to the vet, in which the veterinary staff can give treats while petting your dog. This can make your dog less anxious there.

Shiba Inus often become very vocal when they are frustrated or upset, and they produce a high-pitched vocalization commonly called the “Shiba scream.” The Shiba scream is common to hear at the veterinary hospital.

Shiba Inus may also sometimes try to bite when they are handled by veterinary staff.

Your veterinarian may recommend medication to help relieve anxiety and sedate your dog prior to visits; this will make your dog’s visit to the veterinarian much less stressful. 

Shiba Inu Training

Shiba Inus are highly intelligent and very food-motivated, which makes them highly trainable. That said, Shiba Inus can also be very stubborn, independent, and opinionated.

If they are made to do something they do not want to do, or are not comfortable with, they can try to fight and/or bite you. They will also vocalize very loudly to signal their frustration and displeasure with a situation.

Taking your time and socializing your Shiba Inu to new sensations and experiences will help them to relax and learn.

Fun Activities for Shiba Inu

  • Scent walks

  • Scent work games

  • Fetch

  • Food puzzles and toys

Shiba Inu Grooming Guide

The Shiba Inu has fairly standard and common grooming requirements—regular baths and brushing—but they are a moderate-shedding breed, so be prepared for dealing with dog hair.

Skin Care

There are no special skin care requirements, but Shiba Inus do prefer to be clean. So brushing  their coat twice weekly and bathing them weekly is key to keeping them feeling their best.

Coat Care

Shiba Inus have a thick double coat that sheds a moderate amount. Routine grooming can help manage the shedding.

Be aware that one or twice a year, your Shiba Inu will go through a molting where they shed a large amount of their coat. A professional groomer can help manage the shedding during these times.

Eye Care

Shiba Inus have no special eye care requirements, just the regular wiping of any accumulating eye gunk.

Ear Care

If your Shiba Inu struggles with allergies, weekly ear cleanings can help to prevent inflammation in the ears. For these cleanings, you can use a special dog-safe ear cleaner or just a wet paper towel to wipe away any debris.

Be sure to dry the ears after a cleaning—moisture allows bacteria to accumulate, which can lead to an infection.

Considerations for Pet Parents

Shiba Inu dogs are very alert, intelligent, and curious. They enjoy mentally stimulating activities and games that allow them to use all their senses. They are quite active, so regular exercise is important.

However, this breed is prone to anxiety and can be very stubborn. When a Shiba Inu is feeling stressed or frustrated, they typically become very vocal—"Shiba scream”—and will fight or bite to get themselves out of the situation. As a result, this breed is not a great option for families with babies or other young children.

Shiba Inus can thrive with proper socialization and desensitization when they are puppies. This can help them feel more comfortable at the vet or grooming salon.

Shiba Inu FAQs

Is a Shiba Inu a good family dog?

Shiba Inus are very friendly and loving with some families. They can be prone to frustration when something they don’t like happens, and they can resort to biting in frustration. It is typically best to keep young children away from Shiba Inus, since the breed can have poor impulse control.

Are Shiba Inus smart dogs?

Shiba Inus are highly intelligent.

What are the drawbacks of a Shiba Inu?

While Shiba Inus are highly intelligent, alert, and active, this can predispose them to anxiety. When Shiba Inus are anxious or frustrated they can resort to biting or fighting to get away.

Shiba Inus are also commonly affected by patella luxation, a joint problem of the knees, and skin and ear infections caused by allergies. These are both conditions that are not ultimately curable but can be managed throughout their life with the help of a veterinarian.

Is a Shiba Inu a difficult dog breed?

Shiba Inus can be very stubborn dogs, prone to outbursts of vocalization, and can bite or fight if they are cornered and you try to do something they do not like. They are highly trainable but can be difficult to train if you don’t have the right reward for them.

What is the "Shiba scream?"

The Shiba scream is a high-pitched vocalization made by the Shiba Inu when they are frustrated or frightened.

What does Shiba Inu mean?

In Japanese, Shiba Inu means “brushwood dog.” While the exact origin of the name is unknown, it is theorized that the name describes the terrain that these dogs originally hunted in Japan.

What are Shiba Inus good for?

The Shiba Inu is very alert, with a high-pitched bark, so they can be good guard dogs. They are also very friendly with their family, and can make faithful companions that will enjoy games and exercise with you as much as they will enjoy relaxing with you.

Featured Image: iStock.com/chendongshan


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