Thursday, July 23, 2009

Have room for a shiba in your life?

Shiba folks are apparently drowning in spare shibas at the moment. These primitive little dogs are awfully attractive, but definitely more dog than many folks looking for an attractive little dog are prepared to handle. As such, it's not surprising that in our impulse-buy and puppies-as-commodoties world, too many end up in rescue. And, too, sometimes people are just embarassed, after having been warned and lectured, to admit that maybe they're just not suited to the task.

It's a tricky thing in the breed-fancy world. Humans have a hard time hearing "no", and people seem to take a dog-breed-assessment very personally... even though it's no reflection on a person as a human being if their situation isn't quite right for any given dog. After all, no breed is any "better" than another, just different, with different needs. It sounds like a "well, hello Mr. Obvious!" thing to say, but I'm a big proponent of people choosing the breed or type that best suits their current needs and lifestyle. In other words, no matter how deeply in love you are with any given breed or type of dog, sometimes you just have to be able to take a step back, look at your situation with an objective eye, and ask yourself if you're pursuing the breed because you want one or because you really think they're a suitable match for your lifestyle. In today's "dog owning world", just as in with plenty of other things, people often choose dogs because they want. They want a particular look, or they want what the breed represents, or they just find themselves irresistibly drawn to a particular breed for any given number of reasons. People often convince themselves that they will change their lifestyle to accommodate the dog; like the treadmill that's now a clothes hanger, the dog's very presence will mean they "have" to exercise more, or socialize more, or take up a dog-related sport or hobby. Whatever the adjustment is, making changes to our lives, major changes, is hard. As the dust-gathering exercise equipment can testify, good intentions don't carry very far.

Something else that's difficult for some people to hear and understand: it is not absolutely true that a dog is a dog is a dog. Consider the hypothetical case of a dog handler with some experience who lives a moderately active life, has some background in dogs, and a compelling interest in, let's say, the rottweiler as a breed. They also spend much of their time working with sheep. This person thinks "I have room in my life and budget for a dog, and now I can get the rottweiler I've always wanted". The person knows rotties like most dogs of any active breed need a job, something to keep their brains and bodies occupied. This person thinks they can teach the rottie to herd--after all, rotties are former cattle drovers, no?--and thus occupy the dog, get some help on the farm, and enjoy the company of his or her chosen companion.

Now, this story could end in a lot of ways, but the two main potential results I see are this: maybe the person is able to pull it off and work their rottie brilliantly. Maybe the person is dedicated enough to the individual dog, maybe the dog has the innate skills and smarts to pick up a non-traditional job, maybe it all works out great. Maybe, on the other hand, the person learns that rotties just aren't bred with herding in mind. Most dogs could probably be trained to some level of proficiency, and some dogs could probably perform the task extremely capably, but you'll increase your chances of success exponentially (and have a far easier time getting there), if you choose a purpose-bred herding breed... and a molosser enthusiast who needs a farm dog has other, more suitable options. Why make life difficult for yourself?

There are a lot of reasons dogs end up in rescue, some of them beyond our control--especially in these tough economic times--but I do strongly feel that the vast majority of rescue situations could have been avoided from the start with a little bit of introspection and a healthy chunk of brutal self-honesty.

Shibas are an interesting lot. They are beautiful little dogs, but they are a handful. They are primitive hunting dogs, despite their plush and cuddly exterior. Hopeful shiba owners should be prepared for a dog that will bolt after anything it wants to and really really really really really likes to kill stuff. Lots of stuff. If nothing interesting to chase and kill, perhaps your sofa will suffice. I myself am not an experienced shiba owner, but word from those plucky (and/or masochistic) folks is that The Misanthropic Shiba is your go-to source for down & dirty, real-world shiba news. If you want to know what life with a shiba is like, this is an informative (and hysterically funny) place to start.

SO! All that having been said... if you have room (and courage) in your heart for some hot shiba action, please look to S.I.R.A, the Shiba Inu Rescue Association. They are reaching the point of "overwhelmed" with nineteen dogs currently housed and several more either on the way or being held temporarily elsewhere. They've got a lot of incredible and incredibly deserving dogs waiting for permanent placement. Shibas are difficult dogs and these pooches have already been through multiple placements; they do not need more inconsistency in their lives, so please consider your long-term commitment capabilities very carefully before taking the leap. Keeping primitive dogs presents a host of challenges that many other dog owners will not have to face... but in the end, I think the rewards are greater, too, for those up to it.

Check out beautiful Rosalie, sweet Emi, lovely Shika, or cuddly Momiji:

...and a good fifteen or so others. If you don't have room for a shiba in your life, please consider donating to help them with their work.


Blogger aileen said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


August 18, 2009 7:28 AM  
Blogger TK said...

As a Shiba owner in New York City, I spend a lot of time answering the question, "What kind of dog is that?" I tell them it's a Shiba Inu, quickly followed by "I wouldn't necessarily recommend them as pets." Often I am then asked why, and I explain that they're not easy dogs, VERY territorial, and even raised being surrounded by dogs every time we go for a walk, our dog wouldn't dream of letting another dog cross the threshold of our apartment alive. She is also the BEST mouser I have ever heard of, and includes all my friends' cats.

I never thought of them as primitive dogs, but I definitely like the concept. They are *very* instinct driven, very pack-oriented, and very difficult to train (basically, we've got her well house-trained, and she doesn't destroy furniture, but as for tricks, we're lucky if we can get her to sit on command). So, yeah, primitive makes sense to me.

Thanks for a great read that I randomly came across when I was googling for something else Shiba-related.

August 18, 2009 11:53 AM  
Blogger Essex said...

Shibas are not so bad. I think people hype them up to be troublemakers a lot more than they really are so that they can be the only special people in this world to own a Shiba =).

I have one, and between coming home to her diggin in the trash can and then chasing after her when she rybs free from the house, she's really a calm dog. Everyone always tells me how calm of a dog I have and wished their hyper dog was like mines. At night she brings her favorite toy and hops on my lap with it to fall asleep.

Try living with a pitbull/lab mix for a year and you will see living with a Shiba Inu is a piece of cake. My roomate had one when we lived by the mountains. Our house had no fence. It was a living nightmare. At least a Shiba can't break out of a secured collar and they don't prey after bicycle tires with little kids riding them. Thanks to that mutt though I learned to love that dog and every dog after that.

December 9, 2009 2:46 PM  

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