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akita and shiba inu
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When you see a dog with their tail curled high over their back and triangular ears standing alertly, you might feel confident you’re looking at a Japanese breed. But are you equally confident you know which one? The Akita and the Shiba Inu share a similar heritage and body shape. But the Akita, a member of the Working Group, and the Shiba Inu, a member of the Non-Sporting Group, are distinct. Each breed has physical traits and personalities all its own. 

Similar in Shape

Lori Pendergast is past president and current corresponding secretary of the National Shiba Club of America. As a parent club-approved breed mentor and an AKC bronze-level breeder of merit, she explains not only do both dogs share comparable body structure and profiles, but both also have double coats, so their coat texture is similar as well. 

Dr. Sophia Kaluzniacki,  DVM, has owned, bred, and shown Akitas since 1968. A board member of the Akita Club of America since 1979, she has produced more than 150 champion Akitas all over the world. She notes the main similarity between the Shiba Inc and Akitas is their conformation, or overall look and structure. “The fact that the breeds are both Japanese in origin and most likely descend from the same ancestors is also a similarity,” she says. 

“The Akita is an ancient Japanese breed whose history can be traced back from both pictures and ancient scrolls to at least medieval times in Japan,” Kaluzniacki explains. “It is the largest of several Japanese breeds which are similar in type, the Shiba being one of these. They were originally hunting dogs but were later also used as guard and fighting dogs by introducing other breeds such as the Tosa, as well as some European breeds.” 

According to Pendergast, the ancestors of today’s Shiba Inu may have accompanied the earliest immigrants to Japan over 9,000 years ago. “Originally, Shibas were bred to flush birds and small game and were occasionally used to hunt wild boar in packs,” Pendergast says. “Now they are primarily kept as pets. Shibas have definitely kept their hunting instincts; they will hunt birds, rabbits, squirrels, and other small game in your back yard.” 

Distinguished by Size

Pendergast says size is an obvious distinction between the dogs. “I don’t think people usually confuse the two breeds,” she says. “With the Akita being the largest of the Japanese breeds and the Shiba Inu the smallest, it is a pretty obvious difference. There is usually a big color difference between the two breeds as well.” 


Kaluzniacki points out the need to see the dogs in person. “I think people only confuse the two breeds if they only know them from pictures. Otherwise, if seen in the flesh, nobody would confuse them at all. The size difference alone is very obvious. However, people who have never seen an Akita will often confuse them with a Malamute or Husky.” 

The height of an Akita is 26 to 28 inches at the top of the shoulder for males and 24 to 26 inches for females. And a male can weigh up to 130 pounds. The much smaller Shiba Inu, on the other hand, stands 14.5 to 16.5 inches tall at the shoulder for males and 13.5 to 15.5 for females. Plus, the preferred weight for a male Shiba Inu is only 23 pounds. If they were standing side by side, there would be no mistaking which was which. 

Although Akitas come in a wide variety of colors, and in Japan there are some red Akitas who look like large Shiba Inu, the American-style Akita is usually colored differently. The smaller Shiba Inu comes in three preferred colors—red, black and tan, and sesame—as well as cream. According to Pendergast, the most common comment Shiba Inu owners hear from the public is, “It looks like a fox.” 

There are additional differences between the breeds: for example, in head type and expression. Temperament is also somewhat different between the breeds. The Shiba Inu breed standard describes them as having a spirited boldness and good nature. The Akita breed standard says they are alert, responsive, dignified, and courageous. 

Independent and Intelligent

Both breeds share personality traits like independence and intellect. According to Kaluzniacki, the average Akita owner would describe their dog as loyal and protective toward their family. She explains, “The Akita is a very intelligent breed and a loyal companion but certainly has a mind of its own. It is not a dog for everyone and can be aggressive with other dogs.” 


Pendergast also uses the words independent and intelligent to describe the Shiba Inu, but she adds catlike to the mix. Because Shibas are so naturally clean, they are easy to house train. They also make good watchdogs, letting you know when anything out of the ordinary is going on. Pendergast adds, “They are known for being aloof. but each one has their own personality. You have to be careful that they don’t train you instead of the other way around. Owners would also say there is a lot of dog hair in a small package.” 

Whether you meet the larger Akita or the smaller Shiba Inu, you will be lucky to greet a beautiful and fascinating dog with a long history. There’s a good reason why both are considered treasures in their home country of Japan. 

Related article: International Dog Culture: How Canines Live Around the World
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