For most pet owners, expectations for a new puppy include lots of nap time, play time, and snuggle sessions. Many people prefer to adopt or purchase a dog as soon as it has been weaned, feeling the puppy is a “blank slate” with no acquired bad habits. However, Shiba Inus, known for their aloof personalities and independent natures, can sometimes behave aggressively if not properly trained and socialized. How can you tell when your young Shiba is acting like a typical puppy, or needs an attitude adjustment?
While rare, Shiba Inu puppies occasionally display truly aggressive behaviors. Nipping, biting, and tugging at feet, hands, or pant legs is perfectly normal for young dogs, as is emitting barks and growls during playtime. Shiba Inus can also appear aggressive as they move into adolescence (up to 18 months of age). Think of this as the “angsty teenager” stage, as the dog begins to experience rapid changes and sexual maturity. An adolescent dog may be temperamental, unpredictable, and disobedient. Typically, this type of behavior subsides within months.
If your Shiba Inu is displaying forms of aggression that are not considered within normal behavior, you first must identify the type of aggression in order to properly correct bad behaviors. Shiba Inus commonly show dominance aggression, which manifests as the dog wanting to be the boss of everyone: humans, other dogs, cats, etc. Your Shiba may bark, growl, nip, or even bite those who behave in a manner your dog does not appreciate. Proper socialization from an early age helps dominant dogs understand boundaries. Structured obedience training is also highly recommended.
A second, more serious, type of aggression that can manifest in Shiba Inus is resource-guarding. This type of aggression is characterized by growling, snapping, or biting when another dog or human approaches his or her food or toys. Resource aggression needs to be corrected immediately with obedience training. Special attention to commands such as “leave it,” “drop it,” and “no” are recommended.
Some Shiba Inus may react in an aggressive manner out of fear. Shyness or fearfulness can be an inherited trait (which is unlikely for this breed), but may also be learned from the dog’s environment or treatment prior to entering your world. Shibas with fear aggression may nip, growl, snap, or bite when exposed to “scary” stimuli such as new people, loud noises, fast movements (i.e. children), or other dogs. Fear aggression can be cured, but requires a lot of patience, socialization, positive reinforcement, and predictable routines.
A final form of Shiba Inu aggression to consider is punishment aggression. Due to their independent and dominant nature, Shibas do not respond well to physical punishment. When Shibas are corrected with corporal or loud corrections such as smacks on the nose, tugs on a choke chain, or loud yells, they may act out. For this reason, positive reinforcement is highly recommended for Shiba Inus.
As with all dogs, formal obedience training and socialization from an early age is always recommended in order to ensure bad behaviors never begin, but also to promote human and dog bonding. The vast majority of Shiba Inus are not inherently aggressive, but rather learn these traits from unpleasant situations or inherent them as a result of irresponsible breeding. Occasionally, Shiba Inu aggression can also be the result of an underlying health issue, which should be ruled out if behavior does not improve.