History of the breed


Shiba inu is one of the oldest dog breeds and to get to know them better, it’s important to know their history and purpose they have been used for centuries.


Japan’s original inhabitants – Jomonjin immigrated to the country around 7,000 or 8,000 B.C.  from three different areas in Asia. Jomonjins were hunters and gatheres and dogs were highly valued as hunting companions. Archeological excavations of the shell mounds left by people of this period showed they buried their dogs in the same way as humans in shell mounds.

They had small dogs, mostly in size range of 36 to 50 cm and these may be the most remote ancestors of today’s shiba. Researchers have noted that the skull type of the smaller dogs from this era in Japan are distinctly different from those found in Europe during the same period.

Jomon dog,
Tobinodai History Park Museum

Jōmon hunt with dogs,
Tokyo National Museum

Art and literature

Art and literature from the Edo period (1603 -1868) provide a decription of the native Japanese dog. The fifth Shogun of that period, Tsunayoshi has been called the dog shogun because of his extraordinary love for dogs. He was said to have built kennels to house thousands of stray dogs. During Edo period hunting became a very popular activity of the samurai.

The breed characteristics from these sources illustrate a dog with a prick ear with a slightly forward tilt, a double coat, a level back and a high set tail. Illustrations show the dog with a ring, sickle, squirrel tail. These same illustrations provide several clues to the original function of the breed. Most show dog as a hunter, pursuing game ranging in size from bear, deer and boar to small game, such as racoon and rabbit. Other illustrations show the dog as a guard dog, a watch do, fighting dog and as companion.

Edo period,

Native dog breeds

Around eighteen century wealthy Japanese occasionally imported dogs for hunting – Mastifs, Greyhounds and Spaniels and Pointers from Europe and toy breeds from China. These dogs were bred to native Japanese breeds in the towns , while hunting dogs in the country remained relatively pure. The native Japanese dog began to recieve less consideration as new breeds of dogs were introduced from other countries. By the early twentieth century, what had once been known as the pure Japanese native dog had disappeared from all but the most remote and isolated areas of the country.

At that time a movement to preserve Japanese culture emerged, with one o the concerns being the preservation of native dog breeds.

Dr. Hirokichi Saito and a small group of friends founded a club  in 1928. for the purpose of preserving the native dog. These men did exhaustive research and traveled throughout Japan to search out and study the native dogs. Some of the best dogs were owned by Matagi hunters from mountain regions.

Because the dogs kept by hunters differed in size and colour in each region, they named them after the areas of Japan in which they have developed: Akita, Shikoku, Kishu, Hokaido and Kai. The samllest of them was called Shiba which does not refer to specific region. Shiba inu can translate as something small, small dog, other theories say it means brushwood dog – reflecting their hunting heritage. Still another theory purports shiba was named for its predominant colour , red similar to foliage in Nagano region of Japan in fall.

The Nippo Standard

Dr. Saito grouped three strains of small hunting dogs from different areas under the name shiba. Originally there were the Shinshu Shiba, the Mino shiba and the Sanin Shiba.

In 1932. Club founded by dr. Saito was named Nihon Ken Hozonkai, which means Association for the Preservation of the Japanese Dog – shorten known as NIPPO. The effort gained momentum and in 1932 the Japanes dog was deignated as national treasure of Japan – first Akita, followed by Shiba in 1936. The establishment of a standard for a Japanese native breeds was the earliest goal of the new club. A standard comitee was formed to draft a standard based on work of zoologists and breeders, ancient records and the examination of existing animals.

The Nippo Standard was established to indicate a path to follow in future breeding programs based on intrinsic characteristics of Japanese dogs.  The nature of japanese shibas can be expressed in three very important words: KAN-I, RYOSEI & SOBOKU

  • KAN-I – is defined as a boldness of spirit combined with alertness and a keeen sense of awareness. KAN-I embodies the confidence of a dog that knows her own worth.
  • RYOSEI – literal meaning of word is good – natured. The shiba should be faithful to her owner and that makes her great companion dog.
  • SOBOKU – translates to simple, natural beauty. Shiba embodies refined simplicity, an apperance without exaggeration.

On November 6, 1932, the first Nippo Show was held in Ginza, the central area of Tokyo. Out of 81 dogs entered, only 10 dogs were rated as having stock quality. Out of 10 dogs, 4 were Akitas, 2 were Hokkaidos, two were Kishus and only 1 shiba. The shiba was a red male named Tako, found in the mountainous area of Toyama Prefectrure (central Japan). Tako was the first shiba to be registrated by Nippo , and since then Nippo has maintaned registration record of over a milion and half shibas.

Mr. Mitsuharu Kanashi, a Nippo judge and one of the leaders of Nippo, concluded there are four predominant bloodlines in Japan – Hakuba no Gen – Gen, Korotama(Ichisuke), Tenkou i Matsumaru. Several decades passed since this analysis and many new bloodlines are established now, however most shibas can be traced back to these four bloodlines.

Hakuba no Gen

Ichisuke Go

Matsumaru Go

Tenkou Go

All breeds do change with infuluence of time as well as change in what is fashinable at the time, but it’s important to remember all the efforts made by Nippo pioneers to preserve this breed for future generations and keep their original characteristics. Modern shibas enjoy their lifes as  popular family pets, but don’t be deceived by their apperances, they are still the same spirited samurai dogs just like their ancestors.


  1. Atsumi, Nobuo. A Journey beyond Shiba II, www.yokohamaatsumi.the-ninja.jp (14.07.2017.)
  2. Haskett, Gretchen; Houser Susan. The Total Shiba. Loveland, Colorado: Alpine, 2003.
  3. Jeger, Rujana. Jesu li psi oduvijek bili čovjekovi pomagači u lovu. www.pasji-zivot.com ( 14.07.2017.)
  4. Payton, Laura. Shiba Inus. A complete Pet Owner’s Maual. Barron’s