Shassi was born on August 27, 1993. When I started showing her in 1994, I was often the only person nervously trotting back and forth in the breed ring. I have a bagful of impressively coloured ribbons, but Shassi only achieved 9 points before an unfortunate incident involving my father, an open car door, and the highway going through Cloverdale, BC marked the end of her show career.
Back in 1993, somebody casually recognizing Shassi as a Shiba was cause for throwing a mini-party. It meant that I could talk to someone who understood. Back then the only people who recognized Shibas were Shiba owners or the owners of some breeds who greatly resembled a Shiba in looks and temperament.
In 2008, “Hey, that’s a Shiba!” means that someone has a friend or a relative with one or considered one as a pet. This means that Shibas are (slowly) becoming more popular. 16 years after the Shiba Inu was recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club, they are slowly becoming mainstream. With Tierce, proper breed identification stands at about 33%. The other 67% is broken down into “What kind of dog is that?”, “Is that a Chow mix?”, and other haphazard breed guesses, with the most points going to people who at least name some variety of spitz breed. From one or two breeders on Vancouver Island, I can count at least five who are closely involved with breeding Shibas.
Popularity has its ups and its downs. On the plus side, I can now find Shiba merchandise at the local dog biscuit kiosk that also peddles breed-specific keychains, stickers, and other memorabilia. People actually recognize my dog’s breed! It’s easier to convince people of the Shiba’s unsuitability for their lives when they have a vague memory of the problems that their brother’s friend’s nephew’s sister’s dog’s best friend’s owner went through.
On the negative side, the Shiba can now be found in pet shops and bred by unscrupulous fucking idiots. The more common a breed gets, the more likely that members will fall prey to the shelter/SPCA/rescue roundabout. Being as the Shiba can be a high-strung, dominant, independent breed to start with, rehoming a mistreated/unsocialized/ill-trained one can be, at best, difficult.
A Shiba breeder of my acquaintance lamented that the Shiba people at one dog show she visited were unrelentingly negative about the breed’s traits. I was of a differing opinion. I thought then and I still do now, that emphasizing the negatives of the Shiba scares away the undedicated and prepares the tenacious of dog ownership. It also keeps this breed mildly unpopular with those who want an easy ride on the pet wagon, despite its appearance in Vodka commercials and as the evil genius (how appropriate) behind Silent Hill 2.
Unpopularity is the Shiba’s saving grace when it comes to people who are not willing to accept and address its unique philosophy that all things exist to be eaten/chewed/played with/dominated. Most owners are already addressing this by rabidly jumping on even a hint that someone wants a dog “just like yours!” with tales of valuable items destroyed and frantic chases through the streets, not to mention the unfortunate incident with the neighbour’s cat.
Keep up the good work. We don’t want the Shiba to go through what the Akita went through in the 90’s, what with being shoved into the limelight as big, unique protection dogs. The last thing we need is someone touting the Shiba as the very latest thing in wash n’ wear home alarm systems. Thank Dog they’re too big for your average handbag.