Are Shibas a “Childfree Breed”?

I am childfree, which means I neither have nor want children.  I am quite happy with the idea of having Shibas and other dogs instead.  I can tell you that my “puppycrap” meets or exceeds the amount of my friends’ “kindercrap” strewn about the floor.  Tierce even has annoying toys!  Such as the stuffed toy vampire that he enjoys running around with, that says “I vant to suck your blood!” in classic Bela Lugosi style.

I have always maintained that a Shiba can do just fine with kids, provided the kids are trained to respect the dog’s boundaries and the dog is trained to respect and obey the kids.  This alone would probably make a Shiba better for families with slightly older kids, but there must be some families out there who have had Shibas around infants and toddlers without problems.

Despite the above, in my online travels, it has occurred to me that more than a few of the Shiba people I have encountered over the years don’t have kids or seem to have plans to have any.  Now, this isn’t the result of careful study and data gathered through personal questions; this is just my impression!

Do the childfree, childless and empty nesters gravitate to the Shiba more than families?

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.

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.