The Shiba Inu - History and Origins

The Shiba Inu - History and Origins

Author WDF Staff


Shiba Inu is a famous Japanese dog breed and it is one of the 6 native Japanese dog breeds. It is related to the other 5 native breeds of Japan: Akita Inu, Shikoku, Hokkaido, Kishu Ken, and Kai Ken.

Shiba is the smallest of the native Japanese breeds and all of these dog breeds belong to the spitz family. It is commonly mistaken for Akita Inu or Hokkaido although Shiba is a unique dog breed with its distinctive bloodline, temperament, character, and smaller size.

Males weigh on average around 10 kg while females weigh around 8 kg. Shiba is a small dog with a huge temperament. They are also known around the world by their other names: the Japanese Shiba Inu, Japanese Small Dog, Japanese Brushwood Dog, Japanese Turf Dog, and Shiba Ken. Learn more general information about the Shiba Inu dog breed.

Shiba Inu origin of the name

The exact origin of the Shiba Inu’s name is unclear. The word Inu in Japanese means dog and that is pretty self-explanatory. The word Shiba means “brushwood” and refers to either the trees of shrub whose leaves turn red in the fall and Shiba Inu dog breed was used in those areas for hunting wild animals, or it refers to this dog’s distinctive coat color. There is also an ancient Japanese Nagano dialect where the word “Shiba” means small and may refer to the dog’s small size.

Because the word Shiba is translated to brushwood, sometimes Shiba Inu dog breed is translated to Little brushwood dog.

The temperament

Before we talk about the history of the Shiba Inu dog breed we need to say a few things about the temperament of this dog breed. By this breed standard, they should be agile, alert and have a springy movement. They are fiercely loyal yet can be independent, and they are extremely easy to groom since this dog breed prefers to be in a clean state so it cleans itself whenever they get a chance to do so.

They also have a distinctive trait called the “Shiba scream”. They produce a high pitch noise whenever they feel they are being mistreated or unhappy. They can also produce that noise in the time of extreme happiness.

shiba inu dog in snow

The History of Shiba Inu

The modern Shiba Inu is a result of centuries and centuries of selective breeding, reservations, and importation. Today's Shiba Inu was coined in Japan at the beginning of the 1920s. Its history began a lot sooner, around 9000 years ago. To this day it remains the smallest of all the native Japanese breeds. It is also the national dog of Japan and the organizations like NIPPO (Japanese Nihonken Hozonkai) to make sure that this breed is preserved in a standard they deem fit.

Original purpose

Shiba’s original purpose was to hunt small game. Evidence found from around 300 BC has depicted ancient Japanese families living with a small Shiba-like dog that had a thick coat and curled tail. Since Shibas are small and agile they were very successful hunters in the thick bush. They were mostly used for hunting rabbits, hares, foxes, and wild poultry.

From the time of Kamakura Shogunate (1190 – 1603), these dogs were used for hunting small game as well as wild boar and deer. They were samurais hunting dogs and companions.

Today this dog is mostly a companion but their hunting instinct remains strong and they like to chase interesting things they might consider as prey.

The most difficult time in Shiba Inu’s history was between the years of 1912-1926. Before that most Shibas lived in the mountainous area of the Chubu region in Japan and during the great Meiji Restoration that began in 1868, a lot of western dog breeds were imported to Japan. It was very popular to mix them with the native dogs and during those 14 years, almost no pureblood Shiba Inu remained.

Scholars and hunters started to show an increased interest in developing and preserving this noble Japanese dog breed and started to properly breed them once again. They wrote this breed's Standard and made sure that this breed survives.

Although they went to great lengths to make sure pure Shibas remain, this breed nearly went extinct in the post-World War 2 era. The main reasons for that were food shortages and the post-war depression. One additional factor that nearly brought this dog to its near extinction was widespread distemper. There was an epidemic of distemper in 1940s Japan and this is a disease that affects all sorts of animals including domestic dogs.

What remained was a wounded Shiba Inu dog breed that was relying heavily on breed enthusiasts to help preserve the original Shiba Inu.

shiba inu dog smiling

Last remaining bloodlines

Today we know that all the Shiba Inu dogs in the world are descendants of the 3 surviving bloodlines from Japan. The bloodlines that remained were the Shinshu Shiba from the Nagano Prefecture, the Mino Shiba from the modern-day Gifu Prefecture, and the San'in Shiba from Tottori and Shimane Prefectures.

These three bloodlines were carefully bred to avoid inbreeding. Although these Shibas were pureblood, they differed in appearance. The San'in Shibas were larger than the other two and were commonly black. The Mino Shibas had a sickle tail and not like the modern-day Shiba with a curled tail.

Modern-day breed

Japanese cynology started to develop in the 1920s and the three remaining bloodlines were carefully merged into one - the modern Shiba we know and love today. The first Shiba Inu Standard was written in 1934 by the NIPPO association for the preservation of the 6 national Japanese dog breeds. In 1936 this dog breed was recognized as the Natural Monument of Japan through the Cultural Properties Act. That was achieved mostly by the efforts of NIPPO.

Soon these dogs started gaining popularity in the USA. After the Allies invaded Japan in 1945, the US soldiers started noticing these dogs, and soon after, in 1959 the first Shiba was brought to the USA. An army family took their adopted Shiba with them from Japan to the States and soon this breed started gaining popularity “over the sea”.

In 1979 the first-ever litter of Shiba Inus was born in the USA and since then their popularity soared. Shiba was officially recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club in 1992 and according to them, it is the 44th most popular dog breed in the USA. To this day these dogs remain the most popular dog breed in Japan.

World Dog Finder team

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