The Shiba Inu – “The small dog with a big attitude”
When a cat owner wants to let you know his cat is truly wondrous, his voice will rise an octave, his hands will take wing, and he’ll say, “This cat follows me around just like a dog.” A dog owner, for her part, would seldom think to declare, “This dog is just like a cat; he ignores me when I call him” although more than a few dogs share this tendency with their carnivorous cousins.
The Shiba Inu, however, is one breed that legitimately evokes feline comparisons. Japan’s most popular dog, the Shiba hates to be dirty; and instead of barking he is more apt to purr, yodel or even scream like a panther – a vocalization he employs when he wants to register his objection to doing something contrary to his nature, like walking on a leash. Moreover, the shiba’s agility, surefootedness and independent spirit are qualities that call to mind the cat. So, too, does the shiba’s highly developed sense of self.
“If a Shiba could only utter one word, it would probably be mine,” “sharing is a concept he feels others should practice.” This is not to say that shiba’s don’t require love and affection, or that they don’t make wonderful family dogs. Yet it is to observe that Shiba owners have to keep these charming, catlike rascals in hand because given half a chance shiba’s will claim the catbird seat in the house for their own.
Dogs have lived in Japan at least as long as humans have. The earliest known immigrants, the Jomonjin, came ashore roughly 9,000 years ago. Sometimes referred to as the rope-pattern people because of the manner in which they decorated their earthenware, the Jomonjin left behind shell mounds in which archeologists subsequently found the oldest dog remains yet discovered in Japan. These artifacts belonged to dogs that range between 14 ½ and 19 ½ inches at the shoulder. Some observers believe the Jomonjin brought these dogs – or their direct ancestors – to Japan.
The oldest canine paw prints found in Japan were discovered at an archeological dig at Nagahama earlier this year. The seven sets of prints, believed to be 3,000 years old, were discovered near human footprints left by people who lived in the Jomon Era (10,000 to 300 B.C.). The diameter of the paw prints, nearly 1 ¾ inches, suggests they were made by a small- or medium-size dog. The location of the prints, in soil that had once been someone’s grave – together with the lack of any sign of a canine – human struggle in the area – led researchers to question the theory that dogs in the Joma Era were mostly feral and their behavior was close to the modern-day wolves. The dog(s) that left those 3,000 year old prints, said officials of the Nagahama board of education, “had been domesticated and used as either a guard or for hunting.”
Although a person would be hard put to identify the time when dogs were domesticated in Japan, researchers believe that Japanese breeds were created as a result of fraternization between the Jomonjin dogs and a group of dogs brought to Japan by immigrants who arrived in the third century B.C. the Jomonjin dogs and the new arrivals cooperated to produce the mother of all Japanese breeds: a dog with pointed, erect ears, and a curled or sickle tail. The descendents of this dog were eventually segregated into six breeds and three sizes: large (Akita), Medium (Kishu, Hokkaido, Shikoku and Kai) and small (Shiba Inu). Those differences among these dogs were a function of the district in which the breeds evolved and the uses to which they were put.
The Shiba Inu was developed in the mountains near the Sea of Japan, where the breed was used to flush birds and small game and, on occasion, to hound wild boar. The shiba’s keen sense and determination and its ability to maneuver through steep hills and mountain slopes made it a superb hunter.
The meaning of Shiba is a bone of linguistic contention. Some people say it means brushwood and that shiba’s were given their name because their fiery red coats are the color of brushwood leaves in autumn. Others lexicographers believe that Shiba means bush dog, a reference to the bush land and hilly areas in which shiba’s hunted. Still others assert that Shiba is an obsolete Japanese word meaning small. The breed’s surname, Inu, everyone agrees, means dog.
Unlike most other countries, which didn’t spare a thought for keeping track of dogs’ ancestors, Japan considered its canine breeds an integral part of the nation’s culture. Therefore, as early as the seventh century, the Yamato Court established a dog keeper’s office to preserve the records and integrity of Japanese breeds. Security was breeched at various times nonetheless, and during the latter half of the 19th century and the first decade of the present century, to cite just one period of transgression, the increased popularity of hunting resulted in the importation of English setters and pointers – and a certain amount of crossbreeding with Japanese stock.
The Shiba Inu was in peril of being hybridized beyond recognition when Hirokiosch-Saito formed a preservation society in 1930 to keep the breed from being extinct. In addition to seeking out uncompromised specimens of Shiba inus from the more remote areas of Japan, the preservation society drafted a breed standard for the Shiba as well as for its medium-size relative the Hokaido Inu and its larger cousin the Akita Inu. All three breeds were given official recognition by the Japanese Kennel Club (JKC) and also by the Federation Cynologique International in 1936.
Fending off the Wolf
Despite its official status the Shiba Inu found the wolf at its back door again in this century. During the last desperate days of World War II food was so scarce in Japan that those animals which managed to avoid starving to death were eaten. By the end of the war dogs were virtually nonexistent in urban areas. Fortunately the few shiba’s remaining in the outlying districts was relatively “purebred.” These dogs were used to populate the breeding program set up to resurrect the breed. That effort – along with most of Japan’s canine population – was decimated by raging distemper epidemic in 1959, and Japanese dog fanciers were forced to begin another period of reconstruction.
The first Shiba inus brought to the United States may have been imported by servicemen returning from tours of duty in Japan. Absent any records of previous importations, however, the first officially recorded Shiba arrived in this country in 1954 with an armed forces family. Although the shiba’s stuffed-toy appeal was undeniable, any notion of registering the breed with the American Kennel Club (AKC) came a cropper because the AKC did not honor registrations issued by the JKC. Thus Americans did not import Shiba inus with any serious thought of breeding them until the late 1970s. Finally in April 1992 the AKC added JKC to its primary list of foreign dog-registry organizations, and interest in the breed skyrocketed. In 1993, on the eve of the year of the dog in Japan, the Shiba Inu became eligible to compete in regular classes at AKC shows.
Spirited, good-natured, forthright and dignified, the Shiba Inu has an independent nature. Reserved toward strangers and capable of being aggressive with other dogs, the Shiba Inu is loyal and affectionate to those who earn his respect. This is an exceptionally clean dog and an easy one to housetrain. Shiba’s are not so easy to lead train, however; and, in the words of one owner, “a Shiba who reliably comes on command in any situation is rare indeed.” Expect your Shiba to be an on-leash (or fenced yard) breed, and if he proves otherwise, then you are among the fortunate.
Shiba’s will respect children who respect them, for a child’s safety and a shiba’s peace of mind; children must be taught that the proper way to approach a Shiba is to wait for the Shiba to approach them.
The Shiba Inu stands roughly 15 ½ inches at the shoulder and weighs between 20 and 25 pounds. Its handy size and short, easy-to-care-for coat make it an ideal apartment dog, yet its sturdiness allows it to withstand the rigors of outdoor life as well as the comfort of indoor living. The Shiba can go jogging with anyone who is so inclined or can get sufficient exercise from chasing a tennis ball around the backyard. Although a glistening red is the color most frequently associated with the Shiba Inu, the breed also occurs in sesame (black tipped hairs on a red background) and black and tan. All three colors must also display urajiro: cream to white markings on the sides of the face and cheeks, inside the ears, on the under jaw and upper throat, the inside legs, the abdomen, around the vent and the ventral side of the tail. AKC also registers the cream.
Modern breeders have combined the various types, selecting the desired qualities of small size, curled tail, triangular-set “oriental” eyes, deep red color and affection for his owner. Because of its native ability and environment, the modern Shiba enjoys the outdoors and cold weather. They have a special fascination for snow, playing and jumping in it.
Prospective owners must understand the spitz-type personality before they will truly enjoy owning one. Shiba’s are perky and sturdy making them ideal children’s playmates. If there are neither children around, nor adults they will adapt to playing with the family cat. Also a Shiba left alone is perfectly able to entertain himself for long periods. They are loving and ready for fun, but are not always underfoot when their people are busy. The Shiba has been the most popular dog in Japan for a number of years, where his size is welcome in a small country with a high population.
Shiba’s “love to live and live to love”
Shiba Inu Property Laws
1. If I like it, it’s mine
2. If it’s in my mouth, it’s mine
3. If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine
4. If I can take it from you, it’s mine
5. If it’s mine, it must never be yours
6. If it just looks like mine, it’s mine
7. If I saw it first, it’s mine
8. If you are playing with something else and put it down, it’s mine
9. If I am chewing something up, all of the pieces are mine
10. If it used to be yours, get over it.
11. If it’s broken, it’s yours.
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