Don’t let them hang with the cool kids

Shassi was born on August 27, 1993. When I started showing her in 1994, I was often the only person nervously trotting back and forth in the breed ring. I have a bagful of impressively coloured ribbons, but Shassi only achieved 9 points before an unfortunate incident involving my father, an open car door, and the highway going through Cloverdale, BC marked the end of her show career.

Back in 1993, somebody casually recognizing Shassi as a Shiba was cause for throwing a mini-party. It meant that I could talk to someone who understood. Back then the only people who recognized Shibas were Shiba owners or the owners of some breeds who greatly resembled a Shiba in looks and temperament.

In 2008, “Hey, that’s a Shiba!” means that someone has a friend or a relative with one or considered one as a pet. This means that Shibas are (slowly) becoming more popular. 16 years after the Shiba Inu was recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club, they are slowly becoming mainstream. With Tierce, proper breed identification stands at about 33%. The other 67% is broken down into “What kind of dog is that?”, “Is that a Chow mix?”, and other haphazard breed guesses, with the most points going to people who at least name some variety of spitz breed. From one or two breeders on Vancouver Island, I can count at least five who are closely involved with breeding Shibas.

Popularity has its ups and its downs. On the plus side, I can now find Shiba merchandise at the local dog biscuit kiosk that also peddles breed-specific keychains, stickers, and other memorabilia. People actually recognize my dog’s breed! It’s easier to convince people of the Shiba’s unsuitability for their lives when they have a vague memory of the problems that their brother’s friend’s nephew’s sister’s dog’s best friend’s owner went through.

On the negative side, the Shiba can now be found in pet shops and bred by unscrupulous fucking idiots. The more common a breed gets, the more likely that members will fall prey to the shelter/SPCA/rescue roundabout. Being as the Shiba can be a high-strung, dominant, independent breed to start with, rehoming a mistreated/unsocialized/ill-trained one can be, at best, difficult.

A Shiba breeder of my acquaintance lamented that the Shiba people at one dog show she visited were unrelentingly negative about the breed’s traits. I was of a differing opinion. I thought then and I still do now, that emphasizing the negatives of the Shiba scares away the undedicated and prepares the tenacious of dog ownership. It also keeps this breed mildly unpopular with those who want an easy ride on the pet wagon, despite its appearance in Vodka commercials and as the evil genius (how appropriate) behind Silent Hill 2.

Unpopularity is the Shiba’s saving grace when it comes to people who are not willing to accept and address its unique philosophy that all things exist to be eaten/chewed/played with/dominated. Most owners are already addressing this by rabidly jumping on even a hint that someone wants a dog “just like yours!” with tales of valuable items destroyed and frantic chases through the streets, not to mention the unfortunate incident with the neighbour’s cat.

Keep up the good work. We don’t want the Shiba to go through what the Akita went through in the 90’s, what with being shoved into the limelight as big, unique protection dogs. The last thing we need is someone touting the Shiba as the very latest thing in wash n’ wear home alarm systems. Thank Dog they’re too big for your average handbag.


  1. It seems every time we take our Shiba out, we get quizzed by strangers.

    Maybe it’s just because Boogie is actually a good fit for our lifestyle/personality or maybe it’s because we knew exactly what we were getting into, but we think our pup is an angel.

    I can tell as we answer questions, though, that she wouldn’t be a great fit for everyone. The most common question: are they good with kids? Umm, no not so much.

  2. I agree whole-heartedly. People who want to sugar-coat the Shiba Personality are passively encouraging people who can’t handle it to own them.

    And yeah, I get the “what is that?” all the time. Although, since Seamus is still a puppy, we get “Oh, that’s a husky, right?!” a lot. To which my reply is, “No, dear. Huskies might be this small when they are born. This is a Shiba Inu.” To which the response is always a googly-eyed response and “huh?”

    My Shiba puppy is pretty good with children. But he’s well-socialized so far, too.

  3. I remember taking Nikko to a large pet supply store and had one lady proclaim “OH! you have a SHIBA!”

    i turned to her and said “You know what he is?”

    She replied “Yes. I have a friend who had one. I thought about getting one but realized that i didn’t want another child”.

    “So you DO know shibas!”

    Shibas are not a popular breed yet here in Arizona. There was a story where a couple stole a shiba from a pet store. Within two days, they were caught and the shiba was rescued. I chuckled and wondered what those two days were like for them.

    It makes me sad.. to see them at a pet store.. it makes me sad to see them come up on craigs list.

    I actually refer folks to your site to read what i consider is a realistic view on what to expect.

    I love my boy. he is my life. But not everyone should be owned by a Shiba.

    Chest scratches to Tierce and hugs to Miss Shassi.

    Nikko’s Mom

  4. Strangely enough, our Sergio doesn’t seem to have most of the ‘bad shiba’ problems. He was a rescue and whomever trained him did a wonderful job. (He speaks both Japanese and English!)
    He can even be trusted off-leash….a fact discovered in the dozens of times he slipped his collar…and came back when called. We still don’t let him off leash deliberately.
    However, that said, I stick to the ‘bad shiba’ stories – he’s the exception, not the rule!

  5. We have met both Shiba owners and Shiba wannabe owners. Cortez, at age 7, is mild mannered, polite, and approachable. He is also extremely territorial (this car is mine, that grass is mine, the woman is mine, this road is mine, this entire park is mine), and has little tolerance for other dogs except for the two or three which he has determined are “okay.” Many people tell me, both Shiba owners and non-, that they would love to have a dog like Cortez, and wish that their dog was like him. Well:

    1. Do you enforce every rule every day, because Cortez will try to break every rule that he can any time?

    2. Do you have explicit commands for expected behavior? (That dead squirrel in the road is Mine! Leave it! *whine* Leave it! and the walk continues).

    3. Do you exercise your Shiba 2+ times a day (since we live in an Urban area) and expect him to be polite when interacting on the leash? Do you obedience train with someone who understands Shiba/Spitz mentalities and use persuasion rather than aggression to train?

    4. Do you give your dog his space, and allow him to be a dog? He is not another kid- he is a dog- and he should be expected to behave like one. Yes, I probably give Cortez too many treats, but I also remember that he is a dog.

    5. Cortez is essentially nonverbal but very expressive with his wants through behavior. I have had to learn how he talks not force my way on him. However, he is also an alarm system that defies what any security company could ever create.

    I know that Shibas are becoming more popular here; I see them much more frequently. But I also know that people get them because they are cute, etc. and don’t realize that what they are getting is an assertive dog that needs to be taught manners and appropriate behavior. Cortez is not aggressive, but he could be if everyday I am not there to remind him that our job is to have fun, and to have fun, we both have to behave by the rules.

    Consistency is key with a Shiba, even when they are 7+ years old.

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