The dog in my profile picture is Inari's Blame It On Kitsune-san, a five year-old Shiba Inu. Although they are becoming fairly popular, thanks in part to the current popularity of all things Japanese, most people I run into still don't know what a Shiba is. Everyone who sees him, however, becomes enamored of him. It is not an uncommon occurrence for me to be taking him for a walk and have someone stop their car in the middle of a busy road to ask me what breed he is. When I tell them, the typical reaction is, "A what now? What's that a mix of?" (Thank you, designer dog craze.)
The Shiba Inu is an ancient Japanese hunting breed. They performed the job of a sighthound, scenthound, spaniel and terrier. All in one neat little 20 pound package. It's no wonder the AKC had no idea what group to put them in when they finally recognized one of the world's oldest dog breeds in 1992. As of right now, they are considered Non-Sporting, which is a shame, as they are one of the most sporting breeds you're likely to find. In fact, mine caught a groundhog the other day. While on a leash. Take that, Dachshunds! Don't worry, I made him let it go. No harm was done.
They have quite the prey drive. Never trust a Shiba off leash. If it moves, they'll chase it. To whatever end may come. If it left a scent trail, they'll follow it, at high speed. (And when I say high speed, I mean HIGH speed.) No matter what size it is, when they finally chase or track it down, they'll want to kill it. This is a dog that was used to hunt bears. Yes, they are only 20 pounds and at the max, should be 16.5 inches at the shoulder. Size is not an issue. The bigger it is, the harder it falls thinks the Shiba. If it hurts, they do it again. Double the intensity. Their agility stat is off the charts. You have to have the reflexes of a Border Collie and the instincts of a cutting horse to get your hands on one that doesn't want to be caught.
I once read that if the Shiba could learn to utter one word of English, that word would be "mine." As it turns out, this is the Truth. Everything in the world belongs to the Shiba. He will never be convinced otherwise.
I've heard it said that Shibas are so clean, they avoid walking in puddles and mud. Mine must have missed that particular gene, because he thinks nothing at all of tromping through the gloppiest mud or trotting briskly through chest deep flood waters, but balks at the bath tub. He does spend a lot of time licking himself in the manner of a cat.
They have a double coat. They shed a lot. (Think Siberian Husky.) If you're going to get a Shiba, just do yourself a favor, bite the bullet, and buy a Furminator and a really substantial vacuum cleaner at the same time. Both are expensive, but you won't be sorry.
Shibas are VERY smart, but this intelligence does not mean they are easy to train. They were bred to work very independently of humans, and independent they are. They will not perform endless repetitions of "sit" or "down" for you. You will probably have to get creative to obedience train a Shiba Inu, because they will very creatively find ways around what you are trying to teach them, while simultaneously learning by mere observation of the cats that sitting on the kitchen counter is perfectly acceptable. (True story.)
Shibas can be dog aggressive. Kitsune does not like dogs running up to us. A friendly dog off-leash that charges us in expectation of warm welcome is in for a very rude awakening, and hopefully just a snap. And again, size is not an issue. He will take on a much larger dog with no thought of what the consequences may be. A dog that approaches calmly and with the proper respect is sure to have a better reception with the Shiba. It's important for prospective Shiba owners to realize that once there is a Shiba in the house, you need to think very long and hard on what other dogs might come after. A dog with the same dog aggressiveness and unwillingness to leave a fight, but twice the body mass, may be ultimately deadly for the Shiba. (Shibas and Akitas cannot be safely kept in the same house for this reason.) Shibas are "Death before Dishonor" personified.
They have more wolf behaviors than other breeds that have been modified more. One example: The Long Stare. This is something that wolves do that most dogs do not do. (Siberian Huskies and Malamutes are other exceptions.) The head drops very low, the body is very tense and still, and the eyes are fixed and staring. This is an aggressive posture, reserved for enemies. You've probably seen it in pictures, it makes for a very arresting photo of a wolf. It gives you goose bumps when you see your pet dog do it in front of you. Also like wolves, Shibas may not give any warning that they are about to attack if they are really serious, and the threat is a stranger. There is no growling, the hackles will not be up, there will be no showing of teeth. Just that eerie long stare, and then they go for it. If you're looking for normal dog body language, the Shiba may take you very much by surprise. Just a heads up.
A note on the Shiba Scream. Shibas scream. Just so you know. If you're a prospective Shiba owner, this is useful information. I was aware of the Shiba scream before I brought my Shiba home, but I wasn't fully aware of what the Shiba scream is. It sounds like a woman being murdered. No exaggeration. Shibas tend to scream at anything they think is unjustified impingement on Shiba Rights. This may include putting a leash on the Shiba for the first time, putting a Gentle Leader on the Shiba, or trying to clip the Shiba's nails. Knowing that it sounds like a woman being murdered and that you will be concerned that your neighbors are going to call the police and report a domestic disturbance the first time your Shiba emits a Shiba Scream, you are still unprepared for the Shiba Scream. It will make you jump. The intensity and volume are just amazing out of such a little animal.
A note on the Shiba 500. Shibas are dogs of incredible energy. Unless the Shiba is getting a two mile run every day, they will do a Shiba 500 around your house at least once a day for adult dogs, sometimes more for puppies. This is a burst of high speed running amok that can happen at any time. Sometimes it seems entirely unprovoked, other times something as innocent as a human sneeze brings it on. The Shiba will uncurl it's tail, drop it's back end, and a maniacal gleam enters their eyes as they proceed to run laps as fast as they can around your living space. A Shiba 500 lasts.. until the Shiba decides it doesn't want to run anymore. They can corner really well, but in tight quarters they will go horizontal on your walls or furniture. This is also no exaggeration. It might be a see-it-to-believe-it thing, but it's true. It's actually pretty funny as long as you have no fragile, expensive antiques or Italian leather couches.
My Shiba is a big talker. This is something I was unprepared for. Everyone mentions the Shiba Scream, but nobody tells you about the Shiba Yodel. My dog yodels in the morning when I'm coming to let him out of his cage, he yodels when I'm about to feed him, and if I say something to him, chances are, he's going to yodel back at me. I thought, since it was never mentioned in anything that I'd read, that perhaps my Shiba is just more vocal than others. But after discovering some insane man in the Netherlands who has about 10 and watching his YouTube videos, I found out.. they're all that way. The best thing about the Shiba yodel is their glorious sense of timing with it. Kitsune's yodels are often the punchline to a very funny joke, and delivered with killer precision. A well-timed Shiba yodel can have you laughing so hard you cry.
My fiancee swears that our Shiba is a Japanese chaos spirit sent here to teach him the art of patience. Kitsune thinks he's a slow learner.
I never knew my life was dull until I brought home a Shiba Inu. Now I can't imagine life without one.
For more information on the Shiba Inu, please visit these websites:
National Shiba Inu Club of America
National Shiba Inu Rescue
Shiba Sports dot com