A small, alert, and agile dog that copes very well with mountainous terrain and hiking trails, the Shiba Inu was originally bred for hunting. It looks similar to and is often mistaken for other Japanese dog breeds such as the Akita Inu or Hokkaido, but the Shiba Inu is a different breed with a distinct blood line, temperament, and smaller size than other Japanese dog breeds.
Shibas tend to exhibit an independent nature. From the Japanese breed standard:
The dog has a spirited boldness and is fiercely proud with a good nature and a feeling of artlessness. The Shiba is able to move quickly with nimble, elastic steps.
The terms “spirited boldness” (悍威, kan’i), “good nature” (良性, ryōsei), and “artlessness” (素朴, soboku) have subtle interpretations that have been the subject of much commentary.
The Shiba is a relatively fastidious breed and feels the need to maintain itself in a clean state. They can often be seen licking their paws and legs, much as cats do. They generally go out of their way to keep their coats clean. Because of their fastidious and proud nature, Shiba puppies are easy to housebreak and in many cases will housebreak themselves. Having their owner simply place them outside after meal times and naps is generally enough to teach the Shiba the appropriate method of toileting.
A distinguishing characteristic of the breed is the so-called “shiba scream”. When sufficiently provoked or unhappy, the dog will produce a loud, high-pitched scream. This can occur when attempting to handle the dog in a way that it deems unacceptable. The animal may also emit a very similar sound during periods of great joy, such as the return of the owner after an extended absence, or the arrival of a favored human guest.