Does he bite?

A common question from strangers is, "Does he bite?" It's a hard question for me to answer, because the real answer is, "Yes, under certain circumstances, but despite that fact, you can't approach him with any fear."

Loki's behavior really started to become better from about 1 - 1.5 years old. The last time Loki bit me was in January. (I was trying to take a chicken bone from his mouth. He had randomly found it during our walk.) After the incident in January, I thought his biting days were all in the past. The reason for the decrease in bites wasn't only attributable to his better temperament, but also to the fact that we better learned what his warning signs were and what his triggers were.

Unfortunately, I let my guard down or perhaps I was simply in denial about his temperament. Last Thursday he bit me for the first time since January. Here's what happened:

It started as a normal day for Loki & I, as I took him to poop. Unfortunately, it was one of those days where his poop was dangling on a long strand of my hair from his butt. (I have long hair; it drops everywhere.) He was successful in flinging the poop off by running around in circles like mad. But the strand of hair was still there. Uh-oh.

So I calmly got him to stay standing and pulled one strand out. Then I noticed another shorter strand. I suppose I was feeling empowered because I got the first strand out okay. But he put up a huge fight when I tried to get that second stand, and got bitten on my finger. I didn't even know I was bleeding until I saw the blood on his fur.

An acquaintance passed by during the incident and commented that perhaps it was hurting him inside when I tugged at the hair. I don't know if that was the case or not, but I gave up on trying to pull it out. Anyways, the issue resolved itself the next time he went to poop.

The reality is that Loki does bite and lashes out when he feels threatened. Honestly, I really wish I had a dog that never bit or showed any aggressive behavior. Other dogs cower, whimper, and whine under stressful and challenging situations. I keep wishing that Loki could be that kind of dog, but I don't think that he ever will.

I certainly try my best in training him to behave better. I have been successful in identifying certain triggers and finding solutions for them. For instance, we muzzle him when we do his nails. I used slow positive reinforcement to teach him to accept the harness, which he is very good about now. He still doesn't like it, but he accepts it. And currently, I'm doing more handling exercises with positive reinforcement. But I am starting to think that even with all the training in the world, Loki will still lash out if he feels threatened. Training with positive reinforcement only teaches him that certain triggers aren't threatening. It doesn't teach him to never lash out.

This blog entry is difficult to write, because I feel that there is a certain amount of judgment that is placed on an owner of such a dog... almost as if it were my fault for his behavior. I remember one day a year ago when I was out walking Loki and I told a ten year old girl to be cautious around Loki. She turned away from us and asked a nearby elderly man if his two Pomeranians bit. The elderly man replied, oh, no, never ever, they would never hurt a fly. I felt bad about not being able to say the same about Loki.

Whenever I search online, it's hard to find any useful information about dogs and biting. Google only brings up legal site after legal site informing people how to sue and sad news story after sad news story. There was one article that I was very happy to read on a Shiba Rescue site: Shibas and Biting by Carolyn Sanford. The lines that resonated the most with me were:
"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.
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."
In the end, yes, Loki does bite. Even if he is very mellow, well-behaved, and calm about 90% of the time, under certain circumstances, Loki is not afraid to lash out. This is the reality of owning Loki.


Bonnie said...

You have a Shiba, and you certainly know about their temperament, which is good. Shibas will always challenge their owner, one way or the other.

But, here is something encouraging for you. Sushi used to get snarly if I had to remove a blade of grass or stuck poop to his butt. I had to resort to making him sit several times on the grass in hopes of it "letting go" on it's own! Other times, a nice sized leaf did the trick.

Anyways, Sushi still gets a little snarlyface on in these situations, but he lets me take care of it for him. He has learned, through other "help me" experiences, that I am going to make things better. In fact, now, when I say "Sushi, let me help", he sits down, sulking, knowing I'm going to come to his rescue.

Have patience, don't give up, keep trying, Loki will understand.

And, good for you for posting this, because you KNOW you aren't the only Shiba owner out there that has been through this! ;)

Bonnie & Sushi

Chibi And Sumo said...

i can only imagine the feelings you have.

luckily *knocks on wood*, neither chibi nor sumo has had any issues with biting. the closest we've gotten is nipping at our heels when they were both puppies when they were trying to get our attention to play.

sumo has been barking at people (and moving cars, and oscillating fans, and other random stuff) lately, sounding mean, aggresive and generally PO'd. but when he's actually allowed to get close to the person, he starts rolling over and licking (and still loves being pet). i think we'll need to figure this behavior out soon as well.

i remember something from the dog whisperer that made sense to me, "you dont always get the dog you want, but you always get the dog you need."

hang in there...if it was easy, everybody would have a shiba inu :)

The Shiba said...

From Cesar on 7/31/08:

"If your dog bites you . . .it’s important not to take it personally. We may think the reason we were bitten or growled at is because they’re trying hurt us. But dogs don’t rationalize. . . If a dog bites, pulls, or does something I don’t agree with it, I don’t take it personally. By keeping calm and neutral, I am able to come up with solutions. If I let it get to me and get into a “fight, flight, or avoidance” state of mind, it doesn’t help me or the dog I’m working with."

Cesar also said "I’m a very strong believer that you don’t always get the dog you want; you get the dog you need. And even if the dog doesn’t work out for you, you still take something from the experience." I remember this strongly from an episode he did where he and a Shiba Inu went full force into working out issues of dominance. Cesar ended the session by stating that this was not the dog for this family (severe food, toy, and territory aggression) and ended up taking the Shiba and giving the family another dog.

While I do not agree with Cesar 100%, I do know that with Shibas I pick my battles. Biting is unacceptable but I have never hit Cortez for snapping or being protective; I merely say, time is up and move us forward into something else- even if there is poo or hairs hanging from his butt. I move him away from me until I am sure that he is listening, speak calmly, and ask him to stand. Like Sushi with "let me help you," I use the terms "Be Good" and "Stand" as I attempt to help him in his distress. Cortez gets acorn shells stuck on his paw pads all the time. This freaks him out big time, but after the initial "omgomgwtf" on his part, he has learned to offer the paw, stand and remain calm as I remove it.

Loki is still very young for a Shiba. At 1 1/2, its almost like he is still going through the developmental stage of trust vs. mistrust- it takes a good year to two years for a Shiba to truly establish a great rapport with his people to where he can rely upon them to make judgments on their behalf. Shibas think that they own the world; it takes considerable time and effort for them to hand over their dominance, fears, and anxieties to another individual of their pack and say "please take care of me."

As for people approaching, don't tell them that he is a biter. Instead, teach them how to approach a dog in a calm, assertive manner. Have them stand, offer their hand for him to sniff, and if he does not back away, let them stroke his head or nose (not back or tail as this is usually more sensitive). Give them a treat to give to him- a very small morsel so he has to come close to receive it. If he does back away, you merely say, he must be tired from all the exercise and adoration today, and just move on; if he does not, praise him as well as the people pet him, and let him know that he is doing a good thing. Most likely, he is not going to bite a stranger but rather bite the people that he is trying to establish trust with because if you are doing something to make him feel uncomfortable, then he is worried and anxious as to why.

Everything that I have seen on your website shows me that Loki is not a bad dog. He is a willing partner, unafraid, and you are able to on new adventures and to new places without difficulty. However, as you and Loki grow together, he needs to understand that you are here to help him and you are an important part of the pack- and you must feel that role as well. Not through anger or scaredness, but just a calm assertion to him "Loki, I am here to help."

It will take a few tries, but it will work.

P.S. I have very long hair too, so I understand the hair/poo situation. While it still freaks Cortez out when it happens, he has learned to "Stand" "Be Good" as I pull it out. But there is always the initial freak-out; I let him get that out of his system *before* I start trying to help him.

Anonymous said...

Check out the library -- I found the best articles there on "why dogs bite and how to handle it."

I really liked this article which lists the major reasons why dogs bite:

Pepper's issue is being a Border Collie, so she has possession issues and a Shiba Inu, so she will take charge if things look like they are getting out of control.

The key to keeping Pepper in control is that 1) nothing is "hers" outside of our house -- even stupid stuff like dropped paper cups at a park and 2) daily reminders that I am the alpha female and she is the beta female and that she can trust me to do my job leading the pack.

2) of course, is a life-long process and it involves letting Pepper know that I can be trusted to take care of her -- it's the "dumb" stuff like making sure I always go first in a narrow place or a doorway and "important to her" stuff like always stepping between her and a strange dog so that she knows that I'll handle whatever happens.

You're in what I consider the hardest time in a dog's life -- adolescense! -- to prove to the dog that it's okay for you to be in charge so that the dog is well-behaved and you can take it anywhere. Between 8 months and 2 years, there were so many times when I was going to tear my hair out, trying to get my dog to behave both on and off-leash.

Things got MUCH better after Pepper was 2 years old -- all that consistancy made everything "click" so that things are much better now. But with a Shiba personality 2) is lifelong, so you always have to stay on your toes.

Take some time to read through the PetFinder library -- I really found it to be the most concentrated source of good information on how to *really* deal with dogs and you will get some good tips on how to observe YOUR dog so you can get the results you both really want.

Good luck! It really is worth is when you come through on the other side! :-D


Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm back -- I read the article on Shibas and Biting and I think it's brilliant.

The "doting slave" thing on Border Collie is a bit much, though -- Border Collies will take over just as much as a Shiba with a owner they don't respect, according to Pepper's trainer (Penn Vet School professor of Canine Behavoir), they are just sneakier about it. Shibas and Basenji's will just give you the finger and be more overt.


Chibi And Sumo said...

"Shibas and Basenji's will just give you the finger and be more overt."

HAHAHAHA...i dont think our shibas would bother to take the time to give us the would take too much effort to acknowledge that they really cared what we think :)

Briana said...

Have you ever looked into the SAT way of training a dog? There's a great yahoo group called SATZ_Main this is the owner's website

and her Youtube vids.

The group is very informative and is about helping dogs understand the human language better and decide for themselves to THINK and make better choices rather than just react.

I know this sounds like a huge plug but I really enjoy her posts on the lists. she really has a knack of seeing and explaining things from a dogs point of view and gives really good suggestions.

Anonymous said...

This blog entry is difficult to write, because I feel that there is a certain amount of judgment that is placed on an owner of such a dog... almost as if it were my fault for his behavior.

I totally, totally understand where you're coming from on this one. I have a lot I could also say about Bowdu's bite history, but I haven't even started because it IS so difficult to write.

Someday, I will do so though. Inspired by your posts on this issue.

Anonymous said...

This blog entry is difficult to write, because I feel that there is a certain amount of judgment that is placed on an owner of such a dog... almost as if it were my fault for his behavior.

I totally, totally understand where you're coming from on this one. I have a lot I could also say about Bowdu's bite history, but I haven't even started because it IS so difficult to write.

Someday, I will do so though. Inspired by your posts on this issue.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...