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Tara Gregg, Animal Photography
Tetsu Yamzaki, Animal Photography
Tetsu Yamazaki, Animal Photography
With his bright eyes, plush coat, and boldly curling tail, the Shiba Inu is an official Japanese national treasure. In the United States, he's a small – under 25 pounds – companion dog with a big attitude. He's charming and affectionate, with a sense of humor about life and also about those odd verbalizations humans call "commands."
The Shiba is a Japanese breed, one of the oldest types of dogs native to that island nation, and the smallest. The word “Shiba” in Japanese means brushwood, like the terrain over which the dog hunted, and he is sometimes called the little brushwood dog. The word “Inu” means dog.
The Shiba is the smallest of the dogs native to Japan. He was bred to be a hunting dog in the country’s mountain regions. In his homeland, the Shiba is officially recognized as a precious natural product. And who could disagree? He can navigate rugged terrain like nobody’s business, he’s a keen watchdog, and he has a bold, spirited nature.
While they're active dogs that love to hike, walk, and run with their human family members, Shibas are happy with a few romps a week once out of puppyhood. They're noted escape artists, so provide a Shiba with a securely fenced yard and check it regularly for potential escape routes. Supervise children and workmen to make sure that gates are always latched and doors closed. The Shiba will bolt if given half a chance.
This is a dog that is very attached to his human family and can't stand being isolated from them. Don't even think of keeping your Shiba in the backyard or garage; that bold, bright nature will be channeled into noise and destructiveness.
The Shiba has existed in Japan for centuries and was originally used as a hunting dog on large game. He began to be called the Shiba in the 1920s and was declared in 1936 to be a precious natural product of Japan.
His value to the nation couldn’t save him from near-extinction during World War II, however. After the war, there were only three remaining lines of Shibas. An outbreak of distemper in 1952 threatened the breed as well. To save the dogs, a breeding program was begun that combined two different types of Shibas: one, a stocky, heavier boned dog found in mountainous areas and used for hunting and a leggier type found in other parts of Japan. Occasionally, those differences are still seen in litters today.
The breed was first imported into the United States in 1954, although no serious importation for breeding or showing was done until the late 1970s. The first litter was born in 1979. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1993. The Shiba ranks 63rd among the breeds registered by AKC.
Bold and good-natured with an unaffected forthrightness, the Shiba Inu doesn't want much. No, he wants everything, from whatever it is you're eating for dinner to all your affection. If you don't learn to set some boundaries for him when he's an irresistible teddy bear-like puppy, you're going to have problems on your hands when he grows up believing he's the center of the universe.
It’s not unusual for Shibas to think that way. Because of their independence, dignity, and reserve toward strangers, they are often described as being catlike — now there’s a creature who thinks he’s the center of the universe. With family members, though, they are affectionate and loyal.
The Shiba “yodels” when he wants your attention; for instance, if you have not provided his meal quickly enough. He is also vocal in other ways, screaming in delight when you come home from work or in horror when you do something cruel to him, like try to teach him to walk nicely on leash when he’s a puppy. This dog could give acting lessons to Al Pacino.
However cute and sweet he is, don’t neglect to train and socialize your Shiba from a young age to understand what is and isn't acceptable behavior. Make sure he understands that he can't snap, growl, or bite to protect his food or his favorite toys, and that the other household pets are friend, not foe. He can be aggressive toward dogs he doesn’t know, so early socialization to other dogs is important, too. He should not be shy or aggressive toward people.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at 8 weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Never wait until he is six months old to begin training, or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed. These experiences as a young dog will help him grow into a sensible, calm adult dog.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Shiba, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
The Shiba is pretty healthy, but genetic problems that have been seen include hip dysplasia, patellar luxation and eye problems. Allergies are also a problem in the breed, including inhalant allergies, known as atopy, that typically cause itching. So if you see signs of itching, redness, or hair loss, head for the vet right away. Periodontal disease is commonly seen as well, so establish a preventive dental care program from puppyhood on.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it can be hard to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for these defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The National Shiba Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center, a health database. Before individual Shibas can be issued a CHIC number, breeders must submit hip and knee evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and eye test results from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). University of Pennsylvania (PennHIP) and Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) certification of hips is also accepted.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines, her dogs have been "vet checked," or any of the other excuses bad breeders have for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs, walk away immediately.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Shiba at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Shiba has a double coat. The undercoat is soft and thick, the outer coat stiff and straight. The coat never needs trimming and is easy to care for, but be prepared for shedding.
Brush the coat weekly with a slicker brush to remove dead hair and distribute skin oils. Twice a year, in spring and fall, the coat sheds heavily for two to three weeks. During this time, you can expect to have piles of fur everywhere and a Shiba with a moth-eaten appearance. Don’t worry unless you see bald patches. A warm bath followed by more brushing and thorough blow drying until the dog is completely dry will help to loosen the hair and speed up the shed.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every week or two. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath. Check the ears weekly for dirt, redness or a bad odor that can indicate an infection. If the ears look dirty, wipe them out with a cotton ball dampened with a gentle, pH-balanced ear cleaner recommended by your veterinarian. Introduce your Shiba to grooming early so that he learns to accept it gracefully. This is especially important with nail trimming, which the Shiba abhors.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks. Be wary of breeders who only tell you the good things about the breed or who promote the dogs as being “good with kids” without any context as to what that means or how it comes about.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Shiba and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the National Shiba Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the NSCA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Shiba puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Shiba might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Shiba in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Shibas available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Shiba. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Shibas love all Shibas. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The National Shiba Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Shiba rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Shiba home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors, and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Shiba, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Shiba to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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