Modern history and development of the Shiba breed

author: Tibor Tóth

Dogs are considered to be probably the oldest domesticated animals in the world. The domesticated Canis lupus familiaris has been integrated into human life as a versatile aid in animal husbandry and hunting and many other tasks. His social ties with man lifted him as an irreplaceable assistant and family companion. Cohabitation with humans and their special use have led to significant changes in character and exterior in individual populations. These features ensure better adaptation to the environment and performance.

All photo:, from the left Urayasu Wakizashi of Tianito, in the middle Mami Yumi Kuro Czech Jakobín, on the right Uma Od Troch tabiel

It was no different in the Japanese archipelago. Geological and cultural isolation provided conditions for the creation of a specific type of dog. These dogs were of spitz type and their common characteristic was the fact that they were used for hunting. Over time, the Japanese population of dogs used not only for hunting but also for guarding and later as a pet animal. These changes resulted in the creation of six autochthonous Japanese breeds. Today, however, Japan has 10 breeds, but only six of them are considered natural breeds. These breeds include Shiba, which is considered a natural heritage. The breed is healthy, relatively long-live and unpretentious. The Shiba breed is Japan's smallest indigenous national breed, as well as the most popular dog in the country. 


Japan has six indigenous national breeds, whose appearance and figure is similar in many ways. The largest of these dogs is the Akita breed, named after the prefecture in northern Japan. Smaller is Kishu, which occurs in white. Another breed is Shikoku, coming from the Japanese island of the same name Shikoku. This is followed by Kai and Hokkaido (another name for Hokkaido is Ainu). The sixth breed and the smallest is Shiba. All of these breeds are of the spitz type and their common characteristic is that they have been used in the past for hunting, such as deer, wild birds, wild boar and bear. (M. Atkinson 1998)

The prehistoric era of Japan is called the Jōmon period (10,000-300 BC, more recently 14,000-900), when the Japanese islands were inhabited by the "Jōmon people". This prehistoric population was mainly engaged in hunting animals. In carrying out this activity the dog was their important helper. Archaeologists have found the remains of a dog they dated to the Jōmon period, more precisely around the 8th and 7th millennium BC. This proved that people were burying their dogs at that time. Based on the reconstruction work, archaeologists also pointed to the fact that the found dog was probably smaller stature (height at withers could be from 36.8 cm to 49.5 cm) and resembled today's Shiba. In Japan, it is still prevalent that the dog of Jōmon was a common ancestor of all six Japanese national breeds. (G. Hasket, 2003)


The Jōmon period was followed by the Jajo period (300 BC - 300 AD, more recently 900 BC - 300 AD). At that time, new groups of emigrants arrived in Japan, along with dogs of a different type. However, the culture of these emigrants was different because it is archaeologically proven that they ate their dogs. The change occurred in the 7th century AD when after the spread of the new religion - Buddhism, the murder of animals was banned. In this spirit, in 696, the Japanese Emperor Tenmu issued an edict prohibiting the eating of animals, including dogs, from the fifth to the tenth month of the year. (M. Chiba 2003)


Japan's official chronicle Nihon Shoki contains information on the use of dogs for various work. The chronicle mentions that during the reign of the Japanese Emperor Ankan (531-536), the workers of large grain stores often used the help of dogs to catch rats and mice. It follows that dogs were therefore used not only for hunting, but also for other tasks. In the following historical period (Kofun period, 300 - 650), dogs were imported several times into Japan, resulting in the genes of these imported dogs beginning to mix with the genes of dogs from the Jōmon period around the 8th century. The appearance of the Japanese dogs gradually stabilized.


This is evidenced by the fact that the paintings from the Heian (794 - 1185) and Kamakura (1185 - 1333) found drawings depicting dogs with pointed, erect ears and bushy tail, which are typical features of Japanese breeds. Over time, the Japanese population of dogs used not only for guarding and hunting, but since the Edo period (1603 - 1765) as a pet. Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (1646-1709) issued several edicts during his reign prohibiting the cruelty and murder of animals. Tsunayoshi mainly dealt with the issue of dogs, for this reason he also received the nickname "dog shogun". He also founded three large kennels for more than 100,000 dogs, but his successor withdrew his edicts and also abolished the above kennels. (M. Chiba 2003)

In the 1850s, a major change occurred in Japan when American Commodore Matthew Perry appeared in Japanese ports and the country subsequently opened its doors to foreigners. All this, however, had consequences for Japanese national dogs, because foreigners imported breeds from their countries, such as German shepherds, dachshunds, hounds and pointers, which then used in the Japanese islands for hunting. However, as a result, Japanese national breeds have fallen into the background. This eventually led to the disappearance of Japanese dogs in the early 20th century from towns and to remain only in remote and isolated parts of the country, but only in limited numbers. Fortunately, the Japanese realized the seriousness of this problem and tried to save their national breeds. (A. De Prisco 2001)


Work and effort of Dr. Hiroyoshi Saito was very important when it comes to researching Japanese dogs. At the time of his studies, the breeds in Japan have not yet been named. They were merely marked as a dog - “inu" or as a national dog "Ji.inu"'. They were also referred as a boar dog ('inoshishiinu') or a deer dog (shikainu). Dr. Saito traveled the entire Japanese islands and gave the breeds their own name, most often according to their location (such as Akita from the Akita Prefecture, etc.) However, in the case of breed Shiba, the situation was more complicated. Originally there were three groups of breed named based on their natural habitats. These were Shinshu Shiba of Nagano Prefecture, Mino Shiba of Gifu Prefecture, and the last group was Sanin Shiba of Tottori and Shimane Prefectures. Shinshu Shiba was small, red, with a dense undercoat and bristling topcoat. Her weakness, however, was the tendency to round eyes and black mask, which she inherited from another spitz breed mikawa. Mikawa also had round eyes, a black mask on her face, but she had no urajiro above her eyes. It was probably crossed with breeds imported from western countries and later also with Shiba. However, Mikawa is not considered a Japanese national breed. Mino shiba had fire-red colored hair, dark brown triangular eyes, and fairly thick ears. Sanin Shiba was a bit bigger than today's Shiba. She was most often black, but without yellow marks. Dr. Saito decided to give these three breeds a common name - Shiba. (G. Hasket, S.Houseer, 2003).


There is also so-called Jōmon Shiba, which was named after the prehistoric period. The aim of the breeders of this breed is to breed a dog that physically resembles an individual found by archaeologists from the Jōmon period. These breeders are trying to rebuild the prehistoric breed based on skeletal remains. The main difference between Jōmon Shiba and today's Shiba is that individuals of the Jōmon Shiba breed look much wilder, basically like a wild dog. To some extent, they resemble Japanese wolves from that period (Canis lupus hodophilax). Owners of these dogs want to preserve and highlight these wolf's physical characters. Jōmon Shiba was used for hunting because it had unique properties that were very beneficial for hunting. (A. De Prisco 2001).

In 1928 Dr. Saito founded the first Japanese club called Nihon Ken Hozonkai in abbreviation Nippo, which means the Association for the Preservation of Japanese Dogs. Of course, Dr. Saito became the first chairman of the Nippo club. Nippo achieved that the Japanese breeds were officially declared a natural heritage. Specifically, Shiba in 1936 became a natural heritage. Nippo also sought to develop an official standard for all its national breeds. This effort was successful and in 1934 dog standards were published.


Japanese club also managed to organize dog shows. The first national dog show in Japan took place on 6 November 1932 in Tokyo. This exhibition was very successful and was therefore regularly organized until 1942, when the World War II in Japan reduced the number of dogs. (M. Atkinson 1998). During World War II, the Shiba population in Japan almost died out.


In towns and in densely populated places, these dogs were not even present. Only in some isolated places and in mountain areas were found individuals of this breed. After the war, however, the population wanted to save their smallest national breed. They took them back to the inhabited sites and eventually they were able to preserve and increase their numbers by applying inbreeding - a relative breed. (M. Chiba 2003). A few years after the war, Japanese breeders again tried to revive their club and exhibition activities. So in 1948, a new organization called the Association of all Japanese guard dogs - AJGDA was established. The president of the association became Tanzan Ishibashi and the first exhibition was organized in 1949. AJGDA was the forerunner of today's Japanese kennel club.


When the Shiba breed was regenerated, an epidemic broke out that repeatedly decimated the Japanese national breeds. In this case, the breeders tried to increase the number of individuals, but wanted to implement the planned breeding of Shiba, especially from Mino Shiba from Nagano, Jamanashi, Gifu and Toyana prefectures, and also from Sanin Shiba. The result of these Japanese breeder’s work is today's Shiba population. (M. Chiba 2003).


In 1963, another organization was established in Japan, the Federation of Japanese Dogs, which became a member of the FCI. Several years later, the so-called The Asian kennel union was established, led by Japan. In 1976, the aforementioned AJGDA was renamed to Japanese Kennel Club and major changes were made to this organization. (A. De Prisco 2001)


Original use

Japanese dogs have excellent inborn characteristics for hunting. Their unique characteristics, such as loyalty to the owner and at the same time bravery to the quarry, are invaluable parts of hunting. Since ancient times, dogs have been a constant human partner during hunting. Over time, however, hunting has become less widespread. Later, the work of dogs in hunting was used only by professional hunters, as well as some samurai warriors. Principally, the people who made their living by hunting, especially in isolated parts of Japan, used the help of dogs.


This prevented these dogs from crossing with dogs imported from other countries. Based on the external and internal characteristics of these dogs in the thirties of the 20th century was also created the standard of Japanese breeds. The Shiba breed has beneficial properties for hunting wild birds such as pheasants, ducks and the like. In the steep mountains, Shiba was the only dog ​​they used to hunt birds. The dogs worked in the vicinity of the hunter, usually looking in front of the hunter thickets and higher grassland from which they chased the quarry and allow hunter to catch it. It is most similar to the work of the bloodhound.


Nowadays, however, this breed is no longer used for hunting and individuals do not even have the perfect skills as in the past. However, some of their characteristics are never lost, such as rapid reflex and persistence (M. Chiba, 2003)

Photo: a dog owners - puppies and adult dogs from slovak Shiba-kennels: Al-nasja, Od Troch tabiel, Rubrum Solem, Z Podpolianských lúk, Z Posvätného hája, Wakizashi of Tianito