Training Tips

I am not an alpha person. I don't stand up straight with my shoulders back. I don't walk tall. My tone of voice isn't deep and firm. I sometimes ask Rusty to do things rather than tell him. Yet in spite of all this, Rusty is considerate and kind. Not necessarily obedient. But fairly well mannered.

Rusty was a handful as a pup. He became nice later and it was kind of sudden. There was a distinct change when he was about a year old. And he got even better when he was two. At three Rusty was fully mature. Shiba Inus grow out of some things but early training is essential. You have to be diligent at first. You can ease up when they get older. These are the techniques I used.

Training Overview. Shiba Inus can be stubborn and persistent. They seem to be able to find your buttons and press them regularly. To survive, you need a game plan and a sense of humor.

Shiba Inus often misbehave to get attention. Corrections should be impersonal. Avoid eye contact or touching when they misbehave. Be consistent and unemotional. Adopt an attitude of stoic indifference. To avoid touching, you can use a squirt gun or a hand-hold. A hand-hold is a light line clipped or tied to the dog's collar. It is short and just touches the floor when the dog is standing up. It allows you to give a correction without touching the dog.

When training a Shiba, you should follow some general principles. Don't set yourself up for a fall. Don't ask the dog to do something unless you're sure he will comply and/or you are willing to wait for however long it may take.

Also, expect intermittent challenges. Your mindset should be "I've got to win this!" You get used to and even welcome the challenges. I look at it as a friendly banter. It is one of the things I enjoy most about Shiba Inu dogs.

I use treats a lot. For shaping behavior, I use a treat that my dog really likes and is small so that it can be eaten quickly. On those occasions when I get a phenomenal response, to show the dog I am ecstatic, I give a whole bunch of treats at once.

Mouthing and Puppy Biting. Rusty tested me the very first day he stepped into the house. He stared at me, barked, grabbed hold of my trousers and pulled hard. I thought, "You've got to be kidding." I came to realize that most of the time he was just kidding. (see this link for how they can fake agression Devil dog) Shiba Inus play bite a lot. It doesn't mean much. All the same you have to teach them some manners. Especially as they get older. Here are some techniques you can use to discourage biting.

Protecting your property. When Rusty was little I kept a squirt gun in every room and had to spray him when he wouldn't leave my stuff alone. You can put a little vinegar or lemon juice in the water to make it an effective deterrent.

I also used a product called “Bitter Apple”. It is available at all pet supply stores. It is very useful in keeping dogs from chewing everything you own. It comes in spray and tube, and you simply spray or smear it on anything you don't want the dog to chew.

When he protects "his" property. If a Shiba Inu gets protective of a bone, hold onto it while he chews. (You can purchase foot-long chew sticks.) If he protects his food dish, hold onto it while he eats. When he doesn't seem to care, pick it up the object and pretend to inspect it. Then put it back down. Tell him he's a "good dog" if he does not object.

Another thing you can do is hand feed your dog. It can prevent or cure food guarding. Do this for a period of about two weeks.

For a detailed discussion of food or object guarding issues, check out the Dog Logic web site.

Aggression. Generally, I don't believe Shiba Inus are aggressive. But they can be defensive if not socialized. That is why socialization is important. When they are about 8 weeks old, begin to socialize them as much as possible. Take them everywhere possible. Meet as many people as possible, in as many different situations as possible. In the same vein, Shiba Inus can become dog aggressive if not socialized with other dogs.

Fear. Some Shiba Inus are extremely skittish. This is a genetic defect and training can only go so far to correct it. This is why it is best to get your dog from a responsible breeder.

For less serious problems (fear of specific things), the usual approach is to "desensitize”. This is the word dog trainers use. What it means is that you go gradual. Everything has to be gradual. Example, if a dog is afraid of thunder, you play tape recordings of thunder with the volume turned down. Then you gradually increase the volume. If you have patience and time, you can help the dog overcome fears and gain confidence. Food is used a lot when desensitizing. Usually, a dog's fear is reduced when eating. So food is used as reinforcement.

This may sound strange, but Shiba Inu pups often seem to be afraid of a bone, especially a big bone.. They are not really afraid of the bone so much as they are of taking it while on the "Master's" territory. If you walk a few blocks away from home, and then give the bone, the dog may devour it. Or, if the dog finds a bone while you are away from home, while on a walk for instance, he will devour it readily. The bone he finds for himself is "his" not the Master's, and so he feels safe eating it.

Another anomaly is that Shiba Inus sometimes shy away from petting. This is especially characteristic of pups. Shiba Inus are a primitive lot and seem to interpret a pat on the head as an attack coming from above. (Wild animals often attack prey from above and bite into the back of the neck.) The best way to pet a Shiba Inu is to come from below. Place you hands down below the head (so the dog can see your hand coming) and tickle the chest or chin.

Walking on Lead. It takes time and a lot of time and patience to teach a Shiba Inu to walk properly. I used a flexi-leash at first because I thought it was just too tough to train Rusty on a short leash. I also used a martingale collar. This is a collar made of nylon that can tighten when the dog pulls. It a modified choke collar but not as severe. You can adjust how tight it gets. Because of the shape of their head and neck, Shiba Inus can slip out of an ordinary collar.

When I started out walking, Rusty usually ran ahead and pulled. I kept a bag of treats in my pocket. If he was pulling, I stood like a tree until he stopped. When he stopped pulling (and looked back at me), I gave a treat and continued walking. Needless to say, you won't get far fast if the dog is pulling a lot. This is where patience comes in.

If you're walking along and he's behind you, again, try to continue on (maybe drag him a little). I don't jerk the leash with a Shiba Inu. They seem to be sensitive. Try not to look back at the dog if he's lagging behind. Looking reinforces his dawdling. Shibas like attention just as much as a treat, and looking at them when they're bad, reinforces bad behavior. Look at the sky. Look anywhere, but not at the dog. Give a treat when the dog catches up to you.

Obedience Training. To become an acceptable house pet, a Shiba Inu will need obedience training. But they can't be expected to perform as well as some other breeds. . They have a wild side to them. To survive in the wild a dog has to be able to make decisions, not just follow orders. Shiba Inus are "thinking dogs". They can't be happy if someone does all the thinking for them.

Though they don't obey commands religiously, Shiba Inus respect rules, particularly "dog pack rules". For example, Rusty usually eats from his dog bowl only when I sit down at the dinner table. The "leader of the pack" should eat first in Rusty's mind. When I put on Rusty's leash to go for a walk, I have to cross the threshold first. The leader of the pack must initiate the hunt (the way Rusty sees it).

Relationship. Shiba Inus love human contact and can be extremely affectionate. They have an amazing capacity to totally relax while being held and petted by someone they trust. Trust is the keyword. Once they trust you, they often revel in "love sessions". It usually takes about a year to develop trust with a Shiba Inu.

Shiba Inus are sensitive and smart. Forceful training based on the alpha theory doesn't work well. When harsh methods are used, Shibas get stressed and aloof.

To get the best out of a Shiba Inu, you have to be a good master. A good master is not a tyrant. He is a leader, administrator and caretaker. He overlooks minor transgressions. He recognizes the fine, indomitable spirit of the Shiba and delights in it. He does nothing that would diminish the spirit.

The good master protects his dog. He does not allow the dog to get into situations it can't handle. For example, some Shiba Inu dogs do not relish the idea of people coming up and touching them. If you know your dog doesn't like being petted by strangers, don't force him to endure it. You can gradually get him used to strangers when you're at home. You can ask guests to give him treats or play fetch and the like.

Nail-Clipping Nightmare. Shiba Inus hate getting their nails clipped. They will out-struggle all efforts. Here is video clip which demonstrates the reaction of a puppy to nail-clipping. (Shiba scream). 

A possible solution is to "grind" the nails rather than cut them. I use a rotary tool made by Dremel (MiniMite, Model 750). It is battery powered and comes with accessories, including a small sanding drum. I got the smallest drum possible. This grinder is quiet and doesn't upset Rusty.  A description of the technique (including pictures) can be found at the following website.  Rodel Shibas

Bathing. Shiba Inus also hate bathing. They don't like getting wet. Fortunately, they don't need baths very often. They are fastidiously clean and groom themselves much like cats do. When you bathe a Shiba Inu, use warm water for both the wash and rinse. It's less stressful on the dog.

Housebreaking. I was Rusty's second owner. Rusty was housebroken when I got him. I was told that Rusty had sometimes piddled at the foot of the previous owner's bed. They said he did it out of spite. I don't know if it is true. Anyway, he never, never piddled in my house. He once even held it for 24 hours. (Due to extraordinary circumstances, I forgot his evening walk and realized the next day that he hadn't been out.).

My friend Robbie had little difficulty housetraining her dog Kudo.  This is how it went (in Robbie's words).

"When I first got Kudo, she was eleven weeks old. I had never had such a young puppy, and knew nothing about housetraining a pup. I thought one was supposed to train a puppy to “go on the paper,” a phrase I’ve heard all my life. So I put some newspapers down on the kitchen floor, and encouraged her to go there. Quickly she understood that peeing on paper was something to be desired, but she didn’t necessarily want the paper in the kitchen. With her very sharp little puppy teeth, Kudo would tear off a strip of paper, dart into the living room with the strip, place it carefully over the carpet, and pee. Of course the piece of paper was one-ply thick and about the size of a Post-It Note but, by golly, she had done her business just as I had taught her.

Silly me. It isn’t necessary to use the intermediate step of “go on the paper” with a Shiba. They are very clean little dogs and really prefer to go outside, given the chance. A rough rule of thumb is that a puppy can hold it one hour for every month of age. That is, a two-month-old puppy can hold it about two hours, a three-month-old puppy can hold it about three hours, and so forth. (Puppies should always be given the chance to go immediately after waking from a nap, or shortly after eating, or after a vigorous play session.) Skip the paper training and head right outside from the beginning. You and your carpet will be much happier. And, for the inevitable accidents, get a spray bottle of Nature’s Miracle, or another stain and odor remover, to keep the carpet from smelling like an approved place."

You would do well to check out Robbie's site (Kudo) for further information about Shiba Inus (and about Robbie's first dog).  Another site worh checking out is Rodel Shibas.  They have a good page on Shiba care.