Bred for Loyalty: The Amazing History of the Shiba Inu

Vicki WongThe Hachi Life (Inspiration)Leave a Comment

For Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, we used Shiba Inu puppies instead of the larger Akitas to play the younger Hachi in the film. They grew so fast that we needed to use many during the shoot. My own Hachi was a Shiba Inu.

The most popular breed of dog in Japan, the Shiba Inu, was bred thousands of years to go running into bushes, flushing birds and small game for hunters. Although it wasn’t very common, these beautiful dogs were sometimes used to hunt boar in the forests of Japan.

Today, this breed is a popular pet. And an incredibly loyal one at that.

Shiba Inu dog Hachi: A Dog's Tale

       Hachi, the Shiba Inu

The History of the Shiba Inu Breed

Originally, the Shiba Inu was bred to hunt and flush small game, such as birds and rabbit. Shiba lived in the mountainous areas of the Chūbu region. During the Meiji Restoration, western dog breeds were imported and crosses between these and native Japanese breeds became popular. From 1912 to 1926, almost no pure Shiba remained.

Historical documents and archaeological excavations suggest that around 7000 BC an ancient version of the Shiba Inu was introduced to Japan by immigrants. These first immigrants kept small dogs with them, which were later bred around the 3000 BC with a new dog, also brought into Japan by immigrants. The result of this mix produced dogs that were noted for their pointed ears that stood up tall on their heads and their curly tails; features that are characteristic of the beloved Shiba Inu today.

The Protection of the Shiba Inu

Loyal companions of these ancient immigrants, in 7th century AD, the official court in Japan, created an office that protected the native dog breeds of Japan. Known as the “dog keeper’s” office, the protection of these unique dog breeds was considered an important step in preserving Japanese culture.

As more dogs began to enter the country in later centuries, they bred with the native Japanese dogs, creating six distinct breeds, some of which are still heard of today – Akita, Kishu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, Kai, and the Shiba Inu. Of these six breeds, the Shiba Inu is the smallest. And, according to many people who have owned or come into contact with them, the most loyal.

The Shiba Inu has been identified as a basal breed that predates the emergence of the modern breeds in the 19th Century. Today, this breed is a mixture of ancient bloodlines that were found in the rural countryside of Japan.

From around 1928, hunters and intellectuals began to show interest in the protection of the remaining pure Shiba, however, despite efforts to preserve the breed, the Shiba nearly became extinct during World War II due to a combination of food shortage and a post-war distemper epidemic.

In December 1936, the Shiba Inu was recognized as a Natural Monument of Japan through the Cultural Properties Act, largely due to the efforts of Nippo (Nihon Ken Hozonkai), the Association for the Preservation of the Japanese Dog.

But what is it about this breed that makes them so fiercely loyal to humans?

Many people guess that it’s because they have been in contact with people for so long. As companions for people for centuries, this breed perhaps understands humans better than other dogs.

Maybe this is why humans worked so tirelessly to save their brave companions after they nearly lost the breed after World War II bombing raids and an outbreak of distemper.  But, they survived Japan’s wartime deprivations and are today the country’s number-one companion animal. Their popularity has been growing in the United States for the past 50 years.


Shiba Inu in the United States

The first documented Shiba to enter the United States was imported by a military family in 1954, and has quickly become one of the most popular companion breeds, officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in the early 1990’s. The breed is named after its history as a hunter in the rugged mountains of Japan; “Shiba” means “brushwood” (referring either to the brush in the mountains or to the dog’s reddish color) in Japanese, and “Inu” means “dog.”

Loyal and kind, there’s no wonder that the little Shiba Inu continues to make its way into the homes and hearts of people around the world. If you’re looking for a loyal dog who will never leave your side, consider a Shiba Inu for the job — you’ll love it!


Embark on a transformational journey that will expand your capacity to enjoy life and all its little gifts. Plus, get our free "Be Hachi. Be Happy" guide:  ​7 Ways You Can (And Should) Be More Like Your Dog.

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