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.
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.