Dogs’ Past Lives and Se­crets Re­vealed

The foxy dog with plenty of moxie IN­DE­PEN­DENT, IN­TEL­LI­GENT, SAUCY


An in­ter­view with an an­i­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tor.

Com­pact and cute, with a fluffy curled tail, squinty eyes, and a fox-like ap­pear­ance, the Shiba Inu is one of Ja­pan’s na­tional trea­sures—and with good rea­son. The Shiba Inu is an an­cient breed whose ori­gins may date back as far as 7000 BC. “Mod­ern” breeds have been so mixed that their deep ge­netic his­tory is ob­scured, but the Shiba—along with 12 other breeds, in­clud­ing the Basenji, Shar-pei, Saluki, Akita, Fin­nish Spitz, and Eurasier—has been rec­og­nized as one of 13 basal or root breeds, mean­ing that their DNA is less mixed. Writ­ten records don’t ex­ist to tell us the full story, but we do know that the Shiba has been de­vel­op­ing and en­dur­ing for thou­sands of years.

By the 7th cen­tury AD, the Shiba was still evolv­ing into the dog we know to­day. Ja­pan was so for­ward-think­ing that a dog­keeper’s of­fice was es­tab­lished in this an­cient era. Na­tive breeds were reg­is­tered to pre­serve Ja­panese cul­ture, and, from these records, we know that the Shiba Inu was a hunt­ing dog, used mainly in re­mote, moun­tain­ous re­gions to lo­cate, flush, and drive small game back to hun­ters.

For many cen­turies, Ja­panese breeds were not in­di­vid­u­ally named, but were sim­ply cat­e­go­rized by size and coat colour, and the Shiba was known as the small­est breed. Over time, six dis­tinct na­tive breeds de­vel­oped, in­clud­ing the small but mighty Shiba Inu.

Healthy and hearty, the breed flour­ished for cen­turies— right up un­til World War II, an era that al­most led to the Shiba’s ex­tinc­tion.

Count­less dogs per­ished in those years. Many were vic­tims of bomb­ings; oth­ers died from the af­ter-ef­fects of war: star­va­tion and dis­ease. Pre­cious few Shibas re­mained by the end of the war, and the breed’s fu­ture was dire. In a con­certed ef­fort to re­vive the breed, Shibas were sought and found in re­mote re­gions of Ja­pan, where they had es­caped the rav­ages of war. Those dogs were bred with other sur­vivors, and the Shiba be­gan to thrive again. The Ja­panese Ken­nel Club was founded in 1948.

While an ex­tremely pop­u­lar breed in Ja­pan, he’s a rel­a­tive new­comer to North Amer­ica. The first Shiba was im­ported into the United States in 1954. Lit­tle other doc­u­men­ta­tion ex­ists per­tain­ing to North Amer­i­can breed de­vel­op­ment up un­til roughly 1979, when the first US-born lit­ter was doc­u­mented. The Shiba Inu was rec­og­nized by the Amer­i­can Ken­nel Club (AKC) in 1992.

The AKC ac­cepts the breed in red, red sesame, and blackand-tan coat colours. That glo­ri­ous dou­ble coat of his is noth­ing short of a show-stop­per. The outer coat is stiff and straight, while his un­der­coat is soft and thick. Weights range from 18-24

pounds for males and 15-20 pounds fe­males. So, good looks aside… what’s he like? The Shiba Inu is in­de­pen­dent, head­strong, and highly in­tel­li­gent. Yes, this is an oh-so-clever dog… if only he were mo­ti­vated to obey his guardians! But, he isn’t. The Shiba is not a bid­dable breed and is of­ten de­scribed as rather cat-like in na­ture.

Be­cause this breed’s per­son­al­ity can be as fiery as that red coat, so­cial­iza­tion and obe­di­ence train­ing are a must. The breed does have a rep­u­ta­tion for a ten­dency to­ward ag­gres­sion—to other dogs, over food, etc., so lots of early and on­go­ing so­cial­iza­tion are ad­vised. Pos­i­tive-re­in­force­ment train­ing is the cor­rect ap­proach, be­cause you can­not force a Shiba to do your bid­ding. Then again, why would you want to, when his in­de­pen­dence is such a large part of what makes him so very special! Only work with a trainer who un­der­stands this breed and can help you help your dog us­ing pos­i­tive and cre­ative strate­gies.

Ba­sic train­ing aside, what can you do with your Shiba? Since he’s clever, ag­ile, and quick-footed, in some ways he’s a nat­u­ral for many sport­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. Whether he’ll want to en­gage in those ac­tiv­i­ties is an­other ques­tion. Obe­di­ence, agility, track­ing, fly­ball… you can try it all with your Shiba. If he takes to the sport, odds are he’ll ex­cel at it.

This is a high-en­ergy breed—com­pact, densely-mus­cled, and ag­ile. Daily walks and play-time are a must, as is a fenced-in yard. The breed has strong hunt­ing in­stincts and gen­er­ally wants to be on the move. Keep him on-leash dur­ing walks and within safe bound­aries if roam­ing freely.

While gen­er­ally a healthy breed, the Shiba Inu can be prone to some health is­sues. If you’re buy­ing a puppy, al­ways do your re­search and work with a re­spon­si­ble breeder who can pro­vide health clear­ances on their dogs, and who is com­mit­ted to the well-be­ing and good tem­per­a­ment of their pup­pies.

Look­ing for a sim­ple, bid­dable fur-child? The Shiba isn’t for you. This breed is feisty, foxy, and full of en­ergy. In short, the Shiba is a hand­ful and can be a chal­lenge. Shar­ing your home with a Shiba Inu isn’t just a choice, it’s a way of life. Head­strong, in­de­pen­dent, and more than a lit­tle quirky… the Shiba Inu is a wild and spir­ited breed, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

There are var­i­ous the­o­ries about the name of this breed. The word “Shiba” means brush­wood in Ja­panese, and some spec­u­late that the breed was named af­ter the in­tense red colour of brush­wood leaves as they turn in the fall. Oth­ers in­ter­pret the name as a ref­er­ence to the fact that these dogs hunted in brush­wood. Ei­ther way, the Shiba Inu it is.

's ja­pan meet nal na­tio re! treasu

If you like the Shiba Inu, you might also give some con­sid­er­a­tion to the: Basenji Siberian Husky Nor­we­gian Lun­de­hund

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