No! Stay! (Away From Shibas?)

shibasnuggles

Used with permission.

Lately, the Doge meme has spurred new interest in the Shiba.  Buzzfeed picked up on it. Jezebel even commented on it in their For the Love of Doge, Please Do Not Get a Shiba Inu article.

…when a breed advocate says “DO NOT GET THIS KIND OF DOG UNTIL YOU MEET ONE AND ARE SURE,” it is probably a good idea to listen. ~ Erin Gloria Ryan, Jezebel

This is pretty much my stance, but some comments and a recent conversation with Sarah, the person pictured above with her Shiba Inu, Kit, made me wonder: Are Shiba enthusiasts overly negative about their breed, even out of the best possible intentions?

Here’s our conversation:

TMS:

I want to quote some of the stuff you’ve said about the Shiba owner issue – pushing people away from their breed. I don’t want you to think that I ignored your posts and comments about it – it’s just been percolating at the back of my head and I want to write a blog post about it.

Sarah

Absolutely, please feel free! And if you’re inclined to disagree with it, I hope you know that I will still adore you anyway and you don’t have to hold back on account of fragile friend ego if you’re inclined to take another position, I’m totes OK with that.

TMS:

Haha… no… I am actually one of the worst culprits when it comes to OHMAIDOGSTAYAWAAAAYFARAWAAAAY

Sarah:

LOL!!!!!

TMS:

I was thinking about why and, well, I think it’s partly because, yes, the breed looks cute, but is really tough…

But I think also it’s because it’s like being a fucking parent – a real one – and you’re talking to some kid who’s all “I wanna be a mommy!” and you’re saying to them, “This dog will infuriate you, ignore you, frustrate you and will rip out your heart when it dies. You want that?”

Other breeds are like the Kodak moments. You don’t generally have to worry about your Lab with kids. Your Collie just magically comes when called. The Shiba is the problem child, the smart one, the one with the most potential for greatness AND disaster. No wonder our hearts get fused to them so closely. No wonder we look at other people and worry about whether they’re ready for that kind of thing.

However, like a lot of parents, we can get a little too involved with our dogs. When it gets to the point where ‘no one is good enough’ for your breed, you really have to step back and re-examine what you’re doing.

Like mothers who don’t let their mates parent because they don’t put diapers on right or because they’re okay with the kid taking two bites of broccoli and not eating the whole thing.

Sarah:

I completely get that, I really do. Because Shibas are so much their own person, it really IS like having a relationship with an autonomous creature that knows his/her own mind and is willing to go to bat for what they want.

Kit is my first dog, so I didn’t actually come into the relationship expecting her to be (in the words of T’Pal, forgive the Trek reference) a subservient quadriped. It cracks my family up that I have a dog so much like me – stubborn, independent, determined to do things her/my own way. And I love her for it. It doesn’t really irritate me, I admire her for her moxie.

People do need to know that these dogs are SMART, and that having one is a partnership and will never be a master/slave relationship. They’re not for people who can’t do unconditional love – like parenting. The kind of love which accepts everything and delights in it all – the sassy moments, the disastrous decision of the child to TP the entire house, build an A-bomb in the garage, etc. etc. etc. – it’s all part of having a critter who is gloriously real and not just a yes-dog.

I agree with you that people should know what they’re getting into, and I *double* agree that it’s important to treat prospective Shiba owners as potential new parents who need encouragement and support instead of judgment (putting diapers on wrong) or criticism (make them eat all the broccoli) or disdain.

It’s a challenge, but it’s also wonderful to have a dog who is their own person. I love Kit’s lack of subservience more than I can say. I’m proud of her for feeling so empowered to assert her will even though she is so tiny and I am so big. I love that self-confidence and I can’t help it, it makes me smile.

Yes, sometimes I find myself standing in the freezing rain or next to the car door for 5, 10, 15 minutes because she and I are doing Immovable Object and Irresistible Force (it happens, sometimes she can’t get what she wants), but she knows that I will out-wait her no matter how long it takes and eventually she chooses to come along. I don’t actually find it particularly infuriating or aggravating because this is her, in all her glory.

I love what you just said about “When it gets to the point where ‘no one is good enough’ for your breed, you really have to step back and re-examine what you’re doing” – because that’s exactly how I feel, too. It breaks my heart to see Shiba enthusiasts trying so hard to make people never, ever want to get a Shiba.

These same people will swear up and down and inside-out that there is NO bad pit bull, only bad owners. But for whatever reason, they think Shibas are the fucking devil incarnate. It is so weird to me, and I sincerely wonder if some of these Shiba owners should probably have gotten a different dog if they have such negative feelings about the breed. And why the hell are they so against BSL and breed stereotyping when it comes to bully breeds, but so eager to do it to their own dogs?

I swear to god, if I got on that Shiba board and replaced the word “pit bull” with “Shiba” and replicated some anti-pitty diatribe with just the breed names replaced, everyone will fall all over themselves agreeing with me. Put up the same diatribe about pits, and they will shit themselves blind about how evil it is to do that. It is baffling. I don’t mean mean that people should be all pie-eyed and rose-tinted glasses and in denial about Shiba temperament, but I’d like to see more people like you – Tierce is sassy and indomitable and it cracks you up and you respect it, and you work with him and who he is, setting boundaries with lots of love.

These are definitely dogs that require human-style parenting; attempts to dominate them are laughable. I don’t know if I told you about how my Uncle Jerry tried to get Kit to treat him like an alpha male over Thanksgiving, but it was HILARIOUS. Poor ex-Marine with his macho alpha male personality. He’d walk up to her and take this wide-legged stance and glare at her, expecting her to go all submissive on him, and she’d just go (literally) “Hmph” and walk away. I swear she was laughing at him. It slayed me. But if Jerry had adopted a Shiba, it would be such a tragically bad fit. Unbelievably bad. For the dog and the person. I shudder to think, I really do.

But of course, alienating good people from the breed by trying to terrify the fuck out of them is not good for the breed. I think it’s worse than being cheerfully cautionary. Much worse. I’m really happy that you’re going to write about this. I know people respect you and your perspective.

TMS

Well, it’s a balancing line. I met a woman who just got a Shiba from some weird place or breeder or whatever and the message I tried to leave with her is that YES… You will find this breed is the devil sometimes. You will have to work harder, train more frequently, be more aware of what your dog is doing and how she’s reacting… BUT you’ll be okay. It’s not your fault if the dog freaks out at some random thing; it just means you need to find a way to work around it. BUT you’ll be okay. Even if your dog decides it hates other dogs with the fiery burning passion of a rash people won’t see their doctor about. BUT you’ll be okay…

Sarah:

I think that’s a great message.

And I should also mention that my perspective is maybe weird because I’ve made absolutely no attempt at all to train Kit. I would probably think she was the devil more often if I was trying to get her to do obedience and agility and stuff. She has mostly trained herself because of the collaboration and give/take thing. Her recall is mostly good, because she’s pretty sure that if I call her there will be pepperoni. Sometimes she values freedom over pepperoni, and then she’s magically deaf. She has figured out how to put on her own harness if I hold it up, because she likes going for walks. She sticks her head in and threads her own leg through the loop. I don’t think I could have “trained” her to do that in a thousand years.

People find it annoying that she doesn’t sit on command, but I take a certain smug satisfaction in watching them try to make her do it. HA GOOD LUCK. I don’t care if she doesn’t sit on command. Or roll, or fetch, or whatever. I just don’t. It’s not even a little important to me. All I care about is that she stops – every single time, dead in her tracks – if I yell “NO!” (No don’t eat that, no don’t run over there, no don’t chew on that dog, no don’t eat that tennis ball/acorn/coyote poop.) That’s the only thing I really need her to do, for her own safety, and she is flawless on “NO!” so we’re good. Everything else, meh. I admire people who have figured out how to communicate and collaborate with their Shibas, like Elee and that one novice owner who is getting all those agility championships. But Kit and I aren’t that ambitious.

Also, I might have found it devilish that she managed to completely remove the wainscoting from the front door when I left her uncrated in the apartment on a teaching day, if I hadn’t been so impressed. I’m lucky as hell that she didn’t tunnel straight through the drywall. I hate keeping her crated for so long (it’s like six solid hours) so I’ve been trying to get her used to being on her own and not in her crate, and she is getting better at it, but I currently have a door frame propped up against the wall in two parts, because somehow my wee little dog managed to pull two lengths of 7 feet by three inches timber off the wall.

TMS:

Heh. Life with a Shiba.

It was such a culture shock when we got Shassi – we were accustomed to dogs that basically lived to please. Shassi was… something new.

Sarah:

LOL! Yeah, I actually think there’s a lot to be said for Shibas being BETTER for first-time dog owners than experienced dog owners, which is the opposite of the standard lore on the matter. If I’d been used to a yes-dog, Kit might have been harder to accept. But she’s my first, so wasn’t really bothered. I didn’t have any pre-formed expectations in particular, I just learned what to expect from her as we got to know each other. And vice-versa, I’m sure. Her show owner was a lot stricter about food and heeling on walks. Kit used to walk loose-leash picture-perfect on my left, but she figured out that I’m a pushover 75% of the time pretty quickly.

TMS: 

You see, I’d be afraid that a first-time owner would be overwhelmed by a Shiba, but maybe you’re right. After a Shiba, other breeds would seem pretty tame.

Maybe it’s because we feel that it takes more to love a Shiba than another breed that’s easier to own and we’re forever terrified that by recommending Shibas as a good dog to try that we could be setting one up for abandonment.

But that doesn’t make sense. “Good” dogs are abandoned every day.

Sarah

For real. If a first-time owner has expectations based on fantasy, they would definitely get a buttshock when it came to reality. Same is probably true of most first-time owners of any breed, though. Kit only chews on her bones (and one rare time, a particularly odorous ballet slipper, she couldn’t resist the smell of foot), I gather from other friends with dogs that most dogs will chew freaking ANYTHING.

I have a neighbor with a medium sized mix (something fluffy and short) and I walked that dog while he was laid up with hip surgery. It was startlingly easy. I’m so used to Kit asserting herself vigorously that I kept thinking the dog must be depressed. He just didn’t show much interest in doing anything than walking right at my side.

You’re absolutely right. Good dogs are abandoned every day, and I hate to think that there are Shibas that won’t get homes (from shelters or rescue or retirement or whatever) because they’ve been depicted BY SHIBA OWNERS as the worst possible dog in the entire world.

When I told my mother I was getting a Shiba she googled when we got off the phone and then called me back and said she didn’t want me to get Kit, she wanted me – and I quote here – to “get a dog that will love you back.” That is the impression she got of the breed from searching about them online. That they are not loving, that they are aloof and obstinate and a pain in the ass. And she tried to talk me out of Kit. And I insisted on getting Kit, because I had met her and I just knew we were going to be soulmates. I will be gutted as fuck when she dies, but I wouldn’t give her up for anything. She was the best decision I ever made.

TMS: 

Yeah, I can get frustrated with people, but in the end, I want us Shiba people and us dog people to realize that we are mostly on the same side. We have to work towards the goals we all share and keep arguing about the ones we don’t in ways that facilitate learning instead of shutting it down.

Sarah:

Absolutely! I’d love to see the active Shiba forums become more supportive, encouraging, and positive. And I’d love to see more people interested in rescue and in supporting conscientious breeders. Without being shitmonkeys. Some crapnoodle on the forums said Kit should have never been born/bred because I thought she might be having seasonal allergies. I would have cheerfully punched her in the face if she’d said that to me in person. But that’s also just the internet being dire.

Thank you, Sarah!  (and thank you, Kit, for inspiring your person!)  

Kit was bred by Goldkress Shibas. To quote Sarah:

Lonita Kress is (IMO) a wonderful and responsible breeder who is passionate about the happiness and health of her dogs. She does not breed pets, she does 1-2 planned breedings per year and very occasionally has an adult who is retiring or a puppy who isn’t going to a colleague/show owner and is available for a pet home. I credit her for Kit being so affectionate and cuddly and loving, she gives her dogs a ton of love and affection and it shows in all of their temperaments. They’re all absolute people persons.

Do you think that Shiba owners are overly negative about their dogs?  Talk about it here or on Facebook.

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The Misanthropic Shiba

10 Comments

  1. We have a beautiful white male Sheba In about nine years old his name is Emo.He is not fixed.Emo is beautiful and has a great personality.He was married to my chiwawa salty an all white chiwawa.They had four sons together.We kept one of the puppies his name is Thor.He looks like a small version of his father Emo.Unfortunately his Mom Salty the chiwawa passed away from seizures and complications to vonwilibrands disease.Emo dog family here now is his son Thor,Brandy a lab and Wally a yapping white terror since his friend Trigger the pit bull moved out. Emo is great.He gets along with all digs children and people.Any one who does not love a Sheba In,should not have a dog.Our Emo is the best.Will love him for ever.

  2. I have a 1 year old red shiba named ruby. my fiance and I are first time dog owners. We once met a shiba while we were camping at a music festival. Ironically its name was “shiva ” and Shiva calmly came to our camp and chilled out for almost an hour. his owner calmy walked by and called the dogs name and the dog simply left. I know the owner was being irresponsible, however that moment shaped the rest of my life. 3 Year later, after a ton of research, we got ruby. I read a ton of stuff online and applied it to rubys routine immediately. before we knew it, she was perfectly house trianed, ringing a bell to go out! She knows too many tricks to name and continues to eagerly learn new things. She is very quiet and has never done the hallmark scream. she walks off leash on scenic hikes, never staying too far. She was not very lovey until about 6 months in. she would never sleep in our bed or enjoy a cuddle sesh. now she is constantly vying for our love and support. She recently learned to swim and absolutely loves water. she would probably Chase water from a hose until she collapsed if we let her. I haven’t felt any frustration with ruby during training. I think she gets more frustrated with herself when she can’t remember a trick….sighing continuously and walking away. I’m very grateful that she is fantastic with children and most people. unfortunately, we recently found out that she can’t read special needs people. she is terrified of them. I feel awful even mentioning it. But its something we forgot to socialize her with. Just thought id mention it since most people don’t think about that. I wish we had exposed her to more people with special needs as a young pup. anyway, we leave her uncrated all day everyday while we work and she just sleeps. its a miracle.

    • Glad you love your Shiba Inu as much as we love our Emo they are a great breed and very loving.

  3. I have 2 shiba inus and they are two of the best parts of my life. If you are willing to put in the time and effort to train these dogs, it can be a very rewarding challenge. But yes, we were also discouraged to get a shiba when we were looking but did a lot of research before we got Gage.

    Gage, our 3 year old black shiba, was our first puppy which equals to him being extremely spoiled. He is very strong willed, thinks he is perfect and likes to act like he is the King of the castle. We call him the “fancy dog” because he is very picky about what he eats and is very neat about eating. He was also extremely easy to potty train. He can be very independent and cannot be let off-leash unless in an enclosed area. We socialized him a lot when he was little but as he got older he has become very territorial and extremely protective over us and Gemma. He loves going to the beach, enjoys people watching and loves getting attention from other people but is not good with male dogs. On the other hand, he is extremely good with children and babies. He is also extremely loyal and is very vocal when he has decided you need to give him all your attention right this very second to give him hugs and all of your attention. He is the worst at baths and will scream your ears off. He also likes to tear up paper and cardboard. But he’s so cute you can’t just help but love him.

    Gemma our red 2 year old shiba, is our second baby. She is very loving, sweet, super shy sometimes and overall extremely friendly. She can be independent but she also likes to cuddle a lot. Her main goal in life is to harass Gage (lol, she’s really only trying to play). It’s really funny when she runs as fast as she can and pounces on him. Poor guy just kind of lets her do whatever. Gemma eats everything and is always the first one to come running if she even slightly thinks she could possibly be getting a treat. She will try to gobble it up as fast as possible so she can take whatever Gage hasn’t eaten yet because he’s too busy being fancy and eating slowly. Gemma is great with people and all other dogs. She is not aggressive at all and can be let off leash. Though she likes to chase birds and bugs, she comes when you call her and follows instructions very well. She was a little bit harder to potty train versus Gage but she is still very clean. Gemma does not like the beach but she is good with baths and does not scream at all.

    Shibas have the best welcome home greeting ever.

  4. We recently bought a Shiba pup, Eevee, from a breeder nearly 8 months ago and I can say with whole-hearted honesty, there were several times that I felt it we ought to give her back so that the breeder could find a better home for her. Fortunately, we did not do this, but instead, stayed steadfast and consistent in our approach and now have an almost behaved Shiba.

    That said, I can empathize with the breeders and/or owners who are outwardly negative about the breed, as I, on occasion, have found myself, when explaining the breed to others, to immediately cease from entertaining the idea of purchasing one.

    But, to be fair, it was not because I didn’t view him/her as qualified or special enough to have one, but rather because I didn’t want to see their livelihood be destroyed. (Of course, as I write this now, the bit about livelihoods being destroyed is only marginally true and more of a facetious statement to make a point.) Honestly, I felt it was my duty to make said people aware of the temperament of a Shiba because, let’s be honest, no one does any research on dogs before they buy them, they simply look at their cuteness appeal. And a Shiba’s can’t be measured by your traditional pie chart. It’s something that’s intangible and will bring any prospective pet owner to their knees. Hence, why they need to be informed and not go out there to buy a Shiba on impulse and good looks. (Bizarrely, this describes exactly how I decided to ask out my current girlfriend).

    Anyway, the point is, most Shiba breeders/owners are probably well-intentioned and I give most of them the benefit of the doubt on this one. However, there are definitely some out there with websites and blogs and all that stuff, spewing some fairly dubious information and giving the breed a stigma that it doesn’t deserve, with the intention of maintaining their own misguided and falsely created owner aristrocracy.

    What is refreshing, though, is this website’s discourse on the subject, as the dozen or so Shiba websites I’ve visited, not a one has discussed this. So, to TMS, well done and continue down the path of enlightenment. You have my vote for the chosen one in the land of the fallen gods.

    • Thank you! I’ve also got to give snaps to my friend Sarah, without whom, this conversation may not have existed. I agree that it’s an important subject to discuss, not only for Shiba owners, but for any breed owner who has ‘special’ dogs. Heh.

  5. Hello everyone I’m also a first time dog/Shiba owner. My little boys name is Shiva. ( Boyfriends idea and now it’s the only thing he answers to LOL). I have to agree with everything in this article. When I first met Shiva I fell in love but after doing a little research I was so scared. I kept going back to play with him and just followed my gut. He is so smart he learns so many things from my two cats (Jacey and Lia). He picks up on things so easily but sit is his default trick. My cats taught him how to sucker humans for food and now everyone that has thumbs is a perspective sucker LOL. He does get his days where the only thing he listens to is drop it or leave it for his own safety but he refuses to do anything else. I learned that just ignore him for 10 mins and he’ll do whatever you want with cheese if course.

    Whoever said Shibas are detached never took time to love their Shiba first. Shiva won’t learn stay because he always wants to be by my side no matter what. I think the only reason he doesn’t have separation anxiety is because my cats play with him while I’m at work. He is a bit energetic at time but I’ll rub his tummy and he calms right down. I leave the rough play for my boyfriend. He learned very quickly that the Shiba shriek doesn’t work on us since we read about it before we got him so he just does the puppy pout. I love him for how smart he is ands seeing how other dogs are make me love him even more.

  6. I love this! It reflects so many of the things I’ve thought about over the last several months as a first-time dog/shiba owner. Even if all shibas exactly matched the typical breed characteristics (which of course they don’t), those characteristics are valued differently by different people. Even when people are being generous with their descriptions, they usually say something along the lines of, “they’re a huge challenge, and they’ll cost you a fortune, but they’re so worth it.” Couldn’t this be said about any dog, depending on the person?
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  7. I was bothered by the 2 articles (that I have seen) talking about Shibas in reality versus the Doge meme. With the experience we had getting our Shiba, we felt that the breeders & enthusiasts tend to be discouraging in order to test your fitness as a Shiba owner. If you persist despite their discouragement about the breed, you are strong enough mentally to survive a Shiba (or at least the first 2-3 years of their life). I have offered up that they’re not the easiest breed to own, and that he’s not as angelic as he looks on walks. Just that he loves walks, and so behaves so they keep happening (they would anyway, he won’t use the yard for anything but play).

  8. Good article!

    I remember Sarah and Kit from the Shiba Forum. We both had dogs from show breeders, and our dogs are absolutely perfect and easy and “how can other people complain about how hard Shibas are? Look at Kit and Ike! They are our respective little soul mates and are affectionate and mild tempered and appropriately stubborn but sweet and omgilovethemsomuchicouldcry.” I believe Sarah (and certainly myself) felt bad for the people on the forum who flock there with their sickly mill dogs who aren’t the way Ike and Kit are, and didn’t have the joy I know that comes from living with a healthy dog from a show breeder mentor.

    Hearing their sad stories over and over I look at Ike and think “he would never…” BUT, I also had the experience of having one of those really awful difficult Shibas from crappy origins as well, so I’m naturally leery when new people come to me and see my dogs with all the work we’ve done together in competition sports, and say “How well behaved! This is the dog we want!” Well, I’m sure you do but it took years of real training and lots of tears to get this far, but it made me a better person.

    I tend to agree with Sarah on much of her points about some forums setting the tone of negativity about Shiba ownership. Perhaps I myself am also guilty of being too negative about persons who think they should also have a Shiba. I want them to be really informed is all. I do 100% agree that if the current breed mentors (online forums are mentoring sources, too) become too discouraging about how difficult it can be to have these dogs or who is “qualified” to own them, it unintentionally selects out the people who would have made excellent breed advocates for the future. A breeder calling them Devil Dogs is counterproductive.

    It saddens me to say it, but it’s not looking good for the breed on the whole when seasoned breeders are scaring all the novices away because we disagree or aren’t “good enough” to the point of excluding or prohibiting our participation. I mean, you have a group of young enthusiastic new people with means who love the breed and want to learn how to pick up the torch and show or become breeders or exhibitors, literally take their dogs and leave saying “it’s not worth it, these people are so mean.”

    It is going to be a problem in the long run when they move on from breeding. I realize I’m being negative again…how can anybody deal with breeding or with rescue and not be skeptical or at least disappointed in people at times? Shiba people can’t afford to be elitist and snarky, and the good breeders really set the tone there. It trickles down to the online forums and the meetups and then to potential pet owners.

    So, the answer for me is to be forthright about the difficulties I have experienced with the breed, but also to encourage new owners to apply themselves to the challenge via learning and enjoy the results of the hard work they will be investing in their new Shiba. Making sure they know that there is help even if they don’t have a good breeder to fall back on is also important. My mentors have been such positive influences for me and instilled that from the start, that I feel a duty to reciprocate and am happy to do it as I really love this breed and want them to have a secure future.

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