Shiba Inu Spirit requesting interviews with dogdom’s biggest names.

There’s stuff brewing over at Shiba Inu Spirit… we could be seeing interviews with such formidable canine experts as Cesar Milan, Dr. Ian Dunbar, Dr. Patricia McConnell, Karen Pryor and more.  Shiba Inu Spirit has in the past provided many great posts on dog behaviour and Shiba behaviour, especially, so I am eager to see what the interview queries net.  Keep your eyes on this blog!

Alpha Rolls that Work

While killing your Shiba will allow you to put it in any position; it is not recommended for the sake of the health of your future relationship.

While murdering your Shiba will allow you to put it in any position you like, it is not recommended for the sake of the health of your future relationship.

One school of thought on discipline is that if your Shiba is getting all uppity, a good way to show him his place is to flip him on his back and pin him there.  While this may seem good in theory – put the dog off-balance, forcibly remind him that you’re the boss, dammit and don’t you forget it – there are many problems with this approach, especially with dominant or fearful dogs.  Many “Alpha roll” advocates also sport decorative scars on their arms and hands.

The Alpha roll is a controversial training technique that has been panned by many, including the Monks of New Skete, who at first advocated it.  They removed it from subsequent editions of their famous dog training book How to be Your Dog’s Best Friend, citing that it was too easily abused.

There are studies that indicate that the Alpha roll is more of a ritualistic behaviour and it is initiated by the submissive dog rather than being forced by the dominant dog.  It is also theorized that the only reason that an alpha animal would forcibly flip and pin a subordinate was if it was planning to kill it.  (Now all those scars seem to make sense… it would be if a parent lunged at their child, flipped Junior on his back and brandished a dagger aimed at his throat.  I’d bite someone doing that, too.)

The Alpha roll, like many other training techniques, has its place in modifying your dog’s behaviour.  However, an Alpha roll that works has more to do with Nothing in Life is Free than with immediate discipline.  Don’t use an Alpha roll for discipline and you and your puppy will be a lot happier and can skip into the sunset together.

The Alpha roll that works is the one you start as soon as your puppy enters the home.  When you introduce submissive postures as part of daily life, there is a lot less resistance to them.  Your puppy should be accustomed to being put into all sorts of positions and the handling of all body parts.  By getting your puppy to voluntarily assume a submissive position, you are setting the groundwork for taking the Alpha position in his life with him barely knowing you’re doing it.

How do you get your Shiba started on Alpha roll work?  BRIBES! Cheese! Sausage! Treats! Stuff that puppy’s gob full of hamburger.  Shibas are small enough that you can flip him on his back without too much effort.  Before he erupts into outrage, fill his face with something he thinks is awesome.  Try this around dinner time, when your puppy is already hungry.

Other strategies:

  • Make teaching the Down command a priority.
  • Randomly approach your puppy when he is lying quietly and pop a treat in his mouth.
  • Once your puppy starts associating food with a submissive posture, start doing it randomly with food.
  • Teach a command to go with the submissive posture.
  • NEVER associate the Alpha roll with discipline.  It should always be a FUN activity.
  • Be VERY careful when dealing with a rescue or a dog that you don’t know well – you don’t know what’s going on in that furry little head.
  • If your dog initiates the Alpha roll with you, throw him a PARTY.  Break out the filet mignon.

What I did with Tierce was feed him as many meals as possible kibble by kibble while he was cradled in my arms on his back.  Pretty soon, being rolled on his back meant dinnertime.  For Tierce, food trumps dignity every time.  More importantly, his protests at being put in a submissive position gradually faded away AND his overall attitude got better.

The Alpha roll is not a disciplinary technique.  It is a lifestyle technique; one that should be practiced in non disciplinary circumstances in order to accustom your puppy to the submissive position in a positive way.

Tierce’s Problems With Kids

Despite regular exposure to children, Tierce is still nervous around the smaller ones.  He’s okay around kids that are 10 or so and the children he was regularly exposed to over the years, but he is nervous around smaller, running, screaming children.

It’s not that Tierce tries to snap or bite, but he does shy away and bark, which always makes me want to say defensively, “I did socialize him with children!  I did!  I did!”  I usually settle for a sharp, “No!” and a leash correction, but this doesn’t seem to solve much.

I get the kids around Tierce to feed him treats as often as possible and interact with him, but this only serves to make him feel more kindly towards *them*, not kids in general.

Shassi, as I mentioned before, was fine with kids of all ages and she didn’t have a huge amount of exposure to toddlers.

While Tierce’s attitude is not a danger to himself or other people, as he’s never offered to snap at or bite children, I don’t like it very much.  Suggestions?

They’re not all like that, continued

Continued from last Friday:

Tierce Cartoon Sitting, Looking Up & Cocking Head

Yeah, this is all about me. And why shouldn't it be?

I still have to keep from automatically launching into my spiel when people say that they want a dog like Tierce.  Because I don’t think I’m normal and maybe Tierce is the ideal dog for my circumstances because I shaped him that way and was aware of his needs.  As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said, via Sherlock Holmes:

“My line of thoughts about dogs is analogous. A dog reflects the family life. Whoever saw a frisky dog in a gloomy family, or a sad dog in a happy one? Snarling people have snarling dogs, dangerous people have dangerous ones. And their passing moods may reflect the passing moods of others.”

The problem of putting this all at my door, or at Susan’s, is that I have adapted to owning Shibas just as much as Tierce has adapted to me.  For me, it’s second nature to waggle my leg in front of an opening door to confuzzle a Shiba hoping to escape.  Dominance is automatically met with the appropriate equivalent of You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”.  He gets out for several walks a day and I take him running and geocaching and to the dog park for heartier exercise.  I accept that I may never be able to let him off leash without doing a complex algorhythm in my mind, calculating the likelihood of other dogs or prey animals being nearby.

This is why I temper my raving about how awesome he is around the artlessly enthusiastic.  I know that without the complicated calculation that is great breeders, preparation, education, financial stability, the right attitude needed to effect change without breaking the dog’s spirit, time and the help of friends and family, Tierce would not be the awesome dog that he is.

For Shibas everywhere, that scares me, simply because I know the fickleness of the general population when it comes to dogs.  They don’t often look beyond the surface of a dog attack or breeds considered “snappy”, “fear-biters”, “bad with kids”, “horrible at the vets”, etc.  Thus, when people breed and raise Shibas irresponsibly, there’s the risk of people shrugging off unusual aggression or fear in a Shiba as ‘oh, that’s just how they are’.  No, we need people to say to themselves, “Well all the Shibas I know are great little dogs.  What’s wrong with that one?”

Understanding that dogs are individuals, affected by heredity and environment just as people are is, to my mind, one of the first steps to approaching dog ownership as a human responsibility, rather than something that can be determined or regulated by a dog’s breed or physical appearance.

Yes, HE’s great, but they’re not all like that!

Shassi Puppy Cartoon

Look! A random cartoonized picture of Shassi I did in Photoshop and put on this blog for no other reason than that you should see it! To connect it with this post, I will say now that Shassi was NOT an easy dog to own. Not at first.

I have a confession to make.  Tierce is really the easiest dog to own ever.  He’s miles ahead of Shassi in that respect.  Actually, the difference between him and Shassi is more like the difference between a sociopath and the average jock.

For a Shiba, Tierce is a good size.  Solid.  He’s gregarious, especially with people he knows.  He (now) doesn’t have a problem with most dogs.  He comes when he’s called and the odds that he’ll do it when distractions are present is steadily increasing (still dependent on the tangible laden threat in my voice).

As I’ve said before (or intimated), Shassi had a brain she used for evil.  I’ve enumerated the many ways she would manage to get out of the house, teach me to take nothing for granted, etc.  She is the dog that made me believe that, if there was a god, Shibas were the manifestation of the phrase, “Hubris is a sin!”.  She is also the dog that spawned TMS, because so many people would not believe that owning a Shiba was a serious exercise in humility.

But let’s compare the two:


Shassi:  Wailed for three nights straight until I gave up and let her sleep on the bed with me.

Tierce:  Went to sleep in his crate the first night and every night with no lonesome wails at all.


Shassi:  Took off at every opportunity

Tierce:  Can be bargained with.  Usually.


Shassi:  Separation anxiety when not in ‘her’ home, ‘her’ car, ‘her’ territory.

Tierce:  Could be happily plunked just about anywhere.  Does not flinch at loud sounds (like SCA heavy fighting), does not care where he is as long as he’s fed, walked and paid attention to when he wants.


Shassi:  Hated every dog she met outside of puppyhood, with very few exceptions (usually dogs she had repeated exposure to over a number of months).  Spaying did not fix this.

Tierce:  Was a macho pain in the ass until I had him neutered.  Now he is a regular at the dog park and I don’t act all squirrelly if another dog runs up to him (although on principle I want to throttle the owners who blithely call, “He’s friendly!”).


Shassi:  The number of times she would return at my call could be numbered on one of my hands, even if I should by accident lose two of my fingers.

Tierce:  Recalls are good.  Other dogs or prey animals blunt this to a great degree, but there’s hope there.


Shassi:  Never aggressive towards people.  Flashed teeth once, maybe, and a good scruff shake cured her of that.

Tierce:  Required a complete overhaul of his schedule to deal with his dominance aggression.  After the age of a year (and NILIF, a series of obedience classes and the intelligence that if he ever flashed his teeth at me or anyone else again, he could expect to spend the rest of his life hunting for them – one of the many reasons that I advocate positive training most of the time; it makes even mild negative reinforcement much more impressive and required much less often) he has never shown unprovoked aggression towards another person.  Even when he got his leg caught in the park bench, he allowed complete strangers to extricate him, even though he was in pain and scared.


Shassi:  Extremely good with children.  This, I attribute to early socialization and frequent trips to the playground at the end of the street.

Tierce:  Somewhat nervous around smaller children who don’t show complete confidence around him and will sometimes bark at them, despite frequent trips to the nearby elementary school.  Likes my friends’ kids/grandkids who he was raised with.


Tierce: 5 points in his favour

Shassi: 2 points in her favour

Now I know that a lot of Tierce’s virtues can be laid at Susan’s door (Tierce technically has a different breeder, but Susan bred his line), because she has taken pains to breed Shibas that are a little more in touch with the human world.  (When I was hunting for a male Shiba puppy we visited her to chat and my jaw dropped open when more than one Shiba came to the fence and wagged its tail.)  And, yes, Mischa and I have a LOT to do with how Tierce acts.  I am childfree and my job allows me a lot of freedom to spend time with him.  Mischa works at home now, so Tierce rarely needs a dog walker.  We spoil Tierce, but he knows where the line is and that crossing it is B-A-D.

But he’s so easy to live with – he can be warned away from the door when it opens, he is great in other people’s homes, he is a great companion when I go walking or running, he is reasonably friendly with people and other dogs – in short, he’s as close to ideal as I think a Shiba can ever come.

Continued next week.

Can you make your Shiba smarter?

Can you make your Shiba smarter?  A study on human intelligence makes me think that you might be able to increase the capacity of what’s between those pointy ears.  The American Psychological Association published findings that indicate intelligence is as much a function of one’s belief in oneself as it is the capacity to learn, reason, understand and come to conclusions.  If humans can change their capacity for learning by simply believing that they are capable, imagine what they can do by simply viewing their dogs as capable of learning more and more?

People often go up to the owners of dogs who do lots of tricks or are exceptionally obedient and say, “My dog would never do that/could never do that.”  And they are right, but not for the reason they think.  They think that their dog is stupid or deliberately obtuse and incapable of learning.  And therefore, the dog IS stupid and incapable of learning, because the owner has created an environment where the dog will always fail.

Contrast this with an owner who believes that their dog is capable of learning, is smart and will pick things up easily.  This owner is going to try harder to teach the dog, will get less frustrated with the dog and will expect more from the dog.  I would venture to say that this owner will also be more positive with the dog, because the owner is expecting to praise the dog for something well done rather than preparing to punish the dog for something done badly.

I am not a big fan of Stanley Coren’s ideas on the intelligence of dogs.  I don’t think that obedience alone indicates intelligence, nor does problem solving in the service of human ends.  Intelligence is the capacity to learn and retain information and to make decisions based on that information.

Have you ever met or heard of an intelligent kid who was bored to tears with school, therefore did not learn anything?  Intelligence does not make dogs easier to train; on the contrary, I think that it can make them harder.  This is not to say that “naturally” obedient breeds are stupid or even less intelligent than Shibas – just that training a Shiba or any smart dog can be more challenging since the owner needs more ingenuity to actually keep the dog’s attention and make learning a rewarding activity for *that particular* dog.

Tierce is Back in the Dog Park

Tierce and Riley, a Rottweiler that Tierce has known ever since he started going to the dog park.

Tierce and Riley, a Rottweiler that Tierce has known ever since he started going to the dog park.

We have been instituting a gradual reintroduction program to the dog park for Tierce and I’m happy to say that it’s working so far.  The neutered Tierce is a lot calmer and less aggressive than the testosterone filled Tierce.

I started with bringing Tierce to the dog park and allowing him to meet the dogs from outside the fence.  This didn’t provoke any aggression.  Neither did having him run loose in the small dog run adjoining the bigger dog park when there were no dogs in the small run.

A week ago, I tried introducing him into the dog park with a bunch of bigger dogs.  Tierce has been a bully in the past, so I thought bigger dogs would be able to handle themselves should any tendencies towards this resurface.  I’m happy to say that they didn’t.

Tierce is now much calmer and more able to react positively to the different personalities that can be found in the dog park.  I noticed the second time that he was getting stressed by a dog that kept following him and barking at him, so I called Tierce over and told the other dog to go play with some of the other dogs.  Tierce seemed to calm right down and the other dog didn’t bother him again, but we went home soon after, just so Tierce didn’t get too stressed.

Tierce running with some of the other dogs.

Tierce running with some of the other dogs.

Tierce was playing today with some other dogs and didn’t show a lot of temperament, even when a couple of bigger dogs were targeting him for some rough play.  I did call him once, but while he did head towards me, he didn’t show too much stress.  I’m hoping to get him to the point where he realizes that the best thing he can do if he is stressed or if a bigger dog is bullying him, is to head to me.

He is also making strides in the toy aggression area.  While he is attracted to sticks and balls, he isn’t as insistent that he have them and can deal with another dog grabbing them.  And, in the case of Riley (above picture), he was reminded that some dogs have ‘their’ ball and woe betide the dog who thinks it’s up for negotiation.  (Riley has an impressive roar!)

Tierce playing with a new friend.

Tierce playing with a new friend.

I’m really happy, because this gives us the opportunity to chisel a couple pounds off of the 27 that Tierce has some how managed to get to.  25 or thereabouts is probably ideal for him; 23 is on the thin side, but I do not want him to get fat and it’s getting hard to feel his ribs.  On that subject, walks are probably not a bad thing for me, either.

The problem with evaluating dog intelligence

Dogs as intelligent as two-year-old children

I have never agreed with Dr. Coren’s use of the term “intelligence” to denote a dog’s response to obedience commands. I would have liked it better if he used another term – perhaps “obedience application” rather than “intelligence”.

Look at the breeds ranked as “most intelligent”:

  1. Border Collie
  2. Poodle
  3. German Shepherd Dog
  4. Golden Retriever
  5. Doberman Pinscher
  6. Shetland Sheepdog
  7. Labrador Retriever
  8. Papillon
  9. Rottweiler
  10. Australian Cattle Dog

Half of them are from herding backgrounds and three of them from retrieving backgrounds – types of dog that are naturally attuned to their owners.  These are types of dog bred to work closely with humans and to take direction.

Here are the breeds ranked the least intelligent:

  1. Shih Tzu
  2. Basset Hound
  3. Mastiff
    Beagle (tied)
  4. Pekingese
  5. Bloodhound
  6. Borzoi
  7. Chow Chow
  8. Bulldog
  9. Basenji
  10. Afghan Hound

6 of the 10 are scent or sight hounds, bred for hunting and pulling down game.  Not bred for working to close commands with the owner, not bred to take intricate direction.

Since Coren did not evaluate Shibas in his “intelligence” tests, let’s take a look at similar breeds to figure out where they would stand.

Above Average Working/Obedience Intelligence

33. Samoyed

36. Norwegian Elkhound

Average Working/Obedience Intelligence

43. Finnish Spitz

45. Siberian Husky

50. Alaskan Malamute

54. Akita

Low Obedience Intelligence

76. Chow Chow

78. Basenji

So, I would say that the Shiba would be in the Average category.  But this is where this is flawed.  As Shiba owners know, obedience is not an indicator of overall intelligence.  As Shiba owners also know, their dogs also can put any 2 year old human child to shame when it comes to single-minded escape maneuvers.  Shibas can learn and execute commands with blinding speed; they just don’t give a shit unless you’re waving a poached salmon wildly in their sight… if they’re hungry … if there isn’t something more interesting around … if the wind happens to be blowing westerly and its Tuesday…

Sometimes I’m sure we would all love a stupid dog who can’t figure out that they can jump from the compost heap to the garbage can to the top of the fence and catapult off like a high diver in the Olympic finals.  A dog who can’t figure out how to open simple lids would also be nice, as would a dog who can’t calculate your length of reach to the millimetre so that they can keep the leash exactly just out of your grasp if they get loose.

Average.  Sure.

Check out the Results of the Shiba Survey

A while back, I posted about a survey on Loki and Jujube’s blog
. The survey is now complete and you can see the results here.

Even if you haven’t seen the survey, the results are interesting. I think the northern/pariah breeds have their own set of norms that are not reflected in the average dog, which can make evaluations like C-BARQ less useful when it comes to determining whether one’s dog is within normal behaviour. Surveys like this help us determine norms in our own breed, something that can aid both novice and experienced owners in their quest to understand the dog they have brought into their lives.

Do your Shibas sleep on their backs?

This picture was taken by my BlackBerry camera at maximum zoom, accounting for the graininess.  I think it’s kind of decorative myself.

This is example of the “upending” that Tierce does occasionally.  He seems perfectly happy with this state of consciousness, but it seems strange, as he is such a dominant dog.  Maybe he’s just really comfortable with himself?  Who knows.


Shassi used to do this too, and we’re convinced she did it for the attention.  (That’s Puttee, our cat of several years ago.  Shassi was fine with the cats she was raised with, but woe betide the out-of-family cat who decided to take a walk on the balcony.)


Do your Shibas do this?  Do you have pictures?