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!
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.
- 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.
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?
Continued from last Friday:
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.
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.
Something that was mentioned on SHIBA-L recently was this Secret Powers prong collar by Lola Limited. Its advantages are that it looks prettier than a regular prong and also it is less likely to draw the ire of those opposed to the use of such things. This brought up a few thoughts on the whole prong collar debate for me.
One of my tools is an ordinary prong collar, as Tierce has neck like bull and every so often requires a reminder that, hello, no, you’re not in the fucking Iditarod, thank you very much and I would like my shoulder back.
I don’t mind prancing Tierce out high, wide and handsome with his collar gleaming around his neck. I’ve been accosted by do-gooders who haven’t been able to answer the question of how do you control a Shiba who pulls on his leash during walks as if he was Buck moving the thousand-pound sled for John Thornton so that you can have a reasonably pleasant walk uninterrupted by yelling, strained tendons or yanking the dog around.
Tierce is actually pretty good and the prong collar comes out only on special occasions now that he is almost 3. However, when you’re dealing with an adolescent Shiba, I think there isn’t anything that beats a prong collar for quick control.
There are people who think the prong collar is cruel. I don’t entirely disagree.
“Cruel” refers to “willfully or knowingly causing pain or distress to others”. When you’re physically interfering with a dog so as to cause it discomfort, one can argue that you are willfully causing it distress. (Let’s ignore the fact that Tierce considers us not sharing the toppings of pizza to be “distress” here)
The prong collar controls by causing the dog discomfort if he puts pressure against it. I’ve put a prong collar around my arm and given it a tug and, damn, it doesn’t tickle. Dogs’ necks are a lot tougher than human skin, but I’m willing to bet that it doesn’t feel that great to Tierce.
Here’s the part that people who will condemn me for using a ‘torture device’ will copy and paste: I don’t mind causing discomfort and even mild amounts of pain to Tierce if I think it’s the fastest way to stop problem behaviour. If Tierce is lunging all over the place and the normal collar correction doesn’t work, it’s on with the prong collar and miraculously, a lot of the pulling and yanking and the fuck-you-I’m-going-over-here-except-I-weigh-25-pounds-and-you-weigh-mores stop.
Worse, I don’t even feel BAD about it. Apparently if you get to the point where you use a prong collar, you’re supposed to wallow in excessive amounts of guilt and bewail the necessity of it all. I don’t.
If Tierce walks nicely and doesn’t hurl himself against the collar in an attempt to get one… inch… closer! to that maple leaf frisking in the middle of the road, he doesn’t get pinched. It’s kind of like dog collar Aikido: the amount of energy the dog puts into pulling against the lead is the amount of discomfort the dog endures. Tierce, being a sensible creature, does not endure a lot of discomfort gladly. So he walks nicely.
I take into account MY feelings and tolerances and I’ve found that I’m a lot more patient with Tierce when I have something I know will get his attention and control him. There’s few things more frustrating for me than a dog who just doesn’t give a shit because he knows he can handle the amount of discomfort he gets from jerking against his buckle collar. Now that I’ve taken that away from him, he’s willing to listen to me and I can get my point across without reefing on whatever collar he’s wearing and constant warnings.
Now I’m sure that someone will bring up the head halters/choke chains/special harnesses that I could use. Well, I’ve tried a lot of them. Head halters would have me jerking Tierce’s head up on an angle to correct him and I just… no. Choke chains choke. They put pressure on the trachea, even when used properly. Harnesses just reinforce Tierce’s image of himself as a sled dog in the Yukon Quest.
Prong collars work for me and I won’t apologize for using them.
However, there are people who have found that these collars don’t work for them (read this if only for an awesome overview of Cesar Millan’s training techniques and how Mei Chuah of the Shiba Shake blog found they worked on her dogs Sephy and Shania). Not all dogs are created equal. What works for Tierce, who thrives on serious Schutzhund training techniques, does NOT necessarily work on another dog or even on another Shiba. There are some Shibas, especially some abused/neglected Shibas, who will respond to this training tool with shrieks and panic.
You can’t depend on anything to miraculously “fix” your dog’s behaviour issues. Prong collars are a tool; they are not a cure-all for a dog’s bad habits. So it’s up to you to determine whether the prong collar is a good fit for your dog. It is entirely possible that after shopping, fitting and buying, a prong collar will end up not being the most effective tool for your dog. So what you do is put the prong away and find a tool/technique that the dog does respond to.
As for the Secret Power collar above, I’ve got nothing against it, mainly because the collars are pretty and anything that makes my dog look more aesthetically pleasing is good in my book. And, hey, if it makes people feel better about using prong collars and therefore having better control over their dog, then fine. I’m just not ashamed of using one and letting people know that I use it. For me and for Tierce, it works.
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.
One of my favourite books is Cache Lake Country by John J. Rowlands. In it, Rowlands reminisces on his first year in the north country, with tips and tricks for the people who choose a solitary life up in the north woods. In it he also makes mention of the dogs he owns, huskies he calls Old Wolf and Tripper.
Patience and more patience and firm kindness is the secret of training a dog, or any animal for that matter. You want him to love his work and good sled dogs do.
I think that one of the things that people don’t consider when adding a Shiba to their lives is that it has the attitude, intelligence and ability to work at something and, like huskies and other northern breeds, generally has a better time when it has something it is expected to do.
This doesn’t mean the work has to be serious, like hauling a sled or packing in the 2 pounds that a Shiba could safely carry, but it has to be something that you expect the Shiba to do and do well. Like Rowlands says, this comes with “patience and more patience and firm kindness”. “Work” to a dog is something that their owner takes seriously and expects the dog to take seriously likewise. This could be anything from tracking to just being a good companion.
Rowlands goes on to say:
If you want a good sled dog don’t make a pet of him. You can be good friends, but a dog that is a pet is almost sure to be spoiled and does not obey as he ought to. You must earn a dog’s respect and he has to know who is master.
“Pet” in this case refers to a dog that has been allowed its own way and hasn’t been required to do or be much of anything. Dogs that are allowed to follow their own inclinations to the exclusion of everything else seldom end up in happy homes, as they are constantly trying to exercise their perceived dominance, which puts them in conflict with the humans they live with.
I think that Rowlands makes four good points about dogs and their training. One, you need patience. Two, you need to be firm. Three, you should not spoil your dog and allow him to run heedlessly through life. Four, you need to consider what your dog does as work and you need to take it seriously, so your dog learns to do so as well.
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”:
- Border Collie
- German Shepherd Dog
- Golden Retriever
- Doberman Pinscher
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Labrador Retriever
- 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:
- Shih Tzu
- Basset Hound
- Chow Chow
- 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
36. Norwegian Elkhound
Average Working/Obedience Intelligence
43. Finnish Spitz
45. Siberian Husky
50. Alaskan Malamute
Low Obedience Intelligence
76. Chow Chow
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.
Me: Here, Tierce, time to go out. You can go out in the yard without a leash this time.
Me: Oh, I hope so.
Tierce: This is so cool!
Me: Do you know what is expected of you?
Aluminum pot lid: I’ll do my best.
Me: That’s all I ask.
Tierce: Doodeedoodeedoo, peepeepeepee.
Me: Tierce, front!
Tierce: Yeah, whatever.
Me: Tierce. Front.
Tierce: Maybe some other time.
Aluminum pot lid: WHAMBANGCRASH!!!
Tierce: WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?! THAT NEARLY HIT ME!
Me: TIERCE, FRONT!
Tierce: YeahsureokayI’mhere. What was that?
Me: The best feeling I’ve had in two years.
Tierce: Uh… okay.
Me: Hey, go have fun. Run around some more.
Me: That was great.
Aluminum pot lid: Glad to oblige you. Again?
Me: Let’s see what he does. Tierce, front!
Tierce: I’m coming… hey that smells interesting…
Me: Tierce, FRONT!
Tierce: In a minute.
Aluminum pot lid: WHAMBANGCRASH!
Tierce: WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?! THAT NEARLY HIT ME!
Me: TIERCE, FRONT!
Tierce: YeahsureokayI’mhere. Dude, this is seriously freaking me out.
Me: You’re a good boy for coming when called! What a good boy! Okay, go have fun.
Me: Tierce, front!
Tierce: You called?
Me: Yeah. That was awesome. You’re such a good boy.
Tierce: Yeah, I am. So, you mean if I come when I’m called, that UFO isn’t going to make a huge freaky noise right in front of my face?
Me: Yeah, more or less.
*** Two Weeks Later ***
Me: Tierce, front!
Tierce: Right away!
Me: GOOD boy!
Tierce: Yes I am. You know, I’ve never seen that UFO since that night.
Me: Oh, it’s out there. Watching. Waiting for you to slip up.