A small, agile dog that copes very well with mountainous terrain, the Shiba Inu was originally bred for hunting. It is similar in appearance to the Akita, though much smaller in stature.
Inu is the Japanese word for dog, but the "Shiba" prefix's origin are less clear. The word shiba usually refers to a type of red shrub. This leads some to believe that the Shiba was named with this in mind, either because the dogs were used to hunt in wild shrubs, or because the most common color of the Shiba Inu is a red color similar to that of the shrubs. However, in old Japanese, the word shiba also had the meaning of "small", thus this might be a reference to the dog's small size. Therefore, the Shiba Inu is sometimes translated as "Little Brushwood Dog".
Shiba Inu have double coats, with a straight outer coat and a soft, dense undercoat that is blown generally two times a year, producing a relatively large amount of fur given the size of the dog. Shedding normally occurs at the beginning or end of each season. However, between seasonal sheddings Shibas generally shed in smaller quantities and require regular brushing.
Shiba may be red, black and tan, or sesame (red with black-tipped hairs), with a cream, buff, or grey undercoat. They may also be creamy white or pinto, though this color is not allowed in the show ring as the markings known as are unable to be seen. The urajiro markings are defined as a pattern of white in contrast to the dog's primary coat color that exists on the underside of the Shiba.
From the Japanese breed standard:
The dog has a spirited boldness and is fiercely proud with a good nature and a feeling of artlessness. The Shiba is able to move quickly with nimble, elastic steps.
The terms , and have subtle interpretations that have been the subject of much commentary.
The Shiba is a fastidious breed and feels the need to maintain themselves in a clean state. They can often be seen licking their paws and legs much like a cat. They generally go out of their way to keep their coats clean, and while walking will avoid stepping in puddles, mud and dirt. Because of their fastidious nature, the Shiba puppy is easy to housebreak and in many cases will housebreak themselves. Having their owner simply place them outside after meal times and naps is generally enough to teach the Shiba the appropriate method of toileting.
A distinguishing characteristic of the breed is the so-called "shiba scream". When sufficiently provoked or unhappy, the dog will produce a loud, high pitched scream. This can occur when attempting to handle the dog in a way that it deems unacceptable. The animal may also emit a very similar sound during periods of great joy, such as the return of the owner after an extended absence, or the arrival of a favored human guest.
Originally, the Shiba Inu was bred to hunt and flush small game such as rabbits and mice. However, it is now primarily kept as a pet both in Japan and abroad.
In 1936, the Shiba Inu was declared a natural monument of Japan through the Cultural Properties Act. Despite efforts to preserve the breed, the Shiba nearly became extinct during World War II due to a combination of bombing raids and a post-war distemper epidemic. All subsequent dogs were bred from the only three surviving bloodlines, known as the San'in, Mino, and Shinshu.
In 1954, an armed service family brought the first Shiba Inu to the United States. In 1979, the first recorded litter was born in the United States. The Shiba was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1992 and added to the AKC Non-Sporting Group in 1993.