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Shiba Inu: A Complete Guide For New Owners - PawSafe

Shiba Inu: A Complete Guide For New Owners

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

Shiba Inu

Originally bred as hunting dogs in Japan, Shiba Inus are intelligent, alert, and very independent, making them an excellent choice for experienced dog owners. If you love the iconic look of this breed (and you love the face of the cryptocurrency Dogecoin), you may be thinking of looking for a Shiba Inu puppy for sale, but keep in mind, they have their own set of challenges.  This means that it’s vital to research this breed before adding one to your family.

To help you with this, we’ve consulted with expert sources and interviews with Liz Dunhill and Michaella Dunhill Hall of Fantasa Team Vormund to give a full overview of the temperament, care, and health of this dog breed. This way you can figure out if this is the dog breed for you.

Shiba Inu Key Points

  • Shiba Inus are small, energetic dogs known for their fox-like appearance and fluffy, curled tails.
  • Intelligent and independent, they are intelligent but require an experienced handler as they can be very difficult to train.
  • Despite their reserved nature, Shiba Inus are loyal and affectionate to their families.
  • Their high-shedding coat means they are not ideal for allergy sufferers.
  • Originally bred for hunting, these agile dogs still have a strong prey drive and love to play.

The Shiba Inu Profile: Physical and Personality Traits

Black and tan Shiba Inu smiling at the camera showing Shiba Inu Temperament

Understanding this breed also means understanding something about their history and origins. Liz and Michelle explain:

“The origins of Japan’s oldest and smallest breed, the Shiba Inu, began more than 9,000 years ago, descending from the small Honshu wolf of Japan, whose features are similar to these foxy-looking hunting dogs. Evidence shows that from as far back as 300 BC, the ancient Japanese lived with a Shiba Inu-like dog, depicted in primitive drawings chasing wild prey.

Japanese samurai used Shiba Inus for hunting deer, wild boar, and small game. These little hunters were extremely agile and quick in the bush. The modern-day Shiba Inu is the result of thousands of years of importation, selective breeding, and preservation, combining the three original lines: San’in, Mino, and Shinshu.”

Physical Appearance

Liz says, “The Shiba Inu’s appearance has been described as being unreal, like a perfect plush toy. This dog is not only small and exquisite but has fire in its belly, making it one of the most independent and courageous small dogs to ever exist.”

Shiba Inus stand out with their compact and muscular structure, typically measuring about 13.5 to 16.5 inches (34 to 42 cm) at the shoulder and weighing between 17 and 23 pounds (8 to 10.5 kg), according to the AKC breed standard.

They boast a signature double coat that requires regular grooming to maintain its soft texture and neat appearance. 

This breed comes in several colors, including red, sesame, black and tan, and cream. 

One of the most distinctive features of the Shiba Inu is its expressive face, characterized by erect ears and a curled tail, giving it a bold and spirited look.


Known for their alertness and spirited nature, Shiba Inus are lively and independent dogs that make excellent companions. Their intelligence not only makes them highly trainable but also quite curious about their surroundings. They are also alert and good watchdogs.

They are known for being particularly good with children, making them ideal family pets. However, their bold and independent demeanor means they often prefer to do things their own way. As such, early and consistent socialization is crucial to help them learn proper behaviors and interactions with other animals and people.

Liz and MIchelle say, “Despite being companion animals today, Shibas retain their innate ability and enthusiasm for catching prey. The Shiba Inu is known for its independence and can be reactive around other dogs, making early socialization crucial. They may look cute but are not the easiest of dogs to have as a pet.

The Shiba Inu is the cat of the dog family — aloof, delicate, and arrogant. The males are like samurai, and the females are like princesses. When considering a Shiba Inu, remember that this is not a toy breed or a lap dog. It’s a big dog in a small body, bred to hunt and requiring an owner who can handle its independence and occasional reactivity.”

This combination of traits makes the Shiba Inu a charming and engaging pet, well-suited to a variety of living situations, provided they receive the love, attention, and training they thrive on. They can also make some interesting mixes when mixed with other breeds like the Chihuahua.

Is The Shiba Inu A Good Pet? Pros and Cons

Shiba Inu standing on the tree acting like a squirrel; Shiba Inu pet pros and cons

Owning a Shiba Inu comes with a unique set of advantages and challenges. Their endearing personalities and adaptable nature make them delightful companions, but they also require specific care and attention to ensure they thrive. Here’s a detailed look at the pros and cons of 

Engaging Personality: Lively, spirited, and bring a lot of joy to any household.Heavy Shedding: Double coat sheds heavily, especially during seasonal changes, making them unsuitable for allergy sufferers.
Good with Children: Generally great with kids, being sturdy yet gentle.Tendency to be Stubborn: Can be independent and may resist training if not handled properly.
Excellent Watchdogs: Alert and vigilant, they are great at notifying their owners of anything unusual.High Energy Levels: Require regular exercise to manage their energy, necessitating daily walks and play.
Low Shedding: While not hypoallergenic, they shed less compared to other breeds.Needs Experienced Owners: Their independent nature can be challenging for first-time dog owners.
Adaptable to Living Spaces: Can adjust well to different living environments, including apartments.Health Issues: Prone to conditions like hip dysplasia, allergies, patellar luxation, and glaucoma, which may require special diets and care.
Intelligent and Eager to Learn: Their intelligence and eagerness to learn make them excellent candidates for training.Primitive Breed Characteristics: Their primitive breed traits make them difficult to train and manage. They can be very independent and often exhibit wild-type behaviors.
Distinctive Appearance: Known for their fox-like appearance and fluffy tails, they are aesthetically pleasing and unique.Not Hypoallergenic: Despite lower shedding, they are not hypoallergenic and may still cause issues for allergy sufferers.
Loyal Companions: Form strong bonds with their families and are very loyal.Reactive Around Other Dogs: Can be reactive around other dogs, requiring careful socialization and management.
Independent Nature: Their independence can be appealing to those who prefer a less clingy pet.Potential for Excessive Barking: May bark to alert you, out of boredom, or due to lack of socialization.
Long Lifespan: Generally have a lifespan of 12 to 15 years, allowing for many years of companionship.Escape Artists: Known for their ability to escape from yards and leashes, requiring secure fencing and vigilant supervision.
Adaptable in Exercise Needs: Can adapt to a variety of exercise routines, whether it be walks, playtime, or dog sports.Not the Best for Off-Leash: Due to their strong prey drive and independent nature, they are not always reliable off-leash.
Primitive Breed Traits: Their primitive breed traits, similar to the Canaan Dog, make them unique and fascinating pets.Destructive if Bored: Can become destructive if not given enough mental and physical stimulation.
Requires Regular Grooming: Their double coat requires regular grooming to prevent mats and tangles.
Requires Consistent Training: Need consistent and firm training to manage their independence and stubbornness.
Not Always Sociable: Can be aloof and may not always enjoy the company of strangers or other dogs.

Shiba Inu Health and Longevity

a healthy Shiba Inu standing on the grass

Shiba Inus are beloved for their spirited personality and distinctive appearance, but like all breeds, they come with specific health considerations. On average, Shiba Inus have a lifespan of about 12 to 15 years, although individual health care and genetics can affect this.

According to Dr. Alex Gough these are some of the most common issues in the Shiba Inu:s


Shiba Inus in Japan have been reported to show high levels of aggression towards other dogs and may snap at children.

A specific genetic variation (polymorphism c.471 T > C) has been linked to aggressive behavior in Shiba Inus in the USA.


This repetitive behavior is considered pathological (abnormal and unhealthy).

Shiba Inus, especially those from pet stores, are significantly more likely to exhibit tail-chasing compared to other breeds.

Musculoskeletal Conditions

Around 6.2% of Shiba Inus in the USA are affected by patellar luxation, where the kneecap dislocates.

Cancerous Conditions

Shiba Inus are vulnerable to fibromatous epulis (a type of benign oral tumor) in Japan.

Neurological Conditions

Shiba Inus are prone to Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD). This involves the discs in the spine degenerating and pressing on the spinal cord, causing pain and mobility issues.

Lysosomal Storage Disease – GM1 Gangliosidosis

This inherited disease affects Shiba Inus in Japan and is passed down as an autosomal recessive trait (both parents must carry the gene).

Symptoms start at 5-6 months old, with a survival period of 14-15 months.

Ocular Conditions

Shiba Inus are prone to glaucoma, a condition that increases pressure in the eye, potentially leading to blindness if untreated.

Physiological Conditions

  • Shiba Inus tend to have smaller litters, especially older bitches. The average litter size for Shiba Inus in Norway is 3.3 puppies, making them one of the breeds with smaller litters.

These health issues highlight some of the common and serious conditions that Shiba Inu owners should be aware of to ensure proper care and management of their pets.

Best Foods for Shiba Inus: Across Life Stages and Health Needs

Shiba Inus require a carefully balanced diet that supports their unique health needs. From puppyhood through senior years, and especially for those with specific health conditions, choosing the right food is crucial for their overall health and well-being.

Puppy Stage

Royal Canin Shiba Inu Puppy

Specially formulated for the breed, this diet supports healthy growth and development with appropriate levels of protein, and includes nutrients to help build a strong immune system.

Hill’s Science Diet Puppy Small Paws

This food provides high-quality protein for muscle growth and DHA from fish oil for brain and eye development, making it suitable for Shiba Inu puppies.

Adult Stage

Wellness Core Grain-Free Small Breed Adult

A high-protein formula that helps maintain optimal body weight and muscle mass without excessive calories which could lead to obesity.

Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Small Breed Adult

Contains LifeSource Bits, a precise blend of antioxidants and nutrients, tailored to the health needs of small breeds like Shiba Inus.

Senior Stage

Orijen Senior Dog

Provides a diet rich in fresh meats to suit the natural dietary needs of dogs, with lower calorie content to suit a slower lifestyle while maintaining muscle mass.

Nutro Ultra Small Breed Senior

Tailored nutrients with a trio of proteins from chicken, lamb, and salmon to support heart health and maintain overall vitality in senior Shiba Inus.

Daily Care and Management for Shiba Inus

Shiba Inus have a distinctive double coat that requires regular grooming to maintain both health and appearance. Here’s a guide to effective grooming:


Use a slicker brush to remove tangles and mats. Brush the coat in the direction of hair growth—whiskers toward the nose, body hair toward the tail, and tail up toward its tip. Leg furnishings should be brushed up toward the body, and chest hair down toward the feet.

Nail & Routine Care

Regularly trim nails with a sharp nail clipper to avoid overgrowth and splitting. Remember to clean eyes, ears, and teeth regularly too.


Bathe your Shiba Inu every 4-6 weeks using a dog-specific shampoo. Ensure all soap is rinsed out to prevent irritation after grooming.

Training and Behavior for Shiba Inus

Shiba Inus are known for their sharp intelligence and eagerness to learn, which makes them excellent candidates for training. They respond well to positive reinforcement techniques such as treats, praise, and play. Here are some strategies to effectively leverage their learning capabilities:

Be Consistent

Establish a routine that includes regular training sessions. Consistency in commands, tone of voice, and rules helps reinforce learning and prevents confusion.

Engaging Training Sessions

Keep training sessions short, fun, and rewarding. Shiba Inus thrive on challenges and can learn tricks, obedience commands, and agility training with enthusiasm.

Use of Rewards

Initially, use treats to teach new behaviors, but gradually replace them with verbal praise and physical affection as the dog learns to respond to your commands. This ensures that your Shiba Inu obeys even when you don’t have food.

Addressing Behavioral Challenges

Despite their many positive traits, Shiba Inus can exhibit stubbornness and excessive barking if not properly managed. Here’s how to address these challenges:

Managing Stubbornness

Ensure you establish yourself as the pack leader. Be firm and patient with commands. If stubbornness persists, consider a professional trainer to provide guidance and reinforce training techniques.

Controlling Barking

Shiba Inus may bark to alert you, out of boredom, or due to lack of socialization. To manage excessive barking, teach the “Quiet” command and reward your dog for compliance. Ensure your dog gets plenty of physical and mental exercise to reduce boredom-related barking.

Proper Socialization

Introduce your Shiba Inu to a variety of environments, people, and other animals. This can help reduce anxiety and barking at unfamiliar stimuli.

Importance of Socialization

Socialization is crucial for developing a well-adjusted Shiba Inu. Early and ongoing socialization helps prevent behavioral issues such as shyness, aggression, or fearfulness. Here’s how to ensure effective socialization:

Begin socialization as early as possible, ideally during the puppy stage when your Shiba Inu is most receptive to new experiences.

Expose your dog to different people, pets, environments, and sounds. Positive experiences with these elements will build a confident and sociable dog.

Obedience Classes

Enroll your Shiba Inu in puppy classes or obedience training where they can interact with other dogs and people while learning basic commands. This dual exposure is excellent for social skills and obedience.

Monitor Reactions

Always keep an eye on your dog’s reactions during social interactions. Encourage positive behavior with praise and retreat from overwhelming situations to prevent negative experiences.

Training and properly managing a Shiba Inu can make a significant difference in your enjoyment of your pet. These dogs not only seek to please but also to be actively involved with their family, making them a delightful, engaging companion when trained and socialized properly.

Purchasing and Adoption of Shiba Inus

Shiba Inu puppy standing on the grass very cute

When looking to purchase a Shiba Inu puppy, finding a reputable breeder is crucial. Ethical breeders are dedicated to the health and well-being of their dogs and adhere to best breeding practices. Here are some guidelines to help you find a responsible breeder:

  • Reputable breeders conduct genetic testing and health screenings on their breeding dogs to ensure they are free from inheritable conditions.
  • Visit the breeder’s facility. Puppies should be raised in a clean, nurturing environment that promotes socialization.
  • Good breeders are knowledgeable about the breed and transparent about their breeding practices. They should provide detailed information about the puppy’s medical history and the characteristics of the breed.
  • Ethical breeders will offer guidance on caring for your new puppy and be available for assistance after you take your puppy home.
  • Check for affiliations with recognized clubs and organizations.

For recommendations on ethical breeders, visit the National Shiba Club of America at NSCA.

Adoption Options

Adopting a Shiba Inu can be a rewarding alternativ-e-archive to purchasing from a breeder. Here are some advantages of adoption and resources:

  • Adoption fees are generally lower than purchasing a puppy from a breeder.
  • By adopting, you provide a home to a dog that may otherwise go without one.
  • Rescue organizations often provide behavioral assessments of their dogs, making it easier to match the right dog to the right home.
  • Most rescues offer post-adoption support and advice.

For those interested in adopting a Shiba Inu, consider visiting these resources:

  • National Shiba Inu Rescue
  • Shiba Inu Rescue Association
  • Midwest Shiba Inu Rescue
  • Shiba Inu Rescue of Florida

Cost Overview

Owning a Shiba Inu involves both initial and ongoing expenses. Here is an overview of the costs associated with owning this breed:

  • Purchasing a Shiba Inu puppy typically costs between $1,500 to $3,500 depending on the breeder’s reputation, the puppy’s lineage, and geographic location. Initial costs also include vaccinations, spaying/neutering, microchipping, and essential supplies like a crate and leash.
  • Expect ongoing costs such as food, grooming, annual check-ups, vaccinations, and flea, tick, and heartworm prevention. These can range from $500 to over $1,000 annually, depending on health status and lifestyle.

Whether choosing to buy from a reputable breeder or adopt from a rescue, owning a Shiba Inu is a commitment that comes with both financial responsibilities and immense rewards. Always consider both options to determine what best fits your situation and how you can provide a loving home to a deserving dog.


Owning a Shiba Inu offers a wonderful opportunity to add a lively, intelligent companion to your life. Whether you choose to purchase from a reputable breeder or adopt from a rescue, understanding the breed’s grooming needs, health concerns, and exercise requirements will help you provide the best care for your new pet.

By ensuring proper training, socialization, and healthcare, you can enjoy the rewarding experience of a well-adjusted and happy Shiba Inu. Remember, whether buying or adopting, the commitment to responsible pet ownership will enrich both your lives and forge a lasting bond between you and your Shiba Inu.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.