The Colorful Shiba Inu

Ever wonder what color your puppy will be when it grows up? Our expert groomer takes a look at the colorful Shiba Inu.

Q: I’m in the process of choosing a Shiba Inu, and I have a question about colors, specifically of the red variety. I’ve heard that they change colors from pups to adults, if even slightly. Some say most of them end up blending the white and red together into a cream.
If I’m looking for a very stark red on bright white, what traits, details and/or colors should I be looking for in the baby when selecting?

A: Shiba Inus come in three colors, red, red sesame, and black and tan. These colors are eligible to compete in AKC sanctioned shows. Cream-colored, white or pinto Shibas are ineligible to be shown because such colorations are seen as a serious fault.  When a Shiba puppy is born, it looks very different than it will as an adult. When choosing your puppy, you need to go to a reputable breeder who has the knowledge and experience to tell you how the pup will look once it’s grown up because they change color as they mature. For example, it’s not uncommon for two Shibas to look completely different as puppies and both turn out to be the same striking red as adults.  Quality breeders can tell what simply a part of the puppy coat is and what is going to stick. They are dedicated to advancing the breed within the guidelines set forth by the AKC as well as the Nipponese guidelines originated in Japan.

Around the age of six months, a Shiba Inu will look as it will as an adult. There may be slight changes until it’s fully grown at one year of age, but at six months it will pretty much look the way it’s going to look. Shiba Inu puppies are born with a lot of black in their coats. Obviously, if it is a black and tan, the black will remain. However, their markings on their chest and face will change some. As for reds and red sesames, an experienced Shiba breeder will be able to tell you how they will develop. It sounds like you have your heart set on a red.  These dogs have a vibrant coat of deep orange hue but their contrasting white or cream shadings are present on the legs, belly, facial cheeks, throat and chest and underside of tail, looking as if they are wearing a russet coat with a hood.

Some puppies don’t have much white on their chest when born but it will come in as they grow up.  Most are born with black muzzles and black around their necks and legs. This will usually disappear by the time they are six months old. On a red it may all go away or there may remain some black “ticking,” a little shading of black on the tip of the tail or feathering on the hair along the spine.

Your Shiba pup will undergo other changes as it outgrows puppyhood. These little fuzzballs are born with their tails hanging long and their ears drooping but by the time they are full grown, those ears will stick straight up and that tail will curl over the back. The Shiba tail is a true barometer of its feelings. Often wary of strangers, they carry it up if they feel safe and comfortable. A young Shiba’s face may also look a bit squished like that of a Shar Pei but it will grow into its trademark wise and alert fox face, a highlight of all Spitz-type dogs. 

The smallest of Japanese native breeds, the Shiba Inu was originally developed for hunting by sight and scent in the dense undergrowth of Japan’s mountains. Bred to flush birds and small game, these gutsy characters would hunt wild boar as well.  These days, they are primarily kept as pets here in the United States and in their native Japan where they continue to be the most popular breed.  Almost wiped out during World War II, those that did not perish in bombing raids succumbed to distemper after the war. Fortunately, in the postwar era breeding programs were established with the remnants of various bloodlines to produce the breed as we know it today.  A member of the Non-Sporting Group, the Shiba Inu was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1992.

Although this dog is undeniably adorable, it is not a teddy bear.  Shiba Inus conduct themselves as if they know they are superior beings and can be overly possessive of everything in their world, including food, toys, furniture, the family car and family members themselves.  Because of this tendency, early socialization is a must.  Besides being feisty and brave, the Shiba personality also has a sweet and gentle side, deeply endearing it to its human caregivers.

Clean and catlike in its habits, the only grooming your Shiba’s dense double coat will need is regular brushing to keep undercoat fuzz at bay and an occasional bath.  In the salon, we lightly edge the ears to highlight their triangular shape and use a damp towel to clean the muzzle.  We use a curved-blade metal slicker brush on the coat and neaten the pads and feet as well, finishing up with a spritz of coat polish to make that gorgeous standoff coat shimmer and shine. Make sure your Shiba gets accustomed to nail trimming early.  Some really detest this procedure and can be quite dramatic in vocalizing their resistance!

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