Shibas and Biting

Are Shibas biters? This question is an ongoing topic of discussion. Each time this unpleasant, but crucial, subject is debated, there seems to be either a lack of knowledge or a hesitation to admit the potential exists for any Shiba to bite at any age, any time, under any circumstances. It’s understandable when a new owner or person learning about the breed isn’t aware of the potential existing, but a breeder or seasoned Shiba owner should realize the possibility exists for any dog to bite at anytime, including a Shiba. Because the Shiba is such a strong-willed, independent breed, there is a need to educate regarding possibility, potential and reality.

Even though mouthing, nipping and/or biting seems to be the norm for young and maturing Shibas, that behavior needs to be addressed and eliminated. A big concern is for the mature Shibas who don’t normally show this tendency but start exhibiting unacceptable behavior with nipping, biting and becoming aggressive. An even bigger concern is with owners who seem to be living with a false sense of security, not understanding the potential for Shibas to revert when something is not right with their life. Medical problems or injury and pain can be a contributing factor for changes but if these have been ruled out other possible triggers need to be examined. Biting can be caused by fear, lack of self-confidence, change in lifestyle, addition to the pack or absence of a pack member. Any one or a combination of these plus many other possibilities can be an underlying cause for a Shiba to feel threatened and bite. Many times warning signals are overlooked, a Shiba’s needs aren’t considered and owners haven’t been informed of the possibility for any Shiba reverting to self-defense. Because a Shiba was purchased from a reputable breeder who did everything right, bred for temperament, socialized, trained, doesn’t insure that Shiba will never feel a need to lash out if it feels threatened whether the threat is real or imagined. Even breeders who have never had a problem with a Shiba in the past are not exempt from the potential of this happening. Downplaying the possibility, for whatever reason, or glossing over by comparing the Shiba to breeds where the potential is even greater, does nothing to protect owners or Shibas.

Not addressing this aspect of owning a Shiba would be a disservice to the breed as a whole. Not acknowledging the potential for this reality exists, and not educating owners or prospective owners of the possibilities does nothing to protect the breed or individual Shibas. Does acknowledging this problem exists in the Shiba breed mean it’s a trait? No, but being realistic about the potential and acknowledging possibilities exist through the life of any Shiba may help to control the number of incidents and the public assuming this is a trait. Educating is the key to success, and we need to keep this in mind when it comes to something that isn’t the norm, but where a potential exists for it to become a reality.

This description of Shibas was written by a Shiba Fancier, and addresses the Shiba’s natural instincts when it comes to biting:

"I feel that the potential for a Shiba to bite boils down to two things: (1) The temperament of the individual dog and (2) Shibas are primitive dogs.

(1) Individual dogs: I think temperament can be genetically determined to a large degree. Just like with people, some Shibas come from trouble free backgrounds, yet are fearful of new things or very dominant and aggressive. Some Shibas have come from a long history of hardships and are still calm and sweet. But when faced with challenges, I think Shibas can revert to basic non-submissive self-defense behavior (i.e., displaying aggression) more readily than maybe a retriever or a collie would. In short, they are more likely to snarl than cower.

(2) I tell all potential adopters that shibas are primitive dogs, like dingos, or basenjis. (That surprises many people). I tell them that Shibas are domestic dogs that have NOT been selectively bred to be puppy-like as adults for thousands of generations, as have retrievers and poodles. Nor have Shibas been selectively bred NOT to hunt and kill small animals, as have spaniels and collies. Shibas are intelligent, verbally communicative, strong-willed, independent, and some even panic easily, almost like a wild animal.

You can’t treat Shibas like a little lap dog because they’ll walk all over you. You can’t treat Shibas like a collie or a retriever and order them around or they will give you their little Shiba middle fingers and be disobedient just to make a point. Like all animals, Shibas will bite unless they are taught it is not productive or tolerated. (Even human toddlers have to be taught not to bite). If they learn that biting can get them places, then they use it! Many will try out biting as a tool, just as toddlers test their parent’s limits. Unfortunately in today’s society, we think all dogs should be utter milquetoasts, unaware that they have teeth. If people choose to keep a small domesticated wolf, they need to be aware that they must teach it how to live in the pack established by the humans. I guess just as we like to forget that the red meat tidily packaged at the super market was once a cow prancing through the fields, we like to forget our dogs were once (and essentially still are) wolves.

I think Shibas are closer to wolf/dingo behavior than less primitive breeds. I find their behavior fascinating, and really enjoy the trust and relationship I have built with each of my Shibas. I tell people that if they want a doting slave, get a border collie. If they want a loving companion they will have to respect and out-think, if they have patience and a sense of humor, get a Shiba."

Respecting the potential of this breed and working to keep life safe for all concerned is the only way to insure the Shiba Breed doesn’t gain a reputation it doesn’t deserve. Informing owners, prospective owners and future owners is the best way to make this the reality. Owning a Shiba is a life long process of reading your Shiba, listening to what it is saying to you about its world and realizing that Shibas can and will do what they need to do if they feel there is something threatening their life.

"Shibas and Biting" was originally written by Carolyn Sanford for Northeast Shiba Rescue Association. Used by written permission.