Lately, the Doge meme has spurred new interest in the Shiba. Buzzfeed picked up on it. Jezebel even commented on it in their For the Love of Doge, Please Do Not Get a Shiba Inu article.
…when a breed advocate says “DO NOT GET THIS KIND OF DOG UNTIL YOU MEET ONE AND ARE SURE,” it is probably a good idea to listen. ~ Erin Gloria Ryan, Jezebel
This is pretty much my stance, but some comments and a recent conversation with Sarah, the person pictured above with her Shiba Inu, Kit, made me wonder: Are Shiba enthusiasts overly negative about their breed, even out of the best possible intentions?
Here’s our conversation:
I want to quote some of the stuff you’ve said about the Shiba owner issue – pushing people away from their breed. I don’t want you to think that I ignored your posts and comments about it – it’s just been percolating at the back of my head and I want to write a blog post about it.
Absolutely, please feel free! And if you’re inclined to disagree with it, I hope you know that I will still adore you anyway and you don’t have to hold back on account of fragile friend ego if you’re inclined to take another position, I’m totes OK with that.
Haha… no… I am actually one of the worst culprits when it comes to OHMAIDOGSTAYAWAAAAYFARAWAAAAY
I was thinking about why and, well, I think it’s partly because, yes, the breed looks cute, but is really tough…
But I think also it’s because it’s like being a fucking parent – a real one – and you’re talking to some kid who’s all “I wanna be a mommy!” and you’re saying to them, “This dog will infuriate you, ignore you, frustrate you and will rip out your heart when it dies. You want that?”
Other breeds are like the Kodak moments. You don’t generally have to worry about your Lab with kids. Your Collie just magically comes when called. The Shiba is the problem child, the smart one, the one with the most potential for greatness AND disaster. No wonder our hearts get fused to them so closely. No wonder we look at other people and worry about whether they’re ready for that kind of thing.
However, like a lot of parents, we can get a little too involved with our dogs. When it gets to the point where ‘no one is good enough’ for your breed, you really have to step back and re-examine what you’re doing.
Like mothers who don’t let their mates parent because they don’t put diapers on right or because they’re okay with the kid taking two bites of broccoli and not eating the whole thing.
I completely get that, I really do. Because Shibas are so much their own person, it really IS like having a relationship with an autonomous creature that knows his/her own mind and is willing to go to bat for what they want.
Kit is my first dog, so I didn’t actually come into the relationship expecting her to be (in the words of T’Pal, forgive the Trek reference) a subservient quadriped. It cracks my family up that I have a dog so much like me – stubborn, independent, determined to do things her/my own way. And I love her for it. It doesn’t really irritate me, I admire her for her moxie.
People do need to know that these dogs are SMART, and that having one is a partnership and will never be a master/slave relationship. They’re not for people who can’t do unconditional love – like parenting. The kind of love which accepts everything and delights in it all – the sassy moments, the disastrous decision of the child to TP the entire house, build an A-bomb in the garage, etc. etc. etc. – it’s all part of having a critter who is gloriously real and not just a yes-dog.
I agree with you that people should know what they’re getting into, and I *double* agree that it’s important to treat prospective Shiba owners as potential new parents who need encouragement and support instead of judgment (putting diapers on wrong) or criticism (make them eat all the broccoli) or disdain.
It’s a challenge, but it’s also wonderful to have a dog who is their own person. I love Kit’s lack of subservience more than I can say. I’m proud of her for feeling so empowered to assert her will even though she is so tiny and I am so big. I love that self-confidence and I can’t help it, it makes me smile.
Yes, sometimes I find myself standing in the freezing rain or next to the car door for 5, 10, 15 minutes because she and I are doing Immovable Object and Irresistible Force (it happens, sometimes she can’t get what she wants), but she knows that I will out-wait her no matter how long it takes and eventually she chooses to come along. I don’t actually find it particularly infuriating or aggravating because this is her, in all her glory.
I love what you just said about “When it gets to the point where ‘no one is good enough’ for your breed, you really have to step back and re-examine what you’re doing” – because that’s exactly how I feel, too. It breaks my heart to see Shiba enthusiasts trying so hard to make people never, ever want to get a Shiba.
These same people will swear up and down and inside-out that there is NO bad pit bull, only bad owners. But for whatever reason, they think Shibas are the fucking devil incarnate. It is so weird to me, and I sincerely wonder if some of these Shiba owners should probably have gotten a different dog if they have such negative feelings about the breed. And why the hell are they so against BSL and breed stereotyping when it comes to bully breeds, but so eager to do it to their own dogs?
I swear to god, if I got on that Shiba board and replaced the word “pit bull” with “Shiba” and replicated some anti-pitty diatribe with just the breed names replaced, everyone will fall all over themselves agreeing with me. Put up the same diatribe about pits, and they will shit themselves blind about how evil it is to do that. It is baffling. I don’t mean mean that people should be all pie-eyed and rose-tinted glasses and in denial about Shiba temperament, but I’d like to see more people like you – Tierce is sassy and indomitable and it cracks you up and you respect it, and you work with him and who he is, setting boundaries with lots of love.
These are definitely dogs that require human-style parenting; attempts to dominate them are laughable. I don’t know if I told you about how my Uncle Jerry tried to get Kit to treat him like an alpha male over Thanksgiving, but it was HILARIOUS. Poor ex-Marine with his macho alpha male personality. He’d walk up to her and take this wide-legged stance and glare at her, expecting her to go all submissive on him, and she’d just go (literally) “Hmph” and walk away. I swear she was laughing at him. It slayed me. But if Jerry had adopted a Shiba, it would be such a tragically bad fit. Unbelievably bad. For the dog and the person. I shudder to think, I really do.
But of course, alienating good people from the breed by trying to terrify the fuck out of them is not good for the breed. I think it’s worse than being cheerfully cautionary. Much worse. I’m really happy that you’re going to write about this. I know people respect you and your perspective.
Well, it’s a balancing line. I met a woman who just got a Shiba from some weird place or breeder or whatever and the message I tried to leave with her is that YES… You will find this breed is the devil sometimes. You will have to work harder, train more frequently, be more aware of what your dog is doing and how she’s reacting… BUT you’ll be okay. It’s not your fault if the dog freaks out at some random thing; it just means you need to find a way to work around it. BUT you’ll be okay. Even if your dog decides it hates other dogs with the fiery burning passion of a rash people won’t see their doctor about. BUT you’ll be okay…
I think that’s a great message.
And I should also mention that my perspective is maybe weird because I’ve made absolutely no attempt at all to train Kit. I would probably think she was the devil more often if I was trying to get her to do obedience and agility and stuff. She has mostly trained herself because of the collaboration and give/take thing. Her recall is mostly good, because she’s pretty sure that if I call her there will be pepperoni. Sometimes she values freedom over pepperoni, and then she’s magically deaf. She has figured out how to put on her own harness if I hold it up, because she likes going for walks. She sticks her head in and threads her own leg through the loop. I don’t think I could have “trained” her to do that in a thousand years.
People find it annoying that she doesn’t sit on command, but I take a certain smug satisfaction in watching them try to make her do it. HA GOOD LUCK. I don’t care if she doesn’t sit on command. Or roll, or fetch, or whatever. I just don’t. It’s not even a little important to me. All I care about is that she stops – every single time, dead in her tracks – if I yell “NO!” (No don’t eat that, no don’t run over there, no don’t chew on that dog, no don’t eat that tennis ball/acorn/coyote poop.) That’s the only thing I really need her to do, for her own safety, and she is flawless on “NO!” so we’re good. Everything else, meh. I admire people who have figured out how to communicate and collaborate with their Shibas, like Elee and that one novice owner who is getting all those agility championships. But Kit and I aren’t that ambitious.
Also, I might have found it devilish that she managed to completely remove the wainscoting from the front door when I left her uncrated in the apartment on a teaching day, if I hadn’t been so impressed. I’m lucky as hell that she didn’t tunnel straight through the drywall. I hate keeping her crated for so long (it’s like six solid hours) so I’ve been trying to get her used to being on her own and not in her crate, and she is getting better at it, but I currently have a door frame propped up against the wall in two parts, because somehow my wee little dog managed to pull two lengths of 7 feet by three inches timber off the wall.
Heh. Life with a Shiba.
It was such a culture shock when we got Shassi – we were accustomed to dogs that basically lived to please. Shassi was… something new.
LOL! Yeah, I actually think there’s a lot to be said for Shibas being BETTER for first-time dog owners than experienced dog owners, which is the opposite of the standard lore on the matter. If I’d been used to a yes-dog, Kit might have been harder to accept. But she’s my first, so wasn’t really bothered. I didn’t have any pre-formed expectations in particular, I just learned what to expect from her as we got to know each other. And vice-versa, I’m sure. Her show owner was a lot stricter about food and heeling on walks. Kit used to walk loose-leash picture-perfect on my left, but she figured out that I’m a pushover 75% of the time pretty quickly.
You see, I’d be afraid that a first-time owner would be overwhelmed by a Shiba, but maybe you’re right. After a Shiba, other breeds would seem pretty tame.
Maybe it’s because we feel that it takes more to love a Shiba than another breed that’s easier to own and we’re forever terrified that by recommending Shibas as a good dog to try that we could be setting one up for abandonment.
But that doesn’t make sense. “Good” dogs are abandoned every day.
For real. If a first-time owner has expectations based on fantasy, they would definitely get a buttshock when it came to reality. Same is probably true of most first-time owners of any breed, though. Kit only chews on her bones (and one rare time, a particularly odorous ballet slipper, she couldn’t resist the smell of foot), I gather from other friends with dogs that most dogs will chew freaking ANYTHING.
I have a neighbor with a medium sized mix (something fluffy and short) and I walked that dog while he was laid up with hip surgery. It was startlingly easy. I’m so used to Kit asserting herself vigorously that I kept thinking the dog must be depressed. He just didn’t show much interest in doing anything than walking right at my side.
You’re absolutely right. Good dogs are abandoned every day, and I hate to think that there are Shibas that won’t get homes (from shelters or rescue or retirement or whatever) because they’ve been depicted BY SHIBA OWNERS as the worst possible dog in the entire world.
When I told my mother I was getting a Shiba she googled when we got off the phone and then called me back and said she didn’t want me to get Kit, she wanted me – and I quote here – to “get a dog that will love you back.” That is the impression she got of the breed from searching about them online. That they are not loving, that they are aloof and obstinate and a pain in the ass. And she tried to talk me out of Kit. And I insisted on getting Kit, because I had met her and I just knew we were going to be soulmates. I will be gutted as fuck when she dies, but I wouldn’t give her up for anything. She was the best decision I ever made.
Yeah, I can get frustrated with people, but in the end, I want us Shiba people and us dog people to realize that we are mostly on the same side. We have to work towards the goals we all share and keep arguing about the ones we don’t in ways that facilitate learning instead of shutting it down.
Absolutely! I’d love to see the active Shiba forums become more supportive, encouraging, and positive. And I’d love to see more people interested in rescue and in supporting conscientious breeders. Without being shitmonkeys. Some crapnoodle on the forums said Kit should have never been born/bred because I thought she might be having seasonal allergies. I would have cheerfully punched her in the face if she’d said that to me in person. But that’s also just the internet being dire.
Thank you, Sarah! (and thank you, Kit, for inspiring your person!)
Kit was bred by Goldkress Shibas. To quote Sarah:
Lonita Kress is (IMO) a wonderful and responsible breeder who is passionate about the happiness and health of her dogs. She does not breed pets, she does 1-2 planned breedings per year and very occasionally has an adult who is retiring or a puppy who isn’t going to a colleague/show owner and is available for a pet home. I credit her for Kit being so affectionate and cuddly and loving, she gives her dogs a ton of love and affection and it shows in all of their temperaments. They’re all absolute people persons.