I get some really weird search queries that bring people to this blog, but mostly they are good questions, which I am pleased about, like this one: How big does a yard for a shiba inu have to be?
The short answer is, it depends. Looking back to the days with my first Shiba, I rented and did not have a fenced yard. She had to rely on walks, dog park visits and doggy day care for her exercise. I admit I was thinner back then too and had all the time in the world to devote to her off leash recall (which is fabulous and due in part to not having a fenced yard), training and travel. That was adequate for 2 dogs and 2 small dogs are easy to walk with one person.
So, if you have 1-2 dogs, you really only need an area at home that is large enough to potty them, IF you are doing 2-3 walks a day for at least 30 minutes. Unless you run your dogs, they do deserve a chance to stretch their little legs and run full out once a day, so in this case, I do believe an enclosed dog park, tennis court or a friends/family yard is good.
Today, I usually have 5-10 dogs on any given day during the week and there is no way I can walk them separately and often enough to give them the exercise and stimulation they need, especially in light of their conditioning requirements for showing and performance sports (Flyball, Agility). This is why I now own a fully fenced acre, and our walks are no longer daily or needed for exercise beyond mental stimulation (they are out of the house often for mental enrichment). I also don’t worry so much about door bolting and failed recalls. These are the nice parts about having a large fenced yard.
The not so nice part for many pet owners is the frustration of going to all the effort to fence a larger yard, only to find their Shibas refusing to potty in the new yard, and sitting on the doorstep pining to come inside to go on a walk, not frolicking as was intended. Dogs can quickly become isolated and forgotten this way if living with lazy owners. This is why some breeders I have spoken with are not so concerned about fenced yards, as the dogs who are being walked everyday tend to be in decent shape and are better socialized.
The tendency when fencing a yard, is to assume that the dogs will exercise themselves so the pressing need to do potty or exercise walks, is diminished. We all have these neighbors at some point who fall into this habit, who have 1 or 2 dogs that spend all day unattended in the backyard, no matter how large, and are never walked. They probably bark and dig out of boredom and look very sad while they sit on the porch waiting for someone to interact with them. Sometimes they leave their spacious yards much to their owners’ perplexity, to go into your yard, or into the street, searching for someone to interact with.
This is the rub: a big fenced yard does not create a happy or exercised dog by virtue of being fenced in. So, what is the point of having an acre play area again? My play pasture is a safer, time saving alternative to multiple individual walks 2-3 times a day, and it serves as my private dog park and dog gymnasium, with a lot of work on my part to keep the dogs moving. Believe me, my dogs are not lazy backyard loungers and I am a busy mom for them making sure they get their needs met. They are not allowed to just sit around and veg when they are outside and this is where special attention needs to be paid. Planning adequate backyard exercise takes a surprising amount of effort.
Over time, I am learning the canines are more inclined to exercise the more of them there are. When my dogs have guests, they run and chase for hours. They leap and twirl and dig, catch tennis balls and race each other to climb to the highest point of their jungle gym. I use a chukit, a flirt pole, a pen light, agility equipment, and a custom dog jungle gym to make sure they are on the move. When they come inside after an average of 5-6 hours outside running, they are fit and exhausted.
So, it really depends on how many dogs there are and what you are willing to provide for them. 1 or 2 dogs can get by fine with out a fenced yard if given multiple walks daily. More than 3 dogs is hard for one person to walk usually in my experience, so if your yard is a good size and fenced (my parents’ city has 1/4 acre lots for instance) just make sure the dogs are not spending all day loafing in the sun. Get out there and play with them, encourage them to run, or take them for a car ride to a dog friendly area for a walk, or a pet friendly store, or invite some of their doggy friends over for a play date. A tired Shiba is a good Shiba!