Is a Shiba Right For Me?

Shibas are not recommended for first time dog owners, or the faint of heart. They can be aloof, challenging, unreliable, unpredictable, and driven by a need to control situations. At the same time, they are intelligent, independent, bold, alert to their surroundings, and with obedience training, socialization and a committed owner willing to meets their needs, they can and do become devoted, loyal companions. They learn quickly, responding best to positive reinforcement and motivation, but quickly become bored with repetition. They don’t work for free, with most expecting treat rewards, some prefer a toy, but all thrive on praise for their accomplishments, and a job well done.

Shiba puppies are irresistible little balls of fur, always ready to learn and explore the world around them. Positive interaction with humans, both adults and children, and socialization with dogs of all ages should begin early, and continue throughout their life. Shibas are fastidious, so housetraining usually isn’t an issue. Because of their inquisitive nature, crate training is a must for their safety, especially when left home alone. Puppies can be very mouthy, and need to be reminded from the start what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Biting, nipping, and chewing on anything other than their toys or chew bones is not acceptable. By redirecting the behavior to what is acceptable, they will learn what’s expected from them. Bitter apple sprayed on furniture and rugs will also discourage chewing and destructive behavior.

Around the age of six months, Shibas start to mature, and their cute puppy behavior can give way to testing and challenging. Spaying/neutering at this time is recommended, not only to reduce accidental breedings, but it also has health and behavioral benefits. Altering helps protect females against breast cancer (especially if they are spayed before their first heat), and males against enlarged prostate and testicular cancer. Neutering males also lessens aggression towards other male dogs, roaming, and marking territory indoors.

Also, between the age of six months and a year, Shibas can exhibit behavior consistent with toddlers known as "Terrible Twos." It’s their time to test rules and challenge owners. Commands they may have readily responded to previously are ignored. Their new mission in life becomes one of controlling situations. Mouthiness can take on a whole new meaning during this time, and it needs to be addressed as quickly as it starts. If allowed to continue, snapping, nipping, snipping, or pinching can lead to biting and aggressive behavior, becoming a liability for an owner, and creating safety issues for everyone coming in contact with the Shiba. During this time, obedience training and socialization is mandatory to establish leadership, and reinforce rules. A strong, confident leader must be in control of all situations, but also must be patient and fair with expectations, while meeting the needs of a maturing Shiba. Positive reinforcement and motivation, along with training and socialization will build a relationship of trust and respect.

By remaining consistent with expectations and demands, meeting the physical and mental needs of a Shiba this age, an owner will begin to experience the joys of sharing life with their companion. Some Shibas, most often those with a more dominant personality, can go through another period of testing and challenging between the age of 18 mos to two or even three years. Sometimes referred to as "Troubled Teens," they can become full of themselves, testing and challenging everything again, trying to rewrite the rules. A few refresher courses, repeating classes in obedience, together with patience and consistency will help guide them in the right direction. Many times it’s this behavior, at this age, when rescue is contacted for a Shiba needing to be surrendered. Owners feel overwhelmed and unable to work with the out-of-control Shiba. The behavior doesn’t happen overnight, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t addressed immediately. If it had been, it could have been corrected. Most problems are fixable if an owner is willing to put the time and effort into making it right.

Once a Shiba reaches three years of age, an owner will begin to see more positive changes. Some mellowing, less testing, and a Shiba more focused on living life to the fullest. This is a great age, and it gets better with every year that follows. The life span for Shibas is approximately 16 years. Unlike some of the larger breeds, Shibas don’t hit their prime until about 6-7 yrs of age, but remain quite active well into their senior years. Because of the breed’s versatility, exploring activities such as agility, tracking, flyball, carting, and lure coursing, can give new direction to any relationship. Shibas have the ability to accomplish just about anything when given the opportunity to learn and train. All they need is an owner willing to work and train with them. Some Shibas prefer nothing more than being couch potatoes, or guarding their home and yard. Those are also very noble activities, and should be respected as such. All Shibas love adventures, especially spending time sniffing and marking the great outdoors. It’s not the quantity of time, but the quality of time spent with a Shiba that forms an everlasting bond with a loyal companion.

One big downside of owning a Shiba many people have a problem understanding or accepting is, "A Shiba Must Always Be Leashed" outside a secure area. Shibas were originally bred to hunt and track, and this trait is still very strong in most Shibas. Given an opening, whether a door, gate, window, etc., most Shibas will follow their instincts to run with the wind. Some Shibas can be real escape artists, climbing over or digging under fences, and even squeezing through very small openings. Invisible/inground fences are not recommended for this breed because Shibas will take the jolt when they want to leave, and it doesn’t keep other dogs out of a Shiba’s territory. Another dog coming into a Shiba’s yard, uninvited, could cause the Shiba to become aggressive. Age or amount of training doesn’t seem to make a difference with Shibas running, and most often they don’t respond to being called, can’t be chased, and very seldom return on their own. Too often a Shiba pays with its life, and some are never seen again.

Two very important questions need to be answered before committing to a Shiba; "Is A Shiba Right for Me," and "Am I Right for A Shiba?" They aren’t for everyone. Education is the Key. There’s more to a Shiba than size, color, and look. A potential owner must be prepared and committed to meeting all of the challenges of a Shiba, and dedicated to do whatever it takes throughout the life of their companion. Shibas require a committed owner who is willing to put time and effort into the relationship, and realize life with a Shiba is always a "work in progress." It also helps to have a sense of humor, and understand you will be humbled by your Shiba more than once. Sharing life with these wonderful, entertaining creatures is priceless. When your Shiba talks to you with its dark, penetrating eyes, and you understand what it’s saying, then you’ve earned your way into the heart of your Shiba. When you’ve reached that point, your Shiba has already stolen your heart, and you’re completely hooked on this amazing breed!

Caution: Shibas are addictive, it’s hard to stop at just one!

"Is a Shiba Right For Me" was originally written by Carolyn Sanford for Northeast Shiba Rescue Association. Used by written permission.