Meet the Breed
Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed: The bold and spirited Shiba Inu will bewitch you with its beauty and catlike nature.
Kim Campbell Thornton
Many breeds are said to be of ancient origin, but the Shiba Inu’s DNA is proof that it is one of the oldest members of the dog family. A study of the genetic structure of the purebred domestic dog, published in the May 21, 2004, issue of Science magazine, identifies the Shiba as one of 14 breeds with ancient Asian and African origins, saying the dogs might be among the best living representatives of the ancestral canine gene pool.
How did the Shiba, the smallest and the oldest of Japan’s native breeds, come to be a precious natural product of the island nation (a designation it received in 1936)? No one knows exactly how or when the dogs arrived in the land of the rising sun, but one theory is that early pariah dogs that originated in Asia migrated with nomadic peoples to both Africa and the Arctic, as well as throughout Asia. The dog that was to become known as the Shiba Inu was found in remote mountainous areas of the country and was used to hunt big game, such as bear, wild boar and deer.
The name Shiba Inu has two possible meanings. Inu is the Japanese word for "dog.” Shiba might mean "small,” or it could refer to the brushwood that the dog pushed through as it hunted. In Japan, the breed is sometimes referred to as the little brushwood dog, so both theories might be correct. The dogs were formally given the name Shiba Inu in the 1920s.
Like so many breeds, the Shiba came close to extinction after World War II. Representatives from only three bloodlines survived, and all of today’s Shibas descend from those dogs.
Members of the American military became familiar with the dogs when they were stationed in Japan after the war. The first Shiba imported into the United States was brought back by a military family in 1954, but it wasn’t until the late 1970s that the first American breeding programs began. Julia Cadwell imported the sire and dam of the first American litter, born in 1979. The United Kennel Club recognized the Shiba Inu in 1992, and the American Kennel Club admitted the Shiba to the Non-Sporting Group in 1993.
The Shiba is often said to resemble a fox or a teddy bear. Although its appearance might be what attracts people to the Shiba, its personality wins them over. It has a reputation for being aloof and catlike, with an independent nature, but puppies are mischievous and charming. They grow into intelligent, quiet dogs with moderate activity levels. Before you run out and get one, remember that the Shiba has a yen for travel and adventure.
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