The Shiba Inu is the smallest Japanese dog breed and the most common dog in their homeland. Not only do they make great family pets and traditional hunting dogs, but they are also one of Japan’s national treasures. Making them very special canines, indeed. Shibas are sweet and fun doggos with their family. But they have an alert, independent side and are surprisingly courageous in the face of danger.
They are best known for their foxy appearance, especially the red-coated variety. “Shiba Inu” translates to “Brushwood Dog,” the color of the autumn brushwood they traditionally hunted in. But what other colors do Shiba Inus come in? There are three acceptable standard Shiba Inu colors: Red, Sesame, and Black and Tan. But there are different Shiba Inu hues to consider, too, including non-standard Cream, White, Pinto, and Piebald.
Each color variety sports the famous urajiro pattern, although some of these patterns are harder to see than others, depending on their coat color. We look at everything you need to know about the shades of the Shiba Inu rainbow, including the most common and rarest colors. And explore how their coat color relates to their health and what coloring to avoid. Let’s take a closer look.
What Is The Urajiro Pattern?
Before we get into the Shiba Inu coat colors, it’s important to explore the unique urajiro markings that all Shiba Inu should have. Urajiro are cream to white ventral colors, and they should be distinct lines rather than blended or blurred with their primary coat shades. The markings vary slightly depending on which coat color they have. But regardless of shade, all Shibas should have the following white urajiro markings:
- On the sides of the muzzle.
- On the cheeks.
- Inside the ears.
- On the underjaw and upper throat.
- Inside of the legs.
- On the abdomen.
- Around the vent and ventral side of the tail.
Other white markings may be present, such as on the tip of the tail, spots above the eyes, or on the feet. But these other white markings are not urajiro. And they are also sometimes penalized in the show ring.
Most Common Shiba Inu Colors
Technically, there are four Shiba Inu colors, but only three are officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC.) Because of this, they are the most common Shiba Inu coat colors.
Red is the most common Shiba Inu coat color and the one that people automatically think of. It’s the iconic foxy appearance. Some people also call it the toasted marshmallow look. Red is also the preferred shade in the show ring, which is crucial to consider if you plan to show your Shiba in conformation shows. Red Shibas commonly have additional urajiro on their throat, forechest, and chest. And a slight dash of black tipping on the back and tail hairs are okay. But judges like a clear red-orange coat in the show ring, so they’re more likely to win.
Black & Tan
Black and tan Shibas are also known as tri-colored Shibas, given that the urajiro markings are white. But they’re also known as tri-color Shibas because each strand of hair should contain all three hues. Each strand should start with light cream or white, blending into a reddish tan, and finish with a black tip. The black coloring should be more rusty, dark brown to black, rather than gray or steel. Their undercoat is buff or gray.
The black and tan markings should be clear rather than blurred. Black and tan Shibas should have tan markings on the sides of their muzzles and the outside of the forelegs from the carpus down toward the toes. They should also have two tan oval spots above their eyes. Tan hairs appear on the inside of their ears and on the underside of the tail. In addition to the core urajiro markings, black and tan Shibas sport a triangular mark on both sides of their forechest. Giving the impression they are wearing a cute white bow tie.
Sesame’s coats consist of black-tipped hair on a rich red background with urajiro markings. The black tips should be evenly distributed and light, with no concentration of black in any area. Sesame areas should appear more red than any other hues. Sesame Shibas sometimes have a “widow’s peak.” This is where the hairline dips into a V-shape near the center of the forehead. This leaves the bridge and the sides of the muzzle red.
Like the black and tan coat color, sesame Shibas usually have white triangular urajiro markings on both sides of the forechest. Sesame Shibas can have white markings on their forelegs, hind legs, throat, forechest, or chest in addition to urajiro. In Japan, sesame Shibas are sometimes called “Goma,” which translates to sesame.
Rare Shiba Inu Colors
Shiba Inu also comes in other shades, but they are very rare. Let’s take a look at the different colors you might see.
Cream & White
There is a lot of controversy surrounding cream and white-colored Shiba Inus. In a nutshell, cream-colored Shibas are sometimes called white Shibas, and vice versa. But there is a subtle difference between these two colors. A cream Shiba has a white coat with slight red or gray tinges. Whereas a white Shiba has a white coat without any other coloring traces.
Cream Shibas are beautiful but severely penalized in the show ring. This is because the iconic urajiro markings are not distinctive, which is essential. Because of this, responsible breeders stay away from this hue and tend not to breed cream Shibas. On the flip side, irresponsible breeders often breed for this color because they can market cream pups as rare in the hope of making a more significant profit.
Irresponsible breeders often breed close cream relatives to produce cream puppies, heightening the risk of health conditions. For this reason, if you want a cream Shiba, you must work with a responsible breeder and ask for health certificates so you know you’re buying a healthy pup. It’s important to know that cream and white Shibas differ from albino Shibas. Albinism results from a genetic mutation, and with it comes various health and behavioral problems.
A pinto coat is a white base with color patches. The patches are usually typical Shiba colors, such as black, tan, and red. Pinto pups are very rare in Shiba litters. The Shiba Inu breed standard states, “cream, white, pinto, or any other hue marking not specified is a severe fault and must be penalized.” And just like cream and white colored Shibas, traditional breeders advise against breeding Shibas that are not red, black and tan, or sesame. Responsible breeders want to preserve the breed’s characteristics.
A piebald coat is a coat that has asymmetrical white spotting on a colored base coat, a lot like a cow’s coloring. They are called “pieds” and are commonly confused with the pinto coat color. Similar to merle coat colors in other breeds, a piebald coat results from a genetic mutation that creates the absence of color. Although they are beautiful pups, responsible breeders should not breed piebald Shibas. This is because they aren’t in line with the breed’s traditional characteristics and have an increased chance of canine congenital deafness.
Shiba Inu Color Variation
There are three acceptable Shiba Inu hues, but other rare colors pop up in the bloodline. You need to be wary if you find a Shiba Inu in a color or pattern other than the three acceptable ones outlined above. Cream, white, pinto, and piebald Shibas are extremely rare. There’s a chance that the breeder has bred for color over health, which can mean breeding closely related Shibas. They might have introduced other breeds into the mix, meaning they could be a Shiba Inu mix.
It’s important to research the breeder you’re working with and ask to see their health certificates. Recommended health tests for the Shiba include hip, ophthalmologist, and patella evaluations. If the puppy you want to buy has a cream, white, pinto, or piebald coat, you might also want to submit the puppy for a BAER hearing test. Avoid breeders who inflate their prices for “rare” color Shibas.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Shiba Inus Change Color?
Shiba Inus do not change hue, but their markings might fade over time. Sometimes, Shiba Inu pups are born with white markings that aren’t urajiro. Often, these markings fade away as the dog matures.
What Shiba Inu Coat Color Sheds The Most?
All Shiba Inu, regardless of coat color, shed the same. They have a double coat with a soft, thick undercoat and a stiff, straight outer coat. Groom them regularly to keep their skin and coat healthy, and invest in a deshedding tool to keep them looking their best and your home as tidy as possible.
What Color Shiba Inu Should I Get?
This depends on what you want from your Shiba Inu and your color preferences. If your heart is set on a particular hue, just be sure they are from a responsible breeder. If you’re looking for a family pet, their coat color doesn’t affect their personality. But if you’re seeking a Shiba for the show ring, you want to consider the preferred red coat or the black and tan or sesame coat.
Does The Color Affect The Health Of Shiba Inus?
No, generally speaking, as long as the puppy comes from a healthy litter, the coat color should not affect the health of a Shiba Inu. But there are rare exceptions to this. Albino dogs have an increased incidence of health and behavioral problems. And if the Shiba has a piebald coat, there is a slightly higher chance of them being deaf.
As you can see, there’s more to the Shiba Inu than the foxy red coat. There are three official colors which are red, sesame, and black and tan. Kennel clubs recognize that cream and white Shibas exist but are rare and detract from the breed’s traditional characteristics. The same goes for pinto and piebald Shibas. As a result, they are much rarer and penalized in the show ring. Whatever shade Shiba you’ve fallen in love with, research your breeder to ensure they are responsible and produce healthy pups.