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Their looks, behaviors, colors, origin are similar. It’s as if one were just a bigger version of the other. But is size the ONLY difference between Akita Inu vs Shiba Inu?
Have you ever heard of the Akita joke?
Well, it goes:
“This home is protected by the good lord and an Akita. If you come here to steal or do harm you might meet them both.”Anonymous Akita Inu owner
But what about the Shiba Inu laws of property?
Well, they say:
“If I like it, it’s mine. If I saw it first, it’s mine. If It’s in my mouth, it’s mine. If it looks like mine, it’s mine. If I can take it from you, it’s mine. If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine. If you have something and put it down, it’s mine. If I chew something up, all the pieces are mine. If it used to be yours, get over it. If it’s broken, it’s yours.”Anonymous Shiba Inu owner (a.k.a. Shibaholic)
Despite their apparent willingness to dispatch you to Valhalla and their ownership issues, they both make excellent family dogs.
But they do differ significantly despite originating from Japan. And not just in size!
Nor just in urajiro (white markings), which are a breed standard for one and not the other.
This article explores ALL similarities and differences between these Japanese breeds that have made a name for themselves globally by just being their authentic selves.
Keep reading to find out what to expect with each Inu!
|Akita Inu||Shiba Inu|
|Size and weight||Large dog, will grow up to 28 inches in height and weigh between 100 to 130 pounds,when fully grown. Bigger in size compared to Shiba inu.||Small dog, grows up to 16.5 inches in height and weighs up to 23 pounds. Female species of both breeds are smaller than males.|
|Appearance||Features similar to Shiba Inu. Solid muscular build, triangular ears and pointed muzzle although the snout is shorter. Thick double coat in red, fawn, sesame, brindle or white. Other than the difference in colors both breeds have fluffy coats, deep set eyes and tails curl up over their backs.||Similar features to Akita Inu, but smaller in size with a solid muscular build. A slightly longer snout. Double coat but with limited selection of colors. They can be red, black or tan with white or cream marking on the chest, belly, legs, face and tail.|
|Temperament||Intelligent but stubborn and independent. Akita inus are extremely loyal and active. Bravery makes them great guard dogs. But they are also sensitive and dislike being left alone for long periods. Akitas rarely bark and are much quieter than Shibas.||Shiba Inus are bold, loyal loving and affectionate towards people they are familiar with. They are also intelligent, independent, stubborn and can be vocal. In fact, they have a signature scream called the Shiba Scream.|
|Health issues||Akita Inu’s large size makes it susceptible to large breed joint problems. They may also suffer from eye and stomach issues, muscle weakness, bleeding disorder and some rare autoimmune diseases.||Allergies, hip and joint issues, eye disorders are some of the diseases that commonly afflict Shiba Inus.|
|Grooming||Has moderate grooming needs||Has moderate grooming needs|
|Trainability||The Akita Inu has an independent streak, which makes it difficult to train. It requires early socialization from a young age.||Also can be challenging to train because of their independent nature. They can be quite headstrong so they also need early socialization.|
What to Expect with Shiba vs Akita
Whether you choose an Akita or a Shiba, you’ll be dealing with a very spirited dog. These breeds have an almost quiet and lonesome quality that suggests a fiery spirit.
There are two types of Akita dogs: Akita Inu (A.K.A. Japanese Akita) and American Akita. In contrast, there is one type of Shiba Inu, which is a result of three native bloodlines.
American Akita is a mix of Akita Inu and mastiff. Hence a heavier set dog with more bear-like features. Japanese Akita has a finer bone structure and typical Japanese Spitz dog features.
If you should ever come across a Shiba that appears slightly larger than expected, fret not! This is a descendant of the San’in bloodline which is closely linked to the Korean Jindo dog. Otherwise, you can expect a doggie standing at 17 inches at its tallest.
Akita and Shiba both have almond shaped eyes. But Shiba’s have a black rim around them that makes them look even darker.
Also, Shiba’s fox-like features are sharper than Akita’s.
1. Physical Appearance
Akita is at least 30 pounds heavier than Shiba. When photographed together, Akita literally dwarfs Shiba.
The smaller Shiba Inu boasts the title of the Official National Dog of Japan and is very popular in the island nation.
Simple! It fits perfectly (pun intended) into apartment living. The smaller bright, active, bold Shiba Inu is lightweight and can fit on your lap.
Due to Akita Inu’s imposing size, it requires much more space which most Japanese residents lack. That’s why it’s less common in Japanese homes than Shiba Inu.
Despite the difference in their sizes, they have similar upright triangular ears, short double coats with undercoats that shed or “blow” seasonally. They look well protected from the cold weather in the mountain regions of Japan.
You will recognize them by their deep-set small eyes and tails curling on their backs.
Their eyes are precisely one of the distinct features of Shiba and Akita that set them apart from western dog breeds.
These recessed eyes give the dog an almost inquisitive look, which is pronounced by thick eyelids.
Most western tend to have rounder eyes with pronounced iris and corneas.
The similar double coats of Akita Inu and Shiba Inu insulate them against extreme cold and hot temperatures. They both shed twice a year and require regular brushing to avoid matting.
However, Akita’s coat is much denser than Shiba Inu’s.
Akita Inu’s coat has a wider spectrum of colors in red, fawn sesame brindle, or white compared to the limited spectrum of Shiba Inu which comes in red, black, or tan with white/cream markings on chest, belly, legs, face, and tail.
Both breeds have triangular forward-facing angled ears, which gives them an alert appearance. (With good reason!)
Their ears are floppy when young and straighten up as they grow, pumping up the foxy look.
If you look closely, you will see a bit of a distinct forward tilt to the ears.
Despite their difference in size, both Shiba Inu and Akita Inu have a solid muscular build.
If I can give a clothing analogy, a Shiba Inu is like a small/medium (S/M) shirt compared to Akita Inu that is an extra /extra-large shirt (XXL). But in the same design!
Considering its size, Akita Inu cannot fit on your lap and CANNOT be picked up during a walk. A hit from an Akita is also capable of injuring people, other dogs, or small animals.
In contrast, Shiba Inus are mostly kept as companions and beloved lap dogs because of their small stature.
2. How to Groom Shiba vs Akita
Brush them coats!
Both Shiba and Akita Inu have dense double coats, a stiff straight outer coat, and a soft plush undercoat.
And while the grooming stages for each breed are the same, the process is longer for Akita compared to Shiba.
That is because of Akita’s size and the sheer amount of hair you will be dealing with when it sheds.
They both shed throughout the year. Shedding is at its peak when they “blow their coats” or switch from their winter to summer coats. But the amount of hair varies from breed to breed.
Anyhow, the “blowing” time may be a challenge for people with allergies.
That’s when you can expect a BLIZZARD of shed fur flying through the air: in your bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, in your soup.
For Shiba Inu, a slicker brush will detangle the hairs while a firm bristle brush takes care of any missed spots on the dense coat.
On the other hand, an undercoat rake is a MUST to reach the dense undercoat of your Akita. It’s essential for their fuzzy and soft undercoat.
These breeds should be brushed outdoors after spritzing the fluffy coat with water to keep down the blizzard of fur flying around as you brush.
A special, self-cleaning de-shedding brush tool designed to remove dead hair from Akita and Shiba Inu’s fur will be a life saver.
When you push the button, it will release the piles of hair from the brush into a bag. No cleanup for you!
Both Akita Inu and Shiba Inu have waterproof double coats which naturally repel dirt. They also tend to keep themselves clean like felines and don’t need frequent baths. You can give them a gentle scrub every six to twelve weeks. But many owners do it even less frequently – just twice a year!
Frequent bathing removes waterproofing properties of their coat and shampooing makes the hairs dry and brittle.
Akita Inu and Shiba Inu have similar ears, which are upright and open.
That looks pretty straightforward!
But the hair in the ears can easily trap debris and dirt. So, check the dog’s ears once a week. If need be, clean the inner part of the ear with a cotton ball and a gentle vet-approved cleanser – or use special ear wipes for dogs.
Then once a month, pour the ear cleaning solution into their ears and thoroughly clean the inside.
It is critical to note that we said, “if need be.”
Overcleaning the ears can make them irritated and susceptible to infections.
Trimming the nails
It’s advisable to get your dog (ANY dog) comfy with clipping their nails while still a puppy, so they can get used to it.
The same applies to Akita and Shiba Inus. To trim their nails, use a nail clipper with a guard to avoid cutting them too short and injuring the fleshy part of the nail known as the quick. This causes bleeding and is painful.
The Shiba needs a smaller size of nail clippers than the Akita.
Brushing gets rid of bad breath by preventing plaque and tartar build-up. Make sure to use canine toothpaste available at pet stores. Human toothpaste won’t cut it, plus it’s toxic for dogs!
Their teeth should be brushed 2 to 3 times per week slowly and patiently, to encourage the dog to gain confidence. This is especially important for the adult dogs who are not used to the procedure!
Since Akita and Shiba Inu can both be very headstrong, check out this guide on how to clean your dog’s teeth without brushing.
End the fuss.
Ideally, you should train Akita Inu and Shiba Inu to accept teeth brushing from a tender age. If you do that, not only will they accept it – they might actually enjoy it!
Cleaning the Shiba’s teeth may be much less involving because their teeth are smaller. Getting the big Akita to obey such instructions may be much more difficult.
3. Training an Akita vs Shiba
Shiba Inu and Akita Inu are intelligent dogs that can respond well to training, especially if you start early.
They are both highly independent. It’s a challenge to win them over with the usual rewards during training!
However, Akita is much harder to handle because of its size and strength. You can get away with leash training a Shiba Inu compared with an Akita Inu.
- Find a reward that is appealing to them. Staying committed to obedience training and lots of socialization is important for these breeds! Given their strong instincts as hunters, with high prey drive, you should avoid walking them off the leash in public.
- Socialization and training are crucial for both breeds, but more so for the big Akita Inu. Larger breeds are more likely to be caught on the aggressive side of things, causing accidents or frightening people. So it’s essential to dedicate more time teaching them good manners.
- Excellent training resources and tools applied from when the dog is young will help you to succeed with loose leash walking and other training needs. Aim for a well-socialized puppy from a reputable responsible breeder when it comes to these two breeds.
- Invest in training and high-quality training tools to turn your Akita Inu or Shiba Inu into a dog ambassador for the breed. You can create a dog gym for the Shiba Inu in your backyard, but for the Akita you need to take them to a more elaborate training program to get them adequate exercise and mental stimulation.
- Ensure other small pets including cats are safe around your dog. Akita Inu is a dominant dog, who views you as the pack leader and might feel the need to challenge you unlike Shiba Inu, who is is not overly dominant. On the other hand, Akita Inu is loyal and eager to please their master compared to Shiba Inu who is overly independent. You need to be an experienced dog owner to manage either breed.
- Positive reinforcement training is the most effective dog training technique to apply when handling these two breeds. They are both motivated by food, praise, and objects. Make use of all three in your training sessions. Shiba Inu has a shorter attention span and easily gets bored.
- Keep training sessions short and fun to keep your Shiba going. Akita Inu may be able to take longer sessions even though they provided a bigger challenge.
4. Exercise and Health
As hunting dogs, both breeds are conditioned to spend a LOT of time roaming and chasing after prey.
You must create time for their daily exercise needs.
A common misconception is that, due to its imposing size, Akita Inu needs more exercise than Shiba Inu. But too much exercise strains Akita Inu’s joints, especially at a young age.
Large dogs like Akitas take longer to mature, so don’t push them hard until they are a few years old.
Both breeds require the same amount of exercise, at least 60 minutes every day.
If you don’t meet their exercise needs, they become both problematic and destructive. They need to burn up lots of pent-up energy.
Apart from just walking around the park or block to keep them invigorated, they need more stimulation since they are both highly intelligent dogs.
Try mixing up their activities to keep them pepped up or else they will quickly become bored.
They can participate in any physical activity and they both have excellent physical endurance.
Akita Inu should be leash trained during formative years to ensure they are manageable during park walks. But you can leash train a Shiba Inu in its adult years and still be successful.
A well-socialized Shiba Inu shouldn’t have problems socializing with other dogs. The Akita Inu, however, is in another league and despite being well socialized might be agitated by other dogs.
However, this depends on each Akita’s personality. That’s why it’s wise to introduce them to other dogs as puppies.
Health conditions affecting Akita Inu vs Shiba
Shiba Inu outlives Akita Inu due to size rather than health. Ten to thirteen years of life is very healthy for a giant dog breed of Akita Inu’s status. And for many breeds, it is considered one of the longest.
But in comparison, Shiba Inu can have a lifespan of up to 16 years.
When it comes to health issues, however, both breeds are prone to hip dysplasia, an abnormality of the hip joint that causes mobility issues. They are both also susceptible to various eye conditions with the common ones being progressive retinal atrophy and glaucoma.
But Shiba Inu is prone to patellar luxation, an abnormal formation of the kneecap, and Akita Inu suffers from an underactive thyroid known as hypothyroidism.
Hip and elbow dysplasia
Avoid high-impact exercises for young Akita Inus. They tend to damage their joints. Allow the dog to mature before introducing it to strenuous exercises.
With this condition, the head of the femur does not fit properly into the hip socket leading to osteoarthritis and pain.
While the Akita Inu is prone to elbow dysplasia in addition to the hip dysplasia, the Shiba Inu suffers only from hip dysplasia.
The Shiba Inu suffers mostly from patellar luxation which is a dislocated knee cap. But it’s more complicated than it sounds. The dislocation prevents the dog from running and even walking.
This condition doesn’t typically affect the Akita Inu.
Progressive retinal atrophy
This is progressive deterioration in the function of the retina (the portion of the eye that senses light and allows sight). It is a condition that occurs in most dogs including both Shiba and Akita.
It will eventually lead to complete blindness as it progresses in severity.
An Akita Inu with this condition is dealing with an auto-immune disease affecting muscles and nerves. Movement becomes a challenge and the dog is in a lot of distress,
You don’t need to fear this auto-immune disease with the Shiba Inu.
Gastric dilatation volvulus (bloat)
Also known as torsion, this condition happens when the dog gulps in too much air when eating or drinking water or even when exercising immediately after eating. The air ties the stomach in knots and prevents the natural flow of air to the heart.
The dog can die from this condition as it goes into shock.
The bloat is common in Akita Inu because they have big chests. The Shiba Inu is less chesty so it doesn’t have room for the gas to be trapped in its stomach.
5. Price Comparison – Shiba Inu Puppy vs Akita Inu Puppy
Akita Inu and Shiba Inu are among the top 50 dog breeds in the US.
Because of this, they don’t come cheap, with prices of Akita Inu puppies within the range of $800 to $2000 and Shiba Inus costing anything over $1000 to $2500.
The popularity of Shiba Inu in recent years has made the breed more costly than Akita Inus. As I said above, they are also apartment friendly, so single people love having them. That increases the demand further.
Even though you’re likely to pay less for a Shiba pup, an Akita Inu may become more expensive to maintain and feed over some time. Because of their size, they feed more, which costs more money.
Akitas are also more likely to develop various health issues than Shiba Inu, which translates to even more expenses down the road.
The long term expenses for an Akita will be higher than a Shiba’s.
6. History & Fun Facts About Akita vs Shiba
Ever heard of Matagi?
They were a line of hunting dogs in Japan. BOTH Akita Inu and Shiba Inu are descendants of Matagi.
Of course, the larger Akita was used for hunting large prey like bears, boars, and deer. And the smallish Shibas were used to draw out smaller game like rabbits and birds.
Matagi dogs are one of the oldest native breeds in Japanese history and are known for their bravery, strength, and size, which made them great hunters.
The Akita Inu is described as the most loyal dog breed and this was demonstrated by a famous Akita Inu named Hachiko. This dog lived in the 1920s and would follow his owner to the train station every morning.
After his owner’s death at work, he religiously waited by the train station for his return for nine years, until he passed away. People tried to take him in and care for him but he did not budge. This act of loyalty earned Hachiko a statue memorial at Shibuya train station, which is a favorite tourist attraction.
It also earned the Akita breed a place in the annals of friendship as many more owners praised the canine’s unwavering loyalty and protective instincts.
Hellen Keller first brought Akita Inu to the USA in 1938 after she was gifted two by the Japanese Government. The blind and deaf author and motivational speaker once described her first Akita as an angel in fur.
And from there the popularity of the breed soared.
In comparison, the Shiba Inu didn’t gain global notoriety until 2008 even though it became a documented breed in the USA in 1954.
It was actually a set of Shiba Inu pups that were being documented on a live stream by their breeders that set off their popularity. And then came the moment when a female Shiba Inu by the name of Kabosu was captured on camera giving her mom a side-eye look. That remains a prolific dog meme to this day.
After this the Shiba Inu’s popularity has been on the up and up.
When it comes to popularity ranking the Shiba Inu has overtaken the Akita in ranking. Whereas the Akita Inu is 47th in popularity according to the American Kennel Club, the Shiba Inu is 44th.
In a span of eight years from 2008 to 2016, the Shiba Inu came from ranking 67th to 44th.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are Shiba Inu so aggressive?
Once upon a time in Japan,, Shiba Inus were bred and trained to be temperamental, unlike other dogs. They appear like cuddly lap dogs but looks can be deceiving.
Quite a paradox breed.
But that is where their beauty lies.
You realize they are quite different when you observe their feisty look and regal stance.
The aggressive/interactive side shows whenever Shiba Inu is around a lot of people and animals. Their aggressiveness is easily triggered by other same-sex alpha dogs and smaller animals they see as game.
The Japanese describe Shiba Inu as bold, brave, kind-natured, gentle, spirited and alert. They are aggressive and interactive on one hand and independent and intelligent on the other.
Can Akita Inus be cuddly?
Akita Inus are furry, playful, and spirited. They possess big personalities that are loveable and they closely resemble foxes, which makes them unique, cute (and frankly, very cool).
But are they cuddly?
Akita Inu can cuddle depending on its personality. Not all of them are particularly fond of it. Many are too restless to cuddle!
They were originally bred in Japan as independent dogs to hunt. If you socialize them as puppies, they will be more likely to accept occasional cuddles. But unlike your average Labradoodle, Goldie or even a Rottweiler, cuddling just isn’t hardwired into their brains.
An adverse event could result in an Akita Inu’s personality changing for the worse. On the other hand, lots of small positive moments can produce the intended positive changes over time.
But what about Shibas?
Believe it or not, but Shiba Inu is considered a primal breed. They are unbelievably similar to what the first dogs were like as they started to drift away from wolves genetically.
In fact, Shiba Inu is considered the most closely related breed of dogs to the wolves!
(Yes, they even beat the Siberian Husky!)
Wolves are relatively cuddly with those they consider part of their pack. They snuggle and lick when awake and then fall for a nap. If you are not part of their pack, then keep your distance because they are likely to attack.
When pack members leave for a while and come back, other wolves greet enthusiastically with love and lots of happy wagging of the tail.
All Shiba Inu also have this level of affection and cuddliness within them, though it might seem remote. If you love and show affection to your Shiba Inu, even the most aloof will love you back by licking and greeting you affectionately when you return from a trip or even from just around the corner.
With an experienced and assertive owner, both Inus are fantastic pets.
However, both will require much patience on your part. Aggression or haste can only hurt your bond with them, provoke rebellion, and open up a long-term struggle for supremacy.
On the other hand, lots of love can bring about a positive behavioral change in your Shiba or Akita over time.
But let’s make one thing clear: if you opt for any of these breeds, you should be able to commit to loving them unconditionally despite ANY personality issues they might have.
So, before making your decision, make sure that you can take care of their needs. Ask yourself this question one more time. Which one is for you: Shiba Inu or Akita Inu? Or something else entirely?