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.
Donna Kagan says
I acquired a 3 year old Jack Russell cross and am having dominance issues with her in that she (Molly} tries to dominate me and fights if I try to make her do what she doesn’t want to do. For example she gets furious about being left behind if I or anyone goes out so that she will be left alone. She barks, growls and tries to bite at my feet. The other day we were walking and I wanted to turn back and molly didn’t. She managed to pull out of her harness and I was frustrated and just started walking home without her. She then started growling and barking and biting at my boots in an effort to get me to turn around. That behaviour continued all the way down the road.
She is not crate trained and I am afraid she would bite if I tried to stuff her in there although I have on occasion put her in a room and closed the door. She is not particularly food motivated.
Allie Daniel says
I am scared of my German Shepard I was training her with a muzzle on with a cat because she hates them and the she was acting all aggressive snapping and starring. then I accidentally dropped the kitten and she attacked him I am to scared to go down stairs please someone give me advice.
Thank you for this post. I realize it’s 10+ yers old, but it was the perfect article for me. I’m afraid of my dog after he bit me, and am not sure how to get over my fear of him.
How were you able to trust your dog again? I guess that’s my biggest question.
I adopted Jam, a 13-year old Lhasa Apso whose bite history was concealed from me. (I learned of it when I called his former vet for some info).
Jam first snapped and growled when I picked him up one day. I later learned that he had pain in his lower back, so I never picked him up again.
Two weeks ago Jam pooped in the house (which he started doing about a month after I brought him home). I clapped my hands, said “No!” Loudly, and went to get his leash to toilet him. He went to his bed, so I walked over with the leash. (Note: He loves going outside, but I didn’t recognize his lack of interest as being an indicator of anything.
I squatted down to put his leash on, and reach for his collar. He was looking at me the entire time, then bite me, drawing blood on both sides of my right thumb. I was stunned. I’d never been bitten by a dog before, and was really freaked out I cleaned the wound, but it became infected. I took antibiotics and got a tetanus shot.
I don’t trust hum know, and the lack of trust (for me) is the biggest issue. He’s been with his coparent for the last week. Since the bite we’ve learned about his back pain, and also got some dental work for him. We’re treating the pain with CBDD because he refuses to take pills, even in pill pockets. I. know that dogs can bite when they‘re in pain, but I wasn’t even touching him when he bit me, so that can’t be the reason. I did consider canine dementia as a possible cause,.
I don’t want to be around him because I don’t know if he will bite me again, and I don’t want to be afraid in my home, as I now am.
I would love to be willing to try, but (if I’m honest), I don’t know if I can ever trust him. His previous vet (who told me about the bite history) recommended putting him down, but we (me and the coparent) wanted to take care of Jam’s pain issues before making a decision like that.
As well, the co-parent and I are on opposite sides of the euthanasia question. When we started on this path she said she’d support me if that was the path I chose 9after we got the health pieces taken care of), but now has ruled euthanasia out, and admitted she didn’t tell me that he’d bitten her and another person last week.
this is a challenging situation. Thanks for writing on the topic
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.
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)
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.
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?
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! 😀
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.
I found that the best way to deal with my fear is through knowledge. I did a lot of reading on dog training and dog behavior, and I got help from several professional trainers.
Allie Daniel says
I have one andd she loves me she just hates cats so she attaked me because I had a cat in my arms don’t worry my german sheperd loves me.
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!