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. It is one of the few ancient dog breeds still in existence in the world today.
Inu is the Japanese word for dog, but the origin of the prefix "Shiba" is less clear. The word shiba means "brushwood" in Japanese, and refers to a type of tree or shrub whose leaves turn red in the fall. 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 an old Nagano dialect, 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".
The Shiba's frame is compact with well-developed muscles. Males and females are distinctly different in appearance: males are masculine without coarseness, females are feminine without weakness of structure. Males 14 1/2 inches to 16 1/2 inches (35–43 cm) at withers. Females 13 1/2 inches to 15 1/2 inches (33–41 cm). The preferred size is the middle of the range for each sex. Average weight at preferred size is approximately 23 pounds (10 kg) for males, 17 pounds (8 kg) for females. Bone is moderate.
Coat: Double coated with the outer coat being stiff and straight and the undercoat soft and thick. Fur is short and even on face, ears, and legs. Guard hairs stand off the body are about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in length at the withers. Tail hair is slightly longer and stands open in a brush. Shibas may be red, black and tan, or sesame (red with black-tipped hairs), with a cream, buff, or grey undercoat. They may also be cream, though this color is considered a "major fault" and should never be intentionally bred in a show dog, as the required markings known as "urajiro" (裏白) are not visible. "Urajiro" literally translates to "underside white". The urajiro (cream to white ventral color) is required in the following areas on all coat colors: on the sides of the muzzle, on the cheeks, inside the ears, on the underjaw and upper throat inside of legs, on the abdomen, around the vent and the ventral side of the tail. On reds: commonly on the throat, forechest, and chest. On blacks and sesames: commonly as a triangular mark on both sides of the forechest.
Shiba Inus are generally independent and intelligent dogs. Some owners struggle with obedience training, but as with many dogs, socialization at a young age can greatly affect temperament. Traits such as independence and intelligence are often associated with ancient dog breeds, such as the Shiba Inu. Shibas should always be on a leash, unless in a secured area, because of their strong prey drive.
From the Japanese breed standard:
A spirited boldness, a good nature, and an unaffected forthrightness, which together yield dignity and natural beauty. The Shiba has an independent nature and can be reserved toward strangers but is loyal and affec..