Scouting out homes for the "Little Brushwood Dog"
Many times I am asked questions such as, "Are Shibas good with other dogs?", "Aren't Shibas dog aggressive?", or even, "Why to many articles say Shibas are not dog-type dogs?" The answers really stem back to the breed's initially bred purpose and also the amount of socialization the individual Shiba gets under the age of 16 weeks. However, I would not personally call the Shiba Inu a "dog aggressive" breed.
The Shiba Inu is compared frequently to being "cat-like" in its personality, most specifically in its independent aloof anture with strangers and in their cleanliness. However while most people understand the Shiba's potential to being shy and wary of strangers if not properly socialized they tend to forget that this trait exists when it comes to being around other dogs as well. And just like it is rare to see a Shiba that excitedly jumps up on any stranger that it meets, it is very unlikely to find a Shiba that is totally comfortable with every dog it meets, especially the excited "in your face" type dogs.
When most recently asked about why Shibas tend to be labelled as "dog aggressive" in most literature by a fellow rescuer, here was the response I gave:
"I think the reason why the articles state that the Shiba breed is dog aggressive is because Shibas will get snappier with other in-your-face dogs more so than other breeds. As a trainer who has studied behavior, I don't see it as true aggression, I see it as the shiba saying, hey, you need to get out of my face, I dont like it, and if you don't listen to me then I will have to whoop your butt!
'I, and many other truely certified trainers and behaviorists, feel that TRUE aggression is both unprovoked and the dog causes intentional harm to the other dog. This isn't a snap or scuffle that just results in saliva and when you yell they stop. This is a dog that puts another dog in its mouth, shakes it, doesn't let go until it is pried off and the other dog is left with severe wounds that require veterinary care. But let's face it, most breeders, people in the show world, vets, even magazine editors, are not dog trainers and they aren't behaviorists. They think and sadly label any snap or snarl as "aggression". I greatly disagree.
'Another problem I see with it is that to label the dogs as "stubborn" or "dominant" or "aggressive" sets the owner up for feeling they need to be "in control" of the dog in a very authoritative manner. This usually results in bringing in training methods that involve fear, force, punishment and alpha complexes which have been scientifically proven not only NOT to work but that they can result in not only worse behaviors out of your dog in the forms of fear and aggression but it ruins your bond with your dog.
'And especially a Shiba? You're going to "dominate" a Shiba? Are you out of your mind!?!??! LOL!!!! Yeah, that's a great idea! Let's take an INDEPENDENT breed that was bred PURPOSEFULLY to think for itself without the guidance of man and "train" it by ways of choke chains, alpha rolls, scruff shakes, and other domineering training. Yeah, that's sure to make the dog WANT to listen to us.
'I think honestly that Shibas are some of the EASIEST dogs to train. And I've been training for over nearly 6 years at this point with all breeds. If you know how to motivate your Shiba and make the training fun, they will want to work for you and with you. And that independent streak will work in your favor because it is easier for a Shiba to shut out the rest of the world (dogs, other people, smells--unless it's off leash of course but I don't take that risk ever) and pay attention to you if you have made the training process fun.
'My own personal Shiba, Seishou, is CGC certified (Canine Good Citizen) and he isn't particularly good with other dogs. But, I take him to work with me at Petco, or I used to work at PetSmart, or I take him to a busy park or adoption event with all these other dogs around, and when I say "leave it", another dog could be walking up to him and he walks right past. I tell him, "stay, watch me" and those eyes do not leave me even if a dog is smelling his butt. I have taken Shibas that would lunge at other dogs from 30 feet away and turned them into dogs that walked past other dogs on teh walk at a 5 foot width apart. They would truly rather listen to their owner than be bothered with the other dog or the strange person or child, but only if the training is fun and the Shiba sees the benefit out of it.
'But to make any dog feel like they have to do it out of fear of what you might do to them if they don't listen is not only unhealthy but wrong in my personal and professional opinion."
So your Shiba growls or snaps at other dogs, so now what?
You will want to find an actual accredited trainer or behaviorist (ask for a degree as anyone can just call themselves a behaviorist but a true behaviorist has their PhD) that uses ONLY positive reinforcement methods with their training that can help you rectify and manage the situation. If they use any punishment it should come in the form of removing or redirecting the dog away from what they are reacting towards but NEVER anything like a physical correction. So, no choke chains, no pinch collars, no shock collars, no leash corrections, no scruff shakes, no alpha rolls/dominance downs, etc.
The forms of punishment I tend to use are either noises to startle the dog (can with pennies, air horn, clap hands, stomp feet), a "removal technique" such as turning immediately the other direction on a walk and walking at a brisk pace or used as a time out behind a door inside a home, or the occassional squirt bottle.
However, it is much more important to be rewarding the dog for the behaviors you DO WANT, rather than focus on punishing or even redirecting the behaviors you don't want as the rewarded behaviors will then be more readily offered by the dog the next time the situation occurs.
Also you may need to accept the fact that your Shiba may not have gotten proper socialization in its first few weeks as a young puppy as the prime social period for any puppy is between 5 weeks and 16 weeks of age. Some behaviorists and the American Veterinary Medical Association will even state that it is only up to 12 weeks. Or you may have to accept the fact that your Shiba doens't appreciate being mauled by excited dogs at the dog parks or getting goosed by off leash dogs out in public and you will need to take proper measures to ensure the safety and also comfort for your dog.
I highly recommend reading the link to the article that is listed in the right column on this page as it has many good analogies of what is and isn't dog aggression and what you should and should not do in order to move forward.