Are You Afraid of Your Dog?

Not too long ago, I was very afraid of my dog.

I got my Shiba Inu when he was only 10 weeks old. When we tried to put a collar on him the very first time, he ran to hide under the table and nipped at us. Then he nipped at the breeder’s husband when he tried to help.

This should have been a big clue as to what we were getting into, but we didn’t know much and assumed it was normal behavior.

Things only went downhill from there. In our first vet visit, the vet advised us to return the puppy. But I was stubborn, and I felt sure this was something I could handle.

Plus a Shiba Inu puppy is just about the cutest thing there is!

I started doing a lot of research into Shibas and dog training. I enrolled puppy in group classes and also started taking private dog training lessons.

But … things did not really get better.

Puppy would bite at everything, hump my leg, and do crazy Shiba running while holding the t.v. controller in his mouth. Puppy would scream, whine, and refuse to listen to anything I had to say.

Then, puppy started biting the leash, attacking my clothes, and biting my hands.

I became very afraid of my little dog.

He was little but he seemed to control all of my time and actions. Interacting with puppy became torture and I only got a brief respite when he was asleep.

I was too afraid to correct puppy’s bad behavior because I did not want him to bite me and attack me.

It was not a good situation and only getting worse.

Fear is the Enemy

Things were in such dire straits because I was afraid of my dog.

Healthy relationships cannot be built when fear exists.

I feared because I did not trust my dog. Since I did not trust my dog, my dog did not trust me. Thus, the cycle of fear continued and got worse.

The fear, however, does not come out of nowhere.

It started because I did not know what to do when my dog displayed bad behaviors. When I tried to stop puppy from biting on books, he redirected and started biting me. I panicked, and backed away.

From this, puppy learns that when he bites, I back away, and he gets to do whatever he wants. This made him bite more because he got rewarded for this behavior.

I was hurt, afraid, and frankly, did not like puppy very much.

How to Stop the Fear

The fear originated from me, and the fix must also come from me. Here is what I did –

1. View things objectively.

I took a few steps back and tried to detach myself emotionally from my dog. This is very important because I was able to view things more objectively and clearly.

My dog was not trying to torture me. He was not acting out of meanness, hate, vengeance, or any of these things. He was simply responding to my actions. He repeated behaviors (e.g. biting) that got him good results (e.g. me backing away and him getting to do whatever he wants). If I fix my own actions, then I can start to fix my dog’s behaviors.

First, I had to see and believe the truth of this.

2. Little steps.

Dealing with everything at once would be too daunting so I took things slowly and in little steps. I would only deal with one or two problems at a time, starting with those that were easier to address.

I first tackled the problem behaviors in the house. The humping was most annoying so I started applying the various puppy training techniques from books and class to stop this one behavior.

Time-outs, I discovered, were very effective with my dog. Every time he starts to hump, I would non-mark him (“No”). If he continues, I say “Time-Out”, and put him in the laundry room for a few minutes.

In this way, my dog learns that when he humps he loses his freedom and he does not get to be with his people. When he is in time-out, he cannot hump.

If he starts humping again when he gets out of time-out, I put him back for a longer period of time.

Success! Puppy stopped humping.

I got more confident, less fearful, and moved on to the next problem.

3. The worst that can happen.

I thought a lot about why I was afraid of my dog.

I was mainly afraid of the biting. He never broke skin (thanks to bite inhibition training), so there was only momentary pain during the bite.

What was I afraid of?

I was afraid of what could happen. He could decide to bite harder and cause puncture wounds.

What was the worst that could happen?

Just the puncture wounds. He is a pretty small dog so there is no danger of him causing any more damage than that. Plus I always have a drag lead on him so I can get him to timeout without laying hands on him.

With management, the worst that he can do is not too bad … I became less afraid.

4. Timing and patience are key.

My Shiba is very stubborn. On a scale of 1 to 10 he is an eleven. If I try to physically force him to do something he does not want to do, he will just dig in and be even more stubborn.

I can understand that. I am very stubborn too! 😀

So I did what my dad used to do with me – I ignore him.

Just like young children, our dogs rely on us for everything – food, freedom, affection, toys, walks, play, and much more. Withdrawing my attention from my dog is an extremely powerful tool.

If my Shiba does not want to brush his teeth, then I just ignore him and store away all of his food and treats. Ultimately, he gets hungry and starts to whine.

I ignore him.

He gets more hungry and comes over to beg for food.

That is when I brush his teeth.

Make your dog an offer he can’t refuse by being patient and waiting for the right time.

5. Things will get better.

It is not easy and it may take some time, but …

Things will get better. Things will get better because both us and our dogs are very capable of learning. All we need to do is learn and teach the right lessons.

If a technique or strategy does not work, double check timing and execution. It it still does not work, then try something else. There are many ways to approach a problem and different dogs will respond differently.

Time-outs work best for Sephy because he values his freedom more than anything else. It may not work as well for another breed of dog, and it may not even work as well for another Shiba. In dog training it is important to keep and open mind and try out a variety of reasonable strategies.

A New Beginning

Today, Sephy is not perfect, but he is a lot of fun to be with. Somewhere along the road I stopped fearing him and started to enjoy him.

Sephy is a very independent dog. He still makes up his own mind, but now, he understands that his own self interest often coincides with following house rules and performing some simple tasks for me.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. I know because I have been through some truly dark times with Sephy, and we have both lived to tell the tale.

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  1. miss cellany says

    Wow weird… I’ve never been scared of my own dogs, I know they love me and trust me and wouldn’t want to hurt me. I’ve never been bitten aggressively by any of my pets (well except my cichlids when they’re breeding but they have tiny fish teeth that do no damage).
    I’m only scared of what my dog could do to someone (or something) else they don’t love or trust if they got scared or felt threatened. It’s why I put myself in between them and anything that they find scary or threatening to act as a barrier and to calm them down. If anyone should get bitten it should be me, not some innocent bystander.

  2. american bull dog owner says

    Hi I have a 6month old american bull dog x and she is always biting me I sort of ignore the pain and still stop her and redirect her to a toy, how do I go about her biting wires its as if she knows she will get most of the attention from that and then bites me when I try to stop her (all the wires are under a table so she hides under it and chews them)

    • shibashake says

      This is what I do when my dog bites on me-

      As for biting other objects,
      1. I make sure to have many puppy-proof areas where puppy can be in and be safe.
      2. When my puppy is not in a puppy-proof area, I make sure I am there to supervise. I play with him and show him that chewing on his toys will get him many rewards. I play with him using his toys, and sometimes, I add food to appropriate interactive toys. In this way, he learns that certain items (his toys) are a lot more interesting and rewarding to play with.
      3. When my puppy goes for something he is not supposed to chew, I no-mark and body-block him away from the area. Then I redirect him to doing something else.
      4. If he keeps going back to it, then I close the door to that room so that he can’t get in there anymore. In this way, he learns that if he chews on certain items, he loses some of his freedom. However, when he chews on his toys he gets a lot of rewards.
      5. If he escalates his behavior by scratching on the door and more, then I put him very briefly in a safe time-out area.

      In general, I try to always set my dog up for success. When my puppy does something undesirable, I start small and try to redirect him to something positive, so that he has many chances to do something else and get rewarded for it. I only escalate my “punishment” when my dog escalates his behavior.

      More on how I discourage my dogs from biting.

  3. New mom says


    I’m commenting on this article, to! Haha.

    So I definitely empathize with this blog 110%. I’m sometimes afraid of Emi when she gets too nippy, growls, etc. Right now it’s okay, but I always think of the “what if it gets worse” scenario for when she’s bigger and more “dangerous.” Maybe I’ve been watching too many scary dogs in the Cesar Milan videos.

    Since I live in a small condo, I don’t really have a laundry room/much space to put her for timeout. Anything you suggest?

    Also, I’d love to allow her some freedom to roam around (e.g. living room, kitchen, etc.)…but she’s been marking things every time I try! She has pooped in the same area three times, and peed twice! And these instances all took place AFTER she went outside to pee/poo. Any ideas/suggestions?

    • shibashake says

      Heh, yeah, during the potty training period I absolutely do not allow any free roaming unless I am there doing full-supervision. I actually didn’t have to potty train Sephy because he was already potty trained when I got him, and he is a very fastidious dog 😀

      However, with my Huskies, I really had to supervise them closely so that I not only maximize successes but also minimize mistakes. The more successes we have, the more I can reinforce the potty outside behavior. Similarly, the more mistakes they make inside the house, the more they learn it is ok to go in the house. Lots of supervision and no-free roaming really helped to speed up the potty training process for my Sibes. Once they are fully potty trained, I can *very slowly* increase their level of freedom.
      More on how I did potty training with my puppy.

      As for timeouts, any low stimulus area would work for Sephy. When he was young, we lived in a very small house so I put him in a closed passage between the bedroom and kitchen/living room. It is a safe place for him to calm down. In addition, it also limits his freedom so that he learns that if he doesn’t follow house rules or people rules, then he loses his roaming privileges temporarily. It works well with Sephy because he values his freedom very much.

      I also follow the Nothing in Life is Free program with all of my dogs, which is very useful to get them to follow house rules.

      Big hugs to Emi! She definitely sounds like a Shiba! 😀

  4. Chanel says

    My German Sheppard is about a year and 6months old and I have just gotten scared of her. She has been acting up a lot and im scared that she’ll turn on me. It has happened before but with a different dog, but that is a whole different story. Im scared that she’ll probably do the same thing like my old dog that I used to have did. I have also have been having dreams of her attacking me and my family.

  5. junia says

    thank you so much! i am so scared of my puppy and hes not even half as bad as shyba! i have to think whats the worst that can happen. thank you so much again!

  6. newshiba owner says

    I have a new Shiba puppy who is 12 weeks old. I got him when he was 8 weeks old. Just about a week and a half ago, his biting got really aggressive in his biting towards me. He does not let go when I yelp and continues to bite harder. I am realizing that I am starting to become afraid of this 9.5 lb pound dog. How can I stop my fear? I know that he is protective of me, since he tried to kill a bee that stung me on my toe. Any advice on how to treat his biting and my fear?

    • shibashake says

      Hello newshiba owner,
      Yeah I went through the same thing with Sephy.

      In terms of biting, here is what worked well with Shiba Sephy –
      1. Putting him on a very fixed routine and schedule. This helped to keep him calm because he knows exactly what to expect.
      2. A lot of exercise, making him work for his food through interactive toys, a lot of obedience sessions, and play sessions with other vaccinated and healthy puppies. This gives him positive outlets to expend his Shiba energy.
      3. Following the NILIF (Nothing in Life is Free) program. This means Shiba always has to do something for me first before I give him anything, even affection, going out to the backyard, etc. This teaches him that the best way to get what he wants is to first do what I want.
      4. Using a drag lead (only with a regular collar, not an aversive collar). This helps a lot with controlling him and getting him to timeout.
      5. Bite inhibition training.
      6. Timeouts work really well with Shiba Sephy because he really values his freedom. If Sephy does not respond to the yelp, I stand up, fold up my arms, and turn away from him. If he continues to bite, I calmly say timeout and take him directly to timeout.

      In terms of the fear, that took a bit more time. Here are some of the things that helped me with Shiba Sephy –

      Here are a few more things I did with Sephy when he was a puppy –

  7. Alex says

    I really should start getting back to these quicker.

    I would love to take Shania on a roller blade ride. I’m sure if my lazy German mutt can pull me, she sure can!

  8. KRISTINA says

    Hi Sephy’s Dad,

    It’s Kristina – wrote awhile ago about puppy teething (it’s getting better, thank goodness, but he has his moments) I love your tips on bite inhibition. As I previously mentioned I did have a Shiba for a very long time and sadly he passed away due to cancer. After our grief subsided (it never really goes away), we did decide to get another Shiba Inu.

    I wanted to see if any of you guys do this. Because yes, I was ALWAYS afraid of my Shiba running away and think about it with my new pup as well. I do one thing, it’s my Emergency Plan. Pretty simple, every once in awhile I whistle. When I do this I have an absolute irresistable treat. My Shiba puppy almost ran into a wall trying to get to me because he knew I had his favorite treat. This is not to be used all the time, mind you. Just every once in awhile, surprise him as best as you can. You might whistle while your walking him, or inside, or even at the Vets office (uh oh, shudder, scary…..) But, as you all know Shiba’s – it better been a darn good treat 🙂 He always comes, and it does give me some peace of mind.

    • shibashake says

      Hi Kristina,

      That is an awesome idea! I did that really early on for my Shiba with sardines but that got too messy. Nowadays I do that with a small bully stick. He is currently really into those things.

      When Shiba Sephy was a puppy he escaped a couple of times from his collar. Luckily he just ran to meet the people who were passing by. He even sat nicely next to them, and they were kind enough to wait there for me. After I switched to the Premier no-slip martingale, there were no more collar escapes. I really like that collar for walks.

  9. Alex says

    I’ll definitely check it out!

    Lupin is doing splendid. He’s really starting to calm down now. All he does is sleep! We still run him almost every day, either on the treadmill or outside… when the weather isn’t freezing. All the training we did when he was younger and more hyper is really paying off; everyone thinks he’s the most well behaved dog they’ve ever met.

    I haven’t started looking back through your posts. How are your two?

    • shibashake says

      Good to hear that Lupin is doing so well! Handsome and well-mannered make a very good combo.

      My two are doing well. Sibe Shania is still always on the go. She slowed down a bit over the summer because of the heat, but fall and winter are really her seasons. Every time we go out on a walk, she never wants to come home even after 3-4 hours. She is such a happy exuberant dog, which is good for Sephy who is more of a gloom bat. 😀

      Always good to see you Alex.

  10. Alex says

    I haven’t been on here in while! You’ve really made things snazzy!

    I, too, believe that an animal cannot trust you unless you trust it. Whether it’s a dog, cat, bird, horse or elephant, if you’re afraid of it, chances are it’s not going to act too much kinder to you.

    I have a two ounce little Quaker Parrot who is the most socialized bird I’ve ever known, but on a daily basis he doesn’t particularly like a person or two. The reason is almost always their fear of being bitten. They’ll put their finger up only to jerk it away when he acts kindly, or unpredictably try to stroke him without warning. What must these movements look like to him? We’re 1200 times larger than he is, with hands that weigh at least three times than he, and still he trusts any human that is willing to do the same.

    No matter how aggressive, fearful, or scary an animal acts, there is no hope for that animal to trust you unless you trust it first.

    • shibashake says

      Heh yeah I have been having a lot of fun playing with WordPress and 3d rendering. If you are interested in art, definitely check out Daz 3D. I am totally addicted to that site. 😀

      How have you been? How is Lupin?

  11. says

    Hi! I just started my own Shiba Inu website and stumbled across your blog. You offer some really great tips here! As for the problems you experienced, both my Shibas were very nippy as puppies too. Shibas are independent and don’t want to listen! I learned that I needed to be patient and work with them, instead of against them. In the end, patience and determination will overcome behavoir problems.

    • shibashake says

      Hello Shiba Tail,
      Great name for a shiba blog!

      I learned that I needed to be patient and work with them, instead of against them. In the end, patience and determination will overcome behavior problems.

      I love this. That is sooo true; with all dogs and especially with a stubborn Shiba. 😀

  12. says

    I went through something very similar to you with Winnie. She also would nip at me when we tried to get collars on her and anything she doesn’t like or want us to do – she will become defiant with us. You handled things very similarly to me. I ended up using a behavioral trainer who really helped me out and showed me what I needed to do to build up my “level” in her eyes. I also ignored her and made her work for my attention. We also did “trust” exercises where I would flip her over on her back to carry her like a baby and wouldn’t let her down until she calmed down. Beds and sofas were off-limits. After about 3-4 weeks of this, she finally started to see me as superior to her. All of these little exercises were great “groundwork” exercises to build up getting the leash and collar on quickly and without any argument from her.

    Thank you for this post— you’re right about the little signs. I should’ve paid closer attention too. But now I feel a bit more empowered about “difficult” dogs and how to handle them. And, it’s helped immensely with all of the fosters that have come through the home now.

    • shibashake says

      Hello Masako,
      Thank you for sharing your experiences with Winnie. During the time, it was very difficult for me to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Luckily, I visited many Shiba forums and it helped greatly to see that others had gone through the same thing, and are now in a better place.

      We should create a Shiba Survivors Club! 😀

    • shibashake says

      Yeah Sephy has slipped out of his collar a couple of times, but not since I got the Premier martingale. I like the collar because unlike clip-on collars, the strap does not slip much and it only tightens up when Sephy is pulling; which is when he usually slips out of his old collars. It also is nicely built and will likely never break since there is no clip. I also tried buckle collars before the Premier martingale but I like the martingale best.

      I have the martingale set to the width of his old collars at its tightest. When Sephy pulls it only becomes just as tight as a flat collar and not more.

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