Shiba Inus

With his bright eyes, plush coat, and boldly curling tail, the Shiba Inu is an official Japanese national treasure. In the United States, he's a small -- under 25 pounds -- companion dog with a big attitude. He's charming and affectionate, with a sense of humor about life and also about those odd verbalizations humans call "commands."

Traits, Personality and Behavior

The Shiba Inu doesn't want much. No, he wants everything, from whatever it is you're eating for dinner to all your affection. If you don't learn to set some boundaries for him when he's an irresistible teddy bear-like puppy, you're going to have problems on your hands when he grows up believing he's the center of the universe.

However cute he is, make sure you train and socialize your Shiba Inu from a young age to understand what is and isn't acceptable behavior. Make sure he understands that he can't snap, growl, or bite to protect his food or his favorite toys, and that the other household pets are friend, not foe.

Be prepared to deal with some shedding of that tawny plush coat, especially during the spring and again in the fall. A daily brushing will keep it under control the rest of the year, and beyond that, the Shiba doesn't need much in the way of grooming other than making sure his nails are trimmed and his ears are clean.

Shibas can suffer from allergies that affect the skin, however, so if you see signs of itching, redness, or hair loss, head for the vet right away.

This is a dog that is very attached to his human family and can't stand being isolated from them. Don't even think of keeping your Shiba in the backyard or garage; that bold, bright nature will be channeled into noise and destructiveness. They're also noted escape artists.

While they're active dogs that love to hike, walk, and run with their human family members, they're happy with a few romps a week once out of puppyhood.

Health Issues Common to Shiba Inus

The Shiba is a fairly health dog, but he is at risk for some genetic diseases. In the hope of controlling the genetic diseases that already affect the breed and prevent any new ones from emerging, the National Shiba Club of America, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in this country, participates in a program operated by the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC). It requires that breeders test all their breeding dogs for eye, knee and hip diseases that occur in the breed.

One of these is hip dysplasia, a genetic deformity of the hip socket that requires costly surgery to correct and often leads to arthritis later on in life. Make sure your puppy's breeder provides you with written documentation certifying his parents are free of hip dysplasia from either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania (PennHip).

The Shiba Inu is also at high risk of a problem more typically found in much smaller dogs, patellar luxation. The dog's kneecap becomes easily displaced, and while it can be very mild, and cause nothing more than an occasional hopping gait, it can be so severe that surgical correction is necessary. Make sure that your puppy's parents have OFA certification that their knees are free of patellar luxation.

Additionally, your puppy's parents should have Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) documentation obtained within the previous year. Even if the parents have been CERFed, make sure to have your puppy's eyes examined once a year by a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist, and seek veterinary care immediately at any signs of cloudiness, redness, itching or irritation of the eyes, or if the dog is squinting or pawing at them.

Allergies are also a severe problem in the breed, including flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), food allergies, and atopy (inhalant allergies, which typically cause itching). They can also suffer from some fairly serious dental problems, so make sure to have your veterinarian examine your dog's teeth every year, and establish a preventive dental care program from puppyhood on.

Any breeder who tells you these and other breed-related problems aren't a matter of concern in the breed or his lines is either dishonest or not knowledgeable -- neither of them traits you want in the breeder of your new puppy. A good breeder will be willing and able to discuss how prevalent these and other breed-related health problems, those with and those without genetic screening tests, are in her dogs' lines, and help puppy buyers make an informed decision about health risks to their dog.

To protect yourself from the expensive vet bills associated with these conditions, you'll want to purchase pet insurance for your Shiba Inu before they show symptoms or are diagnosed.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Hip Dysplasia Medium $1,500-$6,000
Patellar Luxation High $1,500-$3,000

5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Shiba Inu Puppy

It's essential to find a breeder who is a member in good standing of the National Shiba Club of America, and who has agreed to abide by its code of ethics, which specifically prohibits selling puppies through retail outlets such as pet stores.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Shibas aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. In addition, Shibas can live 10 years or longer, so an adult dog will still be a part of your family for a long time to come.

Puppy or adult, take your Shiba to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.

Shiba Inu puppies are among the cutest little creatures imaginable, which means they're far too often found being bred by irresponsible breeders and puppy mills. Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site, or that ships with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you'll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Shiba Inus

Pet insurance for Shiba Inus costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Shiba Inus are much more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance offers full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Shiba Inus are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Shiba Inu is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.