What Were Shiba Inus Bred For? Original Role, Jobs, History and More

Written by Jesse Elop
Updated: May 17, 2023
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Shiba Inus are beautiful dogs that are gradually popularizing in the United States and around the world. They are one of the most popular dog breeds in their native Japan and account for 80% of the dogs living in the country! In fact, in 1937 the Shiba was declared a National Monument of Japan. Shiba Inus are also popular on social media, in memes, and are the face of the cryptocurrency Dogecoin. Shibas are getting a lot of positive attention now, but have people always been this obsessed? In this article we will explore the history of Shiba Inus, learn why they were bred, and see what roles the have played by man’s side ever since. So, what were Shiba Inus bred for? Originally, Shiba Inus were bred to hunt small game. But let’s learn a bit more and see how this unique breed has evolved.

Key Points

  • Dogs were first domesticated between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago.
  • Humans breed dogs for many different purposes including hunting, protection, and herding.
  • The Shiba Inu was a basal breed first bred for hunting.
  • Shibas now are most commonly companion animals.

History of Dog Breeding

The American Kennel Club recognizes over 200 different breeds of dogs.

©Erik Lam/Shutterstock.com

When Were Dogs First Domesticated?

The genetic divergence of domestic dogs from their wolf ancestors occurred between 20,000-40,000 years ago. Animal domestication was a pivotal development in human history, and it began with the domestication of the dog before continuing to livestock species. The oldest, most widely accepted ancient domestic dog remains were found in Bonn-Oberkassel, Germany date to 14,223 years ago!

Why Do Humans Breed Dogs?

For thousands of years, humans have bred dogs within groupings that possess certain traits. Traits such as physical strength, powerful sense of smell, vigilant attitude, aggression, or docility, can be favorable to dogs with different roles. Breeders select these traits by intentionally crossing breeds that exhibit the desirable traits. Breeding for certain traits is also common practice for aesthetic purposes, especially for dog shows. Dog breeding for show, however, tends to produce more elaborate, ornamental characteristics than those selected for other roles.

The seven breeding groups currently listed by the American Kennel Club (AKC) are Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting, and Herding dogs. The Kennel Club of the United Kingdom lists the categories Gundog, Pastoral, Working, Hound, Utility, Terrier, and Toy. These categories relate to the dog’s original use or the original purpose. The Shiba Inu is in the AKC Non-Sporting Group whish is a diverse class with a variety of backgrounds. According to the UK Kennel Club, the Shiba Inu is in the Utility group which it also describes as a group of miscellaneous, non-sporting breeds.

History of the Shiba Inu

Shiba Inu dog
The Shibu Inu is a very old Japanese breed and is a national monument of Japan.

©BORINA OLGA/Shutterstock.com

What is a Shiba Inu?

The Shiba Inu, which translates to “small dog”, is a very old, Japanese dog breed. Other similar dog breeds in Japan are the Akita, the Kishu, and the Hokkaido. Typical Shiba characteristics are alert, active, and attentive. They also have a reputation of being affectionate with families and young children, friendly with other dogs, and highly trainable. They have a short, typically light brown or cream color double coat that sheds throughout the year, and they typically live 13-16 years. Males weigh 23 pounds on average, and females weigh 17 pounds on average. They usually have a shoulder height between 13.5 and 16.5 inches.

When Was the Shiba Inu First Bred?

The Shiba Inu is a basal breed, like the chow chow. This means that it is one of the earliest domestic dog breeds and that it predates many other modern breeds that originate in the 1800s. During the Jōmon Period in Japan between 14,000-300 BCE, small animal figurines called Dogū were important cultural artifacts. Archaeologists have recovered Dogū that include depictions of Shibas and other similar, now extinct dog breeds prevalent at the time.

Roles of the Shiba Inu

Japanese dog Shiba Inu
Shiba Inus are great dogs for hunting small game.

©Rin Seiko/Shutterstock.com

What Were Shiba Inus Bred For?

Shiba Inus were first bred to hunt small game. They most often assisted hunters in identifying and catching birds and rabbits. Characteristics that make the Shiba Inu particularly efficient small game hunters are their size, speed, smelling acuity, and ability to be efficiently and effectively trained. They were also first bred in rugged, mountainous regions of central Japan. This history aids in their abilities to navigate and withstand harsh terrain.

What Roles Have Shiba Inus Had Since?

Although Shibas still possess qualities that might be helpful for hunting, their role as changed throughout history. In 1868 under Emperor Meiji, the Meiji Restoration returned imperial rule to Japan. During this period, other dog breeds were imported and by 1912, very few purebred Shibas were left. The breed was nearly extinct by World War II because of the distemper epidemic and starvation.

Today, Shiba Inus primarily serve as companion animals. Although they are rarely used in their traditional hunting role, they are still popular in Japanese households and increasingly so around the world. In the United States in 2021, the AKC gave Shiba Inus a popularity ranking of 42 out of 284 based on national registration statistics.

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The Featured Image

Oldest Dog: Pusuke the Shiba Inu Mix
Pusuke, one of the oldest dogs ever, was a Shiba Inu mix. The Shiba Inu is one of the oldest dog breeds, dating back to the 3rd century BC.
© Trybex/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Jesse Elop is a graduate from the University of Oregon now working at the University of Washington National Primate Research Center. He is passionate about wildlife and loves learning about animal biology and conservation. His favorite animals- besides his pup, Rosie- are zebras, mandrills, and bonobos. Jesse's background in biology and anthropology have supplied him with many fun facts that might just pop up in some of his articles!

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  1. American Kennel Club, Available here: https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/shiba-inu/
  2. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiba_Inu
  3. National Shiba Club of America, Available here: https://www.shibas.org/breedHistory.html
  4. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Domestication_of_the_dog&action=history&dir=prev