Shiba 101

Top 10 things you need to know BEFORE you decide to get a Shiba

(1) Shibas are very aloof and independent.  They are not lap dogs, they don’t follow you everywhere, they don’t particularly need you, and don’t live to please you.  They are more cat-like, than dog-like.  They love affection, but only on their terms.  They enjoy their alone time, are not “cuddlers”, and they might not want to sleep in your bed with you.  They are very hand shy and will snub strangers, dodging their hands when they attempt to pet them.  You have to earn their trust, and affection.  Once formed, they have a unique bond with their person, and are deeply devoted to them.

(2) Despite their size, Shibas are not necessarily good apartment dogs.  There are plenty of Shibas living happily in apartments, but it’s not a given that a Shiba will.  Many Shibas are sensitive to noises and can respond by being vocal, which you neighbors won’t love.  It can also cause them anxiety and stress that can manifest itself in behavioral issues. Shibas are an ancient hunting breed, so sometimes, they just HAVE to have a yard to protect and hunt in!

(3) Shibas often are not good family dogs.  Kids can simply be too much for Shibas.  Shibas are very hand-shy, skittish, and anxious dogs by nature, and the craziness that comes with having a house with kids can be stressful and/or fear provoking for them.  This kind of stress or fear can lead to aggression and other behavior problems.  One of the most common reasons that Shibas are surrendered by their owners, is that the dog didn’t adapt well to life with kids.

(4) Shibas don’t necessarily get along with other dogs.  Socializing your dog from a very young age is critical to having a “dog friendly” dog.  But even a well socialized Shiba is not necessarily going to get along with every dog they meet. They seem to like people better than dogs. Shibas demand that their personal space be respected by other dogs, and they are very particular about how they are greeted.  When a dog approaches a Shiba too abruptly, is too hyper, in their face, or relentlessly attempts to engage them, a Shiba will let them know they don’t like it.  A warning; anything from a growl, to a snarl, to a snap is given and you know it’s time to walk away before it escalates.

This is a personality trait that typically doesn’t come out until a Shiba hits maturity.  As puppies, they tend to love all dogs, and love to play.  Don’t be fooled, the true Shibaness will come out around age 2!

(5) Shibas are highly skilled escape artists and “bolters”.  They are very agile and can jump, dig under, climb, and use just about anything to launch over a fence.  They also can’t pass up an opportunity to bolt out of an open door; be it the front door, garage door, or car door.  Owning a Shiba is like running a prison; you’re always on lockdown!  A securely fenced yard and proper precautions before opening a door is a must!  You can never trust them alone outside when you’re not home or sleeping.  And by the way, they are really hard to get back once they get away from you. Their favorite game is “catch me if you can” and they never tire of it.

(6) Shibas can never be trusted off leash. Because they are an hunting breed, they have an incredibly strong prey drive. You will never be more interesting than a bunny, squirrel, etc.  IF they see one on a hike or at your campsite, they will take off and you may not find them again.  Even in the city, a Shiba focused on chasing a squirrel will run right into traffic. It’s just not safe for them to be off leash!

(7) Shibas are very difficult to train and a puppy is NOT a good idea for your first Shiba.  Raising a Shiba from a puppy is extraordinarily difficult. Having raised a lab, golden, boxer, or most other breeds, from a puppy does not really prepare you for the challenges you will face with a Shiba.  Shibas have such strong personalities, and completely lack that desire to please you that most dogs have. They simply do not do anything they don’t see value in doing.  Positive reinforcement training techniques are the only way to go with a Shiba.  Shibas will not respond to any force, punishment, shock collars, alpha rolling, physical corrections or any other aversive. Building a relationship of mutual respect with your Shiba, and getting them into training ASAP is the only way to succeed.  Adopting a mature Shiba is strongly recommended for your Shiba, as many of their most frustrating characteristics can diminish as they mature and age!

(8) Shibas need at least 45 minutes of exercise & stimulation every day.  They are high energy and highly intelligent dogs who like to work.  Daily walks, hikes & play will meet their physical needs, but mental stimulation is important too.  Stopping for sniffs on walks and letting them “lead the hunt”, running agility courses, nose work, or puzzle toys can satisfy their mental needs.  A Shiba that gets his needs met is a well behaved, happy Shiba.  Those that don’t, can be a bit naughty and get into trouble, or feel anxious.

(9) Shibas shed more than you can possibly imagine. Shibas have a dual coat. Their undercoat is what keeps them warm in the winter and makes them great cold-weather climate dogs.  They completely “blow out” that undercoat in warmer weather (about 2-4 times a year).  When they blow their coat, you have to brush them everyday.  Each day, you will get an entire dog’s worth of hair off them.  Even then, massive amounts of hair will fly off them anytime they shake, you pet them, or anywhere they lay for more than a second.  You can imagine what this means if you’re allergic to dogs….

(10) Shibas are very sensitive to their environment and don’t like too much change. Shibas are acutely aware of their environment, including everything and everyone in it, at all times.  They are constantly observing their surroundings and are highly sensitive to loud noises and changes in their environment.  They would rather not go to crowded, loud, and unfamiliar places with you.  Loud noises scare them and too much change can cause severe anxiety.  They thrive in a home that is stable and has a set routine. People who travel a lot, move often, or lack a stable or predictable lifestyle are likely to have an unhappy Shiba which may manifest itself in behavioral problems.

So… is the Shiba the right breed for you? If so, the last thing you should be aware of are the common health problems that Shibas are prone to.  Patellar luxation, environmental and food allergies, glaucoma, and Peripheral Vestibular Syndrome are the most common health problems we see in Shibas.  They are also know to have other eye disorders, cancer, and hip dysplasia.  These common issues can lead to expensive orthopedic surgeries ($2000-$5000), eye removal ($500-800), allergy testing/diagnosis ($1000) and allergy serums ($200/90 day supply).  All breeds have the potential for health problems. The life expectancy of a  Shiba is about 15 years.  There is a cost associated with even the healthiest of Shibas for spay/neuter, vaccinations, and Heartworm prevention.  And all dogs get old, and there is a cost associated with caring for them in their senior years.  Getting a Shiba is a financial commitment as much as an emotional one. Know that there are pet insurance plans and access to low cost spay/neuter and preventative care available in most communities.

FYI- The chances of a Shiba having one of these issues is significantly higher if they come from a puppy mill.  Their focus is on profit vs. responsibility, so they don’t bother with the  proper genetic testing before breeding.  The Shibas people pay $1600 for in pet stores are definitely from a puppy mill!