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Are Shiba Inus Smart? – Here’s What Make Shibas Highly Intelligent Dogs

The Shiba Inu is, without doubt, the most iconic and popular Japanese dog breed today. Shibas are bold, lively, attentive and alert small dogs. And unlike most dogs, they’re a bit more aloof and cat-like. So it may leave you wondering, how intelligent can these dogs be?

So, are Shiba Inus smart dogs? Shiba Inus are “average” intelligent dogs when it comes to obedience & working intelligence. And according to canine psychologist, Stanley Coren, they’re ranked the 93rd smartest dog breed for this dimension of IQ. But Shibas are intelligent in other ways. For example, they’re cunning dogs that’ll learn quickly from their mistakes. Plus, their superb hunting instincts require a special type of intelligence.

It doesn’t matter how bad they performed on Coren’s intelligence test. There’s no denying the cleverness of the Shiba Inu. That being said, why did the Shiba perform so “poorly” compared to other dogs? Read on to learn what actually makes the Shiba smart.

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Measuring the Shiba’s Intelligence

To understand how smart Shibas are, we must understand how we measure their intelligence.

Like we mentioned, the Shiba Inu is the 93rd most intelligent dog breed (out of 138 breeds). But how exactly did we get this ranking? This type of intelligence measured in Coren’s trial is called obedience & working intelligence.

Obedience and working intelligence is simple. In a nutshell, it refers to the ability of the dog to learn a command and retrain the training. While we understand this isn’t the perfect representation of dog intelligence, it’s a good starting point, as it’s the most objective to measure.

This list of smartest dogs, along with the term “obedience & working intelligence” was developed by psychologist Stanley Coren. He conducted his research trials with the help of 199 obedience trial judges from both the American and Canadian Kennel Club. 

Stanley Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria

Based on his own criteria, Coren asked the judges to evaluate and rank as many dog breeds as they could. His criteria was based on two main factors:

  1. The number of repetitions necessary for a dog breed to learn a new command. Of course, dog breeds that needed fewer repetitions ranked higher.
  2. The success rate (%) that a dog breed will obey a known command on the first try. Higher success rates meant a more intelligent dog, according to Coren.

Although Stanley Coren received responses from hundreds of dog breeds, not all breeds made the cut for his final list. In fact, not every dog breed participated either.

Only dog breeds officially recognized by the American and Canadian Kennel Club participated. Unfortunately, this means no mixed dog breeds or rarer international dog breeds.

In addition, only dog breeds with at least 100 assessments qualified for his final rankings. Coren felt that he needed enough data to include the breed in the rankings.

So considering how popular the Shiba Inu was, they made the cut, easily.

How the Shiba Inu Performed

The Shiba Inus didn’t perform too poorly, but they didn’t perform well either. In fact, they were just…average. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with being average. But what does it mean to be an average-intelligent dog breed?

Average intelligence meant that the Shiba Inu was able to learn a new command with just 25 to 40 repetitions. For reference, “below average” dogs needed 40 to 80 repetitions – nearly double what the Shiba needed! You may be able to teach a command in just a few hours.

On the other hand, the Shiba could obeyed a known command on the first attempt with a 50% or greater success rate. Not bad at all!

Other popular dog breeds in the “average intelligent” dog category include the Australian Shepherd, Great Dane, Siberian Husky, Dachshund and Boxer. All of which, are excellent breeds known for being smart companions.

Shiba Inu vs. “Smartest” Dogs

If you thought Shibas were impressive, just wait til you hear about the world’s smartest dogs. In fact, the smartest dog breeds in the world are in a class of their own. Conveniently, they’re also the top 10 most intelligent dog breeds.

But how do they compare to the Shiba Inu? The most intelligent dogs were able to learn a new command with less than 5 repetitions. This is at least 5 times faster than the Shiba. And depending on the complexity of the command, it could take them only a few minutes to learn!

What’s even more impressive, these smart dogs will obey a known command on the first try with a 95% or higher success rate. Not only are they great learners, but also willing to do your bidding. They’re some of the most obedient pets in the world!

For reference, other dog breeds in the top 10 category are your German Shepherds, Poodles, Rottweilers, Australian Cattle Dogs, Labs, Dobermans and Golden Retrievers. And the breed that tops the list? The Border Collie.

Why Shibas Rank Low in Dog Intelligence

Shibas are clever, cunning and crafty. So why did they rank so low on Coren’s trials? Well, it’s unfair to standardize a dog intelligence test using just obedience and working intelligence. Though we think there’s a correlation between dog IQ and how fast a breed learns commands, it’s not completely accurate.

One main reason: Shiba Inus are some of the most stubborn dog breeds. In fact, Shiba Inus tend to challenge their owners every chance they get. And with a stranger giving them obedience commands (like in the trials), they may be more inclined to challenge the handler.

So, it makes sense these dogs don’t always obey commands on the first attempt. But just because your Shiba does not obey your command doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t understand what you’re saying. They may understand, but they don’t necessarily care to obey in that moment of time. 

One Shiba owner explains,

He’s the most particular dog I’ve ever met. Stubborn, bull headed boy. You could be in the middle of a great play and he’ll just switch off and walk away. You could have his favorite treat in your hand but if he doesn’t feel like coming he won’t.

– Mtown19 (Reddit User)

Because of Coren’s intelligence test that relies so heavily on obedience, it’s no surprise that Shiba Inus performed so poorly. They’re not as “eager to please” as other top-performing breeds, such as the Border Collie. The biggest takeaway is that they’re not as average as the “experts” claim. 

Finding the Right Motivator

It’s been well documented that Shibas are incredibly strong-willed dogs that often go on their stubborn streaks. And according to Dog Time, Shibas are one of the seven most stubborn dog breeds in the canine kingdom!

As such, they will often challenge their owners when they can. And when they don’t feel like doing something they will do everything in their power to have it their way. They challenge their owners because they’re highly intelligent dogs and they know it.

She’s [Shiba] too smart for her own good. I think she’s stubborn because she understands what she can and cannot get away with.

– Martha O. (Shiba Owner)

In fact, it’s been well documented that many stubborn dogs are some of the most intelligent dogs in other areas of dog intelligence. And it’s no coincidence that the lowest ranked dogs also happen to be the most stubborn. It’s just that stubbornness and obedience don’t get along well together. 

The key is finding the proper motivator for your Shiba Inu. Once you find the right motivators for your Shiba, they’ll quickly and eagerly learn. But it’s not as easy as just telling you what your dog is motivated by. Motivators can vary depending on dog.

For example, your Shiba may react well to food (treats), while others react well to play (fetch). Be patient and take your time to figure this out – it’s worth knowing this in the long run. If you can figure this out, obedience training will be no problem for a Shiba.

What Actually Makes Shibas Smart

So far, we’ve made a pretty good argument for why current dog intelligence tests don’t accurately measure the true intelligence of the Shiba Inu.

But if it’s not obedience and working intelligence, what actually makes these Japanese dogs so smart? According to Stanley Coren, there are two other components of dog intelligence: adaptive and instinctive intelligence. Both are arguably more important than obedience & working IQ.

The “Hunting Intelligence” in Shibas

In addition to obedience & working intelligence, instinctive intelligence is another component of dog IQ. It refers to the instincts of the dog breed, or rather, what the dog was bred for. Does the dog breed have a special ability that they were bred for?

Believe it or not, all dog breeds at one point were bred for a job or purpose that primarily benefited humans. For example, the Border Collie was bred to herd livestock. As a result, we view herding as the Border Collie’s instinctive intelligence.

Likewise, Shiba Inus were bred for hunting small and large game. In fact, they’re exceptionally good at flushing out birds from bushes. They’ve been used as hunting dogs in the mountainous regions of Japan for thousands of years. 

But how is hunting instincts a type of dog intelligence? Being able to quietly sneak up on birds and flush them out towards the hunters requires a certain level of intelligence.

Shibas needed to understand how to sneak up on a prey without being detected. They also needed to know how to flush them out towards a certain direction (usually towards a trap or the hunters). All this requires a special type of IQ. Plus, they know how to do this with little to no training!

Because Shiba Inus are so good at this, and have been doing this for so long, they’re a fine example of a breed with high instinctive intelligence in hunting. This area is where the Shibas truly shine.

The Shiba’s Adaptive Intelligence

The final dimension of dog IQ is adaptive intelligence, which refers to the breed’s ability to learn from previous events or mistakes. In other words, it’s a measure of what dogs can learn to do for themselves (solving problems, avoiding mistakes, etc.).

Unlike instinctive intelligence, adaptive intelligence can vary greatly among individual dogs of the same breed. Not all Shibas are guaranteed to have high adaptive intelligence. However, most Shibas are known to generally show high adaptive intelligence.

For instance, Shiba Inus are fantastic communicators. They’re one of the most vocal dogs in the dogdom and have more than one way of expressing themselves to humans. Communication with humans is something that needs to be learned. And Shibas tend to quickly learn how.

For example, the “shiba scream” is a real thing that they’re famously known for. It’s a high-pitched, loud scream the Shiba produces when extremely distressed or excited. 

Shiba Inus are also some of the most clever and cunning dogs. They know exactly what they want and how to get what they want. Many owners have fallen victim to the “manipulation” of the Shiba Inu.

One owner describes obedience training with his Shiba:

When we started training one of my shibas, he would stare at you until you had the appropriate amount of treats in your hand before doing a “command.” We literally kept adding one at a time until he found the amount acceptable.

– Glaxy (Reddit User)

All these are signs that point to a dog with high adaptive intelligence. But again, this will depend on your dog. But if you asked any Shiba owner, i’m certain they would tell you similar anecdotes just like these.

Is Your Shiba Inu Smart?

When it comes to dog intelligence, there’s a lot of room for variance. So, to really gauge how intelligent Shibas really can be, we asked real owners if they believed their dog was smart.

By surveying the popular Shiba sub reddit forum and other forums, we were able to collect great responses from Shiba owners. Here’s what they had to say:

Real Owner Answers

1. Tyrion_stark says Yes: “He is a tad aloof at times, but he wants to know what we are doing (and involve himself when he deems necessary). He is incredibly intelligent, passed his STAR puppy and canine good citizen classes with ease.”

2. Gr8grafx says Yes: “They are whip-smart but not necessarily trainable. Ours were obedient–knew how to sit, come and heel but wouldn’t necessarily do it unless they wanted to.”

3. _ap says Yes: “So my Shiba is about 4 years old now, and she’s grown to be an extremely intelligent pup who knows how to get exactly what she wants.”

4. Tengufr says Yes: “Ginko is a non neutered male, he’s as stubborn and intelligent as any other shiba. We educated him, with some aspects that could may be seen as carelessness by some dog owners.”

5. Rhombomere says Yes: “Haru can be like this too at times. While training can help, I think that this is part of the price we pay for having intelligent, curious, and willful dogs.”

6. Hairofbrown says Mixed: “I have a smart shiba and a dumb shiba. The dumb one only cares about garbage, protecting his turf from other dogs and playing ball. He’s the only shiba I know who has no hunting instinct.”

7. Bazzer68 says Yes: “I think Kali is pretty smart. She knows all her toys by name, though she doesn’t seem to interested in them as she gets older (11 y.o. tomorrow).”

8. J4yw4l says Yes: “Shibas are very smart, they will often surprise you. We have had ours for about 2 years and she continues to surprise us.”

9. Sakurastardust says Yes: “So, I’ve had my black/tan male puppy, Yusuke, for a little over a week. He’s definitely smart, and learned sit and down in about 2 days (even when outside with distractions!).”

10. Shadou_wolf says Yes: “Shibas are pretty damn smart there is just so many words my dog knows without me ever teaching him.”

Smart, and Good Dogs

Shiba Inus are some of the best companions – if you can figure them out. In no way am I trying to scare you off from raising a Shiba Inu. I’ve personally lived with one and they can be as affectionate as they are entertaining. 

But when deciding which dog breed to bring home, you shouldn’t be asking if Shiba Inus are smart enough for you. The truth is that all dogs are intelligent enough to provide most people with their needs.

Unless you need a dog for special tasks, such as police work, search and rescue or specialized hunting, any dog will fit the bill. Instead, you should be asking yourself if the Shiba Inu’s personality and temperament fits yours. 


So do you own a Shiba Inu? Leave a comment in the section below to tell us a moment when your Shiba outsmarted you! 

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Monday 19th of April 2021

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Suzie Tjarks

Saturday 14th of November 2020

My Shiba, Ryuuki, is almost 3. He lives with 2 cats, one of which we got as a kitten while Roo was a puppy so the boys are tight friends. We have morning wrestling and then they’ll clean each other. Ryuuki can get so stubborn when on walks when I go left and he has his route planned to the right! Shiba owners know about that Shiba ruff when they just sit down and pull against the leash and harness, and twice he pulled right out and off with the “run”. Every night, I get the Shiba stare and then the Shiba chatter because I’m sure he’s telling me I didn’t put enough raw fillet on his plate and he wants desert! Oh, and my Shiba loves his sun time during the day! I’d have 2 if there wasn’t so much fur already between my long hair cat and my Shiba boy❤️

steve

Tuesday 28th of July 2020

My shiba is now 11 years old and still has puppy in her. She is mellowing in her old age and is much more cooperative. We have a very large yard that is fully fenced in a rural suburban neighborhood with a lot of wild life. She is an incredible hunter even at 11. She killed four jack rabbits in our yard in a week. One heads up is Shiba's can have some physical issues that are not discussed too much in the literature. Skin allergies, Juvenile cataracts, and they can blow up their ACLs in their rear legs. Our environment gives Mika a lot of running area and maybe that is how she blew up both ACLs. She also suffers from skin allergies in the warmer months. The poor dog got cataracts but the good news all these issues have been resolved. Although my friend is our vet and says my dog is not expensive she is valuable. She really greats us when we come home with a lot of excitement. She loves to play retrieve with her ball or other toys. She understands a lot of words but like it is pointed out shiba's tend to obey when they decide it is good for them to listen. She will come if she is not hunting a squirrel or digging up a gopher. She knows what she wants to do and will please us when it is convenient. You have to know what you are getting yourself in for because shibas will be shibas. She was house trained in one day and never had an accident in the house. She is meticulous about her appearance and even though we have over a half acre of property she prefers to relieve herself on our walks not in the yard (very clean animals).

L Johnson

Wednesday 15th of July 2020

I feel that a little more time needs to be spent understanding the Sheba. I’ve known 3 Sheba owners ( myself included) they are highly intelligent. They’re “stubbornness” that most people mention is their way of unwavering wanting to maintain some type of control in a situation. As they get older that unwavering gets less. But enjoy the show while you have them. They are delightful & entertaining ( as many have mentioned) on a human level of entertaining. Not just cutesy entertaining. Enjoy

Richard J Luther Jr

Friday 3rd of January 2020

I had "rescued" a Shiba two years ago from the local shelter. The vet said he was all Shbia. I had never heard of the breed before. We named him Shadow because of the way he runs. Since getting him I've become a Shiba person. Me and my wife love that dog. He never stop making us laugh

Richard Jeng

Friday 3rd of January 2020

I lived with a Shiba for many years (my college roommate's dog). Easily, one of the most interesting, entertaining, cunning and INTELLIGENT dog I've ever met.