Small Dog Syndrome


Shibas can be dominant little dogs and, if they get their way, can become vicious little biters who are unwelcome in vet offices and doggy daycares. In order to prevent this, your treatment of your Shiba should reflect that you are in charge. You also need to be ready and willing to forcibly correct any hint of intimidation or threatening behaviour.

Dominance is one of the major factors in dog bites and attacks. People who are not educated in dog behaviour often don’t see or misinterpret the signs of dominance, leading the dog to think that he’s climbing up the ladder towards leadership.

Dominance behaviour is normal and natural in the Shiba. This doesn’t mean that you should ever tolerate a Shiba threatening to bite you if you are trying to groom it, clip its nails, hold it for the vet to give it shots, etc. Your Shiba must learn how to accept handling and giving up items in its possession.

Shibas can exhibit signs of forceful dominance aggression at a very early age. We’re talking 2-3 months when your adorable little ball of fluff suddenly decides that he does not like his collar, he does not like his leash and he’s going to threaten to take a chunk out of you if you try putting them on.

You must address this at once. If a Shiba gets the notion that it can intimidate you, you will go through hell trying to clip its nails, put its collar on or take it through a vet exam. Your little darling won’t be very popular with friends and family, either.

Forceful Correction

Note that the following worked for me. Don’t feel that you have to do this to correct your Shiba; if you are uncomfortable with it, you’ll probably give a lousy correction anyway. Get help if you need it. The point is, you MUST address dominance in a way that makes the dog stop the behaviour rather than you tip-toeing around it.

Before Tierce was four months old, he had gone through a phase where he had a tantrum over putting on his leash. This came complete with snarling, screaming, snapping and flailing. If he got his way, he would be bouncy and happy, but if you crossed him – look out. That just didn’t do it for me.

When he went through a tantrum, what I did was yell, “NO!” and shake him by the scruff – hard. Then I pinned him to the floor. Correction at this level was not pretty. Tierce shrieked like I was neutering him instead of holding him down on the floor where, if he had been lying still, he would have been perfectly comfortable. And there we stayed, until he had stopped struggling and shrieking. My eardrums are still ringing, a year later.

My aim was not to hurt Tierce. My aim was to shake him up. I wanted him to associate growling, snarling, snapping and biting with the worst correction he could ever conceive of.

I didn’t have to hit him or kick him to get my point across. I made my point like an Alpha dog would – physically, decisively, and hard.

The shake-down I used successfully on puppies I raised. This is not something to do to a dog whose background and reactions you don’t know. To correct dominance aggression, you have to know your dog. Some dogs will accept a scruff correction and some will immediately escalate their aggression. Some rescues have been so screwed up that they will react with fear-biting to anything perceived as a threat. When in doubt, try a different way of asserting your dominance.

I believe that serious corrections should be done very rarely – only when the dog is directly challenging you. Dogs are like kids in that, if they are constantly screamed and yelled at, they learn to ignore it. But, if you reserve your WRATH OF DOG for occasions where the dog has done something that is totally against the rules, a forceful correction out of the blue will make him not want to do what he did ever again.

Forceful correction should never be the sole approach to dealing with dominance behaviour. If you approach your dog as an Alpha, you will make big steps towards taking up a dominant position without frequent confrontations.

Nothing In Life Is Free

Nothing in Life is Free, or NILIF, is one of the best approaches to training a Shiba that I have ever seen, and it certainly worked on Tierce.

As you’ve probably figured out, Tierce is a dominant little shit. Well, we weren’t going to put up with that, so after his big tantrums, we instituted NILIF.

For one solid month, Tierce got no food that wasn’t handfed. He got fed it a kibble at a time while lying on his back or his side (submissive positions) or, when he knew what “sit” and “down” were, after he had obeyed commands. It took a month, but when we brought him back to his breeders for a visit, they were amazed at how quietly he lay on his back for us.

Another thing Tierce had to do to work for his food was obey the command, “Give” and its extension, letting his food be taken away from him. No matter what he had in his mouth, he learned to give it up. Once he did, oh, the rewards of Doggy Heaven were his – treats, praise, playtime.

The Nothing in Life is Free approach is advocated by a great many dog people due to its “hands off” approach to reinforcing submissive roles. Basically, the dog has to obey a command or perform a particular action to get what it wants. This is a great way to non-confrontationally reinforce your position at the top of the pack.

Example: Pookie wants to go outside. Before he goes outside, he needs to sit and wait for your signal. This is not taught in a day, but through patient application, it can significantly affect a dog’s attitude.

K9 Deb’s Nothing in Life is Free

Obedience Training

Positive-based puppy classes and/or obedience classes are a terrific way to prevent and address dominance. Once a dog gets in the habit of obeying you, chances are that it already is in the habit of submission.¬† Obedience is an ongoing process for every dog – never completely abandon your dog’s lessons.

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