The Shiba Inu is the smallest of the Nihon Ken. While originally used in the hunting of small game, the Shiba has since become a popular pet, and is the most well-known of the Nihon Ken. Recently, the Shiba has been used as pest-control by farmers, protecting crops from monkeys. The breed was recognised as a natural monument in 1936.
Unlike the other Nihon Ken, the Shiba Inu is not named for a specific area in Japan, as the breed comes from a larger region. Theories regarding the name of the Shiba suggest that it’s name may actually originate from the Japanese word for ‘brushwood’ (shiba), and that the Shiba Inu was in fact named for it’s distinctive red coat. Another theory suggests it comes from an old translation of the kanji for ‘shiba’, which is ‘small’.
The Shiba has a dense, double coat, and comes in red, black and tan, cream or sesame coats (though, dirty red or ‘Sashige’ is often mistaken for Sesame). In most Breed standards, a cream Shiba is considered a major fault, but under the The Kennel Club (UK) it is still accepted. The tail is carried either curled (maki-o) or sickle (sashi-o).
The Shiba, like all Nihon Ken, is an independent breed, and they are often described as being ‘cat like’ in personality. They are a proud breed, often showing a sense of entitlement in their personality. Despite now rarely being used for hunting, they have retained their strong prey drive and are often unreliable off-lead dogs. Although often described as stubborn, they are a loving and affectionate companion and bond tightly to their family.
FCI Breed Standard
UTILISATION: Hunting dog for birds and small animals. Companion dog.
FCI-CLASSIFICATION: Group 5 Spitz and primitive type. Section 5 Asian Spitz and related breeds.
Small-sized dog, well balanced, well boned with well developed muscles. Constitution strong. Action quick, free and beautiful.
The ratio of height at withers to length of body is 10:11.
Behaviour / Temperament:
The temperament is faithful, with keenness in sense and high alertness.
Skull: Forehead broad.
Stop: Well defined with slight furrow.
Nose: Black. Nasal bridge straight.
Muzzle: Moderately thick.
Jaws/Teeth: Teeth strong with scissor bite.
Cheeks: Well developed.
Eyes: Triangular, not too small, and dark brown in colour. The outer corners of the eyes are slightly upturned.
Ears: Relatively small, triangular, slightly inclining forward and firmly pricked.
Thick, strong, and well balanced with the head and the body.
Back: Straight and strong.
Loin: Broad and muscular.
Chest: Deep, ribs moderately sprung.
Belly: Slightly tucked up.
Set on high, thick, carried vigorously curled or curved as a sickle, the tip nearly reaching hocks when let down.
General appearance: Seen from the front, forelegs straight.
Shoulder: Shoulder blade moderately sloping.
Upper arm: Forming a moderate angle with shoulder blade. Elbow: Tight.
Metacarpus (Pastern): Slightly oblique.
Forefeet: Digits tightly closed and well arched. Pads thick and elastic. Nails hard and dark in colour desirable.
Upper thigh: Well developed.
Lower thigh: Well developed.
Hocks: Thick and tough.
Hind Feet: Digits tightly closed and well arched. Pads thick and elastic. Nails hard and dark in colour desirable.
Gait / Movement:
Light and brisk.
Hair: Outer coat harsh and straight, undercoat soft and dense; hair on tail slightly long and standing off.
Colour: Red, black and tan, sesame, black sesame, red sesame. Definition of the colour sesame:
- Sesame: Good mixture of black, red and white hairs in whole.
- Black sesame: More black than white hairs.
- Red sesame: Ground colour of hair red, mixture with black hairs.
All the above mentioned colours must have « Urajiro ». (Urajiro: Whitish coat on the sides of the muzzle and on the cheeks, on the underside of the jaw and neck, on the chest and stomach and the underside of the tail, and on the inside of the legs.)
Height at withers: Males 39.5cm. Females 36.5 cm. There is a tolerance of 1,5 cm smaller or taller.
Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog.
- Lack of sexual dimorphism.
- Slightly overshot or undershot mouth.
- Numerous teeth missing.
- Pinto colour.
- Aggressive or overly shy.
- Any dog clearly showing physical or behavioural abnormalities shall be disqualified.
- Extremely overshot or undershot mouth.
- Ears not pricked.
- Hanging tail, short tail.
- Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.
- Only functionally and clinically healthy dogs, with breed typical conformation, should be used for breeding.
NIPPO Breed Standard
The NIPPO standard for the Shiba Inu is outlined under the ‘small sized division’ of the standard for the Nihon Ken. An excellent translation of the NIPPO standard can be viewed here by E. Ishii.
The Kennel Club (UK) Breed Standard
Small, well balanced, sturdy dog of Spitz type. Very slightly longer than height at withers.
Lively and friendly.
Bright, active, keen and alert.
Head and Skull:
Head appears as a blunt triangle when viewed from above. Broad flat skull, cheeks well developed. Definite stop with slight furrow. Muzzle straight, of good depth, tapering gradually. Lips tight. Black nose preferred but flesh coloured acceptable in white dogs.
Relatively small, almond, obliquely set, well apart and dark brown.
Small, triangular, pricked and inclining slightly forward.
Jaws strong with a perfect, regular and complete scissor bite, i.e. upper teeth closely overlapping lower teeth and set square to the jaws.
Slightly arched, medium length, thick and muscular.
Shoulders moderately sloping. Elbows set close to the body. Forechest well developed. Forearms straight. Pasterns slightly sloping.
Withers high and well developed. Short loin, level back. Deep chest. Moderate spring of rib. Belly moderate tuck up.
Long upper thigh; short, strong second thigh. Hocks strong and parallel when seen from rear, turning neither in nor out. Well developed. Slight but definite bend of stifle.
Cat-like with firm, tight, well knuckled toes. Pads firm and elastic. Dark nails preferred.
Set on high. Thick and carried curled or curved as a sickle.
Light, quick and energetic.
Hard, straight outer coat with soft dense undercoat. Hair on tail slightly longer.
Red: Intense, clear red. White markings restricted to eye spots, cheeks, under jaw, forechest, underparts and underside of tail and legs. No white above elbows or hock.
Red Sesame: Red with an even overlay of black guard hairs; black to be not less than 25%, or more than 50% of normal red area. White markings in Red and Red Sesame restricted to eye spots, cheeks, under jaw, forechest, underparts, and underside of tail and legs. No white above elbows or hock. The white marking on the forechest resembling the shape of a bow-tie. Colour Eye spots in Red Sesame may be tan.
Black and Tan: Dull black with a bronze cast. Tan markings restricted to eye spots, cheeks, inside of ears, legs and tail. White markings as in Red and Red Sesame. Tan markings only occur between black and white areas.
White: White coat with red or grey tinges. White undercoat.
Height dogs 39.5 cms (15 ½ in); bitches 36.5 cms (14 ½ in) with allowance of 2cms (3/4 in) either way.
Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog and on the dog’s ability to perform its traditional work.
Note: Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.
AKC Breed Standard
The Shiba is the smallest of the Japanese native breeds of dog and was originally developed for hunting by sight and scent in the dense undergrowth of Japan’s mountainous areas. Alert and agile with keen senses, he is also an excellent watchdog and companion. His frame is compact with well-developed muscles. Males and females are distinctly different in appearance: males are masculine without coarseness, females are feminine without weakness of structure.
Size, Proportion, Substance:
Males 141⁄2 to 161⁄2 inches at withers. Females 131⁄2 to 151⁄2 inches. The preferred size is the middle of the range for each sex. Average weight at preferred size is approximately 23 pounds for males, 17 pounds for females. Males have a height to length ratio of 10 to 11, females slightly longer. Bone is moderate. Disqualification: Males over 161⁄2 inches and under 141⁄2 inches. Females over 151⁄2 inches and under 131⁄2 inches.
Expression is good natured with a strong and confident gaze. Eyes are somewhat triangular in shape, deep set, and upward slanting toward the outside base of the ear. Iris is dark brown. Eye rims are black. Ears are triangular in shape, firmly pricked and small, but in proportion to head and body size. Ears are set well apart and tilt directly forward with the slant of the back of the ear following the arch of the neck. Skull size is moderate and in proportion to the body. Forehead is broad and flat with a slight furrow. Stop is moderate. Muzzle is firm, full, and round with a stronger lower jaw projecting from full cheeks. The bridge of the muzzle is straight. Muzzle tapers slightly from stop to nose tip. Muzzle length is 40 percent of the total head length from occiput to nose tip. It is preferred that whiskers remain intact. Lips are tight and black. Nose is black. Bite is scissors, with a full complement of strong, substantial, evenly aligned teeth. Serious Fault: Five or more missing teeth is a very serious fault and must be penalized.
Disqualification: Overshot or undershot bite.
Neck, Topline and Body:
Neck is thick, sturdy, and of moderate length. Topline is straight and level to the base of the tail. Body is dry and well muscled without the appearance of sluggishness or coarseness. Forechest is well developed. Chest depth measured from the withers to the lowest point of the sternum is one-half or slightly less than the total height from withers to ground. Ribs are moderately sprung. Abdomen is firm and well tucked-up. Back is firm. Loins are strong. Tail is thick and powerful and is carried over the back in a sickle or curled position. A loose single curl or sickle tail pointing vigorously toward the neck and nearly parallel to the back is preferred. A double curl or sickle tail pointing upward is acceptable. In length the tail reaches nearly to the hock joint when extended. Tail is set high.
Shoulder blade and upper arm are moderately angulated and approximately equal in length. Elbows are set close to the body and turn neither in nor out. Forelegs and feet are moderately spaced, straight, and parallel. Pasterns are slightly inclined. Removal of front dewclaws is optional. Feet are catlike with well-arched toes fitting tightly together. Pads are thick.
The angulation of the hindquarters is moderate and in balance with the angulation of the forequarters. Hind legs are strong with a wide natural stance. The hock joint is strong, turning neither in nor out. Upper thighs are long and the second thighs short but well developed. No dewclaws. Feet as in forequarters.
Double coated with the outer coat being stiff and straight and the undercoat soft and thick. Fur is short and even on face, ears, and legs. Guard hairs stand off the body are about 11⁄2 to 2 inches in length at the withers. Tail hair is slightly longer and stands open in a brush. It is preferred that the Shiba be presented in a natural state. Trimming of the coat must be severely penalized.
Serious Fault: Long or woolly coat.
Coat color is as specified herein, with the three allowed colors given equal consideration. All colors are clear and intense. The undercoat is cream, buff or gray. Urajiro (cream to white ventral color) is required in the following areas on all coat colors: on the sides of the muzzle, on the cheeks, inside the ears, on the underjaw and upper throat inside of legs, on the abdomen, around the vent and the ventral side of the tail. On reds: commonly on the throat, forechest, and chest. On blacks and sesames: commonly as a triangular mark on both sides of the forechest. White spots above the eyes permitted on all colors but not required. Bright orange-red with urajiro lending a foxlike appearance to dogs of this color. Clear red preferred but a very slight dash of black tipping is permitted on the back and tail. Black with tan points and urajiro. Black hairs have a brownish cast, not blue. The undercoat is buff or gray. The borderline between black and tan areas is clearly defined. Tan points are located as follows: two oval spots over the eyes: on the sides of the muzzle between the black bridge of the muzzle and the white cheeks; on the outside of the forelegs from the carpus, or a little above, downward to the toes; on the outside of the hind legs down the front of the stifle broadening from hock joint to toes, but not completely eliminating black from rear of pasterns. Black penciling on toes permitted. Tan hairs may also be found on the inside of the ear and on the underside of the tail. Sesame (black-tipped hairs on a rich red background) with urajiro. Tipping is light and even on the body and head with no concentration of black in any area. Sesame areas appear at least one-half red. Sesame may end in a widow’s peak on the forehead, leaving the bridge and sides of the muzzle red. Eye spots and lower legs are also red. Clearly delineated white markings are permitted but not required on the tip of the tail and in the form of socks on the forelegs to the elbow joint, hind legs to the knee joint. A patch of blaze is permitted on the throat, forechest, or chest in addition to urajiro.
Serious fault: Cream, white, pinto, or any other color or marking not specified is a very serious fault and must be penalised.
Movement is nimble, light, and elastic. At the trot, the legs angle in towards a center line while the topline remains level and firm. forward reach and rear extension are moderate and efficient. In the show ring, the Shiba is gaited on a loose lead at a brisk trot.
A spirited boldness, a good nature, and an unaffected forthrightness, which together yield dignity and natural beauty. The Shiba has an independent nature and can be reserved toward strangers but is loyal and affectionate to those who earn his respect. At times aggressive toward other dogs, the Shiba is always under the control of his handler. Any aggression toward handler or judge or any overt shyness must be severely penalised.
The foregoing is a description of the ideal Shiba. Any deviation from the above standard is to be considered a fault and must be penalized. The severity of the fault is equal to the extent of the deviation. A harmonious balance of form, color, movement, and temperament is more critical than any one feature.
- Males over 161⁄2 and under 141⁄2 inches.
- Females over 151⁄2 and under 131⁄2 inches.
- Overshot or undershot bite.
Shiba Inu in Media
Mameshiba, a Japanese merchandise franchise created by Kim Sukwon, features beans with dog features.
Black Hayate is a Shiba Inu who appears in the manga and anime of Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
In 2013, an internet meme known as ‘Doge’ became popular. The image contains a Shiba Inu named Kabosu.
A Shiba Inu named Sasuke appears as a main character in Yoshihiro Takahashi’s Ginga Densetsu Weed. Shiba also appear in Takahashi’s other works as minor characters.
Muco is a Shiba Inu who appears as the title character of Lovely Muco.
In Fallout 4, using the ‘Transdogrifier’ from the Creation Club, Dogmeat, the canine companion, can be transformed into a Shiba Inu.
A Tale of Mari and Three Puppies is a 2007 Japanese film based on a true story featuring a Shiba Inu and her three puppies, from the 2004 Chūetsu Earthquake.