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The Akita vs. Shiba Inu – A Comparison of Japan’s Most Popular Dogs

A detailed comparison between the Akita Inu and Shiba Inu.
Written by Richard Jeng

When it comes to Japanese dog breeds, there are plenty to choose from. While they all have their pros and cons, two dogs shine among the pack. Both the Akita Inu and Shiba Inu are among the world’s most popular, and rightfully so.

So how do the Akita Inu and Shiba Inu compare? Originating from the spitz family, Akitas and Shibas are very similar in appearance. From their fox-like heads to the fluffy curled tails and small pointed ears, the main physical differences are size and colors. Both dogs are touted for their loyalty, but also come with stubbornness.

Of course, these are not the only differences and similarities of the Akita and Shiba. When you dive into the fundamentals, there’s more than meets the eye. Read on to continue our detailed comparison of Japan’s best dogs.

RECOMMENDED: 13 Best Japanese Dog Breeds

Breed Comparison Chart

Take a quick look at our comparison chart to briefly compare the Shiba Inu with the Akita Inu. Let’s examine the basic information and vital statistics of these two iconic dog breeds from Japan.

 ShibaAkita
Height:13-17 inches24-28 inches
Weight:18-22 pounds70-130 pounds
Group:Non-Sporting DogWorking Dog
Lifespan:13-16 years10-13 years
Coat:Thick double coat, 4 standard colors.Thick double coat, 9 standard colors.
Bred for:Tracking and hunting birds, rabbit and other small game.Hunting elk, bear, deer and other large game.
Temperament:Alert, Energetic, VigilantBrave, Proud, Loyal
Intelligence:Average Intelligent BreedAverage Intelligent Breed
Grooming:Heavy grooming needed for heavy-shedding Shibas.Moderate to heavy shedding with excessive shedding 2-3 times a year.
Exercise:At least 30 minutes of exercise per day.30 minutes to 1 hour of activity per day.

The Shiba Inu

The Complete Guide to Shiba Shedding.

The Shiba Inu is undeniably the most popular Japanese dog breed. They’re not just popular in their home country of Japan, but all over the world. In fact, plenty of people are absolutely obsessed over them.

What makes the Shiba Inu unique is that they have an interesting way of communication, called the “Shiba Scream.” It’s a vocalized shriek that Shibas are famously known for when they’re overly excited or threatened.

With an alert and active temperament, Shibas aren’t your typical small dog breed. These dogs won’t be so pleased if you try to make them a “lap dog.” Instead, they’re free-spirited animals that love to run.

My Shiba is a loving dog, and constantly wants to be around me. When I come home from work, he follows me straight to my room and sticks next to me the entire night.

– Mangosago (Reddit User)

Sometimes independent by nature, a Shiba Inu will likely have some stubborn streaks. But this doesn’t mean they aren’t affectionate. In fact, they’re some of the most loyal dogs because they love their owners so much.

Shibas are naturally vigilant dogs. They’re watchful and cautious, especially around strangers. So if you’re looking for a watchdog, they’re highly capable due to their supreme confidence and bold personalities.

READ MORE: Shiba Inu – Bold, Spirited, Lively

The Akita Inu

The Akita Inu is the most dangerous dog to originate from Japan.

Considered a “national treasure” of Japan, the Akita Inu is one of the most prized possessions for many people in Japan. As a matter of fact, they’re a symbol of good health, happiness, and long life.

Akitas are some of the best guard dogs in the world. Capable of easily reaching over 100 pounds, these dogs are massive in size. Just the sight of an Akita would likely scare off most intruders.

To own an Akita Inu is to love and respect an Akita. You won’t find the unwavering loyalty, courage and strength of an Akita in any other dog breed.

– Blackphillip4eva (Reddit User)

But when you combine the size with their undying loyalty and suspicious nature, you get a highly dependable protector of the home. They always have your back. And with their sharp alertness, there’s not much that’ll get past them.

These Japanese dogs are intolerant of other dogs or animals, though. With two Akita Inus in the same household, they may often fight. However, with children of the family, they’re extremely patient and warm.

Akitas were simply hardwired to guard and protect. In a loving home environment, they’ll thrive to become the best versions of themselves.

READ MORE: The Guide to Akita Inus

Differences Between the Shiba and Akita Inu

Shibas and Akitas are often mistaken for one another, especially during the puppyhood years. But in reality, there are plenty of differences outside of sheer physical appearance.

We’ve collected the main differences that separate these two unique breeds. Shibas and Akitas are different in temperament, communication methods, coat colors and what they were bred for.

Big Dog, Small Dog

Though it won’t be so apparent as puppies, the most obvious difference is in size. Shiba Inus are classified as small dogs, whereas Akitas are undoubtedly big dogs.

A male Akita Inu can weigh anywhere from 100 to 130 pounds. On the other hand, the female will be 70 to 100 pounds. Either way, they’re definitely heavy-boned dogs with a lot of heft.

Akitas will stand as tall as 24 to 28 inches at the shoulder. They aren’t as tall as the Great Dane, but their imposing stature is nothing to scoff at.

On the other side of the spectrum is the Shiba Inu. Weighing around 20 pounds, the Shiba Inu is no more than 17 inches tall at the shoulder. That being said, they’re considerably smaller than the Akita.

But despite the glaring difference in physical size, both Japanese breeds are muscular with an athletic build.

Different Types of Hunters

Although both Shiba Inus and Akitas were originally bred to hunt, they’re very different hunting dogs that hunted different game. Did you really expect the Shiba to hunt the same wild animals as the Akita?

Shibas are crafty little dogs that were used to hunt small game in the thick-wooded forest regions of central Japan. It’s why most Shibas have strong prey-drives and may attack other family pets, such as cats.

With their incredible noses, Shibas will tirelessly track down birds and rabbits (or other small game). Thanks to their protective double coats, they can bravely power through thick bushes and shrubs to ambush the critter.

Akita Inus are a different type of hunters. Also from a mountainous region, the Akita Inus were used to flush out much larger game. Their job was to run ahead of the pack and track down wild boar, elk and even small bears.

After catching up to the wild animal, the Akita’s job is to keep the game at bay. They’ll circle around them (but rarely barks or growls) to make sure they stay put until the hunter catches up and “finishes the job.”

Coat Colors

Unless you’re very familiar with both dog breeds, this isn’t the most obvious difference. Nevertheless, Akitas and Shibas can come in very different colors.

For starters, there are a lot more official standard colors of the Akita than the Shiba Inu. According to the AKC standard, Akita Inus have 9 standard colors and a total of 19 recognized color and marking combinations.

Standard Akita colors include; black, brown brindle, brown with black, fawn, fawn with black, red, red with black, silver with black and white.

In contrast, the Shiba Inu has only 4 standard colors according to the AKC. In addition, they have 1 standard marking, which is the white markings.

Shiba Inus come in just black & tan, cream, red and red sesame. Other more exotic looking Shibas, such as the solid white Shiba, are not official.

Temperament with Children

It’s possible for both the Shiba and Akita to develop strong bonds with the children of the household. However, a good relationship between dog and child is easier to develop with the Akita Inu.

Akitas naturally love children. In fact, many owners claim that these dogs have an unusually strong affinity towards kids. In other words, they have a special liking for children.

Not only are they very patient with kids, but they’re big enough to tolerate the rough play of rowdy kids. Similar to how Golden Retrievers love sticks and balls, the Akita Inus love the smaller ones.

Shibas are a different story. With a high prey drive, these dogs require socialization and obedience training to maintain good relationships with kids. The earlier you start socializing your Shiba, the easier it’ll be.

Similarities: Shiba and Akita Inu

The Akita Inu is one of the most coveted Asian dog breeds to come out of Japan.

Despite Shibas and Akitas having several differences, they have way more similarities. Aside from physical qualities, these two dog breeds have similar coat-types, intelligence, temperaments and more.

Popularity in America

In America, both the Akita Inu and Shiba Inu are consistently on AKC’s top 50 most popular dog breeds list. Shibas are barely more popular today, but it wasn’t always the case.

In 2018, Shibas were the 44th most popular breed. Just a few spots below, the Akitas were the 47th most popular. Prior to 2015, Akitas were one spot ahead of the Shibas, taking the 46th and 47th spot, respectively.

Though technically the Shiba Inu is more popular, the difference is so small that we’ll consider them as having similar popularity.

In Japan, these two dog breeds are also the two most popular dog breeds. However, Shibas have always been more popular than the Akita in their motherland.

Japanese Spitz Dogs

Have you ever wondered whether the Shiba Inu and Akita were related? And perhaps, that’s the reason they look so similar. Technically, this theory isn’t wrong.

Both these Japanese breeds come from the spitz dog family. Spitz dogs are breeds that are genetically linked to prehistoric wolves. For this reason, they all have a very similar wolf-like appearance.

Thought to have originated from regions around the arctic circle, spitz breeds have led to the development of various breeds all over Eurasia.

Spitz dogs, like Shibas and Akitas, are almost always characterized as breeds with curly and fluffy tails, sharp snouts, smallish pointy ears, double coats, strong jaws and almond-shaped eyes.

These physical qualities fit the bill for both Japanese breeds, and the primary reason why they look so similar. However, they’re not the only popular dogs from this unique family of dogs.

Other popular spitz dogs include the Pomeranian, Siberian Husky, Samoyed, Chow Chow and more. In addition, the Japanese Spitz joins the Akita and Shiba as the only spitz-types from the country of Japan.

Dogs with Double Coats

Dog coats are fundamentally simple. While most dog breeds have single coats, a decent number of breeds have what’s called a double coat.

In fact, this is one of the key physical characteristics that all spitz-types have. And since both Shibas and Akitas are spitz dogs, you can be sure they’re double-coated dog breeds.

It’s pretty self-explanatory. A double-coated breed is a dog that has two layers of fur. There’s the undercoat, which has a wool-like texture and acts as an insulator for the dog. It’s important because this is what keeps the dog warm in harsh cold climates.

Layered above the undercoat is the top coat. The hair of this coat is also called “guard hairs” because that’s what it does. This top coat layer protects the dog from hazardous elements in the environment.

Just think about how the Shiba Inu hunts. They literally had to tunnel their way through thick bushes. Without the top coat, they may easily injure themselves. Because Akitas are also hunting dogs, the top coat also comes in handy in rough terrain.

Although this may seem like a cool “feature” for these dogs, it’s not so great for the owners. Both Akitas and Shibas are notoriously bad shedders thanks to the double coat.

Working & Obedience Intelligence

There are various ways you can measure canine intelligence. But according to canine psychologist Stanley Coren, there are three dimensions of dog IQ.

Though there’s also adaptive and instinctive intelligence, working and obedience intelligence is the most objective method of “ranking” the smartest dog breeds.

That being said, Shiba Inus are the 93rd most intelligent dog breeds. Similarly, Akitas tied for the 100th place. As such, both Japanese dog breeds are in the same category of dog intelligence – the “average” intelligent group.

This means that both breeds are able to learn a new command with 25 to 40 repetitions. In addition, they’re able to obey a known command on the first attempt just 50% or better of the time.

There’s nothing wrong with being “average.” And just because both Shiba Inus and Akitas performed average doesn’t mean they aren’t highly intelligent dogs.

Stubborn Japanese Dogs

A big reason why the Akita and Shiba Inu barely cracked the top 100 for working and obedience intelligence is because they’re stubborn dogs. Coren’s dog intelligence trials was essentially an obedience test.

It’s no coincidence that the dog breeds who scored the lowest are the most stubborn dog breeds as well. But just because a dog doesn’t obey you doesn’t mean the dog doesn’t understand the command.

How stubborn are these two Japanese dogs? According to Canna Pet, both the Akita and Shiba are one of the 10 most stubborn dog breeds. Dog Time seems to agree with them, calling both dogs the top 7 for stubbornness.

One Shiba Inu owner tells us just how stubborn her dog can be, saying:

My shiba wasn’t having it last night. She planted herself on the doorstep and refused to walk but soon remembered that I could just pick her up. So she gave up shortly after.

– Evincarr (Reddit User)

Often described as strong-willed, Shibas are certain to have their stubborn streaks from time to time. If they don’t want to do something, they’ll let you know.

What about the Akita Inu, you say? According to this owner, they’re not much better:

I’ve only had my Akita for 2 months but she’s the most stubborn dog I’ve ever trained. Less interested in pleasing you, and doesn’t care if you’re excited. She’s only interested in the reward.

– Numbersafter (Reddit User)

With the Akita Inu, the stubbornness can potentially lead to difficult or dangerous behaviors and tendencies if left untrained. They are strong dogs with a dominant personality, so pack leadership is crucial.

Always use positive reinforcement when it comes to obedience training. Both Akitas and Shibas respond the best to firmness and consistency.

Silent Dogs

When I say silent, I don’t mean that these dogs can’t bark. They can definitely bark, but don’t do so like many other dogs. Instead, they’re more “selective” with the barking.

The Spruce Pets call both Akitas and Shibas some of the quietest dog breeds in the world. They’re so quiet that they often seem reserved or standoffish to the unfamiliar.

But why are these dogs so quiet? The silent nature can be traced back to the dogs’ old hunting days. In fact, the Akita Inu is often called the “silent hunter” in Japan. After tracking down large game, Akitas rarely bark to keep them at bay.

Shiba Inus, on the other hand, have a “sneak attack” approach. Because these dogs are essentially ambushing the prey, they needed to be quiet during their hunts.

Being quiet isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Plus, the “shiba scream” is anything but quiet. And if you live in an apartment complex or have close neighbors, these dogs may be perfect for you.

Loyal Family Dogs

Last but not least, these dogs are as loyal as they come. In fact, both Akitas and Shibas are known for their unwavering loyalty.

The true story of Hachikō the Akita Inu is perhaps the most famous example of loyalty in this dog breed. The Akita waited for over 9 years following the death of his owner. Despite the owner’s passing, the dog did not give up hope.

Similarly, there are many stories that highlight the loyalty of the Shiba Inu – none better than Mari the Shiba.

This heartwarming story took place in 2004, after the Chūetsu earthquake. When Mari’s house collapsed, her owner was stuck in the house. Mari did her best to take care of both the owner and her three newborn pups.

The man was eventually rescued and the dogs miraculously survived the incident. Thanks to the undying loyalty of Mari, they all survived.

Get a Shiba or Akita?

Shiba Inus rank low on dog IQ tests because they're too stubborn to obey commands.

So should you get an Akita Inu or Shiba Inu? Both dog breeds share a lot more similarities than differences. Not only do they have similar temperaments, but also physical qualities, history, intelligence and popularity.

So when deciding on which dog to bring home, it’s all about the size. Do you prefer a large dog or a small dog? Are you looking for a guard dog or a watchdog? These are the questions you should be asking yourself.

No matter which Japanese dog you choose, they will have a strong-willed and independent personality, which require socialization and training to keep in check. However, rest assure that your dog will be loyal no matter what.

There really is no wrong choice when debating between the Akita Inu and Shiba Inu. Both dogs are affectionate, intelligent and good-natured. They will undeniably become valuable additions to your family.

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About the author

Richard Jeng

Richard has been raising dogs his whole life, including a Poodle, Pomeranian, Corgi and Australian Shepherd. He's always working with animal shelters and dog rescues because of his passion for all dogs. Fun fact: his all time favorite breed is the German Shepherd. Read More.

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