Phew, this website is a labor of love and largely a one-woman show so unless indicated, all articles written by J.Tsukamoto
The Shiba Inu dog breed is one of those "picture-perfect" dog breeds that always look great no matter what mood or pose they may be found in.
A big reason for this beauty is their gorgeous coats.
From red, to black, to sesame - Shibas sport coat colors that both flashy and serene.
Learn more about all of the colors of Shiba coats including some rare variants you probably never heard of.
How Many Total Colors of Shiba Inu are There?
There are four Shiba Inu coat colors that are officially recognized by both Japanese and American Shiba organizations.
The coat colors are:
- Black and Tan
However there are actually a lot more variances of Shiba Inu coat colors that are affected by genes.
Some of these variances still conform to Shiba standards and are 100% acceptable in show rings, though a couple of these variances (Pinto, Saddleback) are not.
Pinto and Saddleback are non-standard coat colors and do not conform to Shiba Inu standard.
The Shiba Inus with these non-standard coat colors are still, however, purebred Shiba Inus.
Responsible and knowledgeable Shiba Inu breeders will never purposely breed these coat colors. (Unless dire genetic circumstances requires it)
However, occasionally the wonder of genetics may find a reputable breeder with two nicely marked parents producing a pinto coated Shiba.
In fact at one point a long while back, a pinto marked Shiba Inu helped to save the Shiba Inu breed due to his valuable genetics.
But by far, puppy mills and backyard breeders are the main reason for Shiba Inus with non-standard coat colors.
This is because instead of finding a nice pet home for a pinto Shiba puppy, they will purposely breed the pinto Shiba causing more pinto Shibas to be created.
So it’s important not to criticize the dog itself but instead scrutinize the breeding practices of the breeder.
Understanding Variances in the Four Main Shiba Inu Coat Colors
Due to genetics, there are variants within all four major coat colors.
And this mainly due to the interaction of three genes made up of the Agouti Signaling Protein (ASIP) located on the A locus :
- Ay = "Sable", called red by most, including red variants (sashige, sesame, etc)
- aw = Agouti - (black sesame) - rare, the "wolfish" gene
- at = Tan-pointed dogs (black & tan)
For example, depending on the combination of these genes, a red Shiba can be a “clear” red, a “sashige” or “dirty red”, or a “red sesame”.
A black and tan Shiba can either be a black and tan with agouti (the agouti gene), or pure black and tan (carrying both tan-pointed genes)
A sesame can be a sesame (sable-type), black sesame (agouti-type), or black sesame (agouti-type) carrying the black and tan gene.
Another gene that affects coat color variances is located on the E locus (extension or extension of yellow locus).
This gene is known as the “white/cream” gene.
All Shiba carry this gene and depending on the dominant “E” gene (non-white) or recessive “e” gene (white / cream) - a Shiba can be a cream Shiba, a colored Shiba carrying the recessive “e” gene, or a colored Shiba not carrying the “e” cream gene.
It has been observed by many breeders that colored dogs carrying the “e” cream/white gene have coats that are lighter (diluted) compared to colored Shibas carrying the “E” non cream/white gene.
For the majority of us that are not gene coding wizards, these genes basically cause slight variances within the 4 major coat colors.
The best example would be a “sashige” or “dirty red” coat color caused most often by a red Shiba carrying the black and tan gene.
A sashige is still considered a red for registration purposes, though in the past they were sometimes registered as “red sesame” which is now considered incorrect.
Many owners of dirty red Shiba Inu mistakenly believe their Shibas are true sesames however true sesames are extremely rare.
Although sashige Shiba Inus can still be entered in conformation shows, they’ll likely face a hard time competing against the clear red Shiba Inus which are aligned to breed standards.
But outside of the show ring, there should be nothing negatively associated with a sashige coat.
What is The Most Popular Shiba Inu Coat Color?
The most popular and regarded coat color is the red coat.
Both Japanese and American Shiba Inu judging organizations feel that the red coat color is the best color for breed representation.
Preference is given to red coats that have deep, vibrant red hues.
Breeding red Shiba Inus with too much cream genes in the lineage can cause a “washing out” of lightening of the red coat which makes the coat a lighter, yellower hue.
A properly conformed Shiba Inu with a full and vibrant red coat is spectacular to admire. The red and orange hues embodies
What is The Least Popular Shiba Inu Color?
The least preferred coat color in terms of representing breed standards is the cream / white coat.
This is because the white coat masks the urajiro on the Shiba’s body.
The urajiro is an important component of a Shiba Inu’s physical attributes thus making cream coated Shiba Inus seriously faulted in breed conformation trials.
Urajiro is the expression of a white, or off-white coloration on a Shibas underside, legs, and face.
This patterning represents an animal's natural “camouflage” that has evolved since ancient times. The term “countershading” is used to describe this in most other animal species.
What are the Rarest Shiba Inu Colors?
One of the “two” rarest Shiba Inu coat colors is the sesame Shiba Inu.
Sesame Shibas, called “goma” Shiba in Japan is a sable - type sesame carrying both the red (Ay) gene and the black and tan gene (at).
In addition, this rare sesame color also carries the cream gene resulting in a sesame that has a brighter red base color with less dark and heavy black shading compared to a sable type sesame that does not have the cream gene.
Breeding for sesame Shibas are not easy and in many cases, simply involves chance.
Certain lineages are more likely to produce sesame Shibas than others.
True sesame Shiba Inus with proper coat markings are not easy to come by. The black overlay over the body must not exceed 50% black.
Additionally, this overlay must include the face and not be too dark but evenly dispersed through the coat with no sharp contrasts between the colors.
The easiest way to differentiate a sesame Shiba from a sashige Shiba is by looking at the head coloring. Sashige shibas will have clear red heads while true sesames will have the sesame overlay.
The Rarest of Rarest Shiba Inu Coat Color!
Even rarer than the sable type sesame Shiba Inu coat color is the “agouti type” black sesame not carrying the white / cream gene.
The Japanese refer to this coat color as “kurogoma”.
Black sesame Shiba Inus are much darker than sable sesames and present with less urajiro - sometimes without any light coloring on the chest.
And although this coat color is a bit rarer than the sable sesame coat, breeding for this coat is much easier and straightforward though there are theories that make this particular coat color a bit controversial.
This controversy stems from the fact that certain NIPPO judges and breeders have stated that this coat color was rarely if ever found in the Shiba Inu in the past.
Some allege that they believe this coat color was from an authorized outcrossing with the Shikoku dog.
Although nothing has been definitely proven yet, it’s both intriguing and important to understand the history of the sesame coat color if you’re ever in a position to meet one or even own one.
Are White / Cream Shiba Inus Recognized?
Yes, white / cream Shiba Inus are recognized by both Nippo, UKC, and AKC organizations.
However most Shiba organizations “fault” this color due to the fact that the urajiro markings cannot be seen.
Cream colored Shiba Inus are actually colored dogs that due to “extension of yellow” E locus have their colors “masked” by the ee genes.
The gene for producing cream Shiba Inu is widely dispersed throughout the worldwide gene pool.
Although the coat color may not be valued as highly as the other coat colors due to aesthetic reasons, the cream Shiba still plays an important role in the Shiba’s gene pool.
Even the most reputable of breeders will occasionally produce a cream puppy which would then be placed in a “pet home” and not be purposely bred for the above-mentioned reasons.
However, sometimes breeders will breed a cream Shiba into their line due to their line getting too dark / muddy.
Additionally, cream Shibas may be carriers of a good lineage and so long as bred carefully with a non cream carrier, the resulting puppies will not be cream.
This is why DNA testing is such an important tool for breeders.
Health Concerns for the Cream / White Shiba Inu
Fortunately, cream coated Shiba Inus do not suffer any adverse health effects such as deafness, blindness that other white / albino dogs suffer from.
None of the Shiba Inu coat colors are related to health problems for that matter.
This is because the dogs that have health issues related to coat color are due to different genetic anomalies.
The Beautiful Black and Tan Shiba Inu
The gorgeous black and tan Shiba Inu, called “kuro” in Japanese is the coat color that is the most recessive.
This means that a black and tan Shiba can only be produced with two black and tan genes - and not any other color combos.
Two black and tans can never produce a coat color other than black and tan regardless of having red or sesame grandparents.
Black and tan Shibas that carry the white gene are the preferred variation of black and tan due to a brighter urajiro and vivid tan markings. There is more balance and harmony between the dark and light colorings throughout the body.
Also the undercoat is a lighter colored buff or grey and can be observed without parting the top coat.
Adorable white “eyebrows” are usually visible, sometimes accompanied by a perfectly shaped “bowtie” on the chest area.
Black and tan Shibas that do not carry the white gene are generally quite dark with a less impressive urajiro.
Additionally, the undercoat is also dark almost to the point of appearing black through to the skin.
In general, the dark colors on the coat are a bit overpowering resulting in a coat color of less balance.
Shiba Inu Color Changes from Birth to Senior Years
Quite a bit of transformations will occur to a Shiba’s coat starting from puppy hood all the way to their twilight years.
Young Shiba puppies are actually quite dark due to their puppy mask. Red Shiba Inu puppies appear dark grey due to this.
This puppy mask usually fades by the first two months and is gradually replaced with a redder and redder coat.
The muzzle color on puppies is also usually quite dark, almost black at times. This too will lighten up as the pup ages.
For the next three to four years, a Shibas coat will continue to transform to varying degrees.
Once a Shiba reaches a senior age of about 7-8 years old, their coat will start to lighten and fade, similar to humans growing grey hairs.
By now, you've probably realized that there are actually a "lot" more Shiba Inu coat colors than you initially thought.
The intricate workings of genetics and how it affects coats is both fascinating and complex.
Though some sources say there are only four main coat colors - which is technically true - you'll know that there are actually many more due to variations caused by genetic wizardry!
Links to More Info on Coat Genetics:
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