In addition to slow desensitization with positive reinforcement, the dog behaviorist also told us to find someone else to trim Loki’s nails. Because he’s aggressive during nail trims, we’ve always done it ourselves by putting a muzzle on him. We didn’t want to subject anyone to the possibility of being bit.
But the dog behaviorist recommended that we no longer do Loki’s nail trims for the time being and find someone else, either a professional groomer or the vet.
Because Loki perceives the ordeal as an attack and that breaks down his trust in us. He doesn’t trust us 100% to handle him. And doing his nails could undermine all of our other handling work (collar grabs, picking him up, handling his tail, handling his feet, and touching his teeth, brushing, etc.). For me, this sort of resolves the mystery of what I felt was his unpredictable nature. That 97% of the time, Loki would be okay with me taking his martingale collar off, and then randomly 3% of the time, he would be snarly. Even with all of the positive associations I provide with the collar, he might not trust me 100%. Perhaps his trust in us is only 97%, because 3% of the time we randomly “attack” him with the nail clippers. Even if we never actually hurt him, he still perceives it to be an attack.
"So… doesn’t that mean he’ll learn to not trust the vet or the groomer?," I asked.
"Yes, but better that person that you."
This is supposed to be just a short-term solution. In the meanwhile, the behaviorist recommended that I slowly desensitize Loki to nail trims. Yikkes! I’ve tried that before without success. The behaviorist tried to encourage me, saying that Loki’s tolerance might be greater now than before. Personally, I’m not convinced. Aren’t things like that supposed to be easier when they are pups? Why in the world would it be easier when he’s older? I’m ready to find a professional to do Loki’s nails as a permanent solution, rather than a temporary one.
How might these results be more informative than other sources (like Wikipedia, AKC, and the National Shiba Club)? Well, for example, a number of resources say that the shiba is very fastidious, loves to be clean, and is very easy to housebreak. But what does "very easy to housebreak" exactly mean? The results of this shiba survey reveals that "very easy to housebreak" means that 51% of shibas that were gotten as puppies were potty trained in less than 2 weeks.
I've complied the results here, so that it is easily accessible and easily linked. The original survey was conducted in 3 parts. Each question has over 100 responses. This is not a scientifically conducted survey; just something I did online. Don't sue me.
If more people continue taking the survey, then this compliation will not include the new respondents. The most updated results can be accessed here for Part I, here for Part II, and here for Part III.
Overall Time Commitment (compared to other dog breeds)
|53 %||Above Average|
|5 %||Below Average|
Good for First Time Dog Owner?
Willingness to please owner? (compared to other dog breeds)
|5 %||Yes, master|
|64%||Eh? Not so much|
Playfulness with owner (like playing fetch) (compared to other dog breeds)
|27 %||Always ready for fun!|
|34 %||Mostly playful, but sometimes not|
|35 %||Only playful on my terms, not the humans'|
|4 %||Me fetch? Why don't you go fetch!|
Independence (compared to other dog breeds)
|56 %||Like a cat, happy to be near, but not too attached|
|38 %||Depends on my mood|
|6 %||Very attached, like a shadow|
Dominant vs. Submissive
|68 %||Dominant, happy to be alpha if you're not|
|3 %||Aggressive, must handle carefully|
|27 %||Mostly non-aggressive, but with some trouble spots|
|52 %||Mostly non-aggressive, except when provoked under special circumstances|
|18 %||Completely non-aggressive|
|7 %||Typically anxious|
|74 %||Anxious only in some circumstances|
|19 %||Always calm & confident|
Affection (compared to other dog breeds)
|3 %||Always cuddly|
|29 %||Mostly cuddly, but sometimes not|
|60 %||Sometimes cuddly, but mostly not|
|8 %||Not cuddly|
Barking (compared to other dog breeds)
|2 %||Lots of barks|
|45 %||Only when necessary|
|39 %||Very rarely|
Energy level (compared to other dog breeds)
|52 %||High energy|
|45 %||Medium energy|
|3 %||Low energy|
Intelligence (compared to other dog breeds)
|52 %||Outsmarts human|
|42 %||Above average|
|1 %||Dumb dog|
Necessary socialization? (compared to other dog breeds)
|42 %||A great deal more than other dog breeds|
|44 %||Somewhat more than other dog breeds|
|3 %||Somewhat less than other dog breeds|
|2 %||Much less than other dog breeds|
Friendliness with other dogs?
|33 %||Very friendly (i.e. playful) with all other dogs|
|17 %||Non-aggressive, but aloof with other dogs|
|41 %||Mostly friendly/aloof, but can be dog aggressive|
|9 %||Mostly dog aggressive|
Friendliness with cats?
(Only 64% of respondents have had their shiba exposed to cats. The figures below reflect the percent among those respondents.)
|23 %||Very friendly (i.e. non-aggressive) with household cats|
|45 %||Mostly friendly, but can be aggressive|
|16 %||Cannot be trusted to be around cats without supervision|
|16 %||Cats are prey to be hunted|
Friendliness with adults (non-owners)?
|41 %||Always very friendly (i.e. eager to meet and greet)|
|40 %||Never aggressive, but sometimes aloof|
|15 %||Mostly friendly/aloof. Can be aggressive depending on the person|
|2 %||Somewhat aggressive. Can be friendly depending on the person|
|2 %||Mostly aggressive|
Friendliness with children (non-owners)?
(95% of respondents have had their shiba exposed to children. The figures below reflect the percent among those respondents.)
|39 %||Always very friendly (i.e. eager to meet and greet)|
|42 %||Never aggressive, but sometimes aloof|
|9 %||Mostly friendly/aloof. Can be aggressive depending on the child|
|6 %||Somewhat aggressive. Can be friendly depending on the child|
|3 %||Mostly aggressive|
Ease of training in terms of initial learning
|28 %||Very easy compared to other dog breeds|
|29 %||Somewhat easy compared to other dog breeds|
|11 %||Average compared to other dog breeds|
|25 %||Somewhat difficult compared to other dog breeds|
|8 %||Very difficult compared to other dog breeds|
Ease of training in terms of reliability
|7 %||Very reliable (obeys over 80% of the time)|
|40 %||Somewhat reliable (obeys 50% - 80% of the time)|
|44 %||Flip a coin! (obeys 50% of the time)|
|6 %||Somewhat unreliable (obeys 30% - 50% of the time)|
|3 %||Very unreliable (obeys less than 30% of the time)|
|2 %||Successful in training my shiba to be reliable off-leash!!|
|23 %||Reliable off-leash only in rural, low-density areas|
|75 %||Never ever reliable off-leash|
Darting out of doors or escaping from yard?
|15 %||Always tries to dart out of the door/escape; need to put a GPS on my shiba|
|52 %||Sometimes tries to dart out of the door/escape|
|33 %||Never tries to dart out of the door/escape|
|2 %||Low or none|
|5 %||Walks less than 15 min a day|
|24 %||Walks for 15 to less than 30 min. a day|
|34 %||Walks for 30 to less than 45 min. a day|
|20 %||Walks for 45 to less than 60 min. a day|
|16 %||Walks for over 60 min. a day|
Ease of potty training
(83% of respondents had a complete potty training experience with their shiba. The figures below reflect the percent among those respondents.)
|51 %||Took less than 2 weeks|
|20 %||Took between 2 weeks and less than a month|
|13 %||Took between a month and less than 2 months|
|7 %||Took between 2 months and less than 3 months|
|2 %||Took between 3 months and less than 4 months|
|1 %||Took between 4 months and less than 5 months|
|1 %||Took between 5 months and less than 6 months|
|1 %||Took between 6 months and less than 9 months|
|2 %||Took over 9 months|
Any Food Allergies?
|79 %||No food allergies. No problems finding appropriate food.|
|18 %||Some food allergies. Some problems finding appropriate food.|
|3 %||Many food allergies. Difficulty in finding appropriate food.|
|63 %||Very healthy. Minimal vet care required.|
|37 %||Mostly healthy.|
|0 %||Mostly unhealthy.|
|0 %||Very unhealthy. A lot of vet care requried.|
Ease of giving your Shiba a Bath?
|7 %||Very easy. No protest. No problems.|
|54 %||Moderately easy. Some protest. Some problems. But can handle.|
|20 %||Moderately difficult. More protest. More problems.|
|9 %||Very difficult. A lot of protest. A lot of problems.|
|11 %||Goes to professional groomer.|
Ease of cutting or grinding nails?
|8 %||Very easy. No protest. No problems.|
|27 %||Moderately easy. Some protest. Some problems. But can handle.|
|22 %||Moderately difficult. More protest. More problems.|
|7 %||Very difficult. (Use muzzle)|
|21 %||Goes to professional groomer.|
|16 %||Goes to vet.|
Ease of vet visit?
(Note: At least one respondent commented that this question was difficult to answer, so perhaps the answer options were not well-designed.)
|42 %||Very easy. No protest. No problems.|
|48 %||Moderately easy. Some protest. Some problems. But can handle.|
|5 %||Moderately difficult. More protest. More problems.|
|5 %||Very difficult. (Use muzzle)|
Ease of leaving Shiba in another person's care (boarding)?
|31 %||Very easy. Can leave with anyone, even friends. (Largest set of options)|
|39 %||Moderately easy. Can leave with most boarding places. (Many options, but not all.)|
|24 %||Moderately difficult. Must choose boarding place very carefully. (Few options)|
|6 %||Very difficult. Cannot leave with anyone. (No options)|
Severity of shedding (although shedding is seasonal, please answer on the average)
(Note: This was a bad survey question. The results only seem to reveal the cleanliness of owners and not how much shibas shed.)
|17 %||Vacuum 0-25% more often than without dog.|
|20 %||Vacuum 25-50% more often than without dog.|
|16 %||Vacuum 50-75% more often than without dog.|
|10 %||Vacuum 75-100% more often than without dog.|
|16 %||Vacuum more than twice as much as without dog.|
|12 %||Vacuum more than three times as much as without dog.|
|11 %||N/A. I give up. I don't vacuum.|
Being left alone (i.e., separation anxiety)
|61 %||No problems. No anxiety.|
|36 %||Some problems and anxiety.|
|1 %||More problems and anxiety.|
|2 %||A lot of problems and anxiety. (Destructive)|
|25 %||Only an indoor dog.|
|72 %||Mostly indoor, but sometimes outdoor dog.|
|3 %||Mostly outdoor, but sometimes indoor dog.|
|0 %||Only an outdoor dog.|
Space (yard) required
|36 %||No yard is fine.|
|50 %||Small yard is required.|
|14 %||Large yard is required.|
(Note: At least one respondent commented that I should have separated food pickiness from treat pickiness. Perhaps this question was not well-designed.)
|35 %||Not picky. Will eat anything.|
|54 %||Mostly not pickly. Will eat most things.|
|8 %||Mostly pickly. Won't eat just anything.|
|3 %||Very picky.|
Price of a puppy
(82% of respondents got their shiba as a puppy. The figures below reflect the percent among those respondents.)
|16 %||$0 - $499|
|27 %||$500 - $749|
|20 %||$ 750 - $999|
|21 %||$1000 - $1249|
|13 %||$1250 - $1499|
|2 %||$1500 - $1749|
|2 %||$1750 - $1999|
|1 %||$2000 +|
As a human, who believes in equal opportunity and equal rights, I refused to believe that I could not treat my two dogs equally. They were both my darling, furry children. But the dog behaviorist successfully convinced me that dogs have a hierarchy, and equal treatment had to go out the window. It wasn’t difficult to convince me. We were having dog fights; that had to stop. So I was willing to do whatever it took to stop the fights. If we were not having any problems, I would probably have continued treating them equally.
Loki is alpha.
Between the two dogs, Loki is alpha. Convincing me of that took more work. I felt that Jujube had a lot more dominant traits. The behaviorist informed us that the incumbent dog is always alpha by default. Loki was here first, therefore he is alpha by default. But, I argued, Jujube has a lot of dominant traits too. She’ll fight back when Loki attacks her, and she even wins sometimes. She’s much better at humping him rather than the other way around.
“But who starts the fights?” she asked me.
“Does Jujube ever start the fights?”
Therefore, Loki is alpha. Loki is trying to control her, trying to dominate her. She does not try to control or dominate him.
Switching status is possible.
It’s very possible that dogs will switch roles. The behaviorist told us that she wouldn’t be surprised if Jujube became alpha later on, but until that happens, we should treat Loki as alpha.
Support Loki as alpha.
This notion was the most revolutionary for me. Prior to the behaviorist, I would always admonish Loki for showing teeth or growling at Jujube. He was the one displaying aggression. Shouldn’t he be the one reprimanded? Shouldn’t he be the one to be corrected?
Instead, the behaviorist suggested that we support Loki as alpha. This meant that when Loki showed teeth to or growled at Jujube, we should be his ally, not his enemy. For instance, if he growled at her to stay away and give him more personal space, we should make Jujube back up and give him more personal space. Dogs show teeth or growl to communicate to other dogs. Jujube wasn’t getting the message. She was not heeding his warnings. We needed to help facilitate that communication. Admonishing Loki for showing teeth was a mixed signal to the dogs. It told Jujube that she didn’t need to listen to Loki and could ignore his warnings.
Additionally, we were advised to treat Loki as alpha by feeding first, greeting first, letting him out first, etc. But since we were having problems, we were advised to not allow either of them access to the couch or bed.
We immediately implemented alpha treatment and alpha support of Loki. So far, so good.
But now, our current house has three floors; it’s much more difficult to keep track of the dogs. Jujube can easily scamper down to the basement and pee right in front of the door if you aren’t at her heels. It’s much easier to lose track of where Loki is; I find myself searching for him all the time. Even if we were to close all the doors inside our home, the main floor has a lot of open space. It’s easy to lose track of where they are and what they are doing.
Dogs like to be near people. In our case, Jujube clings to us. She’s always in the same room as us, if not within five feet of us. And although Loki is more aloof, for the majority of the time, he prefers to be at least on the same floor as us.
This brings us to the problem of the couch, which is on the main floor. Loki thinks that he owns the couch; it’s his primary lounging spot. One of our earlier dog fights was over the couch. Loki was on the couch. When Jujube jumped on, Loki went for her. Since then they have been able to share the couch peacefully, but the dog behaviorist advised us to keep all dogs off the couch and bed. Such elevated places are privileges for well-behaved dogs, not rights. And even though we weren’t having specific issues with the couch anymore, keeping them off the couch and bed may help with other behavior issues.
“Does Loki have his own space?” the behaviorist asked.Hm, I guess that makes sense; we can try that. In the past, Loki always had his exercise pen as his personal space. We don’t use it anymore. The main floor is hardwood and we’re afraid the metal pen might scratch it up. It’s also a bit of an eyesore. He has his crate, but that’s now upstairs. He hardly uses his crate for lounging anyways. In any case, it’s hardly fair to ask Loki to remain on one floor while we are on another. So he needs his own space on every floor. This turns out not to be a problem on either upstairs or in the basement. But on the main floor, he always lounges on the couch. If we don’t want him on the couch, then we need to give him an alternative. He has to be directed somewhere.
“Well, yeah, he has his crate upstairs,” I replied.
“But on this floor?”
“No, not on this floor, but why does that matter?”
“Well, if you don’t want him on the couch and you don’t want him under the piano, he has to go somewhere. He needs a place of his own on this floor. Why don’t you get him a dog bed?”
For every behavior that you don’t want your dog to do, you need to provide a viable alternative. For example, if you don’t want him digging in your flower bed, then you should provide an area where it’s acceptable to dig. (A tip from the Dogster boards: You can try a sandbox filled with real dirt and bury treats there to lure your dog there.) If you don’t want your dog chewing on your slippers, then you should provide acceptable chew toys. For us, if we don’t want him on the couch, then we need to redirect him to an acceptable spot.
And Loki looks like he has some weird skin disease. It's clumpy. He has patches of more and less fur. See picture.
Back when we first got Loki from the breeder, she told us about how shibas blow coat twice a year. She also told us that when she gets puppies returned to her, they are typically out of coat. That's a stupid reason to get rid of a puppy.
So for those of you who haven't had shibas and are thinking about getting one, they blow coat. When they do this, your house will be attacked by dog hair. And your shiba will look weird, like it has a skin disease. A furminator will help.
She spent the first half of our session simply asking questions. She gathered as much information as she could. Then she looked at all of the information and gave us her assessment.
We had two main issues:
- Loki’s aggression directed at us, his owners.
- Canine rivalry between the two dogs.
Our major breakthrough revelation came when the behaviorist told us that all of Loki’s aggression toward us involved handling. Thus, it wasn’t dominance aggression, but rather fear-based aggression. One of the ways she determined the difference was by asking us if he ever displayed signs of aggression from a distance. It was a question I never expected and never thought of. I answered, no. His aggression towards us was never from a distance, it always involved us physically handling him in one way or another.
It’s a very subtle distinction. For instance, Loki can sometimes get aggressive if you want to get him off the couch. This starts to sound like dominance aggression. But he doesn’t guard the couch as his own and growl at you to stay away from a distance. In fact, we can easily sit right next to him with no problem. The only time he gets aggressive is when we physically touch him with our hands to get him off the couch. Perhaps we would've never been able to figure out the difference between dominance and fear without someone asking the right questions. I would have never thought on my own to mention the fact that he doesn’t display any aggression from a distance. Asking the right questions is important. If you are looking for a dog behaviorist, make sure that the person asks you lots of questions. Be wary of someone who starts giving an assessment too early.
As for the canine rivalry, she told us that Loki was alpha between the two dogs; hence we should treat him as that. I didn’t realize that he was alpha and thought that Jujube had plenty of alpha tendencies. But the behaviorist told us that from all the information we told her, Loki was the alpha. He was here first. He was the one starting fights and giving her warning signs to back off. He was the one trying to dominate her. And although she is a bit aloof and does her own thing without regard for Loki, she does not try to dominate him.
Choosing a good behaviorist is very difficult. We didn’t want to pay lots of money for someone to tell us something we already knew, or worse, tell us things that are wrong. As for the behaviorist we ultimately chose, the money we spent was completely worth it.
1) Dog Trainer - Dog trainers help owners train their pets to behave.
As brand new dog owners, we had initially been very active in seeking out dog trainers for advice and tactics regarding issues such as obedience or proper socialization. We've put Loki through the usual circuit: obedience training, dog parks, long walks, exposure to humans..etc.
Having a dog trainer is certainly a best practice for new dog owners and can help prepare both the owner and the pet for a life of co-existence. Without the advice from trainers we have engaged, it would have been quite a bit more difficult in training Loki. However, with that said, a dog trainer can tell you whether or not the dog is agressive or even dominant, but may not have the necessary analytic toolset to fully explain the situation logically.
2) Dog Behaviorist - Dog Behaviorists help owners identify root causes of certain unwanted behaviors.
So what happens when your dog is fully trained, yet exhibit unwanted behavior sproratically? In the two plus years since we've brought Loki home, we've honed our ability to both train and read his moods. However, there are still certain behavior which seems nigh impossible to correct with any type of training.
Loki's mother and myself have tried many different methods of correction without much avail. With that in mind, the only logical conclusion is that we are not addressing the correct issue. This is precisely the time when we discussed and agreed upon a dog behaviorist. Our expectation of the behaviorist was to help us identify the root cause of Loki's issues so we may employ the necessary correction in order to adjust his aggressive behavior.
After our meeting with the dog behaviorist, it's as if the lightbulb came on for the first time. Her analysis was logical and explained a situation we were never able to fully grasp before. Having her pinpoint the theoretical root allows us to focus our training and hopefully remedy this problem.
For the naysayers out there, I want to reiterate the necessity of the dog behaviorist role along with that of a dog trainer. The roles along with the tool sets employed are vastly different and both roles have their place in certain situations.
Thinking back on the decision to get a Shiba Inu as a first dog; I'm not necessarily sure it was a well thought out approach. We certainly do not regret bringing Loki home, but similar to purchasing a first house, you simply can't comprehend the cost through initial analysis.
He tells me the day began as usual when he set out for their morning walk/run. Then all of a sudden he notices that something is amiss as he wonders, why is Jujube so far ahead of me?
Oh no! The leash broke. Yep, she has a bad habit of chewing on her leash that we have not corrected. Luckily they were not by any major streets and Yun was able to catch her when she decided to go pee for awhile.
Lupine leashes are not indestructible. I will have to dig up the information about how to get my replacement from them. They have a lifetime warranty for this sort of thing.
Shibas are excellent escape artists.
Finding a professional was not nearly as easy as I thought. On the one hand, I want to hire someone of high enough quality so that the money spent is worthwhile. On the other hand, I can’t assess the quality of a professional until after the consultation, that is, after the money is spent. The best I can do is screen people based on phone conversations.
I had high hopes for Candidate #1, because she was recommended by my vet. First, we played phone tag. That was fun, but I got tired of that game, so I emailed her with the subject heading, “Looking for a dog behaviorist.” The response I got was, “I’m a trainer, not a behaviorist. Let me refer you to someone else.”
Huh? What’s the difference? I don’t care what you call yourself, whether that be a trainer or a behaviorist. I just want you to help me with my dog. I called her back for further clarification, but I just felt weird. It’s weird to try to convince someone that she really is what I’m looking for even though she says she’s not what I’m looking for.
I also didn’t care for her referral, because it looked more like a vet clinic. No, I’m not interested in giving my dog drugs. I don’t need to support pharmaceutical companies.
Again, I had high hopes for Candidate #2. Her website was very nice and her bio showed that she was very knowledgeable and experienced. I played a fun round of phone tag with her before I resorted to email. She replied to my email saying that she was too busy for new cases. She referred me to someone else.
By now, I’ve given up on high hopes, and resign myself to the requisite round of phone tag. I send her an email, and I actually get a positive response! She answered all of my questions and didn’t refer me to someone else! When asked about her experience with shibas, she says that in addition to working with some shiba clients, her parents have a shiba. Well, that’s a good sign!
This was the referral from Candidate #2. Can’t pinpoint why I didn’t like her, but I didn’t.
Candidate #5 turned out to be pretty promising. She told me that her and her business partner run group classes for reactive dogs, that is, dogs that react (barking, lunging) to other dogs. This gave me reason to believe that she had a good deal of experience with aggressive behaviors.
As soon as heard his voice over the phone, I felt intimidated. He was so overbearing that I hardly had a chance to say much. He went on and on about how clearly the problem was a lack of discipline. I think he must have been a drill sergeant in his previous career. Maybe he’s right about the discipline thing, but I didn’t think that his dominating personality would be a good fit for me.
He seemed like a reasonable candidate until he asked me what kind of collar I used on Loki. I replied a martingale. He didn’t seem to know what a martingale was. Then he said that I would need a different type of collar for corrections. Like what? A nylon one wouldn’t work. It’d have to be metal. Uh… I guess that means a choke chain? Or a prong collar? Doesn’t Loki have enough issues with his collar as is? Then, after I asked him to characterize his success in solving aggression, he ended up referring me to someone else.
In the end, we decided on Candidate #3. We'll see what happens.