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Call of the Wild

The modern Shiba Inu retains the breed's ancient instincts.

by September Morn

Shiba means "small" in Japanese — an appropriate name for the Shiba Inu that on average stands 15 inches tall and weighs 20 pounds. However, the dogs' self-assurance and ancient reputation as a gutsy hunting dog impart its mighty spirit.

"The Shiba Inu is a big dog in a little body," said Jane Vanderpool of Yelm, Wash., who has shown and bred them for 14 years. "They're not lap dogs."

Shibas are more sociable than their ancestors but retain a certain "wild" quality, namely stronger preying instincts than other dogs in the spitz family. "They have no fear of a larger dog," said JoAnn Gray of Kingston, Ill., chair of the National Shiba Rescue. "They normally don't pick a fight but will never back down from a challenge."

The proud breed dates to the Joumon period (10,000 to 300 B.C.) in Japan, where now it reigns as the country's most popular dog, with more than 1 million dogs registered. Its numbers dwindled during World War II, when food and money were precious resources and people were discouraged from keeping dogs. However, mountain dwellers continued to raise Shibas as hunting companions. When the war ended in 1945, Shibas were bred for milder temperaments, and some found homes with departing U.S. military personnel.

To continue the fascinating story of the gutsy little Shiba Inu, look for the May 1999 issue of Dog Fancy.

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