Shiba 101

Top 10 things you need to know about Shibas

  1. Shibas are very aloof and independent. They are more cat-like, than dog-like. They are not lap dogs, they don’t follow you around, they don’t particularly need you, and don’t live to please you. They love affection, but only on their terms. They enjoy their alone time, need their space resepcted, and are not “cuddlers”. 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. As puppies, you may not notice this aloof independence yet, but just wait, it’s coming.  Shibas mature around age 2, and that’s when their true “Shibaness” comes out.
  2. Shibas often are not good family dogs.  Unless a Shiba is raised with kids from puppyhood, they often do not like kids. Shibas are very hand-shy and skittish, so kids, who are very handsy, rambunctious, and unpredictable freak them out. Shibas are 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 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. For this reason, it’s VERY important to socialize your Shiba to kids from the beginning, even if you don’t have kids.
  3. Shibas don’t necessarily get along with other dogs. Socializing your Shiba with other dogs (not just the other dogs in your home) 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 people), 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; a growl, snarl, snap etc. is given, and that’s your queue to walk away before it escalates. For this reason, Shibas do not necessarily enjoy dog parks. If your Shiba doesn’t enjoy the dog park; don’t go! Again, 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!
  4. 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 to them than the bunnies and squirrels you will come across on your walks.  Even the most well trained Shiba does not come when called in many situations. They also can’t resist their favorite game “catch me if you can” when off leash. Shibas are one of the breeds most commonly killed by cars for this reason. It’s just not safe for them to be off leash EVER!
  5. Shibas are highly skilled escape artists and “bolters”.  Owning a Shiba is like running a prison; you’re always on lockdown!  You will need to do regular inspections of your fence, looking for possible breaches, and repair them. Shibas should NEVER be left outside, or be given access through a dog door, when you’re not home or are sleeping at night. Never open any door to the outside before securing your Shiba first. We recommend you keep a leash at the door so that when someone comes to the door, you can attach the leash to their collar first, then open the door. If an escape happens, when you do finally get your Shiba back, DO NOT SCOLD them, only love, praise, and treats. If they are punished for coming back to you, they are not likely to ever come back to you again!
  6. Shibas must wear a harness anytime you take them out on leash. Shibas have very large necks, but small heads. This means that they can slip out of their collars VERY easily, and often do it on purpose. They are VERY difficult to catch once they get away from you, and people often loose their Shibas, never to be seen again. Attaching the leash to a harness will keep them safe, however this doesn’t mean that they should not wear a collar too. They are notorious escape artists, and bolters, so it’s not uncommon for them to escape their yard or bolt out the front door of their house. Therefore, they should have a collar with an ID tag on at all times, even if they are microchipped!  We also recommend putting a second form of ID (i.e. rabies tag) on their harness as a back up.  Our favorite type of harness is made by Rogz and is available on Amazon for less than $16.
  7. Shibas are very difficult to train  Raising a Shiba from a puppy is extraordinarily difficult, even for the most experienced dog owners. Shibas have such strong personalities, and completely lack the desire to please you. They simply do not do anything they don’t see value in doing. Positive reinforcement training techniques are the only way to be successful with a Shiba. Shibas will not respond well to being “dominated”, 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.
  8. Shibas need at least 45 minutes of exercise & stimulation every day.  They are high energy and highly intelligent dogs. Daily walks, hikes & play will meet their physical needs, but mental stimulation is important too. Letting them stop for as many sniffs as they want on walks is the easiest way to provide mental stimulation, but running agility courses, nose work, or puzzle toys are great supplements.  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, but can cause them to easily overhead in the summer.  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.  You will need to use a “deshedding” tool vs a regular dog brush.  We recommend the Furminator, or similar tool; available on Amazon.
  10. Shibas are very sensitive to their environment , are quite skittish, 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 are highly sensitive to loud or strange noises and changes in their environment. They can be quite skittish around new people and environments. They would rather not go to crowded, loud, and unfamiliar places with you. Learn to read your Shibas body language and skip the things they don’t like. 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 anxiety and behavioral problems. You may not notice this when they are puppies, as they are very social and outgoing  until they hit maturity.  

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!