Advice for a shy shiba

From time to time, I get emails from blog readers asking for advice. Last week, I got an email from Kelly and her pup Anubis. She wrote
I got him under unfortunate circumstances because his previous owner abused him badly. Upon first getting him he was extremely hand shy, but that seems to be getting better day by day.  Also, he has scars from what looks to be cigarette burn marks on his hips. I took him in knowing Shiba Inus can sometimes be difficult to handle if not trained properly since I have had experienced with my pitbull (Harley) who was also badly abused and poorly trained. As far as behavioral issues go surprisingly, that's not an problem.
He is really shy and timid because of it being abused. It took him a good couple of months before he was able to fully trust that I would never lay a hand on him. I'm coming to you, an experienced Shiba owner, in hopes you can give me some pointers on how to help him socialize. Other animals are fine (he gets along with my moms pitbull like they've known each other their whole lives). However, when anyone comes into my house its under the bed he goes (his safe spot) while growling and barking and I don't want to force him to be social. My mom and roommate are the only two other people Anubis will go up to. I personally feels as though he wants to be social he's just scared because as long as 'mommy' holds him other people are fine to pet him.
My response to her was:
I am not a dog expert. I am just a dog owner who happens to blog from time to time. I'm not a vet, not a trainer, not a behaviorist.
With the above disclaimer said, I think that you can help by not forcing socialization onto your dog. Use lots of treats when someone comes over. If Anubis goes under the bed, just drop treats along the floor just outside of the bed. And just leave him alone. Don't force him out. Be calm and don't pay too much attention to him. And most definitely, have your friend ignore the dog completely. If you have the time and energy and friends available to devote to training, then I suggest you do this A LOT. So, friend comes over means that treats are dropped all over the ground (and the friend does not interact with the dog). I'd say, do this everyday, but few of us have that kind of time and that many willing friends to help out. So, maybe once a week? Obviously, the more the better.

When your dog stops retreating under the bed, I then suggest moving it up a notch. If your dog comes up to sniff your friend, have your friend continue to ignore the dog. Just let the dog explore the new smells without having to worry about being looked at or being petted. You can drop the treats on the ground near your friend.

When your dog feels safe with approaching your friends, I then suggest that you have your friends offer treats. I think it's easy to think of this step first, but I think of it more as one of the later steps, after you've gotten your dog more comfortable with the idea of your friend in the house.

I also do not recommend that you hold your dog  and then let your friends pet your dog. I am positive that your dog is uncomfortable with this situation. If on his own will, he wants to crawl under the bed, then there is no way that he is comfortable with being restricted and forced to socialize.

I do agree that your dog probably does want to socialize, but he is afraid. And fear is extremely powerful. You have to go slow and on his terms to show him that there is nothing to be afraid of. It takes time to build that new positive association.

And even after you've done a lot of work with him, please keep your expectations realistic. He might never be a very social dog. It is possible that the best he'll do is tolerate your friends. It's possible that he will take to certain friends and not others. We humans don't always get along with every other human. Some we like better than others. Your dog may also be selective about whom he trusts, and that is fine. I think a resonable goal at the moment for you is to get him to not retreat under the bed and bark, and to get him to a point where he will at least tolerate your friends, even if he doesn't necessarily socialize.
So what do you think? Do you have any other tips or advice for Kelly?


Anonymous said...

Spot on advice, Vi! Its what we've been working on with our Kitsu. He's at the point where he won't retreat anymore and he'll take treats if they are given by the guests.

Your shiba will get there too, it just takes a really long time.
Kitsu was 11 months when we adopted him, and this november he turns 6.

taro the shiba said...

not sure how anubis does outside the house, but maybe try meeting (or even just being around) new people outside the house (be it in the front yard or wherever) before all going into the home together. we have found that this helps our little guy, taro, when meeting new people that we're bringing into our home for dinner or what have you.

double bean said...

Kuma tends freak out if he's in the room first and strangers come in after.

We've changed our approach and things have worked out better. We have our guests come in and sit in the living room with the usual instruction to ignore Kuma. We bring Kuma into the living room and he might stand in the doorway and watch everyone.

After a few minutes it seems like he's decided they're safe and he'll come around and start sniffing people. As long as no one's making any moves toward or over him, he relaxes a lot faster.

Baju Muslim said...

hello thanks you for the helpful information

jenna said...

I think this is excellent advice!

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