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.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.
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."